On Ethan's recommendation, I just spent 42 minutes watching a lecture given on August 8th at the Chautauqua Institution by a man named Eboo Patel, the founder and director of the Interfaith Youth Core (you can find his bio here.) Patel is an impassioned believer in the capability of people to find common ground.
America is, he says, the most religious diverse country in human history. In this time of global religious conflict, "what can the American 'city on a hill' model for the world?" Here in America we live in pluralism: "a situation of equal dignity and mutual loyalty." What if, when people thought of America over the course of this coming century, they thought of us not only as a country of freedom and opportunity, but as a country "where we are all accorded, and all offer, equal dignity and mutual loyalty" regardless of our religious background or affiliation?
The question is powerful; his answer is even better.
Patel has extraordinary things too to say about religious identity, social justice, and faith. About people of faith destroying one another in the name of religion -- and "heroes of faith" building a world of mutual respect and understanding. Terrorists, he says, destroy diversity. Heroes build pluralism.
He talks about how religious extremism, and religious pluralism, are both taught: most often, and most effectively, to youth. "If we don't teach interfaith cooperation, we let other people teach religious extremism." Over the course of his remarks, he cites poets Charles Simic, Gwendolyn Brooks, and William Stafford alongside Thich Nhat Hanh, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Martin Luther King. (This guy is my kind of thinker, for sure.)
The vast majority of humanity inclines toward pluralism. We want to live together. That's the way God made us. ...It's written into our spiritual and sociological DNA. Here's the problem: it's not enough to incline toward pluralism... the question is, how do we act for pluralism? How do we speak for pluralism? How do we take a stand for pluralism, and so marginalize the handful of religious extremists in the world that they whip away in the wind?