Interfaith Conversations as Social Change

Sunday, January 18, 2015 is the day in which I changed my mind about who could be involved in interfaith and social justice work. See, in my mind, for some reason, I thought it was just young people, people of my generation, who wanted to change the world, who wanted to work for compassion and understanding in their communities. I was wrong. So totally wrong. It wasn’t like I thought that people older than me didn’t also want to change the world. However, I have never had any direct experience with someone significantly older than me intentionally pursuing change within a community. But I am so glad my perspective and story evolved.

On Sunday, I went to a meeting of the Center for Interfaith Projects held at the Lutheran University Center on North Dakota State University’s campus. Ron Gaul, a member of the Fargo-Moorhead Secular Community, was speaking and holding a conversation on what it meant to be an agnostic atheist. I jumped at this opportunity because it is something that I haven’t learned a lot about. I have also been interested in this perspective for quite sometime. (Also, it was an easy way to complete assignments for a couple class, but you know, whatever).

I drug my boyfriend, Sam, along because I didn’t want to go alone. As we began to walk in, we strolled past the windows in the front. I looked in to see many smiling faces, but they were much older than I expected. We were greeted warmly at the door by one of the directors, and then led to chairs set up in a circle. Sam, one other person, and myself were by far the youngest ones there. I honestly did not expect this demographic. When I think of interfaith cooperation, my mind tends to think about young people, not old.

As the conversation begins, Ron told the group, of around 35 people, about the book Faithiest by Chris Stedman. He shared how he relates to this book and the ideas and stories that are in there. (Side note: This made me excited to read this book for my class, Faith in Dialogue, later this semester). Ron considers himself an agnostic atheist because he cannot without a doubt prove that there is not a god. Ron looks more towards science and rational explanations to shape the way he views the world. He also hold very many humanist perspectives as well. As Ron finished with sharing about himself, the conversation began to revolve around how we share our stories with one another and how to effectively and respectfully tell someone else about your faith or non-faith.

There was not a specific issue of social justice that was brought up during this conversation. However, I would argue that learning how to share our stories and the stories of others and interfaith dialogue can be considered a social justice issue. When we think about many social justice movements, many are centered around the stories that are told. Justice movements would not be possible without stories. These stories are able to captivate an audience and compel them to act. This is how movements start. Without stories, social change would not be possible.

Towards the end of the meeting, everyone had a chance to go around the circle and say what convictions they are a part of. We each got a chance to take part of story telling—sharing our stories to understand each other better. Through this, we were partaking in social change. Often in American culture, we do not talk about our faith convictions openly and in a setting that is friendly and welcoming. The meeting in and of itself was a part of social change. Interfaith dialogue is something that is needed for our ever-changing and growing world. Many of our neighbors do not share the same faith as we do. It is important to know how to dialogue with and be respectful of people of other convictions. By learning how to respect one another’s identity, we can make the world a better place. I feel like my over-idealist tendencies are coming out here, but seriously, just listening can make things so much easier and break down so many barriers. God knows I need to learn how to listen better.

So what does this mean? Is an interfaith conversation really social change? Yes. I believe it is. It is a place where sincere, genuine conversations can happen that can really be life-changing for many people. I know my experience was. Maybe it wasn’t exactly life-changing, but I know there was a shift in how I view the world. My whole perspective on who could be involved in interfaith and social justice movements completely switched. Through participating in an act towards social change, I was able to open up my mind to think about who can be involved in and what constitutes as social change.

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Speaking of Religion, Science, and Sex

So here goes this blogging thing. I have never written a blog before, but sometimes the thoughts in my head come out as blog posts. So I am not really sure why I haven’t ever considered writing one. For my Writing for Religious and Social Change class, one of the assignments is to respond to a class reading, so that’s what I am going to do. Currently, we are reading Speaking of Faith by Krista Tippett. She hosts a radio show entitled On Being. While I have not been familiar with her work until quite recently, Tippett is quickly becoming someone with whom I identify and admire.

In chapter three, she argues that in our world today there is often a distinct line drawn between religion and science. However, that has not been the case in history. Normally, religion and science are intertwined. It is only a recent development that the two are separated.

This prompted our professor, Adam Copeland, to ask the question what other subjects often seem like they do not relate with religion? (Only, Adam worded the question more elegantly than me). While I hesitated with the answer, my immediate thought was sex. Now granted, I spent last semester researching Christianity and sex, so my mind goes there often.

Conservative Christianity promotes waiting until you are married to have sex. It is seen as a dirty act before marriage but after marriage is regarded as good and important. But there is not a switch that just flips for many people. Sex is still seen as bad to them after marriage. It seems that Christianity and sex cannot mix, just like religion and science supposedly cannot. However, I believe that to be a bold-face lie for both of those topics.

It is time to change the conversation, to ask the questions: How does this scientific finding influence my faith? How does this religious text work with what scientists have found about the natural world? How can we teach sex differently to emphasize the spiritual benefits?

For both sex and science, religion can enhance the topic in so many ways if we put them together constructively. Tippett says, “It is a crazy irony of Christianity’s divisions that those traditions that hold the text most sacred sometimes discourage the God-given powers of the human mind to read and interpret. And those that encourage the life of the mind have sometimes left the text behind.”

So how do we move forward to a place where topics like science and sex once again become part of the conversation in religion? I don’t have an answer; I am not exactly sure what to do beside start incorporating those into my conversations about religion. Maybe then, other people will begin doing the same.