After many years of research, interviews, talks, presentations and writing, a momentous event recently occurred here in Canada: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission offered up its findings and recommendations.
Personally, I don't expect a lot of us to read the full report, which vies for shelf space with the likes of the Oxford English Dictionary, but I'm really looking forward to reading the summary, which is found in a single binder. In fact, the other day, I went to the library, an institution which I take full advantage of, and discovered that they have five copies available. Well, they only have three available as of this writing, for two are checked out, one by my wife. I've had the wonderful bounty of flipping through her copy and talking with her briefly about it. I truly look forward to reading it more thoroughly on my own.
As I've glanced through it, though, one thing stands out as conspicuously underplayed, namely the role of triumphalism. It's not absent, of course, but it does appear to be minimized. And I can understand that. It's a very strange issue.
Triumphalism, as I'm sure you know, is the belief that a particular religion or culture is superior to, and should triumph over, all others. It's found in many different disguises, of which colonialism is but one. Whether we look at the West's "civilizing mission" of the 18th century, or various religious group's missionary zeal, we can now recognize the devastating effect such an attitude has on those "less fortunate", especially when they dismiss what those others have learned and value.
In Canada, one of the resultant issues that is mentioned in the TRC's report is that a few First Nations peoples whose spirituality was blatantly ignored and disregarded, are now disparaging other people's spirituality. It is very similar to domestic abuse, in which the two individuals only see two positions in a relationship: abuser and victim. When the victim overcomes that particular situation, they generally fall back into the position of the abuser. It is the traditional cycle of abuse. The solution, and a very difficult solution it is to implement, is for those in that cycle to recognize a new dynamic. Instead of seeing relationships as an up and down model, to recognize the side by side model, in which both partners are seen as co-equals. Of course, it needs to be mentioned that while a few in the Aboriginal community were affected this way, what is truly remarkable is how many people in that same community have positively shaped this process of healing. There are so many First Nations people, including many of its younger leaders, who are open-hearted and welcoming to non-Aboriginal Canadians, working closely with them as we all escape the confines of triumphalistic and exclusivist thinking.
In regards to the interfaith movement, and what we can learn from this, we need to overcome our own sense of triumphalism, and recognize the validity of another's chosen faith path. After all, what is the purpose of the interfaith movement but to come to a better understanding of those beliefs that differ from our own?
Baha'u'llah, back in the 19th century, wrote, "There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed." This does not mean that we should abandon our faith, but rather that we should look for the truth of our faith in the teachings of others. As Archbishop Weisgerber of Winnipeg once said to me, "I know another faith is good when I see the light of Jesus within it."
Today, we are more aware than ever of the light that shines within the teachings of Aboriginal traditions all over the world, and we are in an especially fortunate position to have this conversation right now, here in our country.
'Abdu'l-Baha, in a letter to the Baha'is of North America, wrote of the Aboriginal peoples here, saying, "there can be no doubt that they will become so illumined as to enlighten the whole world." This document, the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is a ray of that light.
As I read through it, one thing that stands out far more than anything else is the need for respect, on all sides. Respect means showing honour to others, recognizing that they are people of value. It doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with them, but rather seeing the good in what they believe, as the Archbishop did with me. It means looking for those points at which you can come together, and allowing them to disagree with your beliefs. It means having that conversation, deep and heartfelt, open and honest, loving and respectful. It means listening to the other person, and striving to see their perspective, especially if it is not the same as your own. As long as we do not accept the idea that someone else's spiritual path may be right for them, then we can never truly respect them as a friend.
This document, this summary of all that was uncovered, helps us better understand how to apply these ideas between two nations, and not just two individuals. I truly hope to see more people downloading it, reading it, studying it, and talking about it. And I even hope that more people will check it out of the library. But please, wait until I have a chance to read it first.
Mead Simon is a member of the Baha'i international community and can often be found writing his blog at onebahai.blogspot.com .
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE