The Religious Mandate to Do Good

Elijah Interfaith Institute, Jerusalem:

Source: Elijah Interfaith Institute

The Religious Mandate to Do Good

  • What is “good”?
  • What motivates people to do good?
  • Does religion bring good into the world and are religious people more inclined to do good?
  • Are there significant differences between religions on questions of “good” and doing good?
  • Why do some religious leaders and communities devote so much time and energy to doing good for others?
  • What part does faith play in the devotion of religious people to doing good?
  • Is there a difference between “being good” and “doing good” and what is the significance of any differences?

These are some of the questions with which religious leaders and scholars grappled during the Elijah Summer School in August when exploring the theme “Interreligious Perspectives on Global Solidarity and Caring for the Other.”

Asked to examine the religious mandate to do good, Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh (Sikh), Imam Plemon El-Amin (Muslim), Patriarch Sahak II Mashalian (Christian), Rabbi Micha Odenheimer (Jewish) and Swamini Adityananda Saraswati (Hindu), each examined the spiritual basis and motivation for their choices to do good in the world.

Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh and his Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha organisation in the UK has an unparalleled record of benevolent activities, including the provision of meals to thousands of people daily through the Sikh practice of langar, through supporting schools and other welfare-oriented activities in Kenya, India and also locally, and through his commitment to a Charter of Forgiveness. He has won numerous awards for his work and has motivated thousands of followers to join him.

At the summer school, Bhai Sahib explained the theological basis of the Sikh practices of good deeds.

Imam Plemon El-Amin, who is based in Atlanta, described the textual basis that drives him, as a Muslim, to do good. He not only shared beautiful, inspirational quotations and stories from his tradition but also described the impact that some of his work to show people the common humanity they share has had.

Like Mohinder Singh, he emphasised his interfaith work as an important element in doing good in this world.

Patriarch Sahak II Mashalian, who heads the minority Armenian Church in Turkey, dealing with its various challenges, especially at this time of the global pandemic, explained how Christianity and the model that Jesus provides, teaches him the meaning of being good. From being good, he is able to do good.

Like the other speakers, he does not see an option for a believer to avoid pursuing good, explaining that if Good is God, then not doing good is abandoning God.

Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, who heads an Israeli organisation that provides aid and advice in third world countries in Asia and Africa, shared his personal journey through faith and doubt into a commitment to doing good. His empathy with those in need and his motivation to try to alleviate the suffering of others came from role-models and teachers as well as his own experience of pain.

Swamini Adityananda Saraswati also shared the story of her own exposure to the suffering of others. She offered the beautiful suggestion that while all other elements of creation – minerals, plants and animals – are whatever they are created from the beginning, human beings have to work to become fully human and to reach the potential with which they are endowed.

Like the other presenters, she illustrated her teaching with traditional stories to inspire generosity and selflessness as the basis for a full human life.

After hearing from these inspiring teachers, participants in the summer school tried to enter the hearts and minds of two women who have left a lasting legacy through their acts of goodness:Mother Teresa and Rabbanit Bracha.

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Here are a couple of excerpts from the exercise, as participants explore the religious motivation for doing good, even during periods of “darkness.”

Praying Together in Jerusalem

October 7th: Recalling St. Francis’ Feast Day and the international gatherings addressing climate change

Pope Francis has declared the month of September until October 4th as the Season of Creation. The period encompasses the Jewish New Year, (which this year fell on 7th and 8th September, and is a remembrance of the creation of the world), and continues until the Feast Day for St Francis of Assisi.

The Pope has suggested that we turn “towards lifestyles that are simpler and more respectful of the environment” – values that St Francis exemplified.

On October 4th a major interreligious gathering will take place in Rome, in preparation of COP26 climate summit. Elijah shares in the concerns of these meetings and devotes its monthly gathering of Praying Together in Jerusalem to the concerns of climate change, leading off with the inspiration of St. Francis of Assisi.

Our gathering will take place on
Thursday, October 7th at 6:00 pm Jerusalem time.
10 am EDT time
8 am Pacific time
4 pm UK time
5 pm Central European time
6 pm Israel time
8:30 pm India time

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There will be an opportunity to meet live in Jerusalem. Please register to receive the details.

The following speakers will be sharing their wisdom:

Fr James Puglisi (Christian, Italy)
Father James Puglisi originally from Amsterdam, NY, serves as Director of the Centro Pro Unione, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, which is an ecumenical research and action center in Rome. Father Puglisi holds a Ph.D. in the History of Religion and Religious Anthropology from the Sorbonne, a doctor of Sacred Theology in Systematic Theology from the Institute Catholique de Paris and a certificate in Ecumenical Studies from Boston University. He was awarded the Doctor of Divinity honoris causa by the Graduate Theological Foundation, where he is a fellow.

Shrivatsa Goswami (Hindu, India)
Shri Shrivatsa Goswami comes from the family of eminent scholars and spiritual leaders at Sri Radharamana Mandir of Vrindavan. He is a leading figure in the Vaishnava tradition, representing the leadership of the Bhakti (devotional) movement, in a school dating back to the 16c. figure of Chaitanya. He has lectured at major universities worldwide, and toured extensively to participate in conferences on philosophy and religion. One of the focuses of his present work is the alliance of religion and conservation.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril (Jewish, Israel)
Rabbi Yonatan Neril is an interfaith environmental advocate, NGO director, and rabbi. He founded and directs the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, based in Jerusalem. Raised in California, Yonatan completed an M.A. and B.A. from Stanford University with a focus on global environmental issues, and received rabbinical ordination in Israel. He has spoken internationally on religion and the environment, including at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the Fez Climate Conscience Summit and the Parliament of World Religions. He co-organized ten interfaith environmental conferences in Jerusalem, New York City, Washington D.C., and Atlanta

Dr. Maria Reis Habito (Buddhist, USA)
Dr. Maria Reis Habito is the International Program Director of the Museum of World Religions and the Director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute USA. She studied Chinese Language and Culture at Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, and received her M.A. in Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies and Philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich. She was a research fellow at Kyoto University and completed her Ph.D. at Ludwig- Maximilians-Universitaet. Dr. Reis Habito represents Dharma Master Hsin Tao on the steering committee.

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