Good News in a Bad-News Year
by Paul Chaffee
Historians looking back at 2018 will have little difficulty describing the mayhem and trauma the world was facing. The rise of dictators, xenophobia, nationalism, racism, and homophobia … the diminution of religious freedom for two-thirds of humankind … pedophilia being revealed as an equal-opportunity scourge in a number of religious traditions … the gathering flood of refugees … continuing war in Afghanistan, Yemen, and a number of African nations … an American administration bent on offending its allies and partners and rejecting the otherwise nearly universal call to address climate change now … the list goes on and on.
At first the interfaith context may seem to be part of the problem. The failure of the ‘interfaith movement’ to cohere into a unified political, spiritual force in the world is a frequent trope these days. But that fact may be obscuring the more important point, misreading how human communities, large and small, organize in all sorts of creative ways.
At the grassroots level, a decentralized interfaith activism is frequently vital, transformative, and becoming ubiquitous in communities large and small. Indeed, interfaith activism began without a game-plan, and its growth and development is equally spontaneous, disorganized, showing up in all sorts of ways that don’t necessarily fit the model of a typical nonprofit corporation. Without a voice like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi to galvanize a national or global movement, interfaith activities have been germinating from within.
For the past quarter century and more, interfaith activities have bubbled up on their own in tens of thousands of communities in countries around the world. Grassroots interfaith activity draws together people who recognize that in this modern world we need each other and had better begin building good relationships. The ancient habits of only relating to your own tribe are fading fast as we face the global challenges ahead. Grounded in shared concerns and values, the goal is to create healthy, engaged, inclusive communities the world over, all of the aforementioned difficulties notwithstanding.
This issue of TIO is comprised of a dozen stories from 2018 that exemplify these new activities. In some, breathtaking courage was required. Some of them unpack the wonders that can be generated when your imagination takes off in the midst of an interfaith community. A quest for justice and the wisdom of the heart underline these stories. The twelve of them jump off the page and take you places you haven’t been before, offering new views of how people from different cultures, religions, and races can get to know each other and join forces for improving the world.
Journalistic Practices at TIO
TIO was recently criticized by a reader for failing to live up to the dictates of professional journalism. To be sure, most TIO stories are told in the first person, and we mix opinion pieces with news stories indiscriminately. That said, we follow important guidelines. I addressed the matter in “Religion and Journalism in a Globalized World – A Journalist’s Perspective” (the concluding chapter in Routledge’s new Handbook of Religion and Journalism, to be published later this year). I asked:
What makes a good religion journalist? An inclusive, non-judgmental point of view – knowing the right questions – a passion for your subject matter – an incessant curiosity – the gift of gab – keeping up with new tools – a mastery of language … for starters. Very few are skilled in all of this, but many, many do amazing work, sharing important religious information, opinion, and story-telling, particularly if they have a good editor, a requirement that comes with the territory.
Those are the goals, the practices to which we hew. That said, I’m happy to acknowledge that TIO has a point of view, an agenda. On TIO’s website, the first of eight Core Values and Goals of The Interfaith Observer is to “Promote diversity, inclusivity, and respectful relationships within and among religious and spiritual traditions.” The second is to “Fairly report religious and interreligious news, particularly stories that are ignored by major media.”
Good news in a bad-news year pays its dues and is not about sloppy emotions or simplistic generalizations. It does not ignore the suffering and difficulties hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters live with each day. Rather, in the midst of a frenetic world, these stories are about the possibility of transformation and the fact that in the long run it is love and kindness which can make a difference in a divided world. TIO’s task is to discover and share these remarkable stories This issue captures some of the best, though the list could have been twice as long. We didn’t want to test your patience! Do take a few minutes to absorb some heart-felt good-news stories in our bad-news time.
Header Photo: Pixabay