Dance of religion and sexual politics goes on
August 24, 2007
Four hours of bewilderingly complex dialogue among a roomful of intelligent, insightful and occasionally stubborn people tend to bend the mind.That’s especially true if the conversation revolves around two religions, or perhaps two cultures with their feet firmly planted in the formative precepts of two religions. It’s most especially true when those two religions are Islam and Christianity.Add to that the question of the role of women in considering the relationship between the Islamic world and the hodgepodge known as The West, and the potential for explosive debate is obvious.With fascination, I covered a symposium last week about all of this at the Aspen Institute, convened by The Cordoba Initiative, an organization co-founded by former Aspen Mayor John Bennett and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. The Imam presides over a mosque in New York City, just 12 blocks from Ground Zero.I am not a religious guy, for reasons that are best left to a quiet conversation over Scotch (or tea, or whatever beverage of choice for the conversants). And although we’ve never talked about it, I don’t view John Bennett as a particularly religious guy either, though he has an intensity about him that would prove formidable were he to adopt a religious platform to argue his views. I know nothing about Abdul Rauf, as he is known, beyond the fact that his title carries considerable clout in the Muslim world.Religious views and sexual politics, like it or not, infuse much of the debate around the world about how best to organize human affairs, settle disputes among neighbors and nations, and try to ensure humanity’s survival into the next millennium.This fact has been true since humanity first dropped from the trees – or clambered up from the surf, or was created from the mind of some god or another, as the religiously-minded believe.Whatever the case, religion and sex have been key players in uncounted wars, treacherous acts, weird alliances and murderous intentions throughout our species’ short but testy dominance over the planet.Of course, together they also have been the source of myriad sublime works of literature, art, music and philosophy; selfless acts of compassion; and intellectual husbandry that has kept humankind out of the black pit of despair and chaos more than once through the march of time.It’s been a mixed bag, to be sure, and I find it interesting that neither religion nor sexual politics, as areas of thought, are typically comfortable in each other’s presence.I was eager to see how this symposium would play out. And, I may as well admit, I am not yet sure what it all meant, given the intensity of the feelings, the complexity of the participants’ underlying principles, and the vast array of ideas that flew around the room for four hours on a sunny morning in the Rockies.But my overall impression was an upbeat one. The five women who formed the nexus of the symposium were all strong, charismatic and evocative personalities. They, as did many others in the room, appeared certain of the rightness of their places in history and the propriety of their adherence to their faith or philosophy.And they were eager to open up the dialogue to their peers of other faiths and philosophies, even as it became clear that they did not each necessarily agree with everything the others said.So no definitive answers came out of it. But this was an important moment in the relations among powerful influences in the world. And it was proof that communication is possible between those influences without the use of force.In the long dance of life, it was nice to see some steps taken without a fist being raised.John Colson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.