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Billy King


Nonviolence News


INNATE and Religion

INNATE has direct connections with both the War Resisters International (WRI) and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) which are, respectively, secular and inter-faith nonviolence bodies worldwide. We have informal links with many other bodies including Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace organisation. So where is INNATE on religious/faith/spiritual matters?

We try to respect people of all faiths and none. Most of the people currently actively involved in INNATE do have a Christian faith, of different denominations, but we also have people who are agnostic, humanist or simply secular. We see nonviolence as a key element of life, and of any faith or secular belief system; we are therefore very happy to sponsor events which come at nonviolence from a religious, faith or secular belief perspective. In the case of our January event it was Christian; it could be from an inter-faith perspective, or indeed that of a particular faith, such as Buddhism. The events which we put on are a mixture of what we plan from scratch and what become available to us through cooperation with other bodies or the availability of a resource person (the latter was the case with the January workshop). We would be equally happy putting on a workshop on humanism and nonviolence. It also must be acknowledged that Christianity is the dominant local religion; this does not mean that we should only pay attention to Christians or Christian beliefs but that, so far as religion is concerned, ‘Christian’ approaches to nonviolence are more likely to strike a chord with more people and get the numbers necessary to make an event work.

Faith, or lack of it, and belief are very personal matters. All religions have a common thread of the ‘golden rule’, treating your neighbour, near or far, as yourself. But there is frequently a lack of connection between the teaching and the reality; religions can bolster division and violence just as they can be a force for liberation and reaching out to others (you can decide where the balance lies in a particular situation, such as Northern Ireland, or indeed the Republic). Where nonviolence and justice are key elements in religious belief then there is hope that the religion concerned can indeed be a force for liberation, not just for those of that religious persuasion but for all in the society concerned.

Those of us involved in INNATE retain our own personal belief systems but recognise the importance of nonviolence. How nonviolence and our belief systems interact can be an important area of exploration, not just in terms of sustaining ourselves but also of reaching out to other people. It may seem a contradiction in terms to some people but INNATE is proud to be both religious and non-religious simultaneously in that we try to make room for all within our work, and to relate to people of all religions and none. We feel that this is an appropriate response to the Ireland and world of today. And we are proud or our links with both WRI and IFOR, as well as with many other faith and secular organisations.

If we are taking this position then it is important that it does not come across, or that we make judgements, that:
a) One religion is ‘truer’ than another. Individuals may believe this but as a collective entity this would be inappropriate because it is introducing first and second class members.
b) ‘Having a religion’ is preferable to not having a religious faith belief, or vice versa. To do this, again, would be to make a judgement that one set of beliefs is superior to another. And this is not what we are about.

There are other possible responses and stances which can be taken by an organisation on the issue. One is simply to proclaim yourself a secular organisation – the majority of organisations associated with the War Resisters International, for example, would be in this category. People can still get involved because of a faith perspective but the organisation itself does not deal with, or run programme on, faith issues. Another possibility, as exhibited by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the USA, is to be inter-faith but have individual faith fellowships (for Christians, Muslims, Jews, and so on) within it; the difficulty with this model is that you need to be large enough to sustain it (and INNATE would not be). There are other possibilities such as proclaiming yourself inter-faith but allowing participation from those who would have a deep belief in nonviolence but are more humanist or agnostic (some organisations associated with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation would fit this category). A further response, e.g. by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England and a few other places, would be to retain your Christian identity but create, or allow the creation of, a separate inter-faith body as a sister organisation within the overall international structure.

A key element in all of this should be respect, as it is in nonviolence in general. INNATE has a particular policy which is, we believe, an inclusive one. However there are dangers with any of these models. The danger with INNATE’s model could be that it proclaims itself open to all but is actually the preserve only of Christians because that is the commonest position. However in making this statement we wish to state where we stand and express our openness to work and collaborate with other bodies, whether from a particular religious, inter-faith, or secular/humanist background. We try always to be open to suggestions.

February 2005

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