Columbia is home to a vibrant culture of interfaith collaboration and exchange. But what does this mean? And why does it matter?
We all profess the merits of interfaith initiatives. Of course, a progressive, modern community like ours hosts an amiable interchange of religious ideas. Interfaith dialogue is the natural expression of our love of diversity. After all, we are Columbia.
But if we move beyond such genteel façades and urbane pleasantries, we may find a different reality hiding behind a specious mask. To what extent do we view interfaith dialogue as just an inconvenient devoir, the unhappy task of a faithful few fulfilling an obligation to political correctness? Or as just the newest and trendiest concoction of the dealers of epiphenomena, an opportunity for religion addicts to go hang out with the rest of the opiated masses while the sober go on with their real lives?
It is true that interfaith dialogue, when conducted insubstantially, can in fact devolve into these things. If we seek to engage with one another only to propitiate, thinking that devotion to the punctilios of dialogue in itself is enough, then the interfaith movement will forever remain an empty and quite unnecessary formality. And it will deserve any furtive glances of scorn it may attract.
But if we think deeply and earnestly about the purpose of interfaith exchange, then we find that interfaith projects are not just the expression of airy-fairy ideals of global harmony and cross-religious friendship. Rather, interfaith initiatives are indispensable to both a prosperous society and a thriving individual life.