Religious freedom permits ears, hearts to hear silence
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Two weeks ago this column made reference to the silence of a snowflake falling. That wintertime sound continues to draw passionate responses, and in a certain sense can help us appreciate more fully the beauty of religious freedom. Take this note, for example, from one of our British Columbia coffee companions who is a lover of the outdoors:
THEN IN LAST week’s column, you may remember, Calgary coffee companion Jeff Perkins lamented, “Those of us with hearing impairment will never again be able to ‘hear’ silence. The snowflakes may fall silently, but it is against a background of tinnitus hisses.”
To this a coffee companion from near Buffalo, New York, responded:
I KNOW WHAT Jeff and Don mean. For several years, now, tinnitus has robbed me, also, of any hope of “hearing silence,” though my hearing is only minimally impaired compared to Don’s.
But there is a hearing impairment of far greater consequence, I believe, than merely the physical failure of our ears. True, there are times when we cannot hear. But there are other times when we will not hear.
Let me illustrate this with an event that took place in Cochrane the other night.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Freedom of Religion, 38 of us gathered to hear each other’s thoughts on religious freedom. There were Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bahai’is, people of earth-based spirituality, and others. Some have lived all their lives in the religious freedom we’ve come to take for granted in the West. Others were raised under totalitarian regimes hostile to religious diversity and have experienced or witnessed governmental and sectarian interference, sanctions, persecutions and bloodshed against those whose only “crime” has been their desire to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience.
As the discussion progressed, it became clear to me that at the heart of such discrimination lies a problem of hearing an unwillingness to hear any story other than the officially sanctioned story; a willful deafness toward heartfelt stories other than one’s own.
And yet, within our small gathering that evening, we embraced an alternative to such deafness: we listened respectfully to stories of the deeply-held convictions of others in the group, and in consequence we learned more about ourselves and our own faith-based values.
Far from freedom of religion being a threat, it was clear that religious freedom as called for in the UN declaration can allow each of us in our own way, without fear, to open our inner ear and experience that “absolute silence” where, as Darryl so eloquently put it, we just may hear “the voice of God.”
© 2007 Warren Harbeck