This year was quite different. The gathering was smaller and apart from someone from the British Humanist Association we were all Scottish and we met as friends. We all felt we were on familiar terrritory and there was plenty of time for conversation which allowed us to meet as people and not representatives of any organisation. We did recognise that such dialogue is only possible for those of us who belong to the more liberal wing of our faiths and philosophies for even humanists have their fundamentalists who don't understand dialogue nor are willing to engage in it.
I was introduced to the term ' ignostic' and only now realise that it's a formal term with a whole entry in Wikipedia. It finds discussion about God meaningless and useless because there's no common definition of who or what God is and so no point in talking about it. The ignostic in our midst said he didn't care what we believed, we were free to believe what we like, it was no concern of his. Earlier he had quoted Bertrand Russell " do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will thing that it is happiness".
Not caring what others believe and giving them the freedom to believe it can be called tolerance and no doubt to put up with what one doesn't agree with is necessary for peace and harmony in society. But I wonder about it. Should we not care what others believe? The news is full of beliefs that I see as life-denying and therefore wrong. I'm concerned where those beliefs lead. I want people to seek the truth. And I'm not thinking here of conversion. Every religion and belief group has the right to promote its faith, to live it, to witness to it, to explain it but only in the context of the right of each one to choose their own religion. All religions recognise this . The Qur'an tells us "there should be no compulsion in religion” and the Buddha tells his disciples to find out for themselves the truth of his teaching and that their conduct is spiritually wholesome only when it emerges from their own genuine insight. I am not for proselytisation but I do want dialogue that helps us recognise wisdom in the other and seek for that wisdom in language that might at first seem strange to us. It's this kind of approach that helps us move beyond tolerance to a respect for others, to seek a common ground that will help us cooperate in common action for the common good. In doing this we might even move towards appreciaiton. Can you do this with people whom you think of as foolish? Seeing another's belief as foolish is a short step from seeing the person as foolish, denigrating and dismissing them. Is this not the attitude that has led to and still leads to religious violence?
In spite of our ignostic friend I think our weekend did move us beyond tolerance. We talked of common concerns about poverty and justice, we even talked about death and dying. Here the discussion was interesting. Conducting funerals was a common issue but an understanding that connection, love and interrelatedness survived death showed that though the language was different the intuition was the same. When we meet again next year I'm sure we'll take another step to move beyond tolerance.