The word “Interfaith” suggests a common ground among people of different religious affinities. That common ground would be the territory of common moral precepts. Interfaith ministry takes it a little further by viewing religion and especially religious ritual as the clothing that adorns a common acknowledgment of divinity; what Aldous Huxley termed the “perennial philosophy”.
The Interfaith practitioner treats religions as artifacts of culture. Among the most common and practical functions of an interfaith minister is to create and conduct rituals, such as marriages and funerals, between and among people of different religious backgrounds.
In this context, the word “faith” refers to faith traditions or religions. Theologically, the embrace of religion poses challenges. Most religions contain language of exclusivity that is a consequence of their dogmatic certainties. It is difficult to respect the misogyny, prejudice and sheer superstition that most religions espouse to a greater or lesser degree. Therefore, interfaith has an affinity with the mystical aspects of religions.
Mystics are engaged in the ecstatic experience of the divine, and, I think it is fair to say, that their association with a particular religion is a matter of cultural happenstance. Their journey takes place in the terrain in which they find themselves, but it carries them beyond the boundaries of their native culture into the realm of a universal experience of mystery.
As an expression of a closer affinity with this universal experience of wonder, I have heard some interfaith practitioners start to describe themselves as “inter spiritual”. This terms sloughs off an attachment to religious tradition and makes a more explicit connection to the personal experience of divinity or a supranormal aspect of experience.
I think this is a helpful development. Now that we have access to even the most arcane teachings of just about every religion practiced on the planet, we can reliably discern a common thread of experience and of morality. For instance, we know that every religion holds compassion as a moral fundament. We know that there is a common experience of a transcendent aspect of human nature. This is sufficient common ground for us to create intercultural community and thus transcend the parochial exclusivity of traditional religions.
The transition from interfaith to interspiritual also represents a gentle path of cultural evolution. For all of their shortcomings, traditional religions were born out of the human endeavor of creating community. If we can acknowledge that aspect we can make a more peaceful evolutionary transition than if we treat that past with contempt. We can honor our ancestors and bring them with us as we grow into our humanness.
I am more comfortable wth the terms “trans-faith” and “trans-spiritual”. I’m finding the word “spiritual” to be less useful. I think that much of what has been relegated to the realm of metaphysics is now available for more precise observation and examination by virtue of the increasing sophistication of the language we refer to as science. Love and meditation make sense biologically. This is not to say that science has vanquished mystery. It’s just that what was once placed in the realm of spirituality is now more accessible, and I’d like to find a more varied vocabulary for the realm of mystery. In the words of Lao Tzu: “From wonder into wonder, existence opens.”