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The Center for Social Solutions headed to Pittsburgh this week for a panel discussion set in motion by Our Compelling Interests editors Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor. Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert P. Jones, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers from the Tree of Life Synagogue, and Interfaith Youth Core founding president Eboo Patel graced the panel—moderated by Lisa Washington of WQED PBS and KDKA-TV CBS—for a dynamic and captivating discussion about religious diversity, inclusion, and harmony.
“If you look at the successful areas of this world, they aren’t monolithic,” noted Peduto. “They’re diverse cultures within major cities that are leading in innovation and change. And it’s changing rapidly.”
The event occurred in recognition of Patel’s latest book and the most recent addition to the Our Compelling Interests series—Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise. Patel’s contribution examines the value of spiritual pluralism, arriving at a critical time for recognizing the influence of religion on society: attacks on places of worship in Pittsburgh, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and California are still very fresh.
The speakers remained hopeful, however. “Most Americans today already say that diversity is an asset of our country,” Jones noted. “So the vast majority of Americans are leaning in to the changes in the country.”
Most of them were also eager to create some thoughtful metaphors. “We focus too much on the weeds in the garden. We need to give more attention to the flowers,” Myers said. “It’s easy to [give attention to the weeds] because you want to just have a beautiful garden. But weeds are part of life. Let’s focus on the flowers and the beauty. We’ll find so much that we can share and enjoy together.”
Patel also weighed in with symbolism of his own. “We are now a nation with the soul of a church, and a synagogue, and a mosque, and a gurdwara, and a sangha, and a temple, and a secular humanist society. The question is how do you make that a jazz show that sounds good together and not a set of different musics?”
Myers turned his attention to the nation’s youth, advocating for the addition of religious education to the mainstream curriculum. “How would children grow up knowing anything about what the world is like if they don’t learn anything about the practices of their neighbors? For most kids, half of the world is not their religion. How are they going to learn that if not in a setting where they’re all together, and they can experience what other faiths are about?”
In the midst of such a troubling time, solace can be found in remembering that we are not very different at all.
“What are the things that are common about us?” asked Myers. “We all learn at the end that there is so much more that we have in common than what separates us.”
The taped program of the panel discussion will be broadcast in Pittsburgh on Thursday June 13, 2019 on the WQED channel at 8 p.m. The program will be made available for digital streaming shortly thereafter.