I have just joined the board of a newly formed nonprofit in the US which is focused on worldwide universal spirituality.
It is a great honor and a heady task; to find and celebrate that common ground of goodness in all of us regardless of faith. The founder of this organization is my friend Roger Davidson; a supporter of our efforts in Vietnam, composer, musician, and profound thinker. Others who have signed on include a progressive rabbi, a Danish educator, leaders at the UN and a host of others committed to this noble cause.
Our inaugural meeting was at a restaurant in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and I wondered what the other customers were thinking as we dissected the Abrahamic religions, debated Buddhism, separated politics (whether Israeli, American or other) from faith, and sipped sparkling water and ate pasta and fish.
The intellectual stimulation and give and take of ideas reminded me of why I like being an educator. Education should be a place for honest disagreement, discourse, debunking of myths, learning of new truths and questioning of old ones.
It also reminded me of Vietnam (to which I return on Valentine’s Day). Vietnam represents a wealth of contradictions about faith. While not a “religious” country, the right to practice religion (without certain bounds) is codified in law. As I have written before, the Hindu temples (in a nation devoid of Hindus) are full. Atheists pose in front of Notre Dame for good luck and a nice photo shoot. Muslims and Hindus get together (because there are so few of them) for festive occasions. Cao Dai faith still reigns in Tay Ninh and a smorgasbord of sects, denominations, and folk traditions are still popular throughout much of this increasingly modern country.
As I finished up my lengthy New York City lunch meeting I smiled. While we have different labels for it or none at all, there are universal messages out there of goodness, forgiveness, kindness, love, and redemption. Some may call that God, or a higher power, or nothing at all but it is a constant in humankind regardless of geography, culture, or political system. And, as we start another new year it is something for which I am grateful.