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How does my faith relate to other faiths?

Talk prepared by David Kilgour
Meeting of Muslim-Christian Dialogue
15 Dec. 2010

Thank you to Bill for reading these thoughts and to all of you for being present tonight. The reason why I’m not is that I was requested to speak today to a rally outside the UN headquarters in New York on an urgent concern and cannot return in time to make your event.

The issue is the safety of about 3400 Iranian refugees at Camp Ashraf, which is located about an hour’s drive north of Bagdad in Iraq. There is considerable reason for alarm because the Iraqi police attacked unarmed men and women in the camp earlier, killing eleven men and injuring many, who are supposed to be ‘protected persons’ under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Iraq was discussed today in the U.N. General Assembly and our rally outside was seeking to remind all interested parties, including the U.N and governments of Iraq and the U.S., of their obligations under international law. If you’d like to know more, please check the Iran section of

What my faith is?

My faith is Christianity. I believe in a patient, loving God who calls me as a Christian to a human relationship of respect and tolerance with neighbours of different faiths (or no faith at all). My faith sets me free to be open to the faiths of others, to risk, to trust and to be vulnerable.

My faith relates to other faiths by being open to:

  • exploring together the love of God and the love of neighbour,
  • striving together in dialogue in a religiously plural world,
  • searching for a spiritual basis for life in the time of a secular, technological culture,
  • seeking to provide an understanding of the human predicament and projecting a way to overcome it which would be meaningful to the contemporary person, and
  • working and struggling together for justice and social change through interfaith dialogue.

Christianity relates to other faiths by being open to taking three basic steps:

1) exploring together the love of God and the love of neighbour

What can be done, for example, to increase our love of God and our neighbours and reduce the persecution of spiritual communities internationally? First, all must stand together.

The link between religious intolerance and political instability/violence is explained by Canadian journalist Geoffrey Johnston: "Those countries that do not actively protect religious minorities or prosecute the perpetrators of religiously-motivated violence are ultimately undermining their own security. A climate of impunity tends to embolden militants, who eventually turn against the state, using violence to advance their agenda. Pakistan and Nigeria are prime examples of governments that have allowed extremist groups to attack religious minority communities before they themselves became the targets of terror strikes."

One estimate of the number of people who died prematurely for their spiritual faith between 1900 and 2000 is a dismaying 169 million, including: 70 million Muslims; 35 million Christians; 11 million Hindus; 9 million Jews; 4 million Buddhists; 2 million Sikhs and 1 million Baha'is.

2-Striving together in dialogue in a religiously plural world

In Canada, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. This freedom to worship, or not to worship, is part of Canada’s “deep diversity” to use Prof. Charles Taylor’s phrase. It is a universal value; most nations have signed agreements committing them to respect individual freedom of thought, conscience and belief. In too many, their nationals continue to suffer for practising their faiths. Most of the persecution during the 1900s and early years of the present century was done by regimes which detested all religions. Here are three sharply differing situations:


One of many cases of religious persecution to come out of China is that of Brother Yun. His experiences are set out in his autobiography, The Heavenly Man, published in 2002. He and the book have impacted many, including those who attended the more than one thousand meetings he has held in various parts of the world.

Another is Gao Zhisheng, also a Christian, has been persecuted mostly because of standing up for another spiritual community, Falun Gong (some of whose own horrifying experiences over twelve years can be accessed at www.david

Gao was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2001, he was named one of China's top ten lawyers. As a lawyer, he donated a third of his time to victims of human rights violations, representing miners, evicted tenants and others. First his permit to practise law was removed. This was followed by an attempt on his life, having police attack his wife Geng He and then 14-year-old daughter Grace. In 2006, he was sentenced to three years in prison. Inhuman things occurred there.

The Canadian Friends of Gao wrote Prime Minister Harper in early 2009 asking him to intervene for his release: "(I)nstead of honouring the obligations prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which China is a signatory, blatant human rights violations persist. Having courageously sought justice for vulnerable groups such as the poor, the disabled, and the persecuted, Gao's story is a light shining in the darkness, and a reminder that all of us must stand up for what we believe and affirm." Sadly, Gao remains one of the "disappeared" in China.


In Sudan, military regimes have probably slaughtered more than 400,000 African Darfuris and expelled six times as many -- an estimated 2.5 million, after having killed an estimated two million and expelled even more in the predominantly Christian and animist South Sudan. Tears of the Desert is Dr. Halima Bashir`s account of her years as a medical doctor in a Darfur village. It’s been there a genocide against African Muslims, and earlier in the South against Christians and animists, by perpetrators who consider themselves Arab Muslims. Eric Reeves noted in 2009 that there were about 3.5 million people affected by the conflict, with about 10,000 dying per month from unnatural causes. The pleas to protect the people of Darfur, who are now increasingly in mortal danger again, are deeply compelling.


Marc Gopin wrote some years ago about then increasing attacks by Hindu militants on Christians in India. Fortunately, the numerous educational and other works done by Christians in India over generations, along with the commitment of most Indians to religious pluralism, normally makes it hard to sustain persecution against faith communities. The most dangerous friction in India is between Hindu and Muslim.

The Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance issued a report just prior to India's most recent national elections. Several Canadian MPs picked up on the report and wrote to the national government in New Delhi. The Supreme Court in rule of law and democratic India ruled that the national government was responsible for maintaining peace in Orissa and could not allow the state and local governments to ignore the illegal local persecution. It is vital that more of us speak up about violations of spiritual freedoms wherever they occur.

3- Working together for justice and social change through interfaith dialogues

If spiritual communities stand shoulder-to-shoulder when anyone in our own or another is being persecuted, lives can be saved. For example, two decades ago hundreds of persons of many faiths demonstrated at Edmonton city hall concerning the persecution of Muslims in Bosnia. Later, many of us did the same at the legislative assembly over the persecution of Christians in Pakistan. Thousands of Canadian soldiers did join the NATO peacemakers that eventually went into the Balkans.

It is only through mutual respect that we can build a better world in which all peoples, religions and cultures can genuinely call their own. In the new century, moreover, only if faith communities cooperate will peace be feasible. His Holiness the Dalai Lama called for a century of compassion in Vancouver one year ago in front of 16,000 student leaders.

Daniel Goldhagen`s book, Worse than War, has a full chapter of suggestions on what all of us can do, including:

1 - Developing an anti-eliminationist discourse. ''Mass murder and eliminationist politics are humanity`s human scourge,... more murderous than wars...Yet on the nightly local (U.S.) news mass annihilation receives far less attention-in absolute terms-than house fires".

2 - Referring to mass murderers by their real names, for example, ''Serbian mass murderer Milos Milosevic'' instead of "former president Milosevic'' or ''Sudanese mass murderer al-Bashir'' instead of ''President al-Bashir of Sudan''. Some tyrants might be deterred from acts of mass murder if they knew they would forever be known by such titles.

3 - Intervening. ''The countries perpetuating mass murder... or tempted to do so, are overwhelmingly poor and weak... Many could easily be stopped with a little military power and probably with other available, easily employable means...(This)... would radically change potential perpetrators' cost-benefit calculus, heavily tilting the scales toward noneliminationist political options.'' In my own view, external force should only be used as a last resort as, for example, in Bosnia.

Canada`s concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was intended to apply in situations where governments are killing their own people. The UN Security Council has diluted the notion by giving a veto on the use of peacemakers to Its five members having permanent vetoes. Some of the five clearly do not agree with what R2P is attempting to achieve.


Finally, let me quote from the end of Karen Armstrong's book, The Case for God. "The point of religion (is) to live intensely and richly here and now. Truly religious people are ambitious. They want lives overflowing with significance...Instead of being crushed and embittered by the sorrow of life, they (seek) to retain their peace and serenity in the midst of their pain...They (try) to honour the ineffable mystery they (sense) in each human being and create societies that protected and welcomed the stranger, the alien, the poor, and the oppressed. Of course, they often (fail), sometimes abysmally. But overall they (find) that the disciplines of religion (help) them to do all this..." .

Is this reality not partly why our spiritual communities are vital to the well-being of nations everywhere?

Thank you.

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