Blog Roundup – July
It’s natural to look forward and backward while in transition, as I am, and I found myself doing both on the blog this month. Erica Shaps’ piece on an interfaith AIDS conference referenced “Si yahamba,” a song we sang every night on a senior year spring break trip to El Salvador, and Tim Brauhn’s reflections on his time in Italy challenged me to think about how I want to be involved in my community when I relocate to those same Mediterranean shores.
More than either of those things, I keep coming back to an instance at our Interfaith Leadership Institute (ILI) in Philadelphia, where IFYC alum (and friend) Chris Stedman led a quick speed-faithing session on atheism. He opened by naming a number of atheist thinkers and writers, and asked participants which ones they recognized. Not surprisingly, folks had heard of vocal atheists hostile to religion (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc.) but not moderate atheists, whose names even now escape me.
The exercise got me thinking about a familiar question here at IFYC: why do the voices of extremists get more attention than those of moderates? Why do we tend to gravitate toward stories of polarization rather than those of building common ground?
Part of it is that the media outlets promulgate the former rather than the latter. But why is that? I think part of the problem is that we eat up extremist, polarizing voices. Media outlets feed us narratives of division because they know we’ll take the bait. It’s like we want to be polarized, or we’re too intellectually lazy to imagine alternatives.
It doesn’t have to be that way. This month on the blog, Aamir Hussain lifted up a story of collaboration that received some major media attention in its own right: a partnership between Syracuse and Georgetown that raised thousands of dollars for a local food bank. Megan Lane highlighted how the ILI facilitated difficult dialogues that students handled with far more sensitivity and nuance than we often see from reporters or politicians. It will take more than just a few nice blogs to change the tenor of public discourse, and indeed of public life in general, but the writers on this blog leave me hopeful that current polarization will not last forever.
After August, Blog Roundups will be written by IFYC’s new Communications Associate, Gautam Srikishan, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Stay tuned for parting words from Hana and to hear from an exciting new voice.
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