Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Religious Tolerance – A Refreshing Realization

September 14, 2010 · 5 Comments

As someone who is fairly religious I have spent a large amount of time in London contemplating religion – something that I think many of us have done and which is a large theme in our course.  Thus far I have been to the building of or attended a religious service in a mandir, a mosque, a Catholic mass, evensong at St. Paul’s, and after today, a synagogue.  As a practicing Catholic, I expected to feel very at home at both the Catholic service I attended and evensong (given how many similarities there are between Anglicanism and Catholicism).  However, even sitting through a mass that I have sat through every Sunday for the last 20 years I felt completely alien.  While the format of mass was the same and prayers were the same, the level of participation and tone of the homily were unlike anything I had ever experienced.

On Sunday, when Mary, Mary Kate, Jamie, and I walked two blocks to the Newman House I had pretty low expectations as to what mass would be like.  The mass put on at Dickinson every weekend is quick, easy, and low on congregational participation.  Back home in California, my church puts a large focus on intellectual exploration of scriptures and does not discuss controversial issues.  Instead, on Sunday I attended a service where everyone was active and where I heard an extremely rousing and inspiring homily.  The priest completely ignored the gospel for the day (which was the famous tale of the prodigal son) and discussed the upcoming papal visit, general English views of Catholicism, homosexuality, and the previous mistakes made by the Catholic Church.   The priest discussed the lack of positive press about the Catholic Church in England and tied that to the English fear of popery – he even made continual jokes about how the English still see the Spanish armada sailing across the Channel to turn them all back to Catholicism.  He then spent a long time discussing homosexuality – a topic that never EVER came up in my more conservative Church (which is ironically enough considered very liberal among Catholics in the area).  He said that it was unacceptable and sin to denounce anyone, including members of the LGBT community.  He argued that just because we are Catholic we are not allowed to hate or discriminate.  He stemmed his next point off of this idea – he said that we should not look at the Catholic Church as infallible.  He made the point that we cannot pretend that the priest abuse scandal didn’t happen and that we must admit that the Catholic Church mishandled the debacle.  His over reaching message, however, was tolerance, acceptance, and education about Catholicism.

The idea of education leading to tolerance and acceptance has been the general message of most of our visits to religious institutions.  Both the mandir and the mosque were exercises in religious education and both of our guides spent a lot of time discussing religious doctrine and the need for understanding about different religions.  In the face of all the religious discrimination and controversy surrounding both the building of a mosque near where the Twin Towers once stood and the minister threatening to burn Korans in Florida in the United States, its refreshing and reassuring to know that somewhere in the world there is religious dialogue occurring and several different faiths are trying to bridge gaps and end violence and discrimination.

Categories: 2010 Amy · Churches and Cathedrals

5 responses so far ↓

  •   brownrac // Sep 14th 2010 at 08:58

    Since you have “refreshing realization” in the title of your post, I’m guessing you liked the style of mass you experienced here the other day. What do you think would happen if the same approach was introduced into your church at home?

  •   hollymb // Sep 14th 2010 at 09:12

    I’m glad that you had such a great experience at that mass. Like Rachel, I wonder if that kind of attitude would work in churches in the States? Do you think that because Catholics were once so persecuted here in England that they have a different attitude toward tolerance and religious education than what we might see at home?

  •   bowmanc // Sep 14th 2010 at 17:19

    I love the priest’s point about LGBT community, and I find it a refreshing perspective as a Christian, and liberal. Though I have found some amount of liberal (this time, not in the political sense) churches in the U.S., I’m not sure even they would have that type of message/discussion in what would be their traditional service. I find it especially surprising that it would come up in a catholic service, as I have generally thought those to be on the more conservative end. Do you feel that London’s general disenchantment with religion might have any effect upon in? Or perhaps Europe’s more liberal culture? I wonder what would happen if the Pope was in the audience…

  •   amyh // Sep 15th 2010 at 17:30

    Rachel: To be honest, I don’t know what would happen should a more informal, honest, and down to earth perspective were to be introduced at my church back home. I think that it would be such a drastic change and the high number of conservative parishioners would be uncomfortable that there might be a mass exodus.

    Holly: My theory as to why there is such openness and toleration in the religious houses in London is that London is a city of immigrants. There are simply too many cultures and points of view for any institution to completely close its eyes and minds.

    Chris: I would love to see what the homily would have consisted of if Pope Benedict XVI were in the audience. As a more conservative and traditional pope, I fear that he would have wrinkled his nose at such liberal sentiments. As to your other questions, I think that my response to Holly addresses them fairly well.

  •   jamie // Sep 21st 2010 at 04:17

    Listening to this homily this past Sunday, I felt like I finally found the type of priest I was looking for. For the first time I heard a priest admit that the church has made mistakes in the past, that certain ways its dealt with situations was completely wrong. It was “refreshing” to hear this.

    As far as Holly’s comment or question as to why Catholics here are different than in the states, it is not because the states is so welcoming to Catholics. Don’t kid yourself Catholics in the states are not welcome what so ever in any realm of government. The United States like the UK is run predominately by people belonging to Protestant sects. The one president we have had who was Catholic, President Kennedy, had to give a speech upon his own religious beliefs in Texas throughout his campaign because everyone believed that once he won presidency he would turn it over to the Pope. Catholics, therefore, in the United States have decided that a more conservative route will keep the community together, meanwhile in the UK Catholics have learned after centuries that being open and tolerant is a much better route.

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