by Kurt Nelson
I'm beginning to suspect my reluctance to post more frequently has less to do with lack of time and effort and more to do with lack of desire to publish unfinished thoughts. But I'm trying. I really am.
I find my thoughts turning frequently in recent days and months, to our public conversation surround the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." (one take or another or yet another). Public demonstrations and furious blog posts have cropped up all over, and Peter King and Rick Lazio have decided to invest their political energy in opposition to the construction of this Islamic Community Center. As far as I can tell, there's little to debate from a policy standpoint. Precedent would suggest that the first amendment, though it appeals directly only to Congress, would apply, and we would not "prohibit the free expression" of this religious community. (It should be noted that NYC officials have, so far, admirably supported and approved the effort.) But the vociferous backlash remains, and is, in my opinion, drowning thoughtful voices of support.
But I'm moved and struck by a couple of questions which more directly relate to my work. I take great pride in the Dartmouth students I work with. I trust that they have had meaningful experiences of religious and inter-religious community, have delved more deeply and thoughtfully into their own senses of faith, spirituality, meaning and purpose. But I wonder how well we (or I) have prepared and educated them to take on the challenges of religious difference in the world directly? To what extent have we developed 'religious literacy' or 'interfaith understanding' as a goal our our liberal arts education? Are we building a movement that is prepared to take on the next religious conflict as they enter their careers and lives?
This is, no doubt, an emotional issue for those who lived through the attacks on the World Trade Center. And without meaningful education and contact with members of the world's religious traditions, I might have been swayed by those who claim that they will be willing to allow a Mosque on the sacred Ground Zero, when churches are allowed at Mecca. But it is our collective job to remind the country that it is precisely our adherence to religious freedom (and press, and expression, and many others) which makes us a great, pluralist nation, and give us countless opportunities not afforded elsewhere.
No doubt, meaningful steps have been taken, but there's much more to do. This is a goal not just for those who have an interest in multi-faith work, but is a value we must seek to promote for all people - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'is, Atheists, Agnostics, Seekers, and everything and anything else.
Until we do, I suspect a good portion of the country will remain convinced that the "they" that attacked the Twin Towers are the same "they" that are seeking to building a Mosque on sacred American ground.
(Viewer Discretion Advised)