Panel Discussion: interView with Rabbi Justus Baird

Posted on June 1st, 2010 | Filed under InterViews, Video

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interView with Rabbi Justus Baird


Response by Jess Kent

Rabbi Justus Baird asks if God wants the religious diversity that we find within our current world. Furthermore, he questions if it is a good or bad thing. I think of the religious diversity we have today as a test. One will pass the test with an exploratory nature much more enjoyably and honestly than with a stagnant memory.

I remember a political philosophy professor at Brandeis explaining that he did not want a single answer in response to the essay question he would pose for our final exam. We were to illustrate that we had thought about the many ways the question could be answered rather than push forward a single response that made the most sense to us. He urged us to consider how the question could be answered if we approached it from a different perspective. Perhaps this is how I view the “answer(s)” of faith. Growing to understand how or why someone else would answer differently enables me to ultimately gain a greater understanding- not only of that individual or of myself- but of the larger world that we inhabit together.

Rabbi Baird used the word “equipping” when he discussed the responsibility of theological seminaries to prepare their students. I like his choice of words as it reminds me that the study of religion must be taught and tradition must be taught. Religion is not innate, which reminds me once again that the value we assign to our differences as “good or bad” is ours to create.

Response by Liane Carlson

Regarding Rabbi Justus Baird’s question as to why I think there are so many religious traditions, I’m afraid I only have the unoriginal answer of a secularist.  Religious traditions developed in response to varying agricultural, social, and political factors.  To explain why Christianity gained traction in Europe and Islam in the Middle East would involve an unimaginably complex discussion of the ways in which local traditions interacted with invading or proselytizing communities, appropriating them and being appropriated in turn.  Even if we had an infinite amount of historical data - which we don’t and never will - I’m not sure the question could be answered.  It’s much more likely we would launch into an endless narrative of minutia.  Given the inevitable segregation of communities throughout history, I would be amazed if there weren’t a plurality of traditions.

More interesting to me than this question was - as always - the language used in this interview.  I’ve remarked on this before, but I find the link between capitalism and inter-religious dialogue we see in these videos fascinating.  I knew that Rabbi Baird’s approach to ministry was inflected by the ideals of capitalism, even before he mentioned his past as an entrepreneur, because of the adjectives he used to describe the ideal religious leaders produced in his seminary - bold, resilient.  The model here is the C.E.O, not the hermit, or the follower; the goal is a Steve Jobs of inter-religious dialogue.  And I worry about how compatible that rhetoric is with dialogue - real, respectful dialogue, separate from proselytizing.  A successful entrepreneur, after all, is the one who turns a profit on his product, and usually not by paying fair union wages to the employees.

So what should we make of religion as a product?  Rabbi Baird hints at the stakes when he notes that some seminaries taught about other faiths in order to better prepare their students to convert others.  Is he tapping into something real?  Is all of this language of successful capitalism a case of adapting to the world we find ourselves in, or is it a mask for continuing the traditional struggle for domination between religious traditions, under the guise of dialogue?  Isn’t the corporate model on some level radically antithetical to inter-religious dialogue?

Response by Freeman Trebilcock

Rabbi Baird asks us to question the reason for there being so many diverse religious traditions across our planet, and whether or not such diversity is of benefit. My gut response is to wonder just how boring it would be to live in a world without such diversity. Having many names for the Ultimate helps us find many ways to re-connect with it. However, in the presence of such rich diversity, we have seen how, if not engaged, these differences become walls to divide us. Barriers of language and conception. Walls made of words.

In the video, the rabbi also touched upon his sense that we must balance the preservation of tradition with opening the way to innovation. He noted that this requires 'mining the depths of our religious traditions,' and I agree. The other night my Christian friend paid a visit and we talked for hours about how our different traditions grapple with the Ultimate. The dialogue truly became rich when we began to share our personal experiences of spirituality – those moments when we felt totally connected to our innate underlying nature of spacious love. To my mind, this is what is meant by 'mining the depths.' It is an experience of going inwards to discover that which is beyond the words. And from this limitless place we can work in a way that is profoundly capable of crossing all lines of difference – because you cannot build walls in the space of love.

Response by Michael VanZandt Collins

Why are there so many religious traditions in the world? If you were in charge of the world would there be one religious tradition or multiple religious traditions?

With such questions, I routinely find myself quoting Sura 49:13, which Aga Khan, and now Eboo Patel, frequently cites: “Allah created you male and female and made you into communities and tribes, that you may know one another.” In terms of theology, one can argue also that this deeper knowledge of the other naturally transcends into a deeper knowledge of the divine entity. Anything as vast and indefinable as “God” requires the full palette of human expression, including those of other religious traditions that bring a new fullness to one’s “home tradition.”

Yet, for all of the interest generated in the relatively nascent interfaith movement towards a more cohesive interreligious approach, valid criticisms do exist. In his recent book, Stephen Prothero argues that the concept of a universal God is in reality a falsehood, and that each respective religious tradition is a rival to the every other. Counterarguments aside, this thesis raises an inherent challenge to contemporary interfaith work: the tension between theology and real faith experience. From Prothero’s perspective, the prevalence of such theological arguments obscure what is actually happening in the religious experience of most communities and, as a result, diminishes real differences. Therefore, if there is theological validity to interreligious work and dialogue, how ought institutions of religious education prepare their leaders?

Rabbi Justus Baird’s study offers a valuable reflection on that question in the contemporary U.S. context. Interfaith dialogue and multifaith education, to this point, still are marginal components in religious education. Until there are more cross-seminary initiatives, religious leaders will remain incapable of speaking a “shared language” necessary for pastoral work in a religiously pluralistic setting. However, as Rabbi Baird suggests, any living tradition also needs to be developing or “entrepreneurial.” Catholic tradition confirms this belief in its own ecclesial definition, In short, the Church exists in the tension of “already, not yet;” the Church embodies the virtues of a devout and godly existence while in our earthly state it has not yet reached its fulfillment. At this stage of human history, interreligious dialogue presents the greatest opportunity for development not just for matters of peace and justice but also the spiritual growth for the respective faith traditions.

One Response to “Panel Discussion: interView with Rabbi Justus Baird”

  1. uriel light says:

    Religion- That’s a can of worms. What worm are we talking about. If we follow Jesus as a way shower from the west he never mentions forming a religion. He in his journey of following his mission and purpose never by example built a church or religion. He sd he would build the church upon the rock as a solid foundation. Man’s in its way of finding community and identity socially begins to forms group of like mind people and establish their docrine and beliefs to live by and establish values of their consciousness. As society evolves and people begin to diagree they break off and form a new group and call it another religious group with a different doctrine and belief.. So life goes on in this process of constantly dividing mankind because of their beliefs in how they identify God and what standards are they to live their life by and their interpretation of the bible. We now have a group of religions and people doing their own thing by what they interrupt to be the truth and light. We set up a duality consciousness and live in the me vs you mentality of this 3D world of good and bad. There is only truth and it is the only thing that can set us free. The world was created on its Divine principles and laws and until we understand them we will live in illusions and lies and false beliefs. Science and religion have to meet and when they do all will be the same another name for God. Then and only then it will be the God who never changes and is the same yesterday and tomorrow and we can count on. When religion is ready to get back to this truth there will be no division. Truth is the only thing we can base our values and consciousness on. It is like money, when you know the real thing you will recogonize the counterfeit right away and refuse it. When we truly know who we are and what our mission and purpose is and walk in that truth and light we can then be a light to the world, for as I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me. Light attracts Light. We are merged and transformed from darkness into light and are out of the 3D into Divine Mind and illumination and are ONE. One mind, heart and spirit, there is no longer any need for religion for we have been set free by truth and our guidance is being an observer in appreciation for as we see the beauty in the world we realize and recogonize who we are, for we are make in the image and likeness ofGod. God is energy in motion. For we live, move and have our being in GOD. We are life in Motion, for we are energy. The world was created from the void in this material realm and it was the macrocosom and we are the microcosom. If we know the macrocosom, we know ourself for as above so below. we become co-creators for we are the I AM THAT I AM, the totality of all that is, was and will be. we are set free from the bonds of control and manpulation that religion has imposed on mankind for it is only another business venture making people feel guilty if they don’t tithe and serving as a place to relieve their guilt. Are they really ever challenged to ever look w/in and search their hearts and create a clean heart that is pure, righteous and holy. If this was done religion would have changed the world by now and we would not be in the state of mind and consciosness that mankind is in now for we would have not redeemed ourself from the fall and be truly united as one with the One out of separation and guilt and suffering and be in harmony and peace and wholeness of body, mind and spirit. We would be immortal beings of light and love totally connected and be in the flow of being ONE mind and that would be Divine Mind of the KNOWING of the heart and our unbelief(knowing) would be resolved. Or cry is I believe but help my unbelief. The knowing is the yearning of our heart. When we know we shall be like the tree planted by the waters and we shall not be moved. Our mind(human) and heart merge into one and thus allows us to reconnect to the heartbeat of the universe and we truly are ONE in rhythm and flow.
    There is no division, for we are home once again in the Garden of Eden back to our innocence and purity and love back to neutrality that all is perfect just the way it is.
    Love and Light
    Uriel