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Interfaith Harmony

James Clovispoint comments:

"Interfaith anything is an illusion.

"Though I applaud anyone who deeply wants to see the world's communities agree on human friendship, when it comes to religion, there is nothing more segregationalist and segregating than a religion; there is no way around that.

"Each religion segregates those who have faith in a specific god from those who do not, those who practice the religion in a specific way from those who do not, and the list goes on; those who sit, kneel, instead of stand, on the right foot, the left foot, both feet. Those who hold a candle, a bowl, two candles, two bowls, from those who dance to the left instead of to the right... the list is too long.

"All religions however put forth their good will to dialogue. Ah, dialogue!!

"I once asked why, after all of this dialogue, over many years, why religions had not come to some compromise on the real nature of the universal god they all seem to believe in. I was told that one cannot compromise on THE truth that of course only one of them has.

"This means that dialogue is a facade that leads to my trying to convert you to my truth; illusion and delusion is the result."


Mathematics professor turned novelty songwriter Tom Lehrer similarly sang:

"Oh, the white folks hate the black folks
"And the black folks hate the white folks
"To hate all but the right folks
"Is an old established rule

"But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week
"Lena Horne and Sheriff Clarke are dancing cheek to cheek
"It's fun to eulogize
"The people you despise
"As long as you don't let 'em in your school

"Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks
"And the rich folks hate the poor folks
"All of my folks hate all of your folks
"It's American as apple pie

"But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week
"New Yorkers love the Puerto Ricans 'cause it's very chic
"Step up and shake the hand
"Of someone you can't stand
"You can tolerate him if you try

"Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
"And the Catholics hate the Protestants
"And the Hindus hate the Muslims
"And everybody hates the Jews

"But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week
"It's National Everyone-smile-at-one-another-hood Week
"Be nice to people who
"Are inferior to you
"It's only for a week, so have no fear
"Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!"


On pilgrimage to a Krishna temple in Santa Cruz, CA with the beautiful bhaktin Kim Grant, I pointed out that there are over forty thousand different denominations within Christianity:

Catholics, Baptists, Unitarians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, etc...

...with differing views on the divinity of Jesus, the afterlife, grace Vs works, the Trinity, faith healing, speaking in tongues, snake-handling, smoking, drinking, gambling, abortion, evolution,etc...

So there's no reason they can't be accepting of Krishna devotees, too, as part of the American mainstream.

"But they (the different Christian denominations) all hate each other!" Kim exclaimed.

She's right.

It's possible that without church-state separation, religious strife would have torn our country apart.

A secular state is laissez-faire towards all belief and disbelief.

It was Thomas Jefferson who established the separation of church and state. Jefferson was deeply suspicious of religion and of clergy wielding political power.

Jefferson helped create the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, incurring the wrath of Christians by his fervent defense of toleration of atheists:

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are only injurious to others. But it does no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

"This country (the United States) wasn't founded by Christians..."

--Ron McClellan, 1990

A Roman Catholic priest, Reverend David K. O’Rourke, said, “Every religious group in the United States is a minority group. Some may be unhappy with this status and wish they had official standing. I am not unhappy with it. The Catholic Church, the largest of these minorities, has prospered greatly in this country where we separate church and state.”

According to journalist Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State: “We have a vibrant, multifaith religious society that, with the exception of a few fundamentalist Muslim states, is admired all over the globe. We have a degree of interfaith harmony unmatched in the world. Our government is legally secular, but our culture accommodates and welcomes a variety of religious voices. New faiths take root here without fear...

"Some European nations have passed so-called anticult laws aimed at curbing the rights of unpopular new religions. Such laws would not be acceptable in the United States or permitted under the First Amendment.

Children are no longer forced to pray in school or read from religious texts against their will, yet they are free to engage in truly voluntary religious worship whenever they feel the need. The important task of imparting religious and philosophical training to youngsters is left where it always belonged—with each child’s parents or guardians...

“Americans remain greatly interested in religion and things spiritual—unlike their counterparts in Western Europe, where religion is often state subsidized but of little interest to most people...

“Because the U.S. government is secular, religious groups are left to contend for members based solely on their own initiative. They create a free marketplace of religion that spurs competition and a vigorous religious life. This explains why the United States, which maintains church-state separation, retains a high degree of religiosity among its people.

(On the other hand, as my friend and college roommate John Antypas noted in 1985, the deeply religious fled religious persecution in Europe and came to the United States because it was safe here, so, "We got all the nuts!" That's John... always the cynic!)

“In a multifaith society such as the United States,” observes Boston, “a type of religious marketplace does exist. Religious groups that aggressively seek converts, such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, are well aware that people in the United States are able and even willing to change their religious beliefs. To these groups, it’s well worth it to enter the marketplace and advertise their goods. Lots of people might buy them...

“The more sophisticated and perceptive believers realize that the separation principle is a boon to their faith,” notes Rob Boston. “They see danger in any attempt by government to decide which religion is true and which is false. They know that a faith that is in favor with the government today can be out of favor tomorrow. These believers are thankful for the free marketplace of religion and the secular state that makes it possible. They understand that the way to get new members is through persuasion, not government aid.”


In a secular democracy, there's no reason we can't merely respect and appreciate the similarities as well as the differences between each other's faiths.

"I understand something about the deep spiritual concepts which are upheld in India and I appreciate them," said Pope John Paul II. "I’ve heard about Krishna. Krishna is great."

Srila Prabhupada was pleased when Southern Cross wrote a very favorable article about the Hare Krishna movement. He wanted Christians and Vaishnavas to cooperate and respect and appreciate each other’s faith.

"The Hare Krishna movement should be a source of inspiration and move us Christians on to give closer attention to the very spiritual teachings of Jesus," says Father Kenneth L. Robertson, a Roman Catholic priest in Nova Scotia, Canada. "My prayer is that this good work prosper and be appreciated by all men and women of good will for the greater good of mankind."

Father Robert Stephens, a Catholic priest in Australia, considers Krishna "one of the many names of God." He writes that he is "saddened at the narrowness and arrogance of many Christian fundamentalists;" "those who claim a monopoly on all truth or goodness;" "those who desperately cling only to external forms under the pretense of faith in God," and "those who have turned their Sacred Scriptures into mere weaponry against those who differ from themselves."

According to Father Stephens, we who engage in interreligious discussion "have firm support from the Catholic Church, especially the Second Vatican Council, and from such official bodies as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Dialogue Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India."

Father Stephens observes that "Because spiritual riches belong to all, dialogue and sharing are not an optional extra in a pluralistic society. We cannot live in a fortress of one-eyed people." Father Gerald O’Collins SJ, similarly, is of the opinion that the Bible does not necessarily provide authoritative answers to new questions which arise in the life of the Church, and that the Bible is not that kind of "norm for every problem and every situation."

Father Bede Griffiths says of Bhagavad-gita, "For a Christian, this is a wonderful confirmation of God’s love contained in the Gospel."

Meister Eckhart wrote: "When we say God is ‘eternal,’ we mean God is eternally young." This is Krishna Consciousness. God is an eternal youth.

Matthew Fox’s statement that "God and God’s Son are ultimately attractive and alluring because of their beauty" is also consistent with Vaishnavaism. The name "Krishna" means "the all attractive one."

World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present, edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, states that one conclusion of Bhagavad-gita is:

"...there is no rebirth when a man devotes his whole heart to the Lord. The wicked man who adores the Lord becomes holy; even women, vaishyas and shudras (are saved)."

The Vaishnava tradition is described as a warm, devotional religion, drawing women and members of the low castes to itself... first announced in the Gita... destined for a long and fruitful career through Indian history."

World Religions explains: "The Vaishnava saints...wrote ecstatic poetry in praise of the Lord in the vernacular..."

A key Vaishnavaite doctrine is that of prapatti, or throwing oneself completely on God’s mercy; feeling oneself completely dependent upon the Lord. One school of thought teaches that receiving salvation is comparable to the monkey, which carries its young clinging to its belly—the individual must properly use his free will for grace to assent. Another school of thought uses the analogy of the cat which carries its kitten by the neck—God’s grace requires no human effort.

In Bhagavad-gita ("The Lord’s Song"), Lord Krishna reveals Himself as an incarnation of God to His disciple Arjuna. According to the Gita (11.48), one cannot come to know God personally by study of the scriptures, nor by performing sacrifices, nor by charity, nor by good deeds, nor by penances.

The Gita (11.54-55) teaches that God can only be known through love and devotion. The Brahma-Samhita (34) says the ascetics and deep thinkers who try to understand God through their own abilities merely touch the outskirts of His lotus feet, and do not know Him intimately. The Gita (Ch. 12) explains one must lead a life of devotion to a personal God. Those completely devoted to God are not affected by worldly conflicts, concerns, and entanglements, and are very, very dear to Him.

The Lord’s devotees are lifted by the Lord into a state of spiritual grace; free from the entanglements of the world and the flesh, because—by His mercy—they are able to serve Him personally. (Gita 14.26-27) One can understand God only by devotion. (Gita 18.55) Only through devotion can one enter into the kingdom of God. One must surrender oneself completely to God.

By His grace ("tat-prasadat") one receives everlasting peace and the spiritual Kingdom. (Gita 18.58-66)


And this spirit of interfaith discussion and cooperation extends to people of other faiths and others as well (Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, Scientologists, etc.)!

In 1974, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada asked Father Emmanuel Jungclaussen, a Benedictine monk, "What is the meaning of the word Christ?"

Father Emmanuel replied, "Christ comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning 'the anointed one.'"

Srila Prabhupada said, "Christos is the Greek version of the word Krishna."

Father Emmanuel answered, "This is very interesting."

Srila Prabhupada explained: "When an Indian person calls on Krishna, he often says 'Krishta.' Krishta is a Sanskrit word meaning 'attraction.' So when we address God as 'Christ,' 'Krishta,' or 'Krishna,' we indicate the same all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead.

"When Jesus said, 'Our Father who art in heaven, sanctified be Thy Name,' that name of God was 'Krishta' or 'Krishna."

George Harrison similarly said in a 1982 interview, "Hallelujah may have originally been some mantric thing that got watered down, but I'm not sure what it really means. The Greek word for Christ is Kristos, which is, let's face it, Krishna, and Kristos is the same name actually."

(Secular scholars and theologians dispute this interreligious claim!)

A few years ago, when Kim and I were staffing a table at the World Vegetarian Weekend festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, we were seated next to the Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA).

Kim immediately went up and introduced herself to Patricia Koot, an Adventist Christian, whose husband Dave is an ordained minister.

Kim explained we're all worshipping the same God, whether we address Him as "Christ," "Krishna," etc.

Patricia didn't know what to make of Kim's attempts at interfaith harmony, but hey, that's another story!

I later told Dave, when he was saying grace over some vegan cuisine, that Srila Prabhupada taught us that saying grace is second-class, and that the highest standard is to offer one's food to the Lord beforehand.

Srila Prabhupada gave an example of guests seated at a banquet. He said the third-class man will immediately dig in and start eating without acknowledging the host who has provided the food. The second-class man will thank the host and then begin to eat, but the first-class man will say to the host, "You first," and will eat only after the host has partaken.

Similarly, I said, the highest standard of worship is to offer one's food to God beforehand.

Again, Srila Prabhupada wanted Christians and Vaishnavas to cooperate and respect and appreciate each other's faith.

There's no reason why we, in a secular democracy, can't give copies of the Bhagavad-gita to Dave & Patricia Koot, Reverend Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, Reverend Barry Lynn of the United Church of Christ, etc.

The same applies to pro-life and animal activism. This point was made clear in a 1989 interview with the now-defunct Animals' Agenda by Reverend Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest, author of Christianity and the Rights of Animals, and the foremost theologian in the field of animal-human relations.

Christians have found themselves unable to agree upon many pressing moral issues -- including abortion. Exodus 21:22-24 says if two men are fighting and one injures a pregnant woman and the child is killed, he shall repay her according to the degree of injury inflicted upon her, and not the fetus. On the other hand, the Didache (Apostolic Church teaching) forbade abortion.

"There has to be a frank recognition that the Christian church is divided on every moral issue under the sun: nuclear weapons, divorce, homosexuality, capital punishment, animals, etc.," says Reverend Linzey. "I don't think it's desirable or possible for Christians to agree upon every moral issue. And, therefore, I think within the church we have no alternative but to work within diversity."

Rodney King, who called himself a "poster child for police brutality," asked in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots of 1992:

"I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?"

Americans United
for Separation of Church and State
Fax: (202) 466-2587
Phone: (202) 466-3234
Email: [email protected]
Address: 1901 L Street NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036

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