Going back to my September 13, 2008, blog post where I reference "Integral Spirituality," I am reminded of Ken Wilber's assertion that conventional religious groups may be holding humanity back from an interfaith movement because of an unwillingness to engage "the other" in a curious and respectful way. Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith (2007) is a compelling example of how young people are beginning to seek the interfaith dialogue that Wilber foresaw as the beginning of second-order consciousness - consciousness that transcends a specific perspective, embraces others as having legitimacy, and deepens individual faith.
Eboo Patel's book relates the story of his youth in Chicago (Rogers Park) as the child of an Indian family who sought to improve their life by first seeking education and then residence and citizenship in the U.S.A. Although his parents raised him to understand Islam (i.e. reciting prayers to Allah, demonstrating modesty, and caring for others), he either withheld, or was shunned by his peers, into avoiding the discovery of his own deep cultural and religious background. When he arrived at the University of Illinois as a university student, he began to feel the freedom to explore his cultural background and began to embrace his Indian heritage and his Muslim spiritual identity.
Patel's discovery of his own faith identity drew him to relate to others with different, but related, faith commitments. Not until he encountered the Dalai Lama did he fully understand how important it is for those who want to engage interfaith questions to first understand their own faith. Without the solid foundation of knowing what we stand for, it is very difficult to be able to truly encounter another person whose views may be very different than our own. There simply is not enough secure, deep conviction to allow us to risk inviting exposure to another's faith. This is a key point of why many conventional churches and evangelical groups are reluctant about the idea of interfaith engagement. The fear of interfaith groups may expose their own weakness in the face of others' faith.
Patel has given voice to a youth interfaith movement that includes Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hindi, and more. This movement is intended to deepen the faith of each and every participant while demonstrating the transcending beliefs that these great religions, and their prophets, embrace. Mohammed, Prophet of Islam said:
O mankind, We have created you
male and female, and appointed you
races and tribes, that you may know
one another. Surely the noblest
among you in the sight of God is
the most righteous.
This statement acknowledges that God created races and tribes - "to know one another." Not to demean, to defeat, to kill - but to know. Patel and the interfaith movement are working to create the dialogue that allows young people to know one another; our global community needs them and their knowledge of each other so badly. This is the only way I can see that we will be able to deal with the current divisive tribes, some of which do not want to know, and therefore seek to destroy, others.
The rise of religious prominence in the 21st century is predicted to replace the rise of the nation-states of the 19th and 20th centuries. There are those who now believe that religion and how it connects across the nation-states will either be the divider that destroys or the connector that will help us relate and therefore aid each other in the pursuit of a better life. My vote is for faith that embraces and connects and it may just create a place for us all.