Interfaith Youth Panel. . .with an Atheist!

March 2008 leafdrop

Now and then a Secular Chaplain sees something that renews “faith” in:

Humanity.

Last night I attended a forum for Young Adults called Faith in the Millenial Generation, led by young people, hosted by Dominican Sisters (those sweet radical social activists) and sponsored by the Marin Interfaith Council (actively networking for over 30 years).  The panel consisted of women and men who identify as Zen Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i and Atheist.  There were Hindus, Catholics, Unity and other folks in the crowd.  I spoke with several panelists before and after the gathering of 80 people.  Very impressive young adults.  Some just graduating high school, some in college, several married.  Thor, the Atheist, was incredible in his attitude, his words and his leadership forming an Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics group on his college campus (I offered to support his work as a member of the Secular Students Alliance speakers’ bureau).  He acknowledged his mother who was in attendance, giving her credit with raising him to think and decide for himself.

As the panel fielded questions from a moderator who is just graduating from high school and then from the audience, it was amazing to see the next generation giving honest answers and listening to each other intently.  There were smiles and laughter, serious moments of personal expression and a few innocent gestures that made me nod and smile. . .Rachael, who is Jewish, commenting on her secular views, Ariana, a Baha’i, acknowledging the value of meditation to the Buddhist, Lauren; Lizzie, a Christian, saying she loves to talk to her friends about her faith but it’s about goodness and relationships not religion; Thor pouring a glass of water for his fellow panelist Maaz who is Muslim, a fist bump, hugs and other moments between the speakers.   Each speaker had slightly different perspectives on some large issues, but generally found common ground in “shared human values” of goodness, compassion and peace.  This first foray into a youth panel was meant to be respectful and not contentious.  Further forums will include others and no doubt more “edgy” subjects.

Now, I’m aware that the Interfaith Youth Core and other groups have included Non-Theists for some time.  And I know of Interfaith Councils that are inclusive of Atheists.  But for our “proudly progressive” area, this program was significant.  It shows not only a willingness to include non-believers in a room of believers, but to acknowledge that people live, work and go to school together every day without faith being the divisive standard or test of relationship.  No matter what age, those of us in attendance saw potential in that line-up of speakers.  We saw the future of faith, the future of secularism and the future of humanity learning to live beyond mere toleration.  And that future seeks the commonalities and similarities without denying the differences.  As I like to say, why not find common ground instead of battle ground?

I for one strongly support this approach to understanding between the faithful and the faithless.  And, after seeing this happen before my eyes last night, I feel way more confident letting the millenial generation lead the way!

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