Participants work on a team-building activity at an interfaith conference in Malaysia. / Courtesy of United Religious Initiative

“Religion does three things quite effectively: divides people, controls people, deludes people.” – Mary Alice McKinney

Today, if you were to check the top headlines of any publications, you would come across the latest havocs and horrifying events that have occurred in our “progressive” society. Varying from murders, economic instability, and words of pure hatred, newspapers cover and print stories that remind us that there is plenty more work needed to be done in our communities. Many would assume that in the evolving world in which we live, miscommunication and prejudice would naturally lessen with time.

This has not been the case.

Some consider religion to be the ultimate blame for all the negative media surrounding us. Others have blatantly stated that religion is the underlying source behind divergence and strife, the cause of all the wars worldwide. Unfortunately, the spite people feel toward religion and theology has not only enhanced the lack of unity among us, but also created the walls and boundaries that prevent us from ever overcoming this intolerance.

I view life differently. I think religion is beautiful – when viewed in an optimistic light.

While religion, like many factors that ignite differences in beliefs, is flawed, there is a consistent concept in every denomination, branch, and active group: faith. Faith, bereft of any laws, practices, or restrictions, can be simply defined as hope. Faith is not the proof for our beliefs; it is the hope that we believe serves a larger purpose. This sense of hope is the foundation of most religions. It brings people comfort to believe in something greater in the world, even if that idea will remain unseen forever. While faith alone offers no guarantees, it unites people from all walks of life and creates a community, strengthened and manifested through that one shared hope. While religion marks the lines and limits that separate humanity, faith, or hope, it is also the full circle we can strive to create together.

How can we, as Jews and people of all different religions, be united in some way? How can we overcome the boundaries that divide us in order to truly coexist? Where can we draw the beginning sketches that will one day evolve into a full circle? Perhaps the solution is simpler than we think: find the common ground.

The common ground that connects people of all different walks of life is the hope, or faith, that unifies every religion. As an active, pluralistic Jew, I strive to find the common ground that enables me to learn and grow alongside people who view theology, rituals, and religion differently than I do. By recognizing first that no two walks of faith are identical, we can sooner accept our differences and search for the common ground that unites us. When we share mutual values, we will be expanding the lines and boundaries that once restricted us from coexisting.

It takes true faith, or hope, to accept that we may never find tangibility in our different religions. We must face the inexorable truth: the only proof we have for our religious opinions is solely based on faith. However, we can use this same hope to change the world. By taking the first step of recognizing our differences in order to reach our similarities, we will be taking one step toward coexistence. Through interfaith dialogue and respect, we can learn from one another the ways in which to beautify religion, rather than eradicate it. Ignorance separates us, but faith can unite us once again. Because of hope, the everlasting message that serves as the backbone to every belief system, religion is truly beautiful when shared.

Emily Goldberg is a student at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan. She shares her own perspective on faith in her progressive blog, “A Leap of Faith.” In the future, she hopes to pursue interfaith studies, social action, and writing. She hopes to lead a liberal and innovative Jewish community of her own someday, one where others can be inspired to pursue coexistence and positive change.

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