Sunday 17 January 2016

Believe It Or Not : World Religion Day

It came as a surprise to me to discover that there was a World Religion Day. I was even more surprised to find out that it began over 50 years ago. And there’s also a World Philosophy Day in November and a National Day of Reason (held in the USA) in May, and I’ll cover those celebrations at those times.
We have to go way back to 1950 to encounter the first ever World Religion Day, and held on the 3rd Sunday in January ever since – that’s today. It began in the USA and, believe it or not, wasn’t the brainchild of some evangelical Christian but of the leaders of one of the world’s lesser known major faiths (if that’s not a contradiction), the Baha’i faith.
In 1949 the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i faith in the US, probably having the horrors of World War II and the world’s slow readjustment to life post-Holocaust in mind, recognised that most religions had common spiritual goals even if they differed doctrinally. The Assembly came up with World Religion Day as a way of encouraging understanding of each religions’ differences and of working together to held shape a better world. (I’ll write more about Baha’i and some of its lgbt adherents in March.)

One of the illustrations which gives an idea of how much the world’s religions and beliefs are connected through history is the one shown below, designed by Simon E. Davies for the Human Odyssey Facebook page. It charts the origin and evolution of many world faiths. But an even more impressive illustration is one you can find here. I won’t even attempt to explain it – the work put into it must have been phenomenal.

My home county of Nottinghamshire became the centre of much attention last year because of religion and lgbt issues. The focus was on a gay Anglican priest who was refused a license to officiate as a hospital chaplain. He can still work elsewhere but the fact that he was gay and married was what made it headline news.

Also last year the UK’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement moved its HQ from London to Newark, a quaint market town just down the River Trent from Nottingham.

Many of my article over the past years can be included in the “religion” label. The myths and legends of Ancient Greece is littered with references to same-sex activity between the gods and mortals, and all the athletes and solider had same sex partners. In fact, you could argue that the Olympic Games were created solely for religious purposes.

Various historical characters have declared themselves to be gods. Most of the Roman Emperors did so, and one, Elegabalus, belonged to a hereditary priesthood to an ancient sun god called El-Gabal.

Last year I wrote a little about the Caribbean faith of Santeria which had it’s origins in the Yoruba culture and religion of west Africa as well as Catholicism. That article also touched on the subject of faith adopting and adapting the deities of older religions into their own pantheons. The debate on the acceptance of homosexuality in African Christian churches is very prominent at the moment with the world Anglican churches discussing the subject in Canterbury at this very moment.

I also mentioned several Roman Catholic Cardinals in that same series, “Around the World in 80 Gays”. While it may be politically correct to condemn the homophobic stance of the Catholic Church and the hypocrisy of some of its clergy, it should also be noted that there are many lgbt people of religious belief at work in the community today helping to change attitudes. There are many lgbt-orientated churches of many faiths, and many thriving lgbt groups within established faiths. So, Believe it or Not, the lgbt community has a vital place in religious life today.

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