Recap: Phipps presents forum on religions
Brothers—that's how Dean Simpson, Rob Wertheimer and Ozcan Kili describe each other. Though they are not related, they have come together by discussing what separates them—religion. A Christian, a Jew and a Muslim, Simpson, Wertheimer and Kili make up the regular program Different Voices: Shared Vision on The River Channel, the Hudson area community access station. They came together again on Thursday, Nov. 9 for a forum at The Phipps Center for the Arts as a part of an ongoing exhibit showcasing the three religions and facilitating community understanding and conversation.
The religions have their differences, but moderator Daniel Bruch shared the unifying beliefs with the crowd Thursday night—a connection to Abraham, monotheism, sacred texts said to be the word of God, Jerusalem as a sacred place, the duality of humans with a body and soul, ethically-oriented beliefs, prophetic traditions and agents of prophecy in the form of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, and the belief in an end.
Through their program and friendship, these three have discovered those similarities together. Simpson said the three religions deal with the same realities. "We don't have the same doctrines, I don't mean to say that, but the doctrines point to truth about our lives that is deeper than we can sometimes put into words," he said.
Often they discover the best words and the truths together, Wertheimer said. He hopes their relationship serves as an example for others.
"If more of us sat together and figured things out, we'd find a lot of truths," he said.
To engage in conversations like this Kili said it's important to understand that no one else has to believe the same thing, to accept others as they are and be yourself.
"If we try to change others, this conversation doesn't work," he said.
Fostering this conversation starts with being aware and tolerant of differences, Wertheimer said, especially when diversity is lacking.
"As far as keeping the dialogue going and being open to it, it starts with I think an openness and a friendliness in our town and a welcoming," Wertheimer said.
Simpson said churches, synagogues and mosques should be inviting others in so their congregations can learn more about others.
"We should have a little courage to step out there and make those invitations because when we get to know each other face to face its a whole new world," Simpson said.
Reconciling the differences between the religions can be difficult, and one audience member asked how they do so when oftentimes religions say theirs is the only way to heaven.
"There's some fundamental things like you're saying that there may be some differences on," Wertheimer said.
Oftentimes it is necessary to agree to disagree, Simpson said.
"We speak our truth in love but we also listen and struggle together," he said.
Kilic said that concern for others is important. At the end, he said everyone must live up to their own beliefs, and show understanding for others.
"We have to accept God's creation and God as creator," he said. "So we accept as Muslims, as Christians, the other group, the other people. When we accept the others than we accept God as the creator."
The three men also addressed the extremism that appears within their religions in different forms, including the debate over the actions of Israel, terrorism by groups like ISIS and discrimination against those outside of Christianity.
"There's extremes on all sides, all faiths and religions," Wertheimer said.
Kilic said everyone has a responsibility to stand up and denounce extremism in their religion.
"We need to be brave enough to say look this is not Islam," Kilic said of the extremism seen in his own religion.
Many stay silent out of concern for how their peers would react, Simpson said.
"It would be easy to speak up on behalf of the other, the stranger, if we were not afraid of our own," he said.
That fear cannot should not stop people from speaking up from those that are outside their religion, Simpson said. The should call for welcoming and respect, and be willing to suffer for it.
"That's not easy but that's what our faith teachings say to us," he said.