By C.L. DeLisle, Contributing Writer
Life has a funny way of leaving us with more questions than answers. Throughout history we have always sought explanations to these existential mysteries. Billions of people have turned to religion and a belief in something beyond this world for solutions. Over half the world’s population worships one of the three major religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
These religions are united by one fundamental principle: they worship the same God. Despite the similarities they share, we only ever seem to be reminded of acts of monstrosity that distance people from each other, rather than unite them. When we look beyond the misconceptions, we can start to define ourselves through similarities, rather than differences. To better understand where the common ground lies, I spoke to representatives of the three major religions. Ultimately, one answer became prevalent: we are one.
The religious leaders all expressed a similar benefit that is gained through practice. Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a professor of philosophy at UMF, stated, “practicing Judaism helps give me a peace of mind.”
A stone’s throw away from Cohen’s office, Father Paul Dumais of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church elaborated on this. He said, “Religion yields a peace that arises from responding to a very fundamental truth.”
The ambiguous concept of this “truth” would later be explained by Monsignor Henchal of St. Maximillian Church in Scarborough. Henchal, organizer of “Building Bridges Dinner,” which brought together followers of Christianity and Islam, stated that, “Religion tries to get us beyond the superficial components that sometimes dominate our lives.” He continued, “It tries to get us to something greater. Something more beautiful than what we have.”
These religious leaders expressed how responding to this fundamental truth, a reality which is far greater and more beautiful than we can even comprehend, grants a kind of peace of mind to the faithful. Critics of religion, however, argue against this point by asking the question; how can an omnipotent, benevolent, and omniscient God allow so many terrible things to happen? The responses of the religious leaders were once again unanimous.
“As humans we have a strong desire for free-will, and God gives us that free-will,” said Omar Conteh, the outreach coordinator at the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono. He continued, “How can we then blame God when we see the terrible things that people choose to do with that free-will?”
Father Paul elaborated on this, stating that we must first determine the root of these evils. “We must think about the role of God, but we must also look at our own role and our responsibility in the presence of evils in the world,” he explained.
To understand further where the root of these evils stem from, Monsignor Henchal provided insight. “The line of good and evil doesn’t run between groups of people,” he paused briefly before continuing, “the line of good and evil runs through every human heart.” Before blaming God for the sufferings that we experience, we must first look at our own responsibility for these evils, and how we may be able to overcome them.
Dr. Cohen shared a central idea of Judaism, he stated, “We are partners with God in perfecting this world, and we must do whatever we can with what we have.”
Lastly, Father Paul left us with a message of hope that stems from difficult times. “When we enter into the great mystery,” he continued with a smile, “it’s interesting to see that when something bad happens to us, something good always seems to come out of it.”
My last question sought advice to how we may be able to unite in these challenging times of racial tension and ideological division. Again, their responses reflected a unanimous sentiment.
“I think the biggest issue is pretending that we don’t have anything in common,” said Conteh. “We live in a world of competing ideas, within that competition we must be able to recognize the vast commonalities we share.”
Cohen shared a similar viewpoint with Conteh, he stated, “we must be able to see ourselves and our own values in another person.”
Monsignor Henchal took this a step further, saying that we actually need each other’s different opinions and beliefs. “There’s an element of truth to everything, but no one has the entire picture.” He continued, “there’s always something that we can learn from each other.”
Father Paul left us with a recipe for acknowledging common ground, while admitting our differences, but always doing it with a deep respect and charity towards each other. Citing Saint Augustine, he stated, “In essential things let there be unity. In doubtful things let there be freedom. In all things let there be charity.”
Travelling to mosques, churches, and temples to create this story, I couldn’t help but notice a striking similarity. No matter the location, children’s colorful art could always be found lining the walls. Artwork that innocently depicted the love that God, Allah, or Yahweh has towards his people and the love that his people have for each other and for him.
Monsignor Henchal explained the cause of his Building Bridges Dinner. Said Henchal, “when people see each other for who they are, we realize that we have a lot of the same concerns. We both have little kids running around, and we interact with them in the same way. We have the same hopes and dreams for the future, for ourselves, and for our children.”
As walls continue to rise and ideological alienation worsens, it is important for us to remember where the answers to our questions lie. The answers to our questions do not lie in a news report, a lecture hall, or through a political leader. The answers to our questions lie within. We must look to each other and realize that we share a common dream for ourselves, for our children, and in the hope for a bright future. When we begin to open our hearts and really explore these existential mysteries, we may finally start to understand –– we already know the answers.