Coming together for a conversation
*Editor's note: The story was updated at 12 p.m. on Feb. 8 to reflect corrections made to the terminology "agnosticism" where "agnostic atheism" should have been also used. The story was also corrected to reflect the Secular Student Alliance as the hosting organization and the Interfaith Alliance as co-hosts.
Beliefs and personal stories were shared at the Secular Student Alliance's second annual panel, in which people from different spiritual and secular backgrounds were engaged in conversation and explanation of their faiths at the UC Ballroom. The Southeast Student Interfaith Alliance co-hosted the event with SSA.
SSA President Martha Taylor led the introduction of the event and said it was an opportunity for people of various faiths to come together and break down misunderstanding. SSA members Eli Bohnert and Alex Dunn moderated the event, asking each panelist different questions help introduce event attendees to their religion.
The rev. Edie Bird spoke and gave introduction for the larger Cape Girardeau city Interfaith Alliance. She said she had always had an interest in religion. Among her statements was her belief the dominant religion has become what she coined "consumerism," which she said causes people to objectify the universe and one another.
“We rarely challenge something if we don’t name it, and that’s why I’m naming [consumerism] here tonight,” she said.
Cape Interfaith co-founder and Southeast faculty member Debbie Lee-Distefano was present at the event, and she spoke on part of the alliance and read the poem “Human Family” by Maya Angelou, which she believed to be significant to the dialogue that was held at the event and should be held elsewhere.
The event format featured individuals representing their beliefs by responding to a series of questions. Religions, schools of thought and belief systems represented included philosophical spiritualism, Hinduism, Baptist Christianity, deism, Mormonism, agnostic atheism, Roman Catholicism and Islam.
Among the questions: How did panelists arrive at their current religious convictions? What misconceptions had they encountered regarding their religion? Why do they think people do not engage in interfaith dialogue? What is the greatest joy they found in their faith?
By their answers to the questions, panelists had a lot in common: they each spoke of coming from somewhat religious backgrounds. Most members of religious backgrounds had grown up with their current beliefs, and their religious research and personal discovery reinforced their faiths.
Alternatively, Deist Zachary Mitchell said he had learned about his beliefs in a universal creator who is not currently active in influencing creation from history and from the Founding Fathers, many of whom were also Deists.
Answering the question of what gives her joy from her religion, Addie Harris, a Roman Catholic, said it has to do with her relationship with God.
“That is who I am. I know that I am completely loved and completely taken care of. And this God who loves me and takes care of me gives me life,” she said.
When asked why she thought people did not engage in interfaith dialogue, Muslim Razan Roumany said she believed people may think they cannot represent their faiths or may find themselves thinking they are wrong in their beliefs.
Spiritualist Joshua Taylor said he believed the universe and everything in it was one, and that gave him comfort and joy.
“If you want to make hell of it, you can make hell of it. If you want to make heaven of it, you can make heaven of it,” he said, talking about his role in life.
Baptist Miranda Greer said her faith compels her to make a difference in the world, and because of her faith in Christ she has the assurance she can do so.
For more information on the Alliance, visit their Facebook page.