The Joy and Necessity of Meeting People of Other Faiths
A Reflection on the Workshop on Religion and Peace
Rev. Fung Chi-wood
It was such a joyous and moving experience to be part of the Workshop on Religion and Peace organised by the Hong Kong Christian Institute in September and October this year. A group of approximately 30 Protestants and Catholics had the unusual and wonderful opportunity to visit other religions in Hong Kong. Although we live in the same small city, we never meet each other and do not even have the intention of meeting, thinking that we know people of other faiths, but actually this is not the case, and, even worse, we often misunderstand people of other faiths. I myself have longed for such a chance for a long time, and finally the opportunity arrived.
During the programme, we visited the United Jewish congregation, the Hong Kong Islamic Youth Association, a Buddhist Centre, Fung Ying Seen Koon (Taoist) and St. Luke's Cathedral of the Orthodox Church. Being a Protestant priest and a man of religion, I should have at least a basic understanding of other faiths, but this was my first time meeting the places and peoples of Judaism, Islam and Taoism. I regret that this had not occurred earlier. I wish every person, especially those who take their faith seriously, should have the chance to meet people of other religions. We, including Protestants, have been taught too much about the differences and insufficiencies of other faiths, but we have never met the people whom we criticise. The experience of this workshop affirmed my conviction that there is also truth in other faiths and that there is something we can, and should, learn from each other: we should not criticise each other and consider other faiths as being secondary to our own; we should be humble and respect the truth-seekers of other faiths. In short, after the workshop, I have greater conviction about my observations below.
1. We know so little about other religions, especially their liturgies, their cultures, their thoughts, their histories, their teachings, etc., and, even more importantly, we do not know the people of other faiths.
2. Therefore, we are not in a position to judge or criticise the people of other religions, but, on the contrary, the first thing we should do is to meet them face to face in order to know and understand them better. This workshop was significant since it brought us together with people of other faiths, although it was for a very limited time, but it pointed to the very important direction and the most essential step, that is, to meet people of other religions.
3. Meeting people of other faiths is the primary and essential way to know other religions, a process which cannot be substituted by reading and studying. Hence, meeting the people of other religions is necessary before we can comment on other faiths. Otherwise, our views will be very superficial and biased.
4. By meeting human beings of other faiths, we can learn their concerns, characters, cultures, aspirations, daily lives, etc., things that we could not learn from books or other people's comments. In this workshop, I found the people of other faiths whom we met to be so loving and so kind that I dare not, and could not, say that their lives, love and fellowship, etc., are subordinate to those of Christians.
5. Although our encounter with other faiths was very limited, I believe there are similarities in ultimate concerns and spiritualities of the world's major religions, such as love for others, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, life after death, etc., and there should not be any vital conflict among these ultimate concerns and spiritualities. We should have an open mind and sincere altitude to engage with people of other faiths.
6. There are certainly differences among religions, and it is the differences through which we should learn from each other. By mutual sharing and learning with other faiths, we may understand our own faith deeper and enrich and better perfect ourselves in our spiritualities.
7. A broader religious experience can be attained by meeting with non-Christian religious people, which is necessary if we wish to promote peace among different religions. There have been, and still are, many serious violent conflicts among different religions. However, if all major religions have similar ultimate concerns and spiritualities, peace among different faiths is the most important objective for people of faith, including Christians. I fully agree with Hans Kung's saying that there is no world peace without peace among religions. Without meeting and dialogue with people of other faiths, there can be no peace. If we wish to promote world peace, we should attain peace among religions first.
8. I pray that Christians have more opportunities to meet people of other religions, and let our experience of encounter tell us what to do. It is a pity that most Christians only know other faiths through second-hand information. According to my brief but valuable experience, once we meet people of other faiths, we will have a new and enlightened feeling and concept of them. It is only then that we can develop a friendly and peaceful relationship.
Let us pray for more workshops, meetings, dialogue, sharing and learning with people of other religions. We, people of different religions or no religion, are all living on the same planet, cared for by one Creator; we are brothers and sisters. Let us treasure love and peace and strive to cultivate them among ourselves.