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Interfaith Youth Core’s Better Together Campaigns

June 12, 2012

In A Better Way to Talk About Faith David Bornstein writes:

Is there a way to overcome religious intolerance?

Given global demographic changes, it’s a vital question. “The most certain prediction that we can make about almost any modern society is that it will be more diverse a generation from now than it is today,” the political scientist Robert D. Putnam has written. “This is true from Sweden to the United States and from New Zealand to Ireland.”

In the United States, the question holds special significance for the simple reason that American society is highly religious and highly diverse and — on matters concerning faith — considerably more politically polarized than a quarter-century ago. …

The United States prides itself on welcoming people of different faiths. The Bill of Rights begins with a guarantee of freedom of worship. In 1790, George Washington sent a letter to a Jewish congregation in which he expressed his wish that they “continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants,” and declared that the government “gives to bigotry no sanction.” …

But while there have been widespread efforts over the past generation to promote and celebrate ethnic and racial diversity — everything from “Sesame Street” to multicultural studies to work force sensitivity training — the one topic that has often been kept off the table is faith. Americans have grown more comfortable talking about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, but not faith. It’s too personal, too divisive, too explosive. How do you conduct a productive conversation among people whose cherished beliefs — exclusive God-given truths — cannot be reconciled? …

IFYC’s Better Together campaigns are based on these insights: the most reliable way to improve attitudes about religious groups is to intentionally foster meaningful relationships across lines and gain “appreciative knowledge” about other faith traditions. The worst thing society can do is to continue what it’s doing today: allowing attitudes to be shaped by the shrillest voices, the voices of intolerance, political expedience and xenophobia. “If we don’t talk openly about faith and bring people from different traditions together, we forfeit the conversation to people who are happy to build barriers,” notes Patel. “Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.”

In times when fundamentalist extremes are not prevalent, we may not feel the need to make a special effort to say why it is important to encourage the “better angels of our nature.” It just seems so obvious. We understand in general what we mean by “better.” It’s a little weird for anyone to say, What do you mean by better? But such peaceful times are historically bounded by conflict. Nowadays, our sense of what is good and helpful is in question. Extremism requires us to get back to basics and say why and how our ethics is justified. Through combined efforts to help out in society, IFYC’ Better Together Campaigns show how. And they go a long way to showing why. In a cultural environment where science and technology are everywhere interwoven, the deeper you go into “why” the more a rational explanation is required. Using the tools of symmetry and asymmetry has allowed for a systematic analysis of the relationship between our behavior and nature itself. We can really touch the currents of “good” and “better” in a validating and fundamental way, as exemplified by IFYC’s actions.

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