If you don’t know who that is (I didn’t), he’s the brains behind what President Obama hopes will lead to improvements in relationships across religions. Patel is promoting what he calls interfaith activism and would like to see it become a grass roots powerhouse for changing attitudes and helping others in the process.
He figured that if Muslim radicals and extremists of other religions were recruiting young people, then those who believe in religious tolerance should also enlist the youth.
Interfaith activism could be a cause on college campuses, he argued, as much “a norm” as the environmental or women’s rights movements, as ambitious as Teach for America. The crucial ingredient was to gather students of different religions together not just to talk, he said, but to work together to feed the hungry, tutor children or build housing.
The article quotes some numbers; it’s gaining ground in popularity. I’m probably not the best blogger to explore what impact a group like this will ultimately have on the States (or the world) at large. For some reason this is the first I’ve noticed it. The campus crusade (if you will) got its start in March, after Obama
announced a national initiative called the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. This initiative challenges students and administrators from campuses across the country to submit plans incorporating creative ideas and strategies to make interfaith cooperation a reality on their campuses in the 2011-2012 academic year. Institutions will publicize their efforts, and the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will publicly recognize outstanding programs in the summer of 2012.
On the surface, it sounds like a good idea to create a unified front with the same positive humanistic goals in mind even if theologies differ but will having similar goals make all the other obstacles disappear? That blog piece notes an intent to bring this movement into the realm of U.S foreign policy at some point. I can’t imagine that would go completely smoothly. It’s not like this would lead to ending trade with Saudi Arabia because they don’t let their women drive. Is Patel Shiite or Sunni? It’s a Sunni fatwa brought against them there. I wonder what he thinks of that.
As to linking this to atheism or humanism, last year Patel and Samantha Kirby wrote a short piece for the Washington Post exploring the world beyond aggressive atheism and its role in their Interfaith Youth Core:
From our experience at IFYC – not only do we work with young atheists but a quarter of our own staff are secular humanist – this generation of non-religious young people are paving a new way forward . Last weekend, Nara Schoenberg affirmed this in a Chicago Tribune piece on campus atheists. She writes about what it means to be secular on college campuses – how students are organizing through Secular Student Alliances, and what they are talking about when they meet.
So, they’re glad to have them, so long as they promise to play nice with everyone and never insult his religion by drawing stick figures of Mohammad on campuses — even though it should be completely okay for non-Muslims to do such a thing without fear of reprisals. Human rights only extend so far, I guess. You’d think he’d want to change that, too.
Still, it’s good news and probably a step forward, knowing that young people want to work together regardless of belief system and try to accomplish something worthwhile in this world instead of just sitting on their butts spinning prayer wheels. A good step forward.