The other day was filled with meetings, so I never got the chance to sit down and give a proper review of the forum on religion at FSU.
The panel directing the dialogue was strange in itself: There were two Protestant pastors (the Catholic priest could not make it) and three students, none of whom were tied to a particular church but who still professed connections to Christian beliefs.
The crowd was relatively sparse. A few people in the front row were overdressed and clutching Bibles. Many of the students in the room were nervous and fidgety. It was calm, but a little edgy.
The students on the panel spoke first. I suppose they would fill the "searching" category, though I suspect one or two of them were thinly veiling outright contempt for religion. They talked about the benefits of religion - community and charity - and emphasized that the differences in interpretation were positive as long as you had an open mind.
Today, we look at groups of people in terms of absolutes, one student pointed out. "This is dangerous," he said. "The whole Christian or Muslim community is not to blame for the actions of one group. We need to be more objective."
The student said that he could talk easily to people of all philosophies and accept their beliefs: Christians, Muslims, Jews, even agnostics. But not atheists: "Atheists are hard to talk to. They're too set in their beliefs."
So much for rejecting absolutes.
One of the pastors talked about the ascetic desert excursions of the Israelites and Jesus, citing these periods of deprivation and transformation as illustrations of the power of faith.
"Faith should be about transforming ourselves and the world," said the pastor, so we can be "more in tune with the Kingdom of God."
I can't disagree with that. Faith has certainly transformed the world (if not terraformed).
Eventually, the discussion was passed into the crowd. A couple of challenging questions were asked in the beginning, about faith as an escape from reality, a socially valid excuse to kill or to abuse or to justify just about anything. Not surprisingly, the question went unanswered.
Instead the conversation moved efficiently into mass catharsis and professions of faith, condemning the media and the internet for dismantling the community and personal connections promoted by religion.
Like I pointed out at the forum, this apparent breakdown of religious communities is symptomatic of a larger breakdown among nations taking the step into the information age. Regional tribalism is deteriorating, being replaced with the far reaching unity of online communities (with some exceptions of course). Generally, I think people are realizing their part in a global community.
There was a lot of fear and confusion in that room the other night. Nothing was accomplished though everyone praised the effort. In one respect, the consensus was "it's all up for interpretation and we should respect that", but none of us would have been sitting in that room if that were truly the case.