Where is God?: Interfaith conference hosts dialogue over suffering

by   Posted on April 12th, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Reuben Jones, Broadside Correspondent

On Jan. 12 of this year, close to 200,000 people lost their lives in an earthquake in Haiti. Another 400 people died in February in an earthquake in Chile. And early last week, four people were gunned down in southern Washington, D.C. These examples of human suffering this year provided a backdrop for an on-campus discussion about the existence of a devine being.

Over 100 people showed up last Wednesday to attend the Interfaith Conference called “If God exists, then why is there suffering?” The conference was sponsored by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Student Association (AMSA).

Five speakers spoke on behalf of their religions and then took questions from the audience. The religions represented in the panel were Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Atheism.

The topic of religion can sometimes lead to heated debates and even violence. This conference, however, was a chance for each religion to express their viewpoints while having a lively discussion between panelists and audience members.

Each speaker was given 15 minutes to speak about their religion and to respond to the question of God’s existence in spite of human suffering.

“I think in terms of what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense,” said Ted Penton, a religions teacher at Westfield High School who spoke on behalf of Atheists. “If so much bad stuff happens, where is God?” he asked.

“Religions seem to have done a lot of harm in the world,” Penton added.

Rabbi Bruce Aft, Rabbinic adviser of the George Mason University Community Hillel Board, represented Judaism at the conference.

“We partner together with God to approach suffering in the world,” said Rabbi Aft.

He went on to say that suffering can ultimately be for the good.

When people ask the question of why God lets suffering happen, he believes the question can be countered and then asked of the person who questioned the existence of God.

“It’s our task to try and repair a broken world,” said Rabbi Aft.

The Rev. Denise Giacomozzi May, minister director for United College Ministries, also argued that suffering can be good for us.

A comment made by May sparked some controversy during the Q & A session when audience members questioned one of her beliefs about human beings.

“I don’t think you are born being naturally good,” said May.

Afterwards, May clarified her comment saying, “Humans created good, but through our sinful choices our goodness has been broken. We cannot make ourselves good.”

“God is pursuing us to reach out and love,” said May.

This view was contrary to Penton’s perspective. He believes the idea that humans are not born naturally good is “disturbing.”

The Buddhist view of suffering focused on expectations.

The Rev. Kaz Nakata of the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Fairfax Station spoke on behalf of Buddhists. “When we expect something, there is suffering,” he said.

He explained that suffering exists within our expectations.

“When people encounter differences, they come out stronger,” said Nakata.

Imam Naseem Mahdi, the national vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, spoke about Islam.

Islam, Mahdi says, focuses on peace and submission.

Mahdi explained how there can be man-made suffering. But through the teachings of the Islam, suffering can actually prove the existence of God.

After the event, Saud Iqbal, president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Student Association at Mason, was pleased with the turnout and the success of the conference.

“The goal was to try and have a good dialogue,” said Iqbal. “It was a great conference and a success,” he said.

Every semester the AMSA typically holds conferences that focus on different issues in the Muslim world. The goal is for the conferences to try to get rid of negative anger sometimes directed at Islam and to promote peace in the community.

The AMSA motto is “Love for All, Hatred for None,” and after Wednesday’s successful event, they look to have more conferences in the future that discuss interfaith issues around the world.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>