The interaction between religion and nation states began a very long time ago. Ancient China had its philosophers who played a major role in the decisions of state; Egypt revolved around the guidance of its priests as well as its traditions; and present-day nations such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as many others, are based upon the beliefs and customs of a single faith, although others may be tolerated.
How many of you believe that faith should play an important role in the identity of a nation? If a group of people have gathered in a particular territory and declared that they comprise a nation, how exclusive should that identity be compared with other nations? Despite one religion being the cultural core of a given nation, how much tolerance exists in that nation for people of different faiths, and how much spiritual kinship is experienced there among people of different faiths? These are among the questions we must ask ourselves when contemplating the future of the world.
Currently, the list of nations founded on or based on a single faith includes, but is by no means limited to, the following: Israel (Judaism), Saudi Arabia, (Islam), Libya (Islam) Armenia (Christianity), Thailand (Buddhism) and Nepal (Hinduism). There are many European nations, such as the Scandinavian countries, which have instituted Christianity as their state religion. And there are several other nations whose primary religion is Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or others.
In addition to single-faith states, there are a few nations with a large population of one faith which believes that its country should be considered a “Christian” nation, for example, when it is, in fact, a pluralistic society with a constitution requiring tolerance of all faiths. The United States stands out as the main example of such a nation — especially with the presence of the so-called “Christian right” within our society and within our government. The more far-seeing leaders, of course, understand the pluralistic and multi-faith nature of American society, acknowledging of the First Amendment to the Constitution — but not just the First Amendment: The fundamental truth that no matter what our backgrounds may be, all Americans are part of one society. As our Pledge of Allegiance says: “… one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” But how far do we really go to put these great principles into daily practice? Think about how much acceptance of each other’s differences exists in your own communities. Perhaps some of you have had a wish to become leaders in your communities for the purpose of inspiring greater tolerance, compassion and unity of spirit.
We are all part of one global society. What is the root of our global society, if not the basic spiritual kinship we do, in fact, all share — whether we may be aware of it or not? Here’s where we get to the basis of this sermon: How can we achieve spiritual unity if so many nations base their outreach to God upon one single faith, or even one principal faith? Do we not need pluralistic policies in all nations on Earth as a step toward building universal tolerance — and therefore universal peace? Although there are universal values contained within every faith on Earth, think about this: If we, as individuals and groups, are capable of tolerating each other’s differences, if we are capable of interfaith consciousness — celebrating what we have in common and accepting that we may not all believe in the same way — then can this not happen as part of deliberate policy within every nation, and among all nations? Whether or not a given nation practices “separation of church and state” or the equivalent, the practices within every government are ultimately connected to the principles inculcated within us by the faiths or our forefathers, and therefore we must begin to think more deeply about the responsibility of every national government to its people with regard to spiritually-based matters.
I ask you to think about the long-term future — not in terms of what you may have been taught in the past, but with regard to your deepest prayer for your country and for the world as a whole. To be sure, it is quite understandable that people of one faith would wish to form large groups to reinforce their communities, and that in some cases they would also want their entire nation to be inspired principally by their inherited religion. But let us think about whether this is the best model for our long-term future — both in terms of life within the borders of a given nation and life in the world as a whole, with the interaction of nations of different primary faiths interacting with each other on a daily basis. International diplomacy will also have to deepen its practices to reflect a changing awareness of our spiritual principles and how far we can go to help unite the world by means of those universal principles we already share — as well as those great principles we could share in the future, such as a fundamental belief in the unconditional love of God for all human beings. This brings us back to the basic question: How much global peace and harmony do we truly want — and what are we willing to do to achieve such peace and harmony, and have it last for generations to come?
We all know about the religiously-based conflicts that have dominated the world scene for many centuries. At the root of such conflicts is usually this: One side believes that it is morally superior to the other, or that it has a religiously based right to occupy land that did not formerly belong to its people (a phenomenon that has happened in many areas throughout history), or that in some way it must band its adherents together in order to survive against perceived enemies — and that survival sometimes means war at all costs. The other side may believe those same things, or it may simply feel attacked or encroached upon and therefore within its rights to defend its religion — for purposes of survival and also to prove its superiority in God’s eyes. And conflicts have been started by terrorist groups claiming superiority because of their faith — and therefore their perceived right to attack anyone with a faith other than theirs. But what do any of these actions have to do with God? And what do such actions say about the understanding of God carried within the hearts of those who would be so divisive? Please remember this: God loves us all constantly and unconditionally — regardless of who we may be in a given lifetime or regardless of how disappointed God may be with us on a given day. The world is not divided into those who are “saved” by means of one belief or ritual, and those who are “condemned” because of one act of neglect or transgression. God always gives us enough time to learn and to evolve.
Think about these things, and talk about them with your family, your friends, and others in your community and in your places of worship. We must get together in global tolerance and good will, striving to create a world of harmony and compassion. And think about the next steps — beyond interfaith tolerance: A world in which all human beings know of the unconditional nature of God’s love, God’s infinite wisdom and compassion, and God’s wish that we all treat each other the way we would be treated ourselves. This is the world of universal spirituality to which we can all aspire — beginning at home, in our own communities, in our places of worship, in our nations and continents, and beyond.
May God bless you all!
Rev. Roger Davidson