Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reflection on Interfaith by Rebeca Alderete Baca

 The purpose of the Emerging Minds Project (EMP) is to create an intellectually open and dynamic environment for students to learn about and discuss social justice issues of today. Each month, a group of students come together at 5710 to dialogue with an experienced facilitator who works in the field.

This blog is an outlet for each of our members' voices. While this is a collection of their personal thoughts, we hope to display a glimpse of the multifaceted ways that each topic impacts the individual members of the EMP cohort.

*The views and opinions expressed in these blog entries are that of each individual author and do not necessarily reflect a collective opinion of the EMP cohort or that of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Reflection on Interfaith by Rebeca Alderete Baca

Last Friday, we were all involved in a dialogue to discuss interfaith. And next Friday, we will reunite and talk again. We will have a dialogue. And it is a healthy process because we are willing to speak, and stay silent in turn. Hakan Berberoglu made us aware of the importance of dialogue among different faiths last week. He stressed that the most important thing in dialogue, inter-faith in particular, is to select people who are open to dialogue to participate in that dialogue. Indeed, it is healthy to bring those who are willing to talk to the table. This is what EMP is—a group of people willing to explore. I firmly believe that dialogue between faiths and cultures and the subsequent understanding that this dialogue brings about can and will dissolve any problems or disagreements those two cultures may have. Most of our problems are brought about through misunderstandings, misjudgments and preconceived notions. Dialogue humanizes; it demolishes the view of the other party as “the other.” Dialogue brings groups closer to one another and promotes understanding. So much good comes from open, willing dialogue.

But what of those who are not willing to participate in dialogue? Talking with people who are open to dialogue is all well and good but what of the others? Aren’t the fanatics, the intransigent few, those who truly need to be brought into the dialogue? Mr. Bergeroglu stressed that if a person or group comes to the table with prejudice, the dialogue will not be successful. But don’t we all have prejudices in the first place? Not necessarily malicious prejudices, but unknowingly ignorant prejudices? Or simple preconceived notions simply because we do not fully understand the other culture or faith?

Barring people with prejudice from joining in the dialogue seems counterproductive. It seems like a perfect way for people with prejudices to further cement those prejudices, for them to stew and linger, to further alienate the other culture or faith. In excluding those who are not willing to have a dialogue, it seems like we are creating boundaries and roping ourselves off. And then, when it comes time to convene among ourselves, those who are willing to participate in the dialogue, we ask ourselves why the others don’t want to join in a dialogue.

In today’s society, it seems like the numbers of the intransigent; those with incredible faith in their religion or group are growing. Shouldn’t we invite them to our table to speak with us? For even if it results in nothing, if no goals are met and no agreements are made, haven’t the views of each party been spoken? Mr. Berberoglu spoke of a dialogue he tried to have with an evangelical who tried to proselytize the people who were involved in the dialogue with him. It seems to me like this is not such a terrible outcome. Granted, it is not perfect, but at least this person was able to express his beliefs and he was able to hear the beliefs of the others in the dialogue. And perhaps his mind will stay closed, and he will keep trying to convert others to his beliefs, because he beliefs that his are the only ones that are True. But it seems like in hearing the beliefs of others, perhaps he was able to learn a little bit more about his own beliefs. Even if he came away from the meeting affirming that he was indeed the best, that he was right and True and he had God on his side 100%, at least he was able to further his understanding.

Maybe this is silly. I understand that it is naïve to expect everyone to gather ‘round and sing Kumbaya in happy dialogue but we have to stop being content with the Kumbaya interfaith dialogues that are going on. It can no longer be a summit of those who are willing. Or else, we will polarize those who are willing from those who are not. No progress will ever be made. We will not get any closer to understanding any of the problems that we have from differences in faith. It seems to me that coming to a dialogue with a little bit of prejudice can be a good thing, so that prejudice can be dissolved. We can’t expect everyone to come to a dialogue with a completely open mind. If they did, there would be no need for dialogue.

It seems the key is to invite everyone to these dialogues, to ask for them to be held within a wider swath of people. In today’s polarized society it seems necessary to organize dialogue between opposite, alienated groups. As I said before, dialogue humanizes. We need to tear down our perception of others as “the others.” This can only be done through dialogue, and not only a dialogue between those who want it, but a dialogue between everyone. Do not drag those who do not want to, kicking and screaming, but promote dialogue. Do not exclude those who are not willing, but rather, invite. They will come.