Respect for All Spiritual Traditions


Our belief systems, particularly our spiritual beliefs and traditions, are increasingly important dimensions of culture. We must be able to bridge religious and spiritual differences if we are to live together in a collaborative, inclusive, respectful world. Yet this dimension is far too often overlooked and shortchanged in the intercultural literature.

Today, in this blog post, I offer up a few quotes that speak to me about this topic. It is my hope that taking a few moments to reflect might help each of us better do our part to promote inter-religious understanding.

We are fortunate that so many schools of divinity, congregations, spiritual communities and ecumenical groups use Cultural Detective to promote tolerance, understanding and respect. I’d welcome hearing from any of you about the efforts in which you’re engaged. Please, also, share with us quotes on this topic that speak to you.

“Impiety: Your irreverance toward my deity.”
—Ambrose Bierce

“When political conflict is religionized, it is absolutized.”
—Jonathan Saks

“Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.”
—William Butler Yeats

“So many Gods, so many creeds; so many paths that wind and wind; when just the art of being kind is all this sad world needs.”
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The joke (instead of a proverb) in Cultural Detective Jewish Culture that illustrates the value of “group solidarity” (CLASSIC cross-cultural miscommunication; enjoy!):

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave Italy. There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He’d have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy; if the Pope won, they’d have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people met and picked an aged and wise rabbi to represent them in the debate. However, as the Rabbi spoke no Italian, and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, they agreed that it would be a ‘silent’ debate.

On the chosen day the Pope and Rabbi sat opposite each other.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.
The Rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head.
The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine.
The Rabbi pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared himself beaten, saying that the Rabbi was too clever. The Jews could stay in Italy.

Later the cardinals met with the Pope and asked him what had happened. The Pope said, ‘First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up a single finger to remind me there is still only One God common to both our beliefs. Then I waved my finger around my head to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He bested me at every move, and I could not continue.’

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered to ask the Rabbi how he’d won. ‘I haven’t a clue,’ the Rabbi said. ‘First, he told me that we had three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger. Then he told me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I told him that we were staying right here.’
‘And then what?’ asked a woman.
‘Who knows?’ said the Rabbi. ‘He took out his lunch so I took out mine.”

14 thoughts on “Respect for All Spiritual Traditions

  1. I agree, the joke about the Pope and the Rabbi is excellent (at least I enjoy it) but the quote of Ella Wheeler Wilcox speaks wisdom. It also reminds us that religion should remain a personal dimension (even when shared with other people thinking alike) and that being human and kind should be what unites people for the best they have at present and for the generations to come.
    Whatever our cultural differences are, when two people meet and sense they are mutually and genuinely honest and generous, only beauty is being expressed.

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  2. Allow me to come back on the word Tolerance based on what I heard during a cross-religious conference and debate I went to about two years ago.
    The conference was about “what I like and dislike in the other religion”

    Speaking about differences and the need to acknowledge them there was a powerful moment between the Rabbi and the priest. The priest said that he would like to invite the representatives of the other religions to his place to show how tolerant he was. While the Imam and the Buddhist as well as the Laic accepted the invitation, the Rabbi said the following: ” If I am only tolerated in your place, I see no reason to accept your invitation because I see tolerance as a power game in which I am subordinated. Instead, if you invite me and you ACCEPT me the way I am, I will warmheartedly come because I will feel recognized as your equal.” (equal=alter-ego).

    SInce then, I try to avoid by all means the use of tolerance and prefer to speak about recognition and acceptance.

    Warm regards to all.

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  3. Yes, Olivier, I soooo dislike the word “tolerance,” as it has negative, “putting up with under difficulty” connotations, at least in US English. But I definitely loved the graphic! You have given us a great summary. It is my hope that our Cultural Detective series can grow to include more spiritual traditions and, eventually, and overarching, unifying “peace among and between practices” approach. We will see…. Most people see “cross-cultural” as “cross-nationality,” and we all share a passion to change and extend that thinking.

    Thank you all for your comments and your magnificent work in the world!

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    • Diane: Long time away…in the event you haven’t seen this before, from an interview Gandhi gave to a reporter: Reporter: “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western Civilization?” Mr. Gandhi: “I think it would be a good idea.”
      Hope you are well in Mexico; Sedona has snow on the Mogollon Rim today and I thought of you. Toby

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      • Oh my dear Toby, sooooo good to “hear” your voice here! And to know you think of me in connection with my beloved Mogollon Rim!!!! Thanks for sharing visions of Sedona with me here today. Yes, I’ve seen that quote, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. I’ve always wondered the context. What an incredible man he was. Hugs and love to you and Patty!

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  4. More great jokes where that came from in Cultural Detective: Jewish Culture!

    When we began work on the project, we all knew without even discussing it that the proverb associated with each cultural value in the normal CD format had to become a joke in ours, so we spent our first few discussions telling each other our best jokes and researching Jewish humor sites on the Internet. Thanks for sharing one of our favorites.

    A bonus visual joke: the handle of the magnifying glass in the values lens graphic in the CD format is on the left. Since both Hebrew and Yiddish read from right to left, we insisted that the handle on ours be on the right!

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  5. “There is no truth, but a blending of different realities.” this quote is mine, and I expressed it once when I was sharing my opinion about religion with other people from different religious obedience. There were other Catholics in the group too which later confessed they were surprised. Their difficulty seemed to depend on their ability to distant themselves from the more dogmatic aspects of religion and that is what makes it often so absurd when talking about religion. Dogmas limit perceptions. When reaching a higher consciousness, people also empower/ free themselves from literal translation of Holy texts. Doing so they enter a trans-religious reality.
    Comparing religious beliefs often leads to understand that people talk about the same thing with another linguistic and cultural codes. This level of understanding enables to accept (embrace?) other religious beliefs without being threatened and even reinforce one’s own.

    Have a good day.

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