Interfaith Message of Dr. Tallal Alie Turfe delivered at the People's Community Center on the eve of Thanksgiving
By: Dr. Tallal Alie Turfe
November 27, 2013- While we give thanks to God every day, Thanksgiving Day in America will always be remembered with special consideration of the difficult times faced by America’s first immigrants who came to this country to freely practice their faith and live peacefully with others. Likewise, we have followed their example as we from different faiths can also break bread together in brotherhood and solidarity. Thanksgiving Day expresses gratitude, focusing on family and friendship, and sharing appreciation for a land of freedom and opportunity. God has bestowed on us the nature to be grateful, and we should express that gratitude to God and to each other.
My book, Children of Abraham: United We Prevail, Divided We Fail, discusses the reasons for the decline of religion in America, details the similarities between the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and offers solutions to bring about a unified effort to safeguard monotheism. This book will enlighten those who wish to collaborate with brothers and sisters of each faith to work for the common cause of safeguarding religion in America as well as working for peace, tolerance, security, and solidarity.
In our democratic American society, we have the freedom to celebrate our beliefs while vigorously engaging others who believe differently. Interfaith dialogue alone will not end conflict, create universal justice, or resolve all of our societal problems. However, interfaith dialogue can be a powerful tool for advocacy, relationship building, and nurturing cultural diversity and pluralism. Although the perception is that the faith traditions are significantly different, they are in fact deeply connected. The prevailing belief and practice of each is faith in God, which transcends all of their predominant differences.
The challenge we face is to unify and mobilize our resources with the understanding that a sense of open-mindedness and love for one another must prevail. To this end, discussions should center on the similarities among the faith traditions. While Scriptures of the faith traditions disclose many verses relating to ethics and morals, we have witnessed a continuous degradation of morality, which threatens the very fabric of American society.
Can we turn on the television, watch a movie, surf the Internet, or open a magazine without being bombarded with an array of sexual messages? Shouldn’t our educational institutions teach about the immorality of having premarital sex rather than about methods of having safe sex? Can society stop sexualizing our youth? Can we rewind and instill in our minds the moral and ethical standards that allow us to differentiate between right and wrong? If we cannot agree on what is right and wrong or moral and immoral, how do we stay together in one national family? Can we be cleansed from the unrestrained immorality around us?
Who is to blame for this moral decadence in American society? A lack of morality is the absence of principles. Parents need to go beyond teaching morality to actually living morality. We are all faced with the challenge to restore our God-given rights of moral beliefs to our communities. Many Americans do not even ask whether an action is right or wrong. Some argue that we are no longer a moral society. America has reached a point where almost anything is tolerated and nothing is deemed intolerable.
The media have a major influence on our cultural values, and we know it. For example, television is becoming the main vehicle by which viewers find viewpoints that reflect their own lifestyles. Television is no longer just competing for our attention and dollars but for our very souls. Television is becoming a kind of religion, shaping the faith and values of many people. These values are in many ways opposed and in conflict with the principles and ideals of each of our faiths.
We have a moral and spiritual crisis in America that has been brewing for some time. It is a crisis of character that has produced a crisis of behavior. It is a poverty of values caused by a poverty of faith. We remove all value judgments from society and then wonder why we have a generation that is morally confused. Our society continues to dismiss the relevance of religion and, as a consequence, has diminished its importance.
So what is the common denominator of why religion is disintegrating in American society? That common denominator is a disease called complacency, which has as its philosophy to live for the here and now, ignore the past, and be unconcerned about the future. How can American society be motivated to move away from the drowning depths of complacency, when it is what most seem to desire?
Our country was founded on Christian religious values but now has drifted to an ideology of spiritual values, i.e., each person can search for the truth of the Universe in their own mind while still maintaining that God exists, without the need for revelations or Scriptures. What this means is that Scriptures are being abrogated or terminated to satisfy the whims of those who wish to downplay revelations altogether. All of a sudden, sinful acts denounced in religious Scriptures are now condoned and espoused by many Americans and also by politicians for the purpose of getting elected into office. Since Christians are the predominant population in America, they have borne the brunt of immoral issues. Those of other faith traditions, while much smaller in population, are vulnerable to the same immoral issues that Christians are experiencing.
While interfaith dialogue is a roadmap to understanding, tolerance, and peace, the question is, are we up to the task? Are we clear about where we want to go and how to get there? Do we understand our responsibilities? Interfaith dialogue instills and nurtures the elements of knowledge, empathy, tolerance, and collaboration. It paves the way for reaching a consensus on norms and values. It bridges the gap between religions and cultures by encouraging dialogue and respecting diversity.
The children of today can be the future leaders and advocates of a vision of peace. If we hope to raise peaceful children, we must develop a better understanding of how children grow and learn. Children will become moral individuals if we cultivate their minds and hearts, and give them opportunities to see family values being practiced. Children need social and emotional competence as well as resilience to face the problems in society. Children need to be taught intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to ensure they develop positive relationships, to be encouraged to achieve and aspire, to feel cared for, valued, and supported.
Can we live peacefully and in harmony with each other? We need to understand whom we are, where we come from, and where we are going as well as the repressed pain we carry that is handed down from previous generations. We need to be able to cultivate peace in the home where children grow intellectually, spiritually, and socially. We need to channel our children’s energy into peacemaking activities, as they learn to understand and deal with emotions and conflicts. We must teach our children to maintain moral and ethical standards.
Children solidify their personality long before they become adults. The problem is that we have not been great models for our children. Much of our sophisticated adult social behavior is incomprehensible to them. We may not be in control or even the determinant of our children’s character, but we have influence. As we spend time with children and truly open our hearts, we will find that they have something to give and to teach us – their innocence, their trust. Children come into the world carrying the light of peace with them. As we open ourselves to their teaching, they can show us how to be peaceful, how to be absorbed in the present. While children can help us rediscover peace, they also need to see us working for peace.
Together we can shape the world our children will inherit so they in turn can shape the future of peace. Spiritual leaders of the past were grounded on firm moral standing, as they preached ethics, coexistence, forgiveness, and the importance of peace. There must be security for all or no one will be secure. Let us give thanks to God for His Blessings as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day!