Today the religions of Barcelona held their own event of opposition to last week’s atrocity. All Christian denominations, including Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, came together with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists and Bahais to asssert their common allegiance to the community of Barcelona, described as a unity of diverse people with diverse beliefs. They affirmed each other’s separate identity as a vital contribution to the richness of civic experience in Barcelona. Because the attackers had been young, the event included young women and men, encouraging them to believe that a robust personal identity was not contrary to a shared communal identity but rather a constituent of it; and to resist any attempts to found personal or group identity on hatred of others.
Civic and national leaders were present but were given no special prominence and there were no allusions to the Catalan independence issue. Religious people were saying that their very different traditions of faith and practice were directing them on the one hand to the welfare of their neighbours, and on the other to humility in holding their own versions of ultimate truth. Not that they doubted these truths, but rather that as they expressed them most clearly, they realised they pointed beyond themselves towards what cannot be expressed, but can be worshipped and lived. The great Taoist teaching is relevant: “The Way that can be (fully) told is not the Eternal Way.”
These people were not saying that their different faiths could be mingled in some super-religion that would take over from them; they were saying that their traditions had nurtured them and enabled them to keep moving into what T S Eliot called “another union, a deeper communion.” But maybe that phrase suggests a mysticism which was foreign to this gathering, whose focus was upon friendship, solidarity, wisdom and justice.
I only have a Spanish news report of this event which perhaps will not be picked up by worldwide media; but it struck me as both admirable and unusual. In a confusing world of myriad available points of view the temptation of some form of fundamentalism is strong. People, perhaps especially young people who are unsure of their identity, along with those whose identity has been shamed or abused, grasp eagerly at any certainty that promises them dignity. Many religious, as well as political leaders, understand this opportunity and gain power by offering their own form of certainty. Such brute certainty is not only a contribution to sectarian hatreds, it is also a denial of the sublety of all the great religions, who know that their good truths are not the whole truth.
A freindly act of witness to an inclusive civic culture which nurtures vibrant individual identities, gives religion a much-needed good name.