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Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by Neutral Singh, Dec 16, 2004.

  1. Neutral Singh

    Neutral Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    (check out the 3rd one).


    Mahatma Gandhi could always be counted on for words of wisdom, and in a time of religious division of such tragic proportions the world over, those words merit renewed emphasis. Since too many of us are stubbornly set in our ways, however, it may take the next generation to champion the true ideals of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance.

    Unfortunately, “He” is not one and the same to many youths these days, either. If you were to believe the reports of young people everywhere sitting slack-jawed, eyes fixated on their video screen, fingers flying over the controls as they cut down one more enemy on Mortal Kombat , you’d believe all kids worship at the knee of Xbox.

    While it’s true you’d be hard-pressed to find many households without at least one kid glued to a computer or TV screen playing their favourite game, not all of today’s youth are eager to be blessed by the video gods. Many look to a higher, non-electronic being for inner peace and self-worth, despite a growing number of Canadians — 16 per cent, according to the latest census — who claimed to have no religion (up from 12 per cent a decade ago). Those figures apply to Canadians who identified themselves as Catholic or Protestant, and almost 40 per cent of them were 24 and under.

    For those of the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths, the numbers are increasing — substantially — largely due to immigration. Of the 1.8 million immigrants who came to Canada between 1991 and 2001, only one-fifth reported they had no religion.

    That could change with their offspring. There’s a long-held theory that claims the more societies become industrialized and crowded, the less of an influence religion has on that society. And as kids born of immigrants become more integrated than their parents, mostly because of school and the broader mix of people and attitudes they’re exposed to, the less inclined they may be to turn to religion for comfort, peace, direction and answers to life’s age-old questions like “Who am I?” and “What’s it all about?”

    “There are a lot of distractions for young people today and it’s a great challenge to make faith meaningful,” Father Pat O’Dea, executive director and pastor at the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto, has said. Distractions like Xbox, perhaps? Possibly, not to mention other forms of mass media like television and movies.

    Traditionally, people with a strong sense of faith have been older. For those who let their religion lapse, then returned to it, there seems to be a direct tie “with getting older, having children and needing the rites of passage carried out,” according to Reginald Bibby, a professor of sociology at the University of Lethbridge and author of Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada .

    An American study conducted by Lynn Schofield Clark, an assistant research professor at the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and detailed in her book From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media and the Supernatural , suggests that the more religious pluralism, the more pop culture in a society, the more options people, in this case youth, have to influence them about spiritual matters. Just imagine the pull between Harry Potter and the temple.

    But Douglas Todd, religion writer for The Vancouver Sun , sees it differently. “Many people think young people are turning away from faith,” he says. “And it may be true that many are rejecting regular attendance at an institutional religion. But polls continue to show that teenagers have deep spiritual feelings, just as strongly as adults.”

    Interestingly, other research (this one from the University of Nebraska) reports that many young people who embrace faith are more likely to be over-achievers, less inclined to mischief, to smoke, take drugs or have sex. Still others are more attracted to philosophy, anthropology and consider themselves spiritual without necessarily being religious, believing you can be one without the other. It’s more a feeling of connectedness to a higher power, whatever that may be, and achieving that through less structured, non-traditional channels.

    Then there’s the theory posed in the recently published book The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes by molecular biologist Dean Hamer and explored in the October 25th cover story of Time Magazine . Sure, he believes faith is adaptive, but the chief of gene structure at the U.S. National Cancer Institute also claims he’s located one of the genes responsible for spirituality. It’s the same gene that produces the neurotransmitters that control our moods. “I’m a believer that every thought we think and every feeling we feel is the result of activity in the brain,” Hamer told Time . “I think we follow the basic law of nature, which is that we’re a bunch of chemical reactions running around in a bag.”

    You have to be in the mood for religion? It’s a simplified summation of a voluminous work, of course, that is too detailed to get into here, but Hamer concludes, “Spirituality is intensely personal; religion is institutional.”

    Which brings us back to the question of whether young people today are drawing to or away from religion and/or spirituality. Depending on what you hear and read, it’s either and it’s both. It’s also people finding their own path and interpretation that works uniquely for them. Studies, reports and polls aside, following are varying viewpoints from three divergent yet devoted young people. All three were born in B.C., and, interestingly, all three are in the medical field.

    Navneet Kaur Kainth is a Sikh; Dr. Farrah Jiwa an Ismaili Muslim; and Dr. Amit Arya, a Hindu. All of them agree faith is personal and all of them are tolerant and accepting of others’ beliefs. Good thing; they’re the next generation.

    Amit Arya is perhaps the least fervent of the three. He approaches his Hindu faith casually, philosophically, objectively. In fact, when asked to confirm he is a practising Hindu, he takes a long pause before answering, “Uh, yeah, sort of.”

    Arya, who’s back in his hometown of Vancouver for a few months before returning to Edmonton where he’s completing his residency as a family physician, is quick to explain. “Hinduism is very different from other religions. In other religions you have to do something to become religious. You have to believe in something particular. For instance, if I don’t believe in Christ I can’t be Christian. By definition, there’s no way I could ever be called a Christian because that’s the definition, right? But in Hinduism, there’s nothing I really have to do to become a Hindu and there’s nothing I can do to undo that. There’s nothing to leave and there’s nothing I’ve joined. This is what I think.”

    His broad views come courtesy of his parents, who he says exposed him to many different beliefs and perspectives when he was growing up. “One of their main philosophies is that we shouldn’t impose our beliefs on anybody; we should respect everybody’s beliefs as being equal.”

    Arya, 26, attends temple only occasionally, mainly because he gets so little out of it, which he suspects is also the reason attendance is not huge among other young people. “Temples are almost all run by elderly people,” he explains. “And they’re complete hot spots for politics in one way or another. You have to talk to a 15-year-old or 20-year-old who was born and raised in Canada differently than how you talk to someone of my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Their talk is focused very much on elderly people, basically. And that’s an unfortunate thing. Many places of worship, unfortunately, turn into more political-type institutions. Once it becomes political, not only young people but a lot of people get turned off. Fighting should be the last thing people do in temples.”

    Arya believes getting rid of politics, focusing more on the cultural and social aspects of temple life, making it fun, with more youth-oriented activities, would attract not only more young people but a broader range of people.

    A classical-music enthusiast who also sings, Arya enjoys that aspect of the temple, as well as its openness. “One of the big things is tolerance and universality. In other places of worship, sometimes they’re exclusive, where only people of that belief can go. Whereas in the temple, anybody can go there. Even though it’s supposed to be a place of Hinduism, we’ve had Muslim speakers, Christians speakers. It’s very open that way.”

    However, Arya feels there’s a downside to the virtue of tolerance. “Some people think the Hindu religion is superior because it’s the most tolerant. They say that openly, without seeing the paradox in that statement. Personally, I don’t really believe in a collective ego type of system where we think our way is the best, because that’s more political. And that’s unfortunately a big problem in Hinduism now as well.”

    Arya, who’s travelled to India more than a dozen times to visit his parents’ families, who live in and around New Delhi, is concerned about the many monuments to religion, in India and elsewhere. “We have so many temples in India and they are very beautiful structures. But people are building and investing so much money in them while we have so much poverty and suffering in the world. Canada is a kind of heaven compared to other places, but if you look at what’s going on in Africa or India, there’s lots of poverty and discrimination. And people in the temples are talking all the time about helping people and eliminating poverty, but how much we do that practically and for what purpose is very debatable.”

    While a medical student, Arya did volunteer work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the poorest neighbourhood in the country, and plans to continue to do more once he’s finished his residency. In the meantime, he wants to add one last point about spirituality. “Rather than have everybody follow the same rules, you have to develop your own faith and your own personalized version of spirituality. You can have debates about it but I feel it’s very hard to express accurately in words. There are a lot of things we don’t need to discuss. There are things we just have to explore on our own journey.”

    Dr. Farrah Jiwa never passes up an opportunity to talk about life as an Ismaili Muslim, and talk she does. The words tumble out of her with a breathless enthusiasm that reflects her love and pride in her faith, and she jumps right into what it means to her.

    “There’s this very popular saying that Islam is a way of life, that we live, move and have our being in Allah,” explains Jiwa, a Vancouver chiropractor who specializes in sports injury rehabilitation. “So when you use that as your premise, it becomes like a guiding light or anchor. The concepts that Islam teaches are very similar to monotheistic faiths like Judaism and Christianity, the concept of values and ethics, kindness, generosity, taking care of the sick, the poor, the elderly, respect for your parents, even respect for mankind. For me, Islam has always been and always will be that guiding light. It creates that foundation to build my entire life with.

    “As I was growing up,” she continues, “I was always taught those value systems. We’re in a multicultural society, people have various backgrounds, we’re not the same coloured skin. It gives you a sense of purpose, meaning, fulfillment, peace, and balance. That’s really key, that balance. It’s not just a material world where we’re just go-go-go, earning money for the sake of earning money, and that’s it. It’s more about, what you have in excess, give it. Give it with your heart. The concept of charity. I really embody that, I don’t just say it. I believe you have to put things into action.”

    She personally puts things into action as a volunteer at religious education classes called Baitul Ilm, as well as helping to raise money for third world development, and various activities within the greater community because, as she says, “I believe we’re a global brotherhood.”

    Although the Ismaili Muslim brotherhood is comparatively small — she estimates about 70,000 in Canada, with approximately 15,000 in B.C. — Jiwa believes those numbers will increase, simply because of the times in which we live. “A lot of people seek answers from their faith because the world is becoming so chaotic. How do you make sense of chaos? By creating that sense of peace and tranquility, [embracing] the concept of there being something bigger and better out there. And that’s when people start internalizing and going back to faith for answers. That’s what provides me meaning. I’m not here just for myself; it’s about the world, it’s about my family, not just my immediate family, but the global family. I hate to quote Michael Jackson, but his [song] Man in the Mirror [is a good example of], how do you change the world until you change yourself? That’s the concept of empowerment, of free will, that we’ve been given an intellect, that we make choices, that we’re responsible for our lives.”

    Jiwa, 30, says Islam was grossly misrepresented after September 11, 2001, but rather than defend, she chose to enlighten. “As an Ismaili Muslim, I was suffering because my identity was being challenged. It was sad for us because we saw our faith being misrepresented. It was wrong. But I took it as an opportunity to express who I was. You can’t create understanding if you’re defensive. You create understanding and respect through dialogue.”

    And Jiwa continues that dialogue with the patients she comes into contact with every day, who are from all walks of life. “Whether they’re First Nations, Oriental or East Indian, I treat each patient equally. I respect everyone. Doesn’t matter what faith you’re from. I always describe it like a rainbow. When I see a rainbow, I see different colors and that’s what makes it so beautiful — diversity and strength.”


    Navneet Kaur Kainth, who says she was born into a religious family, came seriously to her Sikh faith only a year ago, when she was baptised. Like all children of immigrants, she was torn between her parents’ beliefs and lifestyle and the dizzying array of temptations and possibilities of the western culture.

    “When I was younger, I never thought I’d want to take that step [of being baptised],” says Kainth, 19, a Douglas College nursing student. “I used to think, ‘Just because my parents are religious, why should I?’ My generation has a very negative image of religion. You see all this young and hip stuff and you’re more interested in that. A lot of people think of religion as something for a slower-paced life, maybe when you’re much older. But I was very blessed with the group of people I found in my life who became my friends. I was truly inspired by them. We have these programs every Saturday night where we get together for three or four hours and sing religious hymns.”

    Kainth says her older brother has chosen a different path from her and her parents. “He doesn’t even have a path right now,” she says. “But my parents are really good about it. I’ve seen other households where it’s caused conflict, but my parents give me and him the exact same love. It wasn’t in his destiny. Maybe not right now, maybe later, or in another life.”

    Even if never, that wouldn’t bother Kainth, since she’s adopted perhaps the purest tenet of any religion: acceptance. “I’m not only going to have Sikh friends or people who practice the same as me. I have friends who practice Christianity or Islam. And you do see similarities [in the different faiths]. As a metaphor, if you look at rivers, they all flow into the same ocean, and the ocean’s all the same and you can’t tell which river’s which.”

    As a child, Kainth lacked confidence simply because she looked different — she did, and still does, wear a turban — and like all kids, desperately wanted to fit in. “I always wondered ‘Why me? Why can’t I just blend in, be like everybody else?’ But when you read the history of what that turban stands for, it gives you such a sense of pride that turns into confidence, there are no insecurities,” she says. “If you’re secure in yourself, you’re no longer looking for that approval.”

    She also looks to her faith to keep her strong in the face of tragedy. That was tested recently when three of her close friends were killed in a car accident on their way to Edmonton. One of them, Parminder Singh, was a huge inspiration to her. He established the Guru Nanak Academy in Surrey, which teaches religious music called Kirtan, classes she attended as a child. Because of Parminder, Kainth herself began teaching last year. “Honestly, you meet some people and they don’t even have to say anything. Just the way they lead their lives is so inspiring. His dream was to educate the youth here, and that motivated me to learn more and try harder.”

    Upon his death she turned to her faith for strength. “If I didn’t have religion in my life I don’t know where’d I be,” she says quietly. “I would have just been a mess.”

    Now Kainth hopes she’s an inspiration to others, and is optimistic other young people will find what she’s found as a practising Sikh. Now that the Gurdwara is beginning to use English to communicate with the younger generation who may only speak English, she’s hopeful more will check it out. She’s also hopeful that others on no path, like her brother, will one day find their way to a temple. “You try to fulfill yourself in every which way but then you realize there’s something missing,” she says. “It’s not going to be fulfilled by material things, and that’s when a lot of people turn to religion. There’s so much going on in this world and you wonder what’s the whole meaning of it. But a lot of it is not necessarily about figuring it out. It’s more about accepting it for what it is, living in the moment, in a single breath.”

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