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At an interfaith dialogue hosted by the University of Colorado on April 20, religious scholars and lay believers alike discussed faith on campus and their commonalities and differences in this arena. Students, faculty and outside guests were invited to share their positions on the role religion plays in their lives and how that shapes their experience at CU, in Boulder and as a global citizens.
Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Muslims, non-believers and members of other faiths gathered to discuss the sensitive, taboo topic of religion in a secular setting. My takeaway from the dialogue was simple: if your religious beliefs don’t enable you to live a more generous, selfless and loving lifestyle, leave them behind.
Historically, religion has been used to justify extreme acts of violence and hatred, as well as incredible demonstrations of love and kindness. The power of religion manifests in our daily lives, from the time we recite the pledge of allegiance as elementary school children to the religion-based immigration bans proposed by President Donald Trump.
Furthermore, for some, religion has an all-encompassing authority in lifestyle choices. For example, to be vegetarian or eat Kosher, to cover your head or wear specific clothing garments, to take sacred days of rest, to wait to have sex or abstain from drinking alcohol. It is what some people label the little voice inside their head; for them, religion touches it all.
The one thing religion does not have authority over, though, is your individual interpretation of it and the daily choices you make when acting on this interpretation.
Faith plays an instrumental role in establishing one’s values and morality. This does not imply that people who don’t identify with a religion lack morality, but religion can establish guidelines to live by that are rooted deeper than intuition. Most religious rules are established with the intention, acquired from a diverse variety of divine inspirations, to create a cleaner, healthier, more pure and humble life than one of selfish animal instinct.
However, not all interpretations of faith are so universally empowering. The minority element of dogma, that unfortunately does exist, that outlines sentiment that promotes exclusion and discrimination towards others does not better anyone. In fact, it harms all.
Claiming a divine inspiration for hateful political policies is not only wrong, it’s hypocritical. At the interfaith dialogue, representative practitioners of multiple religious traditions discussed how the core message of their faith was to promote love for humanity, tolerance and inner peace. Religion, whether it be the messages we learn from Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha or beyond, promotes care for oneself, care for others and care for the earth we inhabit.
If you use religious doctrine to justify the hatred and discrimination of other human beings, you shouldn’t identify as religious.
If your personal interpretation of your religious tradition leads you otherwise, your best choice is to reread the original texts in pursuit of that universal underlying message, or to seek a morality independent from organized faith.
Community dialogues, such as the one held at CU, facilitate a productive conversation about potentially sensitive issues. While the many faiths represented at this particular dialogue have distinct differences in ideology and practice, the conversation was positive and inclusive.
This inclusivity was beneficial. Whether the discussion is between scholars, leaders or the average practitioners of various faiths, we have so much to learn from each other. It’s incredibly challenging to hold onto misinformed stigma or stereotypes of groups when confronted face-to-face with real people. Allowing our differences to be the ground for productive conversation instead of conflict is the pathway to reducing misunderstanding, reassessing fear and abandoning hate-based discrimination in policies and personal relations.
The need for interfaith exchanges is evident in the line of religious scholarship taught by Professor Sharon Adams in the course “Religious Dimensions of the Human Experience.” It describes religion as similar to prescribing medicine to the ill; every human is in pursuit of achieving happiness and alleviating suffering. For some, religion, in all its various forms, acts as an individual medicine to relieve suffering and bring people joy. With this line of thinking, religious differences are not the source of diversion or difference, but rather a beautiful cacophony of diverse paths all headed toward the same place.
So love your neighbor and fellow humans for their different faith, and abandon religious doctrine or dogma that produces sentiments of fear or hatred towards others. Each one of us is simply in pursuit of a medium to help relieve suffering and achieve happiness, in an astounding diversity of ways.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Rachael Willihnganz at firstname.lastname@example.org.