Matt Wilkinson: Today’s young people are looking for a place to belong, for acceptance and to be empowered. It is easy to tie young people to some devastations that have occurred and seek to make direct links to religion. However, young people, many more than those causing destruction, are actively engaged in serving the poor, investing into others, offering hope, seeking to live out love. It is interest that when these stories are shared, they are not tied to these young people’s faith but rather just to them as individuals – but when there is a link to radicalism, it is immediately tied solely to religion.
Guy Nicholson: That’s a great point, Matt. After many years of intense international focus on terrorism and security issues, have governments, media and societies made progress in this regard? I’m getting at Lorna’s reaction here, too.
Lorna Dueck: It is fair and necessary to raise religion as a problem when it causes pain. The press should not fear to connect dots, think “politically correct” or whitewash on religion. Then, as Sikander points out – we need to examine what’s within the religion itself causing it. Author Miroslav Volf points out, the answer to religious violence is not less faith, it is more faith – for myself as a Christian, it is a more careful look and practice on the teachings of Christ.
Matt Wilkinson: When it comes to young people, we are seeing in the Christian faith many of those walk away from organized religion for reasons that were highlighted in a recent study called Hemorrhaging Faith, reasons that involve hypocrisy, judgment, failure and exclusivity. What was also found was that young people who were given the opportunity to see positive leadership, to have adults actively involved in their life, has a huge impact on decisions that they made and a positive view on faith. As we look to address issues of young people disconnecting from the root of their faith – in my case, the Christian faith, rooted in being selfless service of others, radical love including enemy love, and generous giving – it will likely take the investment of other adults intentionally walking alongside these youth to be that positive influence and wise sage.
Howard Voss-Altman: In such religious discussions, every subject must be on the table, including religious truth. A healthy conversation with young people should be open to their natural skepticism: Does God exist? Who wrote our sacred scriptures? Under what cultural and political circumstances were the scriptures written? How do religious texts influence and shape our behaviour? We must be able to trust our young people to ask (and attempt to answer) questions that challenge their faith. Our job is not to inculcate, but rather to educate and then encourage both their adherence and their dissent.
Matt Wilkinson: I strongly agree with Rabbi Howard. It is absolutely critical that we empower young people to think, to ask questions, to doubt and even to reject religious truths so that when they come to their understanding and their convictions, they are not based solely on a parent’s faith or someone else’s ideal. I know first-hand what it was to doubt, but it is in the permission to doubt and struggle that I was able to say no enough times that when I was saying yes I knew this was what I really believed. What made the difference was I wasn’t on this journey alone – I had a number of other adults in my life that walked this journey with me and we need the same for the next generation.
Sheema Khan: I can’t speak for other communities, but within Muslim communities, we have to do a far better job of empowering youth so that they can openly discuss the issues they face, the dreams they have and their concerns about events overseas. Right now, many Muslim institutions (not all) fail to provide such a forum for frank discussions. We need to let them express themselves, and in the process, to educate them and provide avenues in which they can constructively channel their zeal for social justice.
Guy Nicholson: Sheema, you proposed our topic today, suggesting that many young Muslims “start off with a deep dissatisfaction with the prevailing youth culture that is drenched in alcohol, sex and materialism. Surely this dissatisfaction must happen in other communities … how do they deal with it?”