Religion and Culture: Interfaith Effort Encourages Religious Tolerance

Laurie Goodstein, religion reporter for the New York Times, has written a fascinating piece on a relatively new effort to increase religious tolerance in the United States. In “An Effort to Foster Tolerance in Religion,” Goodstein tells the story of Eboo Patel, a Rhodes scholar with a doctorate in sociology from Oxford, a Muslim man who is also a valued adviser to President Obama.

Noting with concern the rise of intolerance among religious people, Patel decided to do something positive:

He figured that if Muslim radicals and extremists of other religions were recruiting young people, then those who believe in religious tolerance should also enlist the youth.

Interfaith activism could be a cause on college campuses, he argued, as much “a norm” as the environmental or women’s rights movements, as ambitious as Teach for America. The crucial ingredient was to gather students of different religions together not just to talk, he said, but to work together to feed the hungry, tutor children or build housing.

“Interfaith cooperation should be more than five people in a book club,” Mr. Patel said, navigating his compact car to a panel discussion at Elmhurst College just west of downtown Chicago, while answering questions and dictating e-mails to an aide. “You need a critical mass of interfaith leaders who know how to build relationships across religious divides, and see it as a lifelong endeavor.”

To learn more about Eboo Patel and his interfaith effort, check out Goodstein’s fine article. It seems to me that in our increasingly pluralistic religious world, endeavors like Patel’s deserve serious attention.

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  • Andrew Chapman

    I’ve read Patel’s book, Acts of Faith, and I liked it.  It’s a refreshing look at inter-religious dialogue that is non polemical.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Andrew. I need to check this out.

  • Rob

    If you mean tolerant in the sense of live-and-let-live, sure. Americans are a naturally tolerant people. It’s in the national DNA. There are always exceptions on the fringes, and Patel’s efforts aren’t likely to reach those people anyway.

    If, however, you mean tolerant in the postmodern sense of acceptance or approval, then I have to differ. God’s purpose with Israel and the covenant was to creat a people set apart. With Christ, He welcomes the rest of the world to join in worshiping Him, but we are still set apart in that we worship the one true God, the God of Israel. I see no compromising in this.

    This doesn’t mean becoming hostile in any way. But it also doesn’t mean lifelong endeavors to build relationships with other religions when Christians have so much to learn about their own.

  • Anonymous

    Rob: But doesn’t Jesus redefine our set-apartness in a radically different way? Didn’t he hang out with tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t imitation of Jesus in today’s world mean that we must build lifelong relationships with our neighbors, many of whom happen to be people of other religions?

  • Rob

    Yes, Jesus did keep company with tax collectors and sinners, but it was not to get to know them and their customs and build lifelong relationships with them, but to share with them the good news of the kingdom of God, Israel’s God.

    Again, we don’t need to become hostile or isolated, but to pursue relationships with other religious groups simply to understand them and increase tolerance is not the path Christ called us to. Christianity is not just one religion among many, else why believe in it?

  • Anonymous

    Rob: I think you’re making a false distinction, as if building relationships with people is somehow inconsistent with helping them to know the good news. Jesus did build relationships with tax collectors and sinners AND in that context shared the good news with them. The best evangelism comes in the context of genuine relationship.

  • Rob

    I apologize, Dr. Roberts. Sometimes my arguments are clumsy. Of course, building personal relationships in order to share the good news of the kingdom is fine. But I distinguish that from Dr. Patel’s highly organized efforts to “build relationships across religious divides.”

    I am skeptical of interfaith movements and I doubt that Dr. Patel’s IFYC is interested in evangelism of any kind. 

    I hope my position is a bit clearer now. I don’t object to personal relationships in the service of the kingdom, but I am doubtful about the usefulness of the IFYC.

    Of course, God can use anything.