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Over the past few weeks, Bridge the Divide has turned its focus on religious divides that exist globally. In the BTD: Converge conference we ran a panel discussing different ways people are divided both between different religious groups and between religious and secular groups. As part of an ongoing attempt to increase interfaith dialogue and understanding a group of ambassadors have joined to share their thoughts and experiences regarding religion.

 

Christianity - Jeffrey Che, Maryland:

 

I believe that religion brings people together, but there is a cutoff point. Religion can help people develop morals, but when stark differences exist between people with different religious backgrounds and values, they clash and remain close minded.

 

Judaism - Jac Guerra, Connecticut:

 

My hometown, like many other southern New England areas, is mainly Catholic with a much higher concentration of Jewish representation than other areas. It wasn't until I started getting involved in media that I realized the stereotypes that are associated with those who practice Judaism. As disheartening as it is, I've been trying to comprehend the stigma that surrounds this faith, if only to help combat it. Additionally, being in a suburb of a sanctuary city, I've personally been able to witness the influx of refugees in the past couple of years, many of whom are Muslim. From talking with my peers, it's agreed that advocating for a faith and actually understanding what that faith entails are often not codependent, though they should be. Through the people I've met, I've been able to educate myself on the religious details of both Islam and Judaism, though the resources often are not immediately at my disposal. It's for this reason that I believe there needs to be more emphasis on conceptual religious education in schools, both to humanize people and religions that one may oppose and to educate those who do want to help.

 

Islam - Areeba Amer, Texas:

 

I still remember the time I was in 1 st grade and I was fighting with my best friend, Rose. I

just told her I was Pakistani and, as a result, we spent the following 15 minutes arguing how I was or was not a terrorist because I was Pakistani. After 15 minutes of l redundant fighting, I remember somewhat succumbing to her stubborn belief that all Pakistanis were terrorists. As a result, I changed my identifier to combat her accusations that I personally was a terrorist.

      

 “No I’m not all Pakistani! I’m Pakistani-American.”

      

Flash-forward and I’m in 5th grade. There had just been Quran burnings in California, I

remember hearing the news vividly. The topic came up in my social studies class, and some how ended in one of my peers saying, “But I thought all Muslims were terrorists?” After those two instances, I luckily never had a peer say something in class about Pakistanis or Muslims, but those small situations I went through in elementary school got me thinking on why people were so quick to make assumptions. Was I doing the same?

     

It wasn’t until these past years with the rise in terrorist attacks and my increased knowledge of them, I reflected back on my experiences as being a Pakistani-Muslim. The notion of being a terrorist just because of two simple identifiers really interested me, instead of offending me. I started stepping back at every instance and, instead of being offended by what Islamophobes said, I started listening. The news always covered terror attacks by Muslims in a strange way, unintentionally. If the terrorist of a situation were a Muslim, then the headline would read “Muslim terrorist committed  ____.” The name of ISIS came up more and more in my Facebook news feed. I realized where the problem was coming from, and it was actually no one’s fault directly. The only stories people ever heard about Muslims were revolving terrorist attacks. As a result, people were and are scared.

       

No, it’s not the media’s fault. I do not hate Islamophobes and I even try to understand

the viewpoints of some Trump supporters, who tend to say more hateful things towards my religion. I direct any and all hatred to the perpetrators and terrorists who have successfully destroyed the name of the religion I love by a single action. The action creates a ripple effect that has caused tension across the world, because the story of this action may be the first and only impression anyone ever has of Islam. This action caused so much pain and distraught across the world, that it’s altered the opinions of so many people. Now, all I can do is to hold back my immediate reaction next time I talk face-to- face with someone who has a different impression of my religion. Instead, next time I hope to educate them by giving them another story to chew.

 

Catholicism - Mugisho Ndabuli, Democratic Republic of the Congo


I live in the DR Congo, where Catholicism is the largest religion. This religion has been exploiting people, however, especially in the villages. Here, most people are uneducated and women become victims. For instance, if a girl is impregnated outside of marriage, priests oblige the parents and the concerned to come to their parish and work for free for three months. The parents, mostly the mothers always follow this, for fear of being excommunicated otherwise.

 

Catholicism - Matthew Majsak

 

When I tell people I go to a Catholic high school, they immediately associate that with an incomplete learning. People assume that I don't learn about evolution, or that they don't teach the Spanish Inquisition and other embarrassing parts of the Church's long and troubled past. While this is definitely something that is present in certain areas of the country, I have found that in my Catholic education, the influence of religion does not take away from anything, only adds a new dimension.

 

While we are required to take a theology class all four years, this is not Sunday school theology, where the answer is always Jesus loves me and God is good. My Church history class was perhaps more critical of the Church's past than any standard history class I have ever taken. Bible studies did not read the Bible as fact but rather delve into the historical context in which each passage was written, and analyze why each of the stories written appealed to different audiences the Church was trying to convert. My theology class pitted theologians such as Aquinas and Augustine against classical and contemporary philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Judith Butler. My currently class titled Modern Art and the Death of God, explores the ways in which art expresses spirituality outside of the context of traditional religious themes and often times in contrast to said themes. 

 

I realize that the Catholic Church still has a long ways to go, and that it is both directly and indirectly responsible for a lot of hardship and even suffering across the globe. But I would argue that this is more the fault of those implementing the religion than the religion itself. It pains me to see that across the world people using are Catholic teachings to justify atrocities. Studying my faith intensely for four years, and doing so critically rather than sympathetically, has only further solidified that Catholicism in its truest form is a religion meant for everyone. Even if you do not believe in everything it preaches, the messages of love and respect for all you encounter, even those whom you disagree with or even see as an enemy, can appeal to all of humanity. I don't think enough people know that, and if they did then perhaps the Church would shake some of its stigma for being this dominant threatening force that exists solely to brainwash people into following every word it says. That's not the Church that I and millions of others across the world know, and not what it should be. 

 

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