Published in the Oregon State University Daily Barometer 4/12/2013

Change the World Through Interfaith Relationships

By Hannah Pynn

Religiously diverse individuals getting along is not captivating news. Everyone loves drama and polarized religious opponents happily provide it: Christians scream LGBTQ hate on the quad, atheists write letters to the editor that trivialize all believers, and Socratic Club debates pit scientists and theologians against each other. Although these passionate actions can stimulate our thoughts about religious extremism, do they cultivate relationships across boundaries of difference?

Chris Stedman, the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and author of Faitheist, came to OSU recently to lecture on the importance of interfaith relationships and about 30 people showed up. Tonight, 400+ people packed Milam for a Socratic Club debate to see theologians argue with each other. I asked Stedman why more people did not see interfaith relationships as an important cause and he replied, “Interfaith work is not sexy.”

Every major news source features international conflicts that have religious motivations, demonstrating that religious difference often fuels disagreement. Many of us sit in classes with international students from religious states or we have plans to study abroad in countries that have a different religious history than the US. As students today, we will be leaders in global decisions tomorrow. Religious literacy is greatly needed as we enter into the professional world. But is religious literacy enough?

What are we doing to better understand one another’s values, morals, and ethics? Religious rhetoric is a driving force in shaping decisions about marriage equality, gun control, and abortion in our own country. Don’t we need to understand the personal narratives and ethical motivations of our classmates and future business colleagues to fix problems in our world?

We need more interfaith relationships where I can ask my friend Fatemeh why she is motivated by her Muslim identity to blog about women’s rights. Interfaith relationships allow me understand the ethical motivations of my atheist friend Harrison who travels with Patch Adams to spread joy to sick kids. Creating relationships that discuss personal values and spiritual backgrounds binds me together with people who believe very different things from me. It’s more than religious literacy, it’s personal. Relationships help me understand my friends so that I can work alongside them toward social justice.

Diana Eck, founder of the Pluralism Project, says we are living in the most religiously diverse country in history. In this religiously diverse country that values religious freedom, our generation needs to be the leaders in interfaith relationships and understanding. The global problems of clean water, poverty, nuclear weapons, and sustainability are our responsibility. When we understand the importance of these problems through the lenses of our religiously diverse relationships, we can solve these crises better together. Common humanity can heal the world, not just be dramatic news.

After the Socratic Club debates or the yelling Christians in the quad, start conversations about how diverse religious communities can come together to work toward peace and understanding. Listen to others and share your story, you could be the start of an interfaith movement.

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