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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Beyond Our Differences
Directed by Peter Bisanz
PBS Home Video 12/08 DVD/VHS Documentary
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
— Jelaluddin Rumi
All of the world's religions proclaim the need for love, compassion, mercy, kindness, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness. Yet these emphases can be overwhelmed by the evidence of human violence, anger, hatred, prejudice, greed, and selfishness. Even worse is when religions fight religions, and everyone has blood on their hands.
This ambitious documentary was originally presented on Bill Moyers Journal (PBS) in 2008. The director is Peter Bisanz, a former member of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders. As a member of the WEF's Council of 100 Leaders, he was challenged to envision ways to stop the rising tide of animosity between the Muslim world and the West. Bisanz has taken that issue and folded it into other splits and separations between people — human rights violations, the persistence of categorizing reality in terms of "us" versus "them," poverty, hunger, conflict, the refusal to forgive or reconcile with others, and the trashing of the planet.
A distinguished panel of religious leaders and other luminaries offer a variety of definitions of religion and spirituality and reflect upon why religion has been used to justify violence, especially by religious fundamentalists. They assert that although the world's religions have differences in doctrine, creed, and rituals, there is a commonality in this diversity which must continue to be nurtured by believers of all stripes. Among the many high-profile people of faith who share their ideas are His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, religious scholar Karen Armstrong, Chief Rabbi David Rosen, Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, the late Peter J. Gomes, human rights activist Van Jones, novelist Paulo Coelho, former President of Iran Mohammad Khatami, Ela Gandhi, author Deepak Chopra, Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, Ambassador Andrew Young, and many others. These religious leaders model for us an openness to similarities with others and a healthy respect for the beauty of diversity that is the hope for the future.
But where the tire hits the road is the practices of faith as religious people face the formidable conflicts and ethical dilemmas of the 21st century. Bisanz and company present profiles of people we would call "moral mentors" who have taken on some of the world's most persistent problems and tried to make a difference. Subjects covered include women's rights in Afghanistan; prisoners in the U.S.; nonviolent protest by Mahatma Gandhi in India, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the civil rights movement; and Desmond Tutu and other South Africans in the struggle against apartheid. The film also introduces us to an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who are working for peace in the Middle East. All these stories underline a key point of the film: if people of various religions are to work together, then we need to spotlight heroes who show how to make a difference.
Beyond Our Differences proves that stories build bridges; dogmas build walls. When we know a person's story, we can empathize and relate to one another. Generals and politicians plan more wars; it is up to religious people to band together and create a better world of peace. It is up to us to walk the talk of our faith and mend the world together.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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• Visit the official site for Beyond Our Differences to see a full list of those interviews, clips, and resources for educators.