Guillaume le Fou and I have been discussing religion and war over at his blog, Zone. A big subject, to be sure, and often depressing. I think there is more than one kind of religion, but it is true that religions that profess absolute certainty can be dangerous.
A couple of days ago I was listening to Speaking of Faith, the radio program I choose when I fold laundry. I discovered it initially because of their interview of the late, great Jaroslav Pelikan. Not every show treats topics of interest to me, but it is always well-done and has a great supporting website. The last show consisted of an interview with Eboo Patel, the founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, an organization that encourages interfaith understanding and social action among young people.
Patel is extremely articulate and effective, and he is anything but a dreamy idealist who spends his time singing Kumbaya. He knows the stakes involved when it comes to youth and faith:
So when people say to me, 'Oh, Eboo, you know, you run this sweet little organization called the Interfaith Youth Core and you do such nice things, you bring kids together,' I say, 'Yeah, you know, there's another youth organization out there. It's called al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda's been built over the past 25 years and with lots of ideas of how you recruit young people and get them to think that this is the best way they can impact the world.'Patel's personal story is interesting as well. He is Muslim, but his interest in religion and social activism came through working in a Catholic Worker House in Chicago:
And at some point, a Catholic worker leader put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Kid, you've got to find a way to engage in social justice mind, body, and soul.' And so I began reading in other religious traditions, and interestingly enough, kind of avoided Islam until I met my grandmother again, and this is in the summer of 1998. I went to Bombay, India, the summer before I went to graduate school in England, and I discovered that my grandmother had this 40-year history of housing battered and abused women in her apartment in south Bombay. And she brought out all these Polaroids of these women from Hyderabad and Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. And then finally, at the end of all these stories, I wanted to hear my grandmother's story. I said, 'Why do you do this?' And she said, 'Because I'm a Muslim, and this is what Muslims do.' And it was like heaven cracked open and spilled onto me. And I realized that there was a Dorothy Day figure in my faith, in my family. I was standing in an Indian-Muslim Catholic worker house.The work he does with people of different faiths both encourages them to understand what is distinctive in their own beliefs as well as what they have in common with others. This open religion is completely different from the fundamentalism that creates intolerant forms of Islam or Christianity (whether we're talking about Pat Robertson or the "extra ecclesiam nullus salvus" crowd in my own beloved Catholic Church). I recommend that people give this program a listen or at least check out the transcript. The "Program Particulars" section has some nice extras, like the following photo:
Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King, and Dorothy Day at St John the Divine, New York City. February 20, 1973.