When I first learned of the idea of a “global village,” I remember having a mental picture of a New England-style village expanded out to cover the whole world. It sounded kind of warm and cozy, with different people amiably waving to their neighbors as they passed by.
Now that technology has brought us the real version of that global village, my mental image of the place has changed somewhat. With all the conflicts – both verbal and armed – going on between so many different groups, the world seems more like Baghdad circa 2004. So many people seem so angry at those who are different from them.
This seems particularly true where religion is concerned. Many of today’s conflicts are rooted in religious differences. For many, it apparently is not enough to simply believe in their religion; they seem compelled by their beliefs to repel and attack believers in other, different religions.
And the differences aren’t just between the major religions like Islam, Judaism and Christianity. They’re between distinct sects, like Sunnis and Shiites and Catholics and Protestants. The results of these clashes all too often turn bloody. And they raise questions. Is religious strife going to be a permanent part of our global village? If not, how do we get beyond the current conflicts?
In a recent essay in the New York Times, the Dalai Lama addressed this issue. He started by relating his thoughts as a boy, and how they’ve changed over time:
When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.
He talked about the pressures our global village puts on religions and cultures, as people behave intolerantly towards those different than themselves:
Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.
The rest of his essay addressed finding an alternative to intolerance and conflict:
Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.
He concluded by noting the importance of focusing on what we have in common rather than how we differ:
Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. As a species, we must embrace the oneness of humanity as we face global issues like pandemics, economic crises and ecological disaster. At that scale, our response must be as one.
Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.
This essay reminded me of a point made by Walter Truett Anderson in his book “Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be”:
The postmodern condition is not an artistic movement or a cultural fad or an intellectual theory — although it produces all of those and is in some ways defined by them. It is what inevitably happens as people everywhere begin to see that there are many beliefs, many kinds of belief, many ways of believing. Postmodernism is globalism; it is the half-discovered shape of the one unity that transcends all our differences.
Perhaps, in time, we will learn to peacefully coexist with those of different religious beliefs -much as people do in modern New England villages, where they amiably wave to their neighbors as they pass on their way to their respective places of worship.