So I’ve been plugging away at Life of Pi, but I read another book this week that I’d rather tell you about, so I’ll save Yann Martel for next week. This past week for my senior seminar class we’ve been reading the book Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel, who is an American-Indian Muslim who is striving for religious pluralism in America. I was captivated by his story and wanted to share it with you.
Patel’s mission is to make this world a place in which people with strong convictions in different religions can work together towards common goals. There are a lot of wonderful people out there today and in history that have done profoundly beautiful things for the world because of their religious convictions, wherever they may lie. But because of the way that our society is structured and the barriers we have built up around ourselves, we eagerly search for the ways in which two religions are different, instead of the ways in which the overlap and intersect. Patel believed, as I do, that learning about other religions and developing relationships with people who don’t share the same beliefs as you do can only strengthen your faith. We see, through the actions and practices of others, the strength of their convictions and are inspired to strengthen our own.
I live and participate in a community that isn’t all that religiously diverse, and don’t often have the opportunity to engage with people that hold radically different beliefs than my own. I’m not trying to discount the Hope community, because the majority of my experiences here have strengthened my faith and taught me how to be a Christian in every aspect of my life, not just on Sunday mornings. But I wish that I also had the opportunity to engage more fully with people of other faiths because I think they could teach me through their own practices how to live and act with integrity as a person of faith.
What I took from the book, and what I hope you take from this post or if you happen to read the book (which you should!), is that there is a possibility for things to be better. We may, in a society whose access to information is radically affected by media bias, believe that all Muslims are radical jihadists who are hell-bent on destroying America and democracy. We may believe, in the same vein, that all Christians are homophobes or that all Mormons are polygamists. But it is absolutely vital that we look beyond those stereotypes and see the people that practice these faiths as just that, people. I believe, after reading this book, that there is hope for a more accepting and understanding society where differences in religion does not mean bombs or hate mail but love and partnership. And I believe that it’s our generation, who is growing up more culturally literate and generally accepting of differences, that will make this change.
Think about this:
“Someone who doesn’t make flowers makes thorns. If you’re not building rooms where wisdom can be spoken, you’re building a prison.” -Shams of Tabriz
I’m resolving to make flowers instead of thorns, to build rooms where wisdom can be spoken instead of building a prison. I want to be a person of faith that sees the face of God in other faces around me, whatever their faith may be. And I want to be a person of faith who encourages and engages in discussion instead of shrinking back in fear.
For more info on the Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel’s nonprofit, check out the website: http://www.ifyc.org/ and this video: