Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. His blog, The Faith Divide, explores what drives faiths apart and what brings them together. He is also author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation (Beacon Press, 2007).
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The Problem with Prejudice
POPE FRANCIS arrived in the United States amid a flurry of talk about Muslims. There was Ben Carson’s statement that he would not want a Muslim to be president. There was The Donald’s promise that a Trump administration would look into the supposed network of Muslim terrorist training camps in the United States. And there was young Ahmed Mohamed in Texas, who got suspended from school and shackled in handcuffs when his science project was mistaken for a bomb. Maybe the police were concerned that he’d designed it in one of those fictitious terrorist camps.
It appears that many Americans are in a panic about the prospect of a Muslim takeover.
Domination by a foreign religion is an old anxiety in America. As we hang on every word Pope Francis utters, it is interesting to note that for much of our history a driving fear was that Catholics would amass significant political power and the pope would fly his flag at the White House. “Our freedom, our religious freedom, is at stake if we elect a member of the Roman Catholic order as president of the United States,” Norman Vincent Peale warned in September 1960 about John F. Kennedy’s candidacy.
With 30 percent of Congress now claiming to be Catholic, six Catholics sitting on the Supreme Court, several Catholics occupying high office (including the vice president, the secretary of state, and the speaker of the House), and a pope with much to say about major policy issues, that particular apocalypse appears to have arrived.
Mostly, it has been met with applause. The papal flag was indeed flying at the White House during the pope’s arrival ceremony—several thousand of them in fact, more than a few in the hands of the many non-Catholics in attendance. Recent surveys show that Catholics, along with Jews and mainline Protestants, are among the most well-liked religious groups in the United States.
An Evangelist for Engagement
THIS YEAR MARKS the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, the 1965 proclamation on “the relation of the church with non-Christian religions.” I want to celebrate a great theologian whose life intersects with that moment and whose work exemplifies its ethic.
Paul Knitter grew up in a strong working-class Catholic family on the South Side of Chicago and felt the call to the priesthood in his early teens. After four years of seminary high school and two years of additional novitiate training, he joined the Divine Word Missionaries (or SVD), an order whose main work was bringing non-Catholics into the Catholic faith. His regular prayers included the line “May the darkness of sin and the night of heathenism vanish before the light of the Word and the Spirit of grace.”
Reflecting back on this practice in his book One World, Many Religions, Knitter writes: “We had the Word and Spirit; they had sin and heathenism. We were the loving doctors; they were the suffering patients.”
Knitter’s journey took a number of unexpected turns. As he sat with the other seminarians listening to the stories of returned SVD missionaries, he discovered that he was fascinated by the slide shows of Hindu rituals and Buddhist ceremonies. He even detected a hint of admiration in the voices of older SVD priests as they described the elaborate non-Christian religious systems that they encountered on their missions. One brought in an Indian dance group and explained that their performance was developed in a Hindu context but had been adapted to glorify Jesus. Knitter was entranced by the intricacy of the movements, and he found himself wondering whether “sin and heathenism” were the correct terms for a tradition that could inspire such beauty.
A Model for Higher Ed
IN A BID to relive our traveling days, my best friend from college and I took a weekend road trip to Berea, Ky., to check out a folk music festival. We got to be dancing fools again for one beautiful, moonlit night, imbibing hippie music to our hearts’ content.
We also got a heart full of something else—a little thing called the American Dream.
In addition to being home to a cool new music festival, that little holler in Kentucky is home to Berea College. I’ve stepped foot on more than 100 campuses in my 10-plus years running Interfaith Youth Core. Berea is unique.
Maybe it’s because it was started in 1855 by a slave owner’s son as an interracial, co-educational school seeking to live out the school’s motto, drawn from the book of Acts, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” Maybe it’s because the admission requirements include being smart, being willing to work hard, and being poor. Maybe it’s because the tuition is free. Maybe it’s because all students have a 10-hour-a-week campus job, ranging from office work to janitorial work.
Yes, you read all that right. A man whose family owned slaves took the Bible seriously enough to risk his life to start a college that educated blacks and whites and men and women, together, a decade before the civil war came to a close.
Christian Nation vs. Secular Country?
"The old hatreds shall someday pass; the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve."
Is the Language of Business Enough?
If we are closed to faith language, we may find ourselves burned up and frozen out.
People Get Ready
If Jen Bailey is emblematic of her generation in any way, we have a lot to be hopeful about.
On Being A Muslim Parent
Would his first taste of Islamaphobia come at the age of 5 during show-and-tell.
A Theology of Interfaith Cooperation
We can work with others even while disagreeing on significant issues.
The Strength to be Uncool
A lot of problems stem from people lacking the courage to follow their moral core.
Studying Interfaith Leadership
This may be a field whose time has come.