Sometimes, in my efforts to run the Interfaith Council at Boston University, I’ve come across people who question the need for interfaith work.
Who needs that Kumbaya stuff really? We all get along here relatively well, they say, ensconced in their bubble of a city where hijabis don’t get a second look and a university that some joking call “B-Jew.”
The answer to that question comes to us in a terrifying form of the events of the past few weeks:
The tragic shooting at the Sikh gurdwara (temple) in Wisconsin.
The burning (for the second time) of the mosque in Joplin.
The public can often downplay the religious illiteracy, the ignorance, and, yes, even the hatred, that simmers in our society until it comes to a boil at moments like these.
Smaller things carried out in the name of hate–crimes like beatings or bullying— are lost to flashier headlines or political posturing. Meanwhile, some secularists write off any faith-related abuses as more examples of why these traditions are crazy, backward notions that people should abandon, citing Lennon’s famous “Imagine no religion.” But we can’t afford to waste time imagining that, because the truth is that we are part of a rich, multicultural world where many people’s lives are informed by their religions, diverse as they may be.
Religion is not going away, and it is not getting homogenous.
We have to learn and share with each other–that is the only way to quell hatred and foster love. Granted, doing so does not mean that hate crimes will stop. There will always be individuals in this world for whom no degree of understanding will change their violence or psychological twistedness. But for many, having the chance to talk to someone different, to understand them as more than just a label or a stereotype, is a powerful tool for peacebuilding in our communities.
Yesterday, I gave to the fund to support the victims and families of the Milwaukee shooting. A campaign that started with a goal of $25,000, it has already raised more than $105,275 (that number will probably be even higher by the time you read this). And this is impressive, a sign that compassion is still alive–and exceeds our expectations–in the world of today.
But even as I pressed that donate button for such a worthwhile cause, I knew that was not enough. The only way that people change is through personal experience. We cannot solve the deep fractures in our society, the chasms between “the other” and the people who are “othering,” unless those two divided sides meet. As Eboo Patel writes in Sojourners, when tragedies like this occur, we only have a few choices of ways to react–bubble, barrier, bomb, or bridge. And, as he says, the way we need to choose is a bridge.