April Fools. I hope everyone makes it past my headline, because this will probably be the most personal column I write this semester.
The Islam Awareness Dinner on campus, March 4, demonstrated that cultural education can greatly contribute to religious harmony by highlighting similarities rather than differences between religions.
For me, the experience was a refreshing change from institutional religion. Communities, including religious communities, form by identifying differences between themselves and others.
In our globalized world, many of the differences that used to be asserted by religions are being discovered to instead be commonalities, forcing them to cling to their foundational differences. But this focus on difference breeds misunderstanding and animosity; hindering the love and acceptance that these communities value.
I grew up a devout Christian, and distancing myself from institutional religion has definitely not been easy. I frequently feel misunderstood by and disconnected from family and friends. There is a strong sense of security and belongingness that comes from being included in a community, and of loss and loneliness once excluded from it.
However, this is something I am willing to forgo.
When I was a Christian, the more I came to know people from other religions, the more I realized how much their moral actions reflected my truth. I began to understand that it is one’s actions, rather than beliefs, that reveal the validity of their truth.
Even so, for a while I remained a Christian by relying on the assumption that other religions can know pieces of “the truth” without knowing all of it.
The Islamic presentation dispelled this last lingering assumption I had from my religion. After witnessing the passion and conviction that the Muslim speaker Chantal Carnes had for her truth, I could no longer maintain that Christians “know” their truth to a higher degree. I could fully see that there is nothing incomplete or deceived in a Muslim’s devotion to their truth.
The more I learn about other religions, the more I find similarities rather than differences.
I have come to realize that the main reason I had believed in my truth was due to my background — I grew up a white, middle-class, Christian, American. If I had been born in the Middle East, my experiences and beliefs would be very different.
In her book “Models for God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age” Sallie MacFague said. “We are born into particular circumstances and communities that form us at the most basic levels and interpret our experience for us in ways we cannot control and, in significant ways, do not even recognize.”
Throughout modernity, countless theists and philosophers attempted to prove the validity of different religions using reason, but were unable to do so.
Theology in the postmodern era has come to discredit the idea of truth, because in order for something to be truth, it would have to be universalized.
This does not, however, negate the existence of truth. The failure to create a universal truth revealed that religious truth cannot be known objectively, but it can still exist and be found on a relative, subjective level.
Surprisingly for me, since I have come to realize that I am incapable of knowing truth in the way I used to think possible, the more happy and content I have become. It had been impossible for me to truly learn from and understand people from other cultures when I entered into conversations already “knowing” what truth is.
It is important for those of you who believe in one religion or truth to know that I was only able to see this limitation when I no longer ascribed to a single truth.
The more I am capable of truly understanding people from different religions, the more I am able to genuinely love them.
In our time, the most important thing that we can do in a world plagued by intercultural conflict is sincerely try to understand those that we view as different from us, and I want to thank the Muslim Student Association for helping make me come to a better understanding of the Islamic community.
Mary Ackerson is a senior political science major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.