Thursday, March 10, 2016

Compassionate Listening and the Parliament of the World’s Religions

From a news clipping in my files concerning the Parliament of World Religions:

Allegedly, “it was a celebration of religious unity, but last week’s Parliament of the World’s Religions at times resembled a controlled brawl lurching from argument to argument with almost embarrassing regularity. Police had to break up a shouting and shoving match among Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim delegates.”

"The presence of pagans so offended Orthodox Christians that they left the gathering. Later four Jewish organizations followed them out of Chicago, objecting to the presence of...the Nation of Islam. Evangelical Christians boycotted.”
Chuck Lindell, Cox News Service

Hopefully, there was less rancor and more compassionate listening at this year's meeting.

However, “religious disagreement is inevitable...I think what most often blocks friendly disagreement is that we don’t know people of other religions, and we misunderstand them.”
Terry Muck

On the contrary, more often than not, the problem isn’t that we don’t "know people of other religions" and that we don't understand other religions or other ideologies, but that we, oh so tragically,

As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Outwardly, on first glance, looking at their forward advertising, most religions and ideologies smile and pronounce the usual platitudes--follow the Golden Rule,
be nice,
and don’t step on others’ blue suede shoes;-)

Repeat--but the devil is in the details!

The horrors are in the very real twisted philosophy and theology of these various belief systems that cause and or lead to so much suffering and harm and destruction of others in our world.

Yes, there are distorted cliches. Once upon a time, before the hurricane of adulthood, most of us were children of hope and innocence, well, naivety.

But even then, there were the generic labeled bad guys--from the communists to the Catholics.

Raised in moderate Baptist fundamentalism, my parents and church taught my sister and I the usual Nebraska 1950 prejudices--that Catholics weren’t Christians, liberals were awful, hard fundamentalists mean, and Pentecostals (which included our dear uncle and aunt) confused.

But as kids my sister and I didn’t know the details. Later as we grew and encountered these enemies, we learned that other worldviews were sometimes much better than the bad descriptions but, too often, actually much worse.

The demon was in the details of the religions' central beliefs and destructive actions.

Real Examples:

God will call you to sometimes commit immoral actions because God is sovereign will and so decides what is good and what is evil.

God created evil.

Malaria and cancer aren’t wrong.

Those humans who criticize our God and our holy book, and our leaders ought to be arrested, jailed, and executed.

God planned the Jewish Holocaust and 9/11.

God is sovereign and before creation planned for the eternal damnation of most human beings. He creates every infant at conception, “in essence, evil.”

Murder and rape and molestation can easily be forgiven but not failure to believe in our creed.

Husbands can beat their wives and women must submit to men.

Women must wear coverings over all of their body and hair.

Little girls should have their private parts mutilated.

Every human is born totally depraved because of what Adam did.

The atom bomb is "God's gift to America."

There are many Gods; there are no Gods.

Killing others for God is good and makes us heroes and "martyrs."

God is both good and evil.

God is only concerned with his own glory and planned all evil to give him glory and "good pleasure."

All other religions are of the Devil.


It is difficult to listen with compassionate and empathetic listening, when the person opposite from you spouts horrific beliefs and supports unjust actions which are leading to great suffering, harm, and tragedy for others.

Even seemingly caring religious leaders can disconcert and confuse. Consider this caring quote: “Compassionate Listening is a process rather than a product. It is healing precisely because it does not pretend to ‘have the answers.’ Rather, it engages the participants in processes that have each side seeing the humanity of the other, even when they disagree.”
Rabbi David Zaslow, Ashland Oregon

Sounds so good. But then consider what the Rabbi also wrote! In his book, Jesus, First Century Rabbi, he states that God created evil and is also the opposite of love and the opposite of light!

Then Zaslow quotes “God says, ‘I form the light, and create darkness. I make peace, and create evil. I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7 in the Jewish Bible). According to him, “...and always the satan is sent by God for us to overcome.”

Now, Zaslow does backtrack and contradict himself in later pages, but such initial statements are still troubling and confusing—definitely not helpful toward compassion or good listening.

Evidently, he emphasizes the extreme statements to shock the reader, but he also really believes them!

How so unlike other modern American Jewish leaders such as the endearing, caring Rabbi Albert L. Lewis, in Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom or the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who focused on the positive and abhorred what is wrong.

Declaring God started evil and sends evil! That is very troubling.


“Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels that you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you are capable of loving him he would no longer be your enemy.”
Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation


A January 2002 Interview with Gene Knudsen Hoffman
Gene Knudsen Hoffman, founder of Compassionate Listening, after being influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who was nominated for the Nobel Prize for his work with opposite sides in the Vietnam War.

Interviewer: "What is the nature of nonviolence?"

Hoffoman: "I don't like the term nonviolence any more. I feel closer to Gandhi when he says truth force, God. I'm a Quaker and I've been involved with peace for fifty years."

Interviewer: "What makes peacemaking so slow a process?"

"First of all, people don't believe in peace, in my opinion. We have never known peace. We don't even admit that we have been in many wars, so why should we make peace? We have talked about ourselves, at least Americans, as being a peaceful people until we believe it no matter what we do. It's a shocking thing. It's a practice of denial."

"Just not facing the reality. We are always calling other people war criminals, yet we're the ones who dropped the first atom bomb."

"We don't live with that reality. It is always the other person, like an untutored child who is always blaming someone else. We're in great denial about it."

"I discovered something in 1985 as I was going around the world looking for new peace initiatives and touring peace centers. I went to a Quaker meeting in London and outside the meeting was a huge sign, 'Meeting For Worship For The Torturers And The Tortured.'"

"I'd never heard of anything like that; I mean, listen to the torturers? Then I decided that I was going to listen to everyone and everything. I started listening to both sides. We can never make peace until we can listen to both sides. No matter who is the enemy."

Interviewer: "If then peacemaking is such slow work because it is the continual struggle to face reality, and also a continual struggle with self-interest, how do you get opposing people to listen to each other?"

Hoffman: "I maintain that we must listen to the oppressor as a human being. The oppressor has grievances, suffering, and we have to listen to both sides. An enemy is a person whose story we have not heard."

"In the beginning you have them listen separately. They get their anger out. They get out everything they feel. They talk about it for a year before they do anything."

"What happens is that as you listen, you change. It's a transformation. People are never listened to as much as they need to be, [especially] children and certain criminal types. It doesn't mean the oppressors are right."

"It doesn't mean you agree with them, and the people have to know this before you go in. It doesn't mean you agree with them, but you look for the truth. You have to discern the truth. It's a process of discernment and intuition and listening."

So am I willing to listen to those who claim God wills evil, who predestines most humans to eternal torture, who consider little infants, "in essence, evil," who are prejudiced against women, minorities, and other humans as inferior, who advocate that nuclear weapons are good, that life is meaningless and purposeless, that ethics are only "personal preference," etc.?

I try. But it's difficult!

Because I've lived where Muslim jihadists shot up innocent people, personally known many individuals who tragically suffer and are allegedly eternally damned by others, have seen the destructive results of prejudice, injustice, and human rights violations and saw the destructive results of determinism and of the denial of objective ethics by various religious and ideological groups.

But we do need to listen, or we become in our own way, like our enemies.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

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