An Act of Faith

By Ayan Kusari • Staff Writer

On Friday, April 4, Christian student group Acts2Fellowship held a lecture on using logic when approaching religion, titled “Coexist?” in Center Hall. Despite its confusing advertising, the talk was a polite appeal for students to be thoughtful and logical rather than an attempt to preach the supremacy of a single religion. This event brings up the overarching need for UCSD to facilitate more discussion of religion in a scholarly way, since it is such an integral part of students’ lives.  

The way it was designed, the advertising for the event likely confused students about its intent. Posters depicted the word “COEXIST” written out in religious symbols and the provocative question “Are all religions equally true?” This can be easily interpreted as a promotion of Christianity as the truest religion. Such a suggestion would be enough to make students of other faiths uncomfortable — especially since Christians constitute the single largest religious group on campus. In order avoid confusions like this, A2F could team up with other religious orgs next time to reach a broader audience and convey an unbiased view. 

Despite these misconceptions, Kim did not argue for or against any particular religion in his speech. Rather, he argued that belief in multiple religions was a logical impossibility. He pointed out that one could not believe in both Christianity and Buddhism, because Christianity’s tenets are theism, afterlife, and involvement, whereas the tenets of Buddhism are atheism, reincarnation, and detachment — exact opposites. Kim said it was not his place to judge which religion was absolutely correct. Rather, his purpose in pointing out the incompatibility of various religions was to guard against what he calls “buffet-line religion” which means you can’t create a god as an image of yourself because then you won’t grow spiritually. Kim’s reasoned, intellectual consideration of the issues leading to his dismissal of religious syncretism is admirable, not offensive.

Indeed, lively intellectual discussion of the religious issues that bind members of the campus of all faiths is exactly what UCSD needs to promote greater understanding among the different ethnic and religious groups on campus. A 2011 cross-sectional study by John White and Patrick Lowenthal on academic discourse and religion published in the Review of Higher Education found that religious discourse is essential for campus unity, especially in campuses that are ethnically and culturally diverse. More Kim-style lectures are exactly what this campus needs. Our campus — 24 percent white, 49 percent Asian, 14 percent Latino, with 61 individual ethnic clubs and 83 individual religious organizations — is incredibly diverse. But there is a real risk of insularism on a campus with so many small groups. It is perfectly possible to go through four years here without interacting with anyone too differently-minded.

Talks like Kim’s may even have a quantifiably positive effect on the student body, if implemented more widely. According to the 2009 study, “Teenagers’ Perspectives on the Role of Religion in Their Lives” conducted by researcher Pille Vilk, college students who have learned about religious diversity as a part of their education are more tolerant, and more open to dialogue on religious issues. To this end, more speaker events like Kim’s should be paired with more opportunities for students to learn about religions on campus. There are no fewer than 176 courses offered by the Religion Department at UCSD focused on Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism, as well as smaller traditions — there should be something for students of all backgrounds and interests.

To prevent misunderstandings and increase unity among students, campus religious organizations should take steps to educate people of all belief systems. If it does, it will have something truly incredible on its hands — a means for UCSD students to learn to approach religion in a reasonable, logical way.

Readers can contact Ayan Kusari at [email protected]