I believe that Americans must learn about and interact with people of different religions in order to benefit themselves as well as society as a whole. In A New Religious America, Diana Eck discusses the fact that America is becoming increasingly diverse. Eck argues that, in order for our religiously diverse country to function at its best, we need to interact across religious lines. I agree with Eck that this approach would be most advantageous. In my opinion, engagement is the best way to gain friendships, learn from one another, and reduce hostility and fear.
My high school experience has helped me shape my belief. I attended a private Jewish school until the 8th grade where I developed a strong Jewish identity. My transition into high school was an eye-opening experience. I went from a class of 100 Jewish students to a class of 600 students of various religions and ethnicities. I decided to embrace my new surroundings, which allowed me to develop meaningful friendships with Christians, Chaldeans, Muslims, and Hindus. Sometimes we would talk about our religion, however, most of the time we talked about common experiences that we shared as teenagers in our American culture. We created close and meaningful bonds while still staying grounded in our own religious and ethnic traditions. Since many of their parents came from different countries, I was able to learn a little about different parts of the world. It was always a lot of fun to eat their food and learn about their customs.
The most important reason why we must interact with one another is to live in a more peaceful society. The prevalence of hate crimes in America is disturbing. When people are not educated properly, stereotypes are easily formed, and as a result hatred and violence can arise. Americans need to take action to eliminate hostility between people of different religions. Since the youth are our country’s future, we should focus on giving them an education and experience that will foster a tolerant society. Starting in preschool, children should be taught to respect all people, and by high school, they should learn about various religious practices. All throughout their educational experience, they should be given many opportunities to work and play with people of different religions. I found a reading in my siddur (a Jewish prayer book) called No Religion Is an Island, which explains that “there can be disagreement without disrespect.” This is an important concept for Americans to understand.
I believe in the importance of becoming educated about people of different religions so that we can increase the quality of our communication and decrease stereotyping. It is important to get to know people individually rather than judging them based on their religion. This can help us live more peacefully within our own communities as well as become more globally connected. As people of different religions continually interact with one another, it is important that both parties are educated and open-minded. If we can create an understanding and appreciation for one another, I believe that religion in America can serve as a model for other countries.
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