My Twitter notifications blowing up, my Facebook feed crowded, I feel hopeless as I stare into my phone’s screen—another announcement on the US-Iran conflict. I couldn’t help but notice the comments that ensued, the hatred, the prejudiced nature of people who do not seek to grasp contrasting religions or cultures. The narrative of war utilizes hatred as a mode of defense, rooted in misunderstanding. Because someone is different than us, they are the enemy—different cultures, different religions, and different races fall under one image of the enemy, an image of a terrorist, an unfair judgment made on their behalf. We are quick to judge people whose beliefs we don’t understand—quick to label, to categorize, to discriminate. It seems as if the only constant in times of conflict is hatred.
It is far too easy to hate those that are portrayed as your enemy, especially when we don’t make the proper efforts to understand their cultures. The word “terrorist” is tied to those that look different than us, practice their religion different than us, and worship a different god than us. While it may ring true that this activity can be rooted in an extremist view of one’s religion, it is unfair to classify an entire culture as a monolith simply because we do not make the effort to understand them.
As an agnostic, I find myself feeling grateful that I don’t feel connected to any religion, as it gives me an outside perspective on religious dialogue. It provides me with the opportunity to learn without judgment, speak without preconceived beliefs, and gain a comprehensive view of the world around me. This is not to say that those with religious beliefs cannot do this, but with limited knowledge of established world religions, I have far more to learn than to teach, giving me a different approach to viewing these religions. I wonder, what would the world be like if everyone did the same? What would happen if people listened more than they spoke? What good would come if preconceived beliefs were pushed to the side to gain new understanding? These are the questions one must ask themselves in order to assure productive interfaith dialogue. Rather than sticking to the known, push yourself to explore what you do not know.
In a time of conflict, I implore you to ask yourself these questions. While challenging your beliefs can be wildly uncomfortable, it is beneficial to you and your neighbor. Engaging in interfaith dialogue is crucial not only to gain an introspective look at your spirituality but to gain an understanding of global religions that are often misrepresented and misunderstood. Though conflict-laden, I can’t help but have faith that the world would become a better place if we put ourselves in a position to seek this crucial, though sometimes uncomfortable, dialogue.