E.T. Earl was a member of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley who made a fortune by inventing the refrigerated railroad car by which the produce of California could be shipped to the rest of the United States. Mr. Earl established the E.T. Earl Lectureship Foundation at the Pacific School of Religion to “aid in securing at Berkeley, the seat of the University of California, the center of secular learning for California, the adequate presentation of Christian truth, by bringing to Berkeley year by year eminent Christian scholars to lecture upon themes calculated to illustrate and disseminate Christian thought and minister to Christian life.”

Last week the Pacific School of Religion hosted the 106th Annual Earl Lectures. The theme this year was “All the Rivers of Paradise: Christian Responsibility in an Interfaith World.” The inside front cover of the program for the lectures featured these words from the renowned Catholic theologian Hans Kung: “There will be no world peace until there is peace among the religions.” One of speakers noted that Kung went on to say that there would be no peace between religions until there was dialogue between them and that there would be no dialogue between religions until there was real dialogue within the religious traditions themselves. I find the words of Kung to be essential instruction to religious leaders and religious communities in the early years of the 21st century (Christian calendar).

My summary, after listening in on scholars from a variety of religious traditions, is that religious faiths are constantly forming and re-forming. Human faith is shaped by what we see, feel, hear, think, sense and experience. Human faith is shaped by interaction with other human beings, human beings that carry their own perspectives and traditions. Human faith is a product of conflict, compromise, and conscience. The reality is that there is no “pure faith” for any one of the religions to go back to. Most of our faiths have a central figure that in some way called us into being but from “day one” our development as faith traditions has been shaped by an ongoing conversation between historic belief and contemporary experience. All faiths want to assert a direct line of connection between our founders and the current expression of the faith. This is fair enough, yet, we are also well advised to admit that our traditions are alive, dynamic, and changing. Further, much current scholarship is coming to the conclusion that our respective founders were more open to what others have to say than we are.

Because religious faiths are more than conservators of inherited truth, the year 2007 is an opportune time for them to ask of ourselves: “what does the current world situation demand of us?” In my mind it demands some toning down of the rhetoric of exclusivity and supremacy, some admission that we have something to learn from each other and some coming together to say “many of us see this planet as a gift of God. We share a responsibility to leave it in at least as good health as we found it.”