The Kingdom of Shared Humanity

Howard Grace, a member of PCN Britain, seeks a universal approach which could unite people of all religions and world views without trying to make them all the same

The Kingdom of Shared Humanity

My Palestinian friend, Imad Karam, says that a primary problem in his part of the world is that Palestinians and Israelis are both trapped in their own narratives. I’m sure that this entrapment is true for so many situations, whether with international conflicts, religious affiliations, husband/wife clashes or even football team allegiances which sometimes turn to crowd violence. Is there a universal vision which we humans, with our many different cultures and beliefs, can all buy into? And what are the implications for followers of Jesus?

As a Christian, what resonates with me most about Jesus is the inclusiveness of his passion for The Kingdom of God on earth. Parables such as The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son have a universal message, and all our motives become focussed by stories such as The Woman Caught in Adultery, where the accusers receive a healthy challenge as well as the accused.  Also, passages such as The Sermon on The Mount have inspired non-Christians like Gandhi, whose non-violent mission has made a wide impact on society, not just in India. Sadly, however, because of various doctrinal beliefs that some insisted were fundamental to being a follower of Jesus, Gandhi rejected the overall Christian package that was presented to him.

As I understand it, Jesus inspired his disciples to look beyond the rigid, conventional religious attitudes of his day to see the way we treat one another as more important than the way we adhere to a set of rules. I suspect that, in our present times, he would equally have taken issue with those who hold the adherence to doctrine and certain beliefs about his nature to be what makes one his follower.

I was recently part of the Newbury PCN group who, one by one, shared their experiences of encounters with people of other religions, including Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. We were struck, not by the details or beliefs of the religions, but by the commonality of their adherents in search mode to answer the big questions - questions that are maybe beyond the capacity of our human brains. Deeper down, the commonality was ‘the search’, not so much any conclusions reached.

Is there a need then to open our hearts to ‘the other’, to understand and accept that her/his narrative comes from a different (not necessarily ‘wrong’) perspective, and move forward together? Surely, our search should be for a story which all can buy into. Muslims may still want to be Muslims; or atheists, atheists etc.

My friend Letlapa Mphahlele, a former South African liberation army commander during apartheid, is an atheist. He recently wrote an article in Progressive Voices (no. 25, June 2018) about his spiritual journey, titled A journey towards freedom. It finishes: 

“Beyond prejudices we inherited from our forebears, across the fences and walls we erect around ourselves, across doctrines and dogmas we uphold, perhaps it helps to acknowledge that there's a thread that runs through all the ideologies and all the schools of thought: common humanity. And if we recognise humanity in others, no matter how different from us they look and dress and talk and worship, we'll be nourishing and watering the roots of our own humanity. Is this a vision that can unite atheists like myself with a variety of religious believers where we come together for a greater ‘Yes!’ - the reality of a shared humanity.”

‘Shared Humanity’. We human beings tend to interpret spiritual experiences according to our own various belief convictions. With our minds, we are then so tempted to think we have found the answer. But, as we try to understand the spiritual and scientific mysteries that are out there, we might bear in mind the observation of the Scottish mathematical biologist J. B. S. Haldane, who wrote: “My suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

If we humbly accept that we are all in the same boat as far as the search for understanding is concerned, the recognition of our Shared Humanity might then lay the visionary foundation from which an inclusive ‘Kingdom’ on earth can be built.

Image: The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh - distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,


1 On 17/09/2018 Nicola Phelan wrote:

Howard my experience of interfaith dialogue and fellowship is very much the same as yours. I agree that where there is true openness and interest then we experience connection despite difference in belief and practice. It is possible for people of all faiths and agnostics and atheists to share this experience and they do in different ways and at different times. The more we share this experience the more it will happen I’m sure and it is a good model.
In my experience also there are others whose passionate commitment to their own faith narrative does not allow them to recognise truth elsewhere and they are fearful of engaging with others. There are many though willing to journey out which is encouraging. Events such as the ones you describe and our forthcoming peace walk enable many wonderful conversations. Please keep on sharing.

2 On 25/09/2018 Christopher Whittington wrote:

Dear Howard

I enjoyed your blog. It reminded me of a conversation many years ago with the then Abbot of Prinknash Abbey about the union that can arise through the shared practice of silence. You might know that members of the community contributed a great deal to the ‘wider ecumenism’ (a phrase coined by Dom Sylvester Houedard of Prinknash). Speaking after Compline one evening (which, of course, I shouldn’t have been), I suggested to the Abbot that, however fascinating and valuable our discussions on different beliefs and practices may be, I suspected that those who had immersed themselves in the contemplative practices of their traditions might be content to say very little, perhaps nothing, but simply share some tea and enjoy each others company. I still remember the Abbot’s smile as he quietly said “I think so too”, both answering my question and gently indicating it was time for me to be quiet. One reason why contemplative practice is so deeply radical and such a source of hope, is that is helps us relax our grip on what we routinely take to be the answers to the most fundamental questions, so the answer can begin to reveal itself. As the writer Maggie Ross put it, “Silence is religiously neutral; it is the interpretation of what happens in the silence that tends to give rise to religious metaphor and doctrine”.

An Orthodox priest put it wonderfully in a BBC radio interview a few years ago.
Speaking about the three Abrahamic faiths involved in the multi-faith ‘Civilisation Choir’ of Antakya, Turkey, he said, with striking simplicity: “We all come from Abraham – and the Silence before him”.


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