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Broadening religious horizons

Five panelists to answer questions about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Atheis

Posted: November 13, 2009 10:08 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.
The Santa Clarita Valley branch of American Association of University Women, with the support of the Santa Clarita Interfaith Council, present the forum, “God ... Yes, No, Maybe?,” from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 21.

“People are quick to say that religion is bad when they really know nothing about that religion,” said Robin Clough, a planner of an upcoming forum anticipated to reveal insight on six different belief systems.

The forum will take place at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church at 24901 Orchard Village Road in Valencia. Cookies and coffee will be served at 9:30 a.m. and the meeting will begin at 10 a.m.

The groups hope the free public forum will present an “enlightening discussion” and answer questions about five different belief systems including Atheism.

The Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Atheist perspectives will be presented by five panelists. Speakers include Reverend Larry Brown, a Christian; Rabbi Mark Blazer, a Jew; Mohamed Kaamoush, a Muslim; Anil Sharma, a Hindu; and Jonathan Kraut, Buddhist and Atheist.

“It’s nice to have a variety of opinions rather that just mine or just yours,” said forum mediator Rev. Lynn Jay, of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. “Too often we view the world through our own lenses and in this case, a religious lens. It’s nice to see how another portion of the world thinks.”

Jay will accept questions from the audience but she will also have a list of backup questions, she said.

Jonathan Kraut, of Fair Oaks Ranch, said he plans to clear up misconceptions about Buddhism and Atheism.

“Most people believe Buddhism prays to a statue or to Buddha,” he said. “But in fact, a Buddha is a person who has transcended to a higher form of humanity. Buddhism is the practice of elevating oneself and others to a higher point.”

Kraut has practiced Buddhism for five years, he said. What many do not know, Kraut said, is that Buddhism does not have a god.

“Atheism links to Buddhism,” he said. “Atheism is a disbelief in a creator.”

As someone who served in the military, Kraut said he is disturbed by people equating patriotism with God.

“People who don’t believe in God are also American,” he said.

Kraut said his hope for those who attend the forum is that they would “come with their prejudices and preconceived notions so that we may clarify them and set them straight.”

The mission of the American Association of University Women is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research, said Clough, a vice president for programs for the association. But questions will focus on many broader topics brought by the community, she said.

“We feel this is education not just for women but for the whole community,” she said.

Clough said some questions that will be asked will focus on the role and view of women in the different belief systems.

“Our goal is for education to go beyond prejudice and ignorance and to bring insight into these different religions,” she said. “They all have so much goodness in them but they’re misrepresented a lot of times.”


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