Saturday, June 24, 2017

World's religious leaders ask us to "Make Friends"

WHEN I was a newspaper editor, I'd often field calls and get letters complaining about how the media seems to focus only on the bad news.

Back then, being a bit defensive, I'd explain that the "news" - as defined by the media of the day - consisted of stories that were out of the ordinary.

Stories about the kids who made the honor roll or firemen saving a kitten stuck in a tree would get reported but they didn't merit front page or prominent headlines. The so-called "good news" was the normal state of affairs so they didn't merit the attention given to the unordinary or extraordinary. Dog-bites-man is not a story, I'd explain, but man-bites-dog is considered "news."

With so much of today's news seems tilted towards the outrageously stupid things coming out of Washington, like disguising a tax break for the ultra rich as health care reform or trying to direct the former FBI director's testimony by lying about tape recordings, or simply ignore the facts about climate change in favor of making a buck, or having Russian President Putin pick the U.S. president, it appears that "good news" or heartwarming news is now "out-of-the-ordinary."

Many Views From the Edge readers will have heard by now of the appeal by some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders, calling for making friends across religions. Elijah, together with the Havas Lemz advertising agency and, were the driving forces in creating this landmark appeal.

Members of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, along with other prominent religious leaders, issued a call to get to know one another, and to cultivate friendship across religions.

Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chief Rabbis David Lau and Jonathan Sacks, Sri Sri Ravi Sankar, Amma and many other prominent religious leaders affirm that friendship is the antidote to hatred, fear and violence.

The appeal trailer was released on Twitter as a joint video message, using technology to translate the common purpose and common vision of the religious leaders to a visual of unity.

The appeal was launched June 14 at a press conference in London. The presentation included sociological analysis of attitudes and values of different religious groups across the world, their expectations and how friendship ranks on their scale of values.

The background to the release of the appeal trailer was a presentation of common attitudes of fear and ignorance, balanced by the recognition of common hopes and aspirations, as studied by Martijn Lampert of the Amsterdam based values research company, Motivaction.

Elijah director, Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, introduced the project highlighting its theological significance. Values that had previously been preached only to the in-group (friendship) are now being extended by major faith leaders beyond the narrow circle of the faithful. This is not only an important moment of social collaboration. It is a moment of religious teaching, that is carried out jointly by leaders in a collaborative moment of teaching and advancing the spiritual vision of the traditions. 

Differently put: By signing on this appeal, these leaders are affirming a particular way of practicing their religion, as distinct from other ways that religions are often associated with.

No matter what your religious or spiritual inclinations may be, (or, even if you are an agnostic or atheist), it's a simple message more people should hear.