The Words of the Kaufmann Family

Millenium Editorial

Frank Kaufmannn

The long awaited and much ballyhooed turn of the millennium has come and gone only to leave us in the midst of a world ongoing. Anticipation has not dissipated quite fully, but near palpable angst lingers near the ever diminishing likelihood of any genuine episode.

Secular and non-visionary folk seem to be sailing through the let down in stride and perhaps with greater ease than the meaning-filled and meaning-seeking crowd. Money making, house buying, career goal-fulfilling, and other life-in-this-world schemes seem to play equally as happily on either side of any given New Year's midnight, regardless of how many zeros click over.

The hand of God, age of Aquarius, and death-shall-be-no-more community, on the other hand, must think a little harder when millennia come and go. Of course the new millennium is still fresh yet, but if something big's gonna happen, it can't happen on just any old date. So what's the deal? Are we looking at another thousand years of the Ďa little better a little worse' pendulum?

All things considered, it seems this turn of the millennium was pretty sedate. Hard to judge, but likely far less zany than the last time three zeroes debuted. Inevitably there was a light splash of apocalyptic millennialism here and there, but really about as negligible as one could imagine. In fact, and this shouldn't be surprising, media stereotypes and general hostility to religion notwithstanding, non-religious folk wrought far more havoc and destruction to themselves and others during these days than individuals and groups avowing genuine religious passion or expectations.

So how is religion doing? Is it getting better? Worse? Is it creating better people? Is it creating better circumstances in which to pursue being human? Are we ready for another go round? And what of the interfaith movement? How is THAT doing? Has it helped matters any? If so, how?

Fact is, the interfaith movement is so primitive as to nearly defy assessment. For one it is itself a fractured and bumptious affair. A wild west of personality driven initiatives whose players relate with the same studied cordiality as the TV senators and their strained and constant references to "good friends" across the aisle.

This is NOT to suggest that this negligible and struggling community of interfaith activists are led and administered by charismatics of bad faith. No! By no means. The vast majority of leaders and practitioners in this tiny, highly competitive arena of interfaith groups are genuine, sacrificial visionaries whose work is crucial in our time. The point is that this underfunded, uphill-battle-minority has yet to identify sound and applicable principles for mutual relations among its own players. The irony here is self evident.

My view? I say religion has done quite well in this important and crucial time, and the interfaith movement for its part has contributed in positive and important ways to this fact. This praise notwithstanding, I still say religion is among the most underdeveloped of all core arenas of being human. From among the many reasons for this, I believe is in large part due to the fact that religion tends to orient itself toward representing an intangible, immeasurable, and divisible commodity. Namely saving individuals, and preparing for the afterlife by whatever name. This is both a blessing and a curse. There is plenty of afterlife to go around. Working together doesn't create more or better afterlives. Thus as long as religion functions with this self understanding and primary purpose, there exists no inherent or necessary rationale for religions cooperating.

Other forms of human enterprise are quite different. When dealing with money, land, and material resources, namely tangible, potentially divisible, and clearly measurable commodities, leaders have high incentives to pursue collaboration and cooperation more aggressively, and are easily assessed for their progress, and success or failure at their respective efforts.

This is why institutions devoted to both international AND inter-economic relations are light years ahead of "interfaith" groups, even though self-interest is their predominant coin of the realm. One would think that religion, which is supposedly characterized by both self-sacrifice, and peace which passeth all understanding would have the upper hand being as its principles and essence are so elvated and enlightened. Unfortunately though, the concentration on individual salvation and afterlife-destiny eliminates the possibility of measuring progress, and assessing the success or failure of collaboration efforts.

This fact renders the interfaith enterprise impotent for any systematic quest for sound goals and purposes. IF the purpose for religious life is personal, and after-life oriented, then interfaith activity is by its very nature is tangential to the core interests of its constituency (i.e., religions and religious believers).

Interfaith practitioners usually present their efforts as being for the sake of peace. But it fails to identify how this is any different from the goals of international political diplomacy. Peace is not necessary to prepare individuals for the afterlife. This means that the entire little world of interfaith initiatives actually run on borrowed goals! I can see borrowing methods, but borrowing goals? This, I hold, is a major reason that interfaith is never taken very seriously (and I mean seriously in ways that REALLY count), whereas international and inter-economic activity is taken deadly seriously.

Until interfaith can orient itself to the pursuit of goals germane to the core dynamics of the community it serves (namely religious leaders and believers) it will continue to confuse would be supporters, and will continue to be looked upon as quaint and irrelevant. Helpful yes, but not a real player. International relations and inter-economic relations are multi-billion dollar enterprises of towering complexity and sophistication. Conversely interreligious leaders beg for pennies and operate out of post office boxes.

This should not be the case. All human encounter has its basis in our spiritual and religious content. Peace and prosperity are pipe dreams absent rigorous encounter at the level of ultimate concerns and dialogue over absolutes. But it is up to the religion to make the case for its own relevance, NOT up to the other core arenas of politics and economics to intuit this on their own. The only way for interfaith to gain a place at the table of serious dialogue and diplomacy is for religion to define its orientation to the collective beyond the individual, and to define its promise and its eternity into the measurable present effecting the quality of life both in this life and in the here after.

The Editor

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