Extremism or Cooperation -- Religious Choices of the 21st Century

I'm reading Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith (somewhat belatedly) and have Gustav Niebuhr's Beyond Tolerance in the queue. These books speak to something that remains important to me -- building bridges across religious lines. Something that Patel writes in his introduction needs to be heard. Patel's own work is with young people, largely college students, seeking to bring people together who are divided by color, ethnicity, and religion. On this issue of religious extremism he writes:

"Religious extremism is a movement of young people taking action." (p. xvii).

He goes on to say that religious totalitarians and extremists have learned to "prey on young people's desire to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact." We read about their efforts each day in the newspaper.

On the other hand:

"Interfaith cooperation is too often a conference of
senior religious leaders talking." (p. xvii).

Interfaith dialogue is important, but Patel seems to have discovered an important truth, young people are more interested in acting than talking. Extremists have discovered how to tap this energy -- sometimes in deadly ways. That isn't to say that interfaith conversation is unimportant, but it's not involving the young.

We have a choice here -- we can engage young people in work that will bridge the differences -- and as they work together they will find ways of learning about each other. Work will lead to conversation, or at least that seems to be the idea. The most important lesson we can learn here is that extremists seem to have already learned how to get the young doing things.

Patel discusses a little farther in the generational disconnects that keep us from truly engaging with each other. This is a divide we can't let stand.


Anonymous said…
There is wisdom in what you are saying. In college.. emotions (maybe caused by hormones) seem to run high on various subjects. In politics there is no such thing as middle ground, but you cling to a side and hang on. Its also the first time many of the college kids have ever heard one side of the argument, much less the other. Sort of like my father promoting his old school and I grow thinking its the best school in the country. Only after more knowledge/experience do I realize there are far better schools out there. When I taught high school Sunday school, I was amazed how students could answer all the questions right.. but struggled when I said.. "so if this is true, what do we do with this?"

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