85% of the people in the world are religious.
We Need Interfaith Chaplains
with Multi-Religious Hearts.
by Jay McDaniel
Reflections inspired by the vision of Claremont Lincoln University
in offering a Master of Arts in Interfaith Chaplaincy
The Global Religious Landscape
Want the facts about the global religious landscape? There's no better place to go than the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:
'A country-by-country analysis of data from more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers finds that 84% of adults and children around the globe are religiously affiliated. The study also finds that the median age of two major groups – Muslims (23 years) and Hindus (26) – is younger than the world’s overall population (28), while Jews have the highest median age (36) of the groups studied...more.
The American Religious Landscape
Want the facts about pluralism in the American Religious Landscape? There's no better place to go than The Pluralism Project at Harvard University.
Interested in Multi-Religious Belonging? Try Can a Christian be a Buddhist, Too? to see how one person finds process theology helpful in becoming a Christian influenced by Buddhism. See also Why Christians Turn to Buddhism.
According to a study undertaken by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Americans don't know very much about religion. Indeed, we are downright ignorant.
A range of informal religious literacy exams have been created online, and apparently we Americans don't do very well. Click here for the one offered by the Pew Forum.
This is surprising and disappointing because, according to Diana Eck in A New Religious America, we are the most religiously diverse nation on earth. You would think that we would want to get to know our neighbors if not also our global neighbors. The two-decade old Harvard-based website that she helped start, the Pluralism Project at Harvard, documents the diversity.
On Being Religiously Literate
With a Multi-Religious Heart
One purpose of this website -- Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism -- is to encourage a sense of friendship, of conviviality, among people who belong to different faiths and no faith. In this we are influenced, not only by projects such as the Pluralism Project at Harvard, but also by the pioneering spirit of Claremont Lincoln University in Claremont, California.
In 2012 Claremont Lincoln University sponsored a conference called Conviviality in a Multireligious World, and the title was illustrative of a great hope.
The hope is that religious leaders will emerge who are religiously literate, in that they know a good bit about the many world religions and who have multi-religious hearts.
People with multi-religious hearts may be rooted in a particular religious tradition, but their roots give them wings to fly. They are knowledgeable of the world's religions; they appreciate the different kinds of wisdom that can be found in them; they want to learn from wisdom wherever it is found; and, equally important, they are inclined to befriend people of different religions, building relations of trust and respect.
In their very manner of being in the world, they incline others to do the same. They are mentors by example. The world needs people like this. The United States needs people like this, too.
Can interfaith chaplains be trained? The answer is "yes," thanks to Claremont Lincoln University. Those of in the JJB community find hope in creative educational experiments such as its Master of Arts in Interfaith Chaplaincy.
What follows is a word of support for the general idea of interfaith chaplaincy as it is encouraged at Claremont Lincoln University, plus a little process theology for anyone interested.
What is Chaplain?
Someone who helps guide and encourage people in their spiritual pilgrimages.
What is an Interfaith Chaplain?
Someone who is religiously literate: that is, knowledgeable of the beliefs and practices of many world religions. Someone who may be rooted in a particular tradition, but who thinks there is something to learn from all of them.
Who will employ them?
Wise people will employ them.
They are needed at almost every hospital, university, government office, and corporate headquarters in the world.
They are also needed in most churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, because Increasingly people affiliated in local houses of faith want to learn about and from other religions. Or least how to get along with others.
Why are they needed?
We are all in it together. There can be no peace in the world unless there is peace among religions. Hans Kung said it years ago, and he was right. But there are other reasons, too.
One is spiritual. There is more spiritual wisdom in all the religions added together than in any religion considered alone, and their various forms of wisdom both complete and complement one another.
Another is educational. People living in a globalized world in helpful and creative ways need to know about the many world religions, and interfaith chaplains can help them. Interfaith chaplains are educators as well as spiritual guides.
Who can be an interfaith chaplain?
Interfaith chaplains can be rabbis, imams, priests, or ministers. They can also be humanists or a spiritually-sensitive atheists who find wisdom in the world's religions but interpret it in naturalist ways.
They need to be good listeners with generous hearts and open minds who can foster dialogue and resolve conflicts; and speak truth to power in the interests of justice and sustainability.
Are there some additional qualifications?
Glad you asked. Interfaith chaplains have spiritual lives of their own. They need depth of soul. Even if they are atheists, it helps if they are practiced in the arts of prayer or meditation.
They also need a vision of what the world needs to become: a community of just and sustainable communities. It might help if they have read Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet and Five Foundations for a New Civilization in this very website. Both are written by a leading process theologian in the United States, John B. Cobb. Jr., who is a pioneer in inter-faith dialogue.
Can Process Theology help?
Glad you asked again.
If you want to learn about process theology, you might begin be reading a very short article by Rabbi Bradley Artson on this website called The Constellation of Process Theology - An Invitation.
Then go to the website of the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, California, which is part of Claremont Lincoln University. There is so much too it; the Center for Process Studies can help you get your bearings.
Or go to a companion website called Process and Faith, which is also housed at the Claremont Lincoln University. It will be especially helpful if you are Christian, but gradually it is becoming more multi-religious.
I don't have time, can you just give me a hint?
I understand. Below I'll list ten ways in which process theology can provide some foundations for interfaith chaplaincy and the encouragement of multi-religious hearts.
1. Process theology can provide shared ideas by which people from different traditions can articulate their orientations in ways that honor their differences while seeing the connections.
This is already happening. Process theology began as a Christian tradition, but now it is multi-religious. Today there are Jewish process theologians, Muslim process theologians, Buddhist process theologians, Taoist/Confucian process theologians, Hindu process theologians, and Christian process theologians. They are part of an informal, international process community which includes naturalists and humanists, too.
A good example of the emerging multiplicity of the process tradition is a book edited by John Cobb called Religions in the Making: Whitehead and the Wisdom Traditions of the World. It features process thinkers from all the traditions named above.
2. Process theology proposes that the purpose of dialogue is not simply mutual understanding but also, where possible, mutual transformation.
In process theology we human beings are concresing subjects who are always more than our religious identities and, for that matter, our racial, ethnic, and cultural identites.
Always we are in a process of becoming, and always we can learn from others just as they can learn from us. This learning is creative transformation.
3. Process theology highlights the role of listening in inter-religious dialogue and encourage spiritual sensibilities which highlight attentive listening as the cornerstone of trustful relations between people of different religions.
4. Process theology affirms the value of particularized religious commitments, showing how roots in a given tradition can nourish rather than inhibit wings of openness to people of other faiths and no faith.
5. Process theology honors the role of meditation and prayer in religious life, showing how religion is not reducible to belief.
Today scholars realize that an overemphasis on "right belief" has been the bane of Protestant Christianity and has kept people from understanding what is most important in so many traditions: ritual, community, ethics, storytelling, music, prayer, meditation, friendships, life.
6. Process theology offers special help in appreciating the role of ritual in religious life, showing how the "withness of the body" is a primary means by which religious insights and energy emerge in human life. Too often people think of religion as a matter of the head or the heart, while neglecting the body. Process theology affirms learning from body-to-mind as well as mind-to-body.
7. Process theology helps link religious sensitivities with ecological awareness, showing how sensivity to the beauty of the planet is, and needs to be, part of a healthy religious life. In the words of Patricia Adams Farmer, a leading process thinker, we can plant ourselves in the beauty of the natural world and, in so doing, find our heart in hope.
8. Process theology helps people recognize that there are many different kinds of religious experience, including non-theistic forms. Today many people find their spirituality, not so much in focalized images of a monotheistic deity, but in a sense of gratitude and interconnectedness in local, global, and planetary settings. Process theology appreciates the value of, and differences between, a spirituality of connectedness and a spirituality of monotheistic faith. It finds wisdom in both.
9. Process theology provides a social vision that is important for the future, such as that articulated in John Cobb's Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet. Thus it offers the prophetic agenda that can be, and needs to be, part of an interfaith chaplaincy.
10. Offer a way of thinking about God which makes sense in light of modern science, helps people deal with the problem of suffering, links God with beauty, and shows how the living spirit of God can be present in the lives of people who do not believe in God.
Is Process Theology the only form of theology that can help in these ways?
No. Process Theology itself is not so much a worldview as it is a set of sensibilities. In this website we identify twenty ideas which are among the sensibilities, but which are found far beyond the confines of process theology.
Thus process theology one of several theologies that can provide encouragement for interfaith chaplaincy. What is most important is the multi-religious heart. People with multi-religious hearts know what we all need to know: that life itself transcends religion and that religion is at its best when it serves the flourishing of life.
There's a togetherness in things, a unity within the diversity that elicits respect. Multi-religious hearts dwell in the togetherness.