5 Reasons Why Interfaith Learning Is Important For This Generation

by Liz Raffa

It seems you can’t turn on the news anymore without learning of some sort of extremist attack from nearly every corner of the world. The stories pour in day after day, harnessing the power of social media and planting a seed of doubt in everyone’s minds.

“What is wrong with the world?” we ask.

Just in the past year, the most recent acts of violence have ranged from the Taliban killing 145 children in Pakistan to the Sydney hostage crisis and the French Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Whether or not the people behind these attacks have motives truly rooted in extremist policies, the first speculation of Western media, on almost every global tragedy, is religious extremism.

This kind of media frenzy is to be expected, since religious terrorism has been a hot-button topic in the United States since even before the September 11 attacks. It is becoming all too mainstream to jump to bigotry and generalizations before analyzing with objectivity and empathy.

Celebrity talk show host and liberal extremist Bill Maher has already demonstrated that it's now popular to fear and hate Islam.

Unfortunately, this type of phobia has spread rapidly through dehumanizing language, generalizing media coverage and a lack of proper information told to the masses about different faiths and non-faiths.

But, what kind of implication does this frenzy have on the empathy levels of citizens, especially the youth? The rise in religious extremism can only be met with a direct correlation of interfaith learning.

It’s time to start asking, “What is right with the world?” and seek out answers from those around us.

As a generation often criticized for being uncaring, apathetic and ignorant, we have the opportunity to overcome stigmas by embracing more empathetic, logical approaches to understanding world violence.

Here are five reasons why we should use interfaith principles more often in our generation:

Being religious or non-religious doesn't mean we can’t work together on global issues.

According to UNICEF’s statistics and monitoring update in December 2014, there is still a lot of progress to be made in the area of global development.

Preventable or treatable diseases kill 17,000 children every day; 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, and one-third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

Out of an estimated 35 million people who live with HIV, more than 2 million are 10 to 19 years old. Of course, not all of these are issues arise from religious discord.

However, there are many that aren't treated as effectively as they could be, due to the lack of unity among people in different faiths or non-faiths. This is an aspect of cooperation that cannot go ignored when discussing cultural differences.

Understanding each other and having a willingness to work among each other, regardless of what you do or don’t believe, is a skill that could have unimaginable power in regards to these kinds of issues. The lack of empathy spreading throughout generations is a crisis in and of itself.

In policy advisor Simon Anholt's words, we are at risk of becoming "cultural psychopaths," who have an inability to feel anything toward people who don't look like us, act like us, or in this case, have the same faith/non-faith as us.

We also have the ability to change that premonition by practicing interfaith understanding, which increases empathetic learning.

Interfaith learning teaches the power of language and brings attention to generalizations.

Why is the concept of learning so core to the ideals of being interfaith? One conference in particular focuses on interfaith principles from a learning perspective, and does so successfully because of the power it garners in members of the young generation, like me.

The Interfaith Youth Conference is one example of an annual conference that brings together college-aged youths to empower them in their different faiths and non-faiths.

Whether you're Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic or anything else, these conferences are places where students can learn how to be aware of religious/non-religious stigmas, strengths and differences.

Learning creates a place for debate and dialogue, both of which are important means of cooperation. One problem that often brings about misunderstandings and prejudice comes from the languages we use to identify people.

In a time when we've abbreviated our language down to “lol” and “hbu,” it is easy for our generation to forget about the power of linguistics. For example, the difference between using the word “Muslim” versus “extremist” is incredibly important.

The power of generalizing a subject into the same realm as others allows for bigotry to distribute easily. In fact, history has taught us that generalizing language is a powerful tool that some of the most notorious world leaders used to further their own agendas.

The Nazi regime used to refer to non-Aryans as “democratic-Marxist Jews,” “parasites,” “November Criminals” and “bacillus” so that they could, in turn, group the aforementioned words when referring to “Das System.”

Hitler used the term to generate emotional followers to resent the “Das System” because it was easier to hate the group than recognize its subparts. Similarly, it is easy to resent the term “extremist,” without realizing the person using it might also be including “Muslims” as a whole.

Hitler himself wrote,

A multiplicity of different adversaries must always be combined so that in the eyes of the masses of one’s own supporters the struggle is directed against only one enemy. This strengthens their faith in their own right and enhances their bitterness against those who attack it.

I’m not trying to say, “If you generalize, you’re clearly Hitler reincarnated.”

But, generalizations have long been tools to further agendas, or as Haig Bosmajian wrote in "The Language of Oppression," they keep objectivity from interfering with persuasion.

We have more in common than you think.

Contrary to popular belief, most faiths (and even non-faiths) have more in common than many people think.

While there are many doctrines in major religions around the world that claim to be the one and only path, there are also aspects to those same religions that encourage peace, cooperation and compassion.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all monotheistic. Likewise, nearly every major religion incorporates a section about loving others. In the Jewish Torah, it’s “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

In the Muslim Quran, it’s “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother that he wishes for himself.” In the Christian Bible, it’s “Therefore all things whatever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

Global issues require global cooperation.

It’s time to stop thinking individually and start thinking collectively. Global problems require global solutions, not domestic ones.

It is inevitable that at some point in your life, you will work with someone vastly different from you, whether it's due to beliefs, non-beliefs, culture, background or anything whatever.

No matter what it is, there is a need for cultural literacy between the two parties, and that can very often start with adopting an interfaith perspective.

It embraces networking on a level that is powerful.

Despite being chastised for being uncaring and ridiculously self-centered, our generation maintains an incredible amount of power in the way we network with one another.

Interfaith learning embraces that power, and sees potential in creating a new social infrastructure that starts with this generation.

This is why so many interfaith conferences and workshops are catered toward college students. This age demographic — our age demographic — is much more powerful than we realize.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson said, “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

There are over 4,000 faiths/non-faiths out there.

We can't always stop terrorist attacks or even uninformed tweets from celebrities, but we can start with changing our own understandings, and hopefully, the understandings of others.

It’s time we start working better together.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.