I’ve been involved with and heard about interfaith dialogues at colleges, where representatives of various faiths talk about their beliefs. It’s nice, everyone is friendly, but you don’t really get anything out of it.
Brendan Woods, a student at Dartmouth, isn’t a fan of that approach:
I’ve noticed the same phenomenon at the various “interfaith” discussion forums and dinners I’ve attended here. While the conversation starts down an interesting path, it soon devolves into the same platitudes and uninteresting discussion that we have heard time and again. At best, the participants leave with knowledge that they could have learned from 15 minutes on a few Wikipedia pages. In the words of C.S. Lewis, religious conversations progress “so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully.” As a result, talking about religion — a topic which should incite excitement and passion — is boring.
Brendan’s a Catholic, but he’s in support of the newly formed “Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics” group at the college. He’s also a fan of their new approach to interfaith discussions:
The Apologia [a Christian journal] and AHA are already planning on holding a sort of written debate, in which each group will write papers and then respond to the other’s points. The results will be published in a special edition of the Apologia.
Very cool. I can’t wait to see how that plays out.
There’s one side issue to point out: The AHA (founded by student CiCi Liu) was having trouble getting official recognition from the school:
Due to some administrative confusion at Tucker over whether they constitute a “religious” group or not, the organization cannot receive a Blitzmail account or any of the other benefits College-recognized clubs receive.
I don’t know how Tucker should classify AHA. I do know, however, that honest religious discussion is sorely needed on campus. If there is a group that offers to contribute to positive and productive dialogue, I think Dartmouth should be all for it.
For what it’s worth, I spoke with CiCi via email and she tells me their group should be getting recognition soon — it’s just a matter of some relatively quick paperwork now.
It’s wonderful seeing secular students taking charge on campus and leading the way to facilitate these types of interfaith discussions. It’s amazing how many people manage to avoid conversations which are critical of their beliefs during their college years and beyond.
Brendan is right — AHA is sorely needed. The faster they get recognized, the more they’ll be able to get done, even as this school year comes to a close.