Happy with your beliefs, but also with mine

The Iowa State Daily had a lovely opinion piece on Sunday April 19 by Sarah Tsinger Happy with your beliefs, but also with mine (reprinted here for posterity). She advocates acceptance, very much in line with the ideas we hope to portray with our outreach activities like the (Mostly) Silent Protest Against Tom Short and Your Choice, Our Voice.

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Interfaith vs conversion

Cody LeClaire of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church organized an Interfaith Potluck that took place on April 5th. About the event, Cody said:

I believe it was a great success, and this was because you were there, in dialogue with others of different faiths.  We had over 90 people in attendance from 15 plus, beliefs systems.  This is quite a bit of diversity for one room.  I hope you enjoyed the potluck as much as I did!

Indeed, that is a lot of diversity in one room. Bravo to Cody for coordinating the event!

Unfortunately, AAS only had one representative there. I hope more club members can attend next year. It’s a great opportunity to dispel myths and stereotypes, to enjoy foods from a variety of cultures, and most importantly, to ask questions that you might not otherwise get to ask. I learned a few things while chatting with members of other faiths, the most interesting of which is that some types of Lutherans won’t pray in the same room with other religions, or even with types of Lutherans. I also noticed something striking as a person from each group introduced the goals and activities of their group. Many of the groups emphasized understanding and tolerance as some of the values important to their group (including AAS). Some, however, do not.

The exclusive goal of some groups is to spread their particular flavor of religion. To each his or her own, but this viewpoint is frustrating . Why bother to attend an Interfaith Potluck if your only goal is conversion? When an evangelical Christian (surely there are evangelicals of other religions, but I am only personally familiar with the Christian type) works to convert others, they are in a way saying that the beliefs a person holds prior to conversion are not valuable. If two people enter into conversation about with the presupposition that the beliefs of both have value, the conversation will be far different from one where one or both people believe they are “right”.

For example, a few group representatives stood up and said something like “the mission of our group is to spread the word of Jesus Christ”. The problems with this are many. First, not everyone worships Jesus. Some worship other gods or none at all. Second, even among believers, not everyone has the same interpretations of the New Testament, not to mention the widely varying interpretations of the Old Testament. Even if they have similar interpretations, they may place more or less emphasis on certain ideas compared to others within the same faith. Third, cultural traditions are often tightly entwined with religion. My family’s celebration of Easter may be completely different than another Catholic family’s celebration, than another Christan denomination’s celebration, than spring rituals in other religions. To change the interpretation of the religion may very well change cultural practices.

A person working to convert someone to their flavor of Christianity is in effect saying that the convertee’s religion and culture are worthless, even if they don’t necessarily mean to. Is it possible for interfaith activities and conversion to coexist when the very definition of conversion is the opposite of coexisence? I asked this how people felt about this at the potluck but didn’t receive any satisfactory responses. What do you think?