"Faith provides a rich ground for affirming and embracing people simply for who they are."
The Courtyard of the Gentiles referred to that outer courtyard in the temple of Jerusalem, where non-Jews—the so-called Gentiles —were allowed to enter and pray, if they so desired. It became a meeting place for diversity, where everyone could traverse and could remain in, regardless of culture, language or religion. There gathered the rabbis and teachers of the law who were ready to listen to people’s questions about God, and to respond in a respectful and compassionate exchange.
In a time where there exists an invisible divide between the spiritual and secular, the concept of this “Courtyard of the Gentiles” can be a powerful and inspiring depiction of the significance of faith in modern life. It represents a rethinking about the role of religion in today’s society. Not only should religion be an avenue for bringing together individuals from different cultures and race—it is also an invitation to bring faith into the once-thought-to-be less-than-sacrosanct realities of modern society.
For example, faith and politics. Religion and the economy. The church and the building up of our communities.
Just like the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” —our faith can be a powerful platform for encounters between persons of differing cultures, opinions or persuasions. In fact, faith can be, even for those who do not believe, a window that is open to the world, in a manner that enriches our understanding of society with its deeply held beliefs, values and principles.
Faith is a powerful avenue toward understanding the world for five important reasons: discovery, discernment, dialogue, devotion and diversity.
First, discovery. Faith enables us to discover our giftedness—that our life is a gift, that our very existence is in itself meant to be shared more meaningfully with others. When we think of our relationship with God, we cannot ignore our relationship with others. Everything and everyone in our own lives becomes an offshoot of that relationship.
So must it be in politics. Faith must remind us to think of politics as a means of service, not power. Politics must be grounded in empathy in the circumstances of others, because only in doing so can one fully commit oneself to improving those circumstances.
Second, discernment. Our faith teaches us that our personal actions have social consequences. Our choices do not only define our way of thinking about the world. They also reflect our manner of living out our faith. One cannot be a person of faith and not have compassion for the poor, the sick and the oppressed.
Consequently, our faith must underscore the moral dimensions of our political choices. Politics can and will shape the manner of our everyday living—and the greatest danger is ignoring the fact it can and it does affect even our moral boundaries. Thus, it is always important to think about the moral consequences of our societal decisions.
Third, dialogue. Religious practice often includes reflection, meditation and introspection. This “inward dialogue” must also be complemented with an “outward dialogue”—that of actively seeking to understand others. For us to know and understand one another, we must learn to be present to others, to speak openly and honestly, and then to listen carefully.
This is particularly important in a world where politics has become greatly polarized. Politics has been caricatured as a place of open criticism and wanton mudslinging. But faith tells us that for politics to serve its purpose, it is important for people in politics to find common ground—one that serves the common good.
Fourth, devotion. Devotion is very much a religious term often used to refer to external acts of piety. Devotion is understanding the underlying and deeper significance of our actions. For example, prayer itself can be hollow and meaningless, unless it becomes an expression of one’s friendship with God. Even an external show of charity can even be worthless, if these are not motivated by a genuine love for neighbor.
In politics, we have similar “acts of devotion” that express the deeper significance of our political beliefs. Election, for example, is a defining ingredient of our democracy—that is why we say voting is sacred. So is paying taxes, recognizing public office as a public trust, and even the simple badge of citizenship.
Fifth, diversity. Faith teaches us about our common dignity and the shared purpose of our existence, and for which we honor all people for who they are, regardless of what they believe in. In that sense, our faith encourages and nourishes diversity.
From this perspective, faith provides a rich ground for affirming and embracing people simply for who they are. Everything else that they do or believe in cannot negate their value as human persons. That is why politics must affirm freedom and serve our human rights and civil liberties.
Modern societies have been designed along the lines of predictability, that almost everything that is and will be has been carefully studied and quantified. Apparently, it is in that respect that in the face of this pandemic, today’s world has become most vulnerable—to uncertainty, to volatility, to helplessness and for the leaders of nations, to doubt and indecision. What have brought us together in a time of vulnerability and volatility are the certainty of faith, the meaning of our own existence, and the significance of our relationship with others.