Managing Director’s Note: beginning in the Spring of 2013, all Contributing Scholars will answer the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions?
Human is the most important label we have. Our humanity unites us beyond nationality, beyond gender, beyond age, beyond money, beyond politics, beyond belief. Too often we forget our humanity—our collective humanity. Violence is a symptom of this amnesia. Oppression is a symptom of this amnesia. When we remember our collective humanity, we remember that it does not matter if the person if front of us is from the other side of the ocean or from the other side of the tracks. It does not matter if she is wearing a hijab or he is wearing a crucifix. It does not matter if we are separated by bars or separated by the imaginary chasm between Republican and Democratic party politics. Our shared humanity does not erase our individual differences—our nationalities, our politics, or our beliefs—it celebrates them. This is why I am committed to interfaith cooperation—to realize the e quality our shared humanity endows us.
In the United States and around the world lots of people talk about engaging in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. I think this is an essential endeavor. I also think it is incomplete. True interfaith dialogue and cooperation must include those outside the major faiths, including atheists, if there is any chance of peace and equality among all people. This is my mission. I am uniquely situated to facilitate the inclusion of atheists and agnostics in interfaith work, which I call “interbelief” in order to include all people not only “people of faith.” I myself am not religious, but I come from a religiously diverse family background, which means I am used to navigating differing belief systems from atheism to evangelical Christianity.
When I lived in New Haven I volunteered several hours a week at Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS)—a local refugee relocation and service organization, where I primarily helped new refugees navigate the US healthcare system, which can be baffling to native, English speakers. In the last decade or so, IRIS, which was founded as a Episcopalian organization, has relocated primarily Muslim refugees from the Middle East. This is a moment of interbelief encounter that has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with caring for the welfare of fellow human beings. I believe service, more than dialogue, brings disparate people together. I am currently with a humanist service trip called Pathfinders Project, which is sponsored by Foundation Beyond Belief. In Cambodia we are teaching English at a free English school that is housed at a Buddhist pagoda. The Buddhist monks offer their buildings and we offer our time and knowledge. Together Buddhi sts and humanists are working together for the welfare of underprivileged children of all beliefs. Working on a common goal—a goal inspired by compassion—is a bridge connecting our shared humanity. We can and should talk about our differences—later.