Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Interfaith panel promotes understanding of religious beliefs at Southeast

Thursday, April 6, 2017
Attendants were listening to SSA president Ben Cicotte explaining atheism.
Photo by Huizi Yang

An interfaith panel discussion was held by the Secular Student Alliance and Diversity Peers Educators on Thursday, March.30, at University Center Program Lounge.

This interfaith panel was held to promote understanding and to increase acceptance of a variety of beliefs among the Southeast community. This discussion was prepared for a whole month by SSA and DPE organizations at Southeast Missouri State University.

“I guess the reason we hold this panel is because there’s some misconception, we want students learn more about things that they don’t personally believe in, and just kind of see what’s out there and kind of accept people for their differences,” Shelby Melton, the social chair of SSA, said.

There were three hosts and nine panelists who participated in this discussion and nearly 50 people attended the event. All the chairs were taken when the event started and some of the latecomers were sitting on the floor.

President of SSA Ben Cicotte and SSA member Joshua Taylor engaged within the discussion, they admitted themselves as an atheist and spiritual atheist a few years ago, even though they were both raised in a strong Christian community. There were panelists from seven different religions and they were asked to express their own beliefs and religions and answer some general questions from the audience.

When all panelists were asked to explain their beliefs, Christian panelist Madison Marshall explained the misconception people have with Christians that they need to follow various rules. She indicated it is important to know your faith with God. She suggested people understand following God is not about the rules but about the relationship with God and that comes first. As a secular person, Dr. Debbie Lee-Distefano, professor in the Department of Global Cultures and Languages also expressed her idea of being a non-believer, she thinks people who do not belong to a religion can have great faith.

“I think I want to talk about two ideas, an idea that you don’t belong to a particular religion then you have no faith, I have great faith,” Lee-Distefano said. “I personally don’t want to follow people’s rules because religions are created by humans and it’s created within their system of power, and for me, I don’t want to subscribe to something that makes me have to believe something about somebody else.”

During the panel, panelists were asked to share their experience of defining their morals and the idea of approaching death.

Ha Young Choi, who believes in both Buddhism and Shamanism said she has gotten her moral beliefs from her family and her ancestors. “For Buddhists, when you are praying, there’s a lot of physical practices. I see my mom read 108 laws every night to pray for family health and I see my mom writes doctrines,” she said.

There are different branches within in the Buddhist religion, including Dougajie who practices Tibetan Buddhism. “We believe in terms, we think death is part of human’s life circle. In Tibet, we believe that if we do good things in our current life we could live better in the next life term. If we did not do good things in previous life, we are going to suffer,” she said.

The panel concluded at 8 p.m. with many audience members wanting to ask questions. Some said they had a better understanding of other religions.

“I feel like I have a better understanding of some of the student saids SEMO belief, I also think it is a great panel because it is very informational and I would like to come to another one,” Tori Jara said, who graduated from university of Texas at Austin by 2015 and currently works at Catholic missionary at Southeast.