02/18/2014 05:24 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2014

Peering Beyond Appearances in Religious Sociology

Part of my philosophical search for truth, in the issue of understanding each other in terms of the other, has enabled me to acknowledge the nature of communion in the world. To that point, we can never know the true meaning behind the works greater depth without understanding it through many perspectives. In trying to view existence, it is almost as if looking at an object flying through the air; we may not see the other directions in which it may travel. To view it through one perspective is to miss the point entirely. Through interfaith dialogue, one peers beyond appearances in religious sociology in order to build and nurture acceptance and understanding in the world.

Religions have gone to war with each other over certain truth claims and have been blinded to the journey that humanity is all on. Processing in if what one has seen as being true, then the Israelite journey through Egypt is actually the journey through time. Humankind is in the process of the Exodus in the 21st century. We can see certain things, but since our world is imperfect and our own egoic structure is limited, we are blinded. At times, our minds will weigh us down, our hearts will crucify us, and our bodies will react to these processes, all of which results in this extreme blindness.

John Hick, in his "plurality hypothesis" calls a singular way of viewing the world "parochial egotism." He states that anyone who believes that their religion is the supreme religion practices this form of egotism: one must accept that no one way is the ultimate way; there are many rivers, but they all reach the sea.

But how can they all reach the sea? It is through dialogue.

Accordingly, Kate McCarthy's book, Interfaith Encounters in America, discusses that there are three categories to dialogue: the practical, spiritual and conceptual. The second category for dialogue that she addresses focuses "on the spiritual life of the practitioner and their internal transformations." This spiritual category is something that is very individualized and awakens inside of the person; however, it is not enough to simply study certain ways of mediation or inner prayer, McCarthy says, because one must actively participate in them.

This spiritual category is an influential and inspiring category because it is mystical in origin. It emphasizes that people engage in each other's tradition in order to seek a common ground; though, in order to sincerely and devotionally dialogue on this level, we must realize that everything is a constant and on-going process that seeks for likeness.

It is impossible for religions to meet dialogue with contentment from the standpoint of likeness because in likeness humanity is all in unity. It is realizing that spark of divinity within everyone and everything and making it a flame of divinity. It is a universal fellowship, which is ultimately something that we cannot teach because it can only be experienced within.

Once we experience it within, we can then learn about another tradition and can come to a greater understanding of our own tradition. This is how humankind can come to learn more about themselves in terms of the other.

Eboo Patel, Founder and President of the Interfaith Youth Core, states that there should not only be a private language of faith, but a public language of faith as well. In order for the public language of faith to be known, individuals must be brave and committed. They must be brave in facing adversity and committed to the goal of using their religion to enhance the life of the public. It is something that cannot be taught; it must be learned. Patel and the IFYC stress building bridges that unite societies, cultures, and peoples and in order to promote the public language of faith, we need to tell stories. Stories that focus on our shared values allows for relationship building and for people to form bonds that cannot be broken.

Those that engage in interfaith dialogue have the ability to connect on the deepest of levels with their fellow-being; they believe that union with each other, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge that is inaccessible to the intellect, may be attainted through sincere and devotional relationships. Gandhi once wrote that the religion that humankind is born into is the home, but let it be a home with the windows open so that the winds of other traditions can blow in their unique oxygen. Interfaith dialogue, to me, is the ultimate salvific act of the transformation of what humankind can grow to become.