MULTIFAITH DAY Religion's role after Sept. 11

YOUNGSTOWN -- There's no quick fix to the problems religions face in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Today, we're not going to solve the problem," Dr. Robert L. VanDale said.
VanDale, director of the peace and conflict resolution center at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., was keynote speaker Thursday at the Mahoning Valley's annual Multifaith Day in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
In his view, the vast majority of the religious community came together responsibly, compassionately and redemptively after the attacks. Religions "reached out to the victims in so, so many ways," he said.
Now, he added, people are deciding "what our religions are going to be and do in the coming centuries."
The old way: Religions don't want to do what the toy, video and entertainment industry did after the attacks, the educator said. After the attacks, they quickly returned to their stock themes.
"What sells is violence and conflict," VanDale said.
What religions must do is build on the multifaith experiences since Sept. 11, he explained.
Views of the attacks: In looking at the challenges religions face, the educator said there are divergent and conflicting views of Sept. 11 -- a fact of living in a free society.
Terrorists proclaimed the attacks a holy war based on the Koran, the Islamic holy book. Some Christians said the attacks were God's wake-up call to America, a view other Christians didn't share.
And often, VanDale said, people within the same religion were quoting the same Scripture for different opinions.
That made comprehension difficult for people of other faiths, the educator said. He urged people to move beyond book knowledge of another person's faith: "You have to know enough about their [religious] vision to understand."
Interactions: The educator outlined three positions of faiths: recruitment of new members; coexistence; and pro-existence.
VanDale defined coexistence as a live-and-let-live attitude that "encourages cooperation outside religion in civilized society."
An example of pro-existence would be a Christian's urging a Muslim to be the best possible Muslim and vice versa, although VanDale was pessimistic that pro-existence would catch on.
Still, he urged people of faith to get past their egos, noting the history of interreligious conflict could be described in terms of ego.
VanDale said religions have opportunities in what he described as a new world order centered in the multifaith reality.
"The multifaith starting point is, 'How do we live our own lives with our own faiths?' " he asked.
People must also must identify their boundaries -- not walls between religions, but rather dividers that let people know they are crossing into another's area, VanDale said.

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