What is an interfaith service? I use the term all the time, and so do so many of those with whom I study and work. But what do we actually mean by it?
I recently participated in an interfaith service. What made it interfaith was that there were readings from a variety of faiths incorporated into the liturgy of the service. It was, as are most interfaith services I have attended, a “service as anthology” experience. The readings were all very lovely. The choices focused on the least unique aspects of any given faith allowing a casual listener to conclude that all religions basically say the same thing. You would never know from this kind of service that most religions are mutually exclusive and easily given to contest and combat.
Interfaith services of this kind feel good, but are for the most part vapid. It seems to me that the whole point of having different religions is the hope that your religion is right and the others are wrong. There is no point to heaven if no one goes to hell. There is no point to salvation if no one is damned. There is no point to being chosen if everyone is chosen.
If the point of interfaith services is to make us feel good about not all belonging to the same religion, and to give us hope that religions can get along then they fulfill their mission. But I don’t need an interfaith service to feel good about religious diversity, and I am far too jaded about religion to trust the instincts of people of faith to love one another.
I fantasize about holding an anthology¬–type interfaith service where the chosen texts focus on each faith’s condemnation of other faiths, and the extermination or damnation of other peoples of faith. That would be no less legitimate than the more innocuous and standard style of worship, and lots more fun. No one gets excited about “Love your neighbor,” but “slaughter the infidels” might get some conversation going.
I could only offer this type of service once or twice, however, before it got really old, so what would I offer on a more regular basis? I would offer services that focus on Truth and draw from great sages, mystics, and scientists who speak to that Truth.
Of course, as the author of such a service, I would also be the one to decide what is Truth, and it wouldn’t take long before alternative services with alternative Truths would spring up in competition to mine. In time we would have to kill one another to determine whose Truth is really true, so perhaps my suggestion isn’t worth following after all. I’ll have to give this some more thought.