Wednesday, December 06, 2006

prayer rooms, pluralism, and practice

A few days ago-- that's an eternity in the ever-churning news cycle-- the nettlesome case of "The Six Imams" brought up the question of special prayer rooms in airports. Most airports actually have such rooms, though they are usually generic in design and sometimes referred to by the supposedly more neutral term "meditation room." Most American hospitals also feature such rooms, and I imagine that other buildings are similarly furnished.

American religious pluralism isn't so much theological or philosophical as it is practical: it is a pluralism of tolerance-- i.e., of peaceful coexistence, agreements and disagreements notwithstanding. It is a mark of religious maturity, in my opinion, that a single room can be devoted to multiple religious purposes. If the imams want a room at an airport, then in most cases, they already have one. If the imams are looking for a specifically Muslim room, I think that request should be nipped in the bud.

I don't agree with the Vatican's contention-- as seen in the 2000 Dominus Iesus document and in some of Pope Benedict's recent statements while in Turkey-- that religious diversity constitutes a problem. On the contrary, diversity is perfectly natural-- not merely natural, but good. A single room, minimally furnished and set aside for people of various religious traditions, provides an opportunity for the practice of tolerance.

Nonsectarian, multidenominational facilities abound in America. Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this is the large, beautiful house of worship on the grounds of the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs (see here). I'm all for the continued construction of such facilities, to the extent that they are silent sermons on the value of tolerance, allowing a certain amount of religious self-segregation, to be sure, but also training people to practice some of the cardinal virtues of their native religious traditions-- love, openness, compassion, respect, humility, giving, and sharing. In the ideal, tolerance should arise automatically from the practice of these virtues.

These days, most exponents of interreligious dialogue (Paul Knitter comes immediately to mind) contend that dialogue begins in the practical realm-- social activism, for example, can bring people with wildly differing metaphysical viewpoints together in meaningful collaboration. Shared sacred space provides another practical venue for interreligious dialogue. The use of such space requires no speech; you simply inhabit it. "Dialogue" in such spaces is wordless but real.

People of any religion-- but these days it is arguably certain Muslims who need to hear this most-- must always remember the lesson that is usually first forgotten the moment there is religious disagreement: we must be silent, we must listen, and we must be humble. As the world becomes more crowded, the need for such practice becomes ever more paramount. If everyone continues to clamor for his or her tradition's own sacred space no matter where they might be, there won't be enough real estate to satisfy everyone's needs.

It is, perhaps, a sad state of affairs when we lift up the concept of sitting together in a pew without killing each other as an example of virtuous conduct, but that, apparently, is the world in which we live. Can we live in it peacefully?


No comments:

Post a Comment


All comments are subject to approval before they are published, so they will not appear immediately. Comments should be civil, relevant, and substantive. Anonymous comments are not allowed and will be unceremoniously deleted. For more on my comments policy, please see this entry on my other blog.

AND A NEW RULE (per this post): comments critical of Trump's lying must include criticism of Biden's lying on a one-for-one basis! Failure to be balanced means your comment will not be published.