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Eboo Patel on the essence of interfaith cooperation

Eboo Patel on the essence of interfaith cooperation

Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core writing for Religion Dispatches says:

I do not think the primary task of interfaith work is to circle religiously diverse wagons more tightly around particular political positions, however strongly I might hold some of those positions. There are already well-established groups who mobilize diverse religious communities for various causes. There is a religiously diverse movement for gay marriage, and one against it; a religiously diverse movement for abortion, and one against it; a religiously diverse movement that supports the Palestinian cause, and a religiously diverse movement that supports Israel.

Of course I would like my political views to win the day at the ballot box, but I am also concerned that different political views (especially those shaped by religious interpretations) can cause deep divisions in American civic life—in our hospitals, preschools, Little Leagues, and so forth. We are seeing signs of this. One of the most important findings in Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s American Grace is that perhaps the most polarized areas in American life are around political positions that are connected to religion. Increasingly, people with progressive definitions of “justice” and conservative definitions of “justice” run in separate social, civic and intellectual circles.

I do not believe that interfaith cooperation should contribute to widening these divisions. Instead, I think interfaith work is about building positive relationships between people whose diverse religious convictions shape their dramatically different politics. I believe that is both an end in itself, and a means to another useful end—expanding civic space, strengthening social cohesion and increasing social capital. How else do you have a thriving diverse democracy unless people who have deep disagreements on some issues are able to work together on other issues?

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Amen! Very well-said.

I’m not saying it’s easy to practice interfaith relationships—esp. when you *know* that your partners are fighting for very different positions (that one considers to be against the Common Good).

But it’s worth the effort. In the immortal words of Gandhi, it’s how one works on “experiments [towards] Truth”.

JC Fisher

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