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The Interfaith Conundrum

October 27, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Interfaith cooperation…. What’s that all about?  Isn’t accepting others and being nice to them enough?  Besides, American society is said to be “secular,” isn’t it?  Or do we actually live in a Judeo-Christian society, or is that changing?   It’s cool that I can be friends with people of other faiths but do I know anything about their religious traditions?  Isn’t Dominican University a Catholic school anyway, so are we allowed to do anything that isn’t “totally Catholic”?  What about our Christian call to preach the Gospel—doesn’t that mean we should try to convert everyone to our faith?  And besides, isn’t faith kind of a taboo subject?  Religion and politics aren’t a part of polite conversation, right?  What am I getting myself into?!

Well, my friends, these are some of the questions I have been delving into as a member of Dominican University’s interfaith effort the Better Together Team, and Eboo Patel and Cassie Meyer’s Interfaith Cooperation class (this year’s Lund-Gill Chair class).  First of all, I want you to know that this is something special, something which has started in groups like the Interfaith Youth Core and will grow into an incredible movement:  the movement to create interfaith cooperation and peace.  Think about it:  when was the last time you had a conversation with another person about their religious beliefs?  How did it go?  I recently had a conversation with some friends who said they are annoyed and hurt by people who call them “weak” and “ignorant” because they believe in God.  At the same time other friends of mine feel uncomfortable when religion is brought up, perhaps because it is something they know little about.  In short, the interfaith movement is a very personal issue—it’s about creating a world where people can bring their entire identity to the table without having to fear backlash from ignorance or stereotypes.


Often when I tell someone I am involved in the interfaith movement they give me a funny look as I explain the things I do—and then this revelation comes to them.  “Oh, it’s like when my aunt got mad at me for going to a different church for Christmas” or “there was a Muslim student at my high school who was teased all the time for being a ‘rag head’” they explain, realizing that interfaith cooperation is an issue in their own life.  This is the best part of spreading the message, yet it’s so simple.  Making someone realize that the way our society and our world deals with religious interactions personally affects them is powerful because that person will never think about it the same way again.  Or at least, that’s the goal.

My interfaith involvement has also made me a stronger Christian.  At first I was very afraid that this “interfaith stuff” would make Dominican less of a Catholic place, but I have learned that as a Catholic I am called to reach out to others.  The word “catholic” comes from the Greek language and means “universal” or “on the whole,” so even the name of Catholicism calls me to be all-embracing.  I am undoubtedly inspired by Jesus’ outreach to the poor and unprivileged, and his spirit of limitless love calls me to express a similar love to others and to share my inspiration with them.  Mutual inspiration is a key part of interfaith cooperation, so during interfaith activities, such as the Interfaith Teahouse (every Tuesday evening at 8:00pm in the Clock Lobby) I learn about and am inspired by the figures and features of other religions.  I never have to “hush” my Christianity in this work; in fact, I am encouraged to share it!

On November 1 (this Tuesday, woo hoo!) Eboo Patel, PhD, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, will be speaking about interfaith work and service at 7:00pm in Rosary Chapel.  If you want to hear someone explain the interfaith movement in an incredibly eloquent and moving way, you should come.  His speech is titled Acts of Faith: Interfaith Leadership in a Time of Global Religious Crisis .  Afterwards I encourage you to stay for an event called Talk Better Together: An Interfaith After-Party hosted by the Interfaith Cooperation and Literacy class.  Even if you don’t come to the lecture you are welcome to join us for “ speed faithing” (think speed-dating minus the courtship, plus interfaith dialogue) and service opportunities (the best way to act together for the common good) which will be in the same space as the speech.  This will begin at about 8:15pm and snacks will be provided.  This event will give you the opportunity to make friends and practice interfaith dialogue.  Creating a world where everyone gets along requires us to talk with each other about the hard stuff—particularly faith and religion.  Please come and join us as we delve into this fascinating and fun interfaith conundrum!

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