I originally wrote this opening letter about the new interfaith generation. I am grateful for the opportunity to showcase some of the brightest and most inspirational young interfaith leaders we have the privilege of working with at the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). Before you read and listen to their stories and reflections, I would be remiss to not add a couple of sentences about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai before and during the American holiday of Thanksgiving.
I was struck by the reported age of the terrorists in the Mumbai attacks, they were all young people in their early twenties. It takes a lot of organization, resources, and strategy to carry out a heinous crime like the one that we saw. This is a sad reminder that there are people in the world who are tirelessly exploiting young people to be foot soldiers in carrying out their destructive goals. . Terrorist organizations reach out to these young people and offer a clear identity, a way to belong and to make an impact. But IFYC and many partner organizations are working hard to provide a new way for young people of faith and moral traditions to be leaders in moving our communities and our world toward pluralism and peace.
As people speculate about what will come of these attacks, let us be clear about the line that has been drawn. This crime was not about Hindus vs. Muslims, although that may be the tension that the terrorists want to ignite. The crime was committed by terrorists, and the terrorists of all faiths belong to one faith, that of terrorism. Moving forward, Hindus and Muslims, Indians and Pakistanis and Americans must choose if they want to work for cooperation or division. Do we want to side with pluralism or totalitarianism?
Pluralism is three simple things: 1) respect for religious identity, 2) mutually enriching relationships between people from different faith and philosophic backgrounds, and 3) common action for the common good. That is what I am working for. I hope that is what you are working for. In the face of terrorism, it is my hope that that civil societyin Mumbai, around India, and around the world choose to work for pluralism.
It is now with great honor that I introduce the theme of this month’s ezine. This month you will find articles from young people who are interfaith leaders. In this day and age, most young people in America know people from different religious traditions. In fact, America is the most religiously diverse nation in the world and devout nation in the west. We are living in an age of greater interaction than ever before – whether physical travel or online, people who are different are coming into contact with one another more than any generation before them. These are stories of young people who are working for pluralism on their campuses, in their communities, and in the world.
Faith formation, for this new generation of leaders, is going to not only involve the question: "What does it mean to be a Christian?" It is going to have to include an additional element, "What does it mean to be a Christian in a community/country/world of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, secular humanists, etc?"
The great comparative religions scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith predicted this in his book, The Faith of Other Men, "The religious life of mankind from now on, if it is to be lived at all, will be lived in a context of religious pluralism."
Cantwell Smith was way ahead of his time. My bet is that many Americans over a certain age still don't know someone from another faith. But their children do. And it's not just an urban American experience. A good number of the young people we work with are from rural areas - small towns in Wisconsin, Texas, Pennsylvania. Religious diversity has become an everywhere phenomenon in America. And it means the first "Interfaith Generation" in America is growing up in front of our eyes.
We are at the cusp of a movement of young people who are redefining what it means to be religious and American- the Interfaith Generation. I hope that you will join us.
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