Even where we share the same faith (whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or the myriad others) we like to fight over the small differences which differentiate one group from the next. Jerusalem is the shining example of this. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has almost fallen into dust on several occasions as a consequence of disputes between the factions who care for it, and the Western Wall has been at the centre of controversy regarding the right of Jewish women to worship here in the way that they might wish.
I could go on. But my preference is to consider the positive and how sometimes we are able to share in spiritual energy of a place, irrespective of either religion or faith. Glastonbury is a great example of this, the Pilgrimage Reception centre embracing pilgrims from a wide range of practices, including Catholics, Druids, and Buddhists. No longer accessible for most of us, one of the most beautiful shared sites I have visited was the Ummayyed mosque in Syria, which welcomed Shia and Sunni Muslims, as well as Christians, at this site which has been sacred since the Iron Age.
As we continue to face the impasse between the factions within our own polity right now, I’m looking for examples of how we are able to set aside difference in the interest of a bigger cause – peace, security, equality. Following a tip by Michael Dwyer at the publishers, Hurst, my hunt has taken me Diana Eck’s pluralism project at Harvardand I intend to delve deep into its pages over the coming days. Meanwhile, by way of illustration of how we like to take every opportunity to disagree on matters of religion, I’d like to share a story told to me by the Yemeni-Israeli artist Zadok Ben-David.
Years ago, as we were walking around some of the 50 churches within the Square Mile that is the City of London, Zadok told me that Robinson Crusoe was Jewish (I know – just stay with it) and that, on the day he was rescued, the Captain asked to be shown around the island where Crusoe had lived for so long. Pointing to his hut, and the smaller hut next to it, Crusoe proudly declares that this is where he and Man Friday live. “And what of this larger building?” asks the Captain. “This” replies Crusoe “is the synagogue where I go to pray on the Sabbath and all other holy days”. As they continue around the island, they come into a clearing where there is another grand structure. “And what is this?” Asks the Captain. “This” retorts Crusoe angrily, “Is the synagogue I would not enter, even if it was the last synagogue on this island”. Let’s try and find more common ground, however large or small our world.