Book Discussions‎ > ‎Acts of Faith‎ > ‎

Youth Programs

posted Jul 9, 2012, 8:02 AM by Interfaith WS

This is the eighth installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” a book written by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. 


Chapter 7 -- Acts of Faith:  Youth Programs


“I was starting the Interfaith Youth Core because I thought young people could be a major force in building religious cooperation, and I was having a hard time getting anybody to pay attention.  Even people within the small interfaith movement generally treated young people’s involvement as a sideshow.  But, religious extremists didn’t view young people as an afterthought.  Religious extremists saw a fire in young people that others were missing.  They were stoking that fire and turning it into targeted assassinations and mass murder.  In my mind, I was picturing a movement of young people working for religious understanding through cooperative service.”


Eboo says that extremists often are carefully manipulated and nurtured from the time they are malleable youths.  Osama bin Laden’s psyche was shaped at Al Thayer Model School in Saudi Arabia.  His teachers included members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which some say was a precursor to contemporary radical Islam.  When the Brotherhood was organizing it had to find ripe targets for the message of radical Islam.  “They were looking for people with time on their hands, a desire to make an impact, and the ability to grow the movement.  The perfect target: young people.  The perfect venues: schools.”


However, Muslim youths are not the only ones lured into religious extremism by charismatic youth organizers.  He cites Yossi Klein Halevi who grew up in the 1960s in New York.  Halevi became convinced that the world was organized to eliminate the Jews.  He was drawn to Betar, the youth movement of Revisionist Zionism.  He was taught to blame mainstream Jewish leaders for making the Holocaust possible by not becoming more militant.  And, they were taught songs about going to war and killing Arabs.


In the U.S., the Black Panthers promised funerals for police officers who harassed African Americans.  The Weather Underground embraced radical white youths who set off bombs to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam.


“Too many adults secretly consider the absence of young people in mainstream religious communities the natural course of events, viewing the kids as too self-absorbed, materialistic, and anti-authoritarian to be interested in religion.  The result is that adults pay lip service to the importance of involving youths in faith communities but let themselves off the hook when it comes to actually building strong, long-lasting youth programs….


“Recent research by sociologist Christian Smith…concludes that many young Americans want religion to play an important role in their lives, but their faith communities do a poor job of involving them....‘Very many religious congregations and communities of faith in the United States are failing rather badly in religiously engaging and educating their youth.’


“Every time we read about a young person who kills in the name of God, we should recognize that an institution painstakingly recruited and trained that young person.  And that institution is doing the same for thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of others like him.  In other words, those religious extremists have invested in their youth programs.  If we had invested in our youth programs, could we have gotten to those young people first?”