UC Irvine students try 'speedfaithing'

Students have 10 minutes to discuss the essentials of Catholicism, Islam, the Mormon Church and even atheism.

You have 10 minutes to sell someone on Catholicism, no more than that to distill the teachings of the Koran or the foundations of Mormonism.

It's speed-dating for religion, and in a burst of faith-driven curiosity, dozens of students at UC Irvine raced from room to room Wednesday to listen to religious students (and two atheists) break down the core tenets of their belief system while on the clock.

"Is it required to wear wraps on your head?"

"What exactly do you do on a mission?"

"Do you go to an atheist church?"

Before students began faith shopping, organizers offered a little advice: Don't see it as an opportunity for debate. Just listen. And keep it short.

"You obviously can't learn everything about a religion in 10 minutes and that's not the point," said Karina Hamilton, director of the Dalai Lama Scholars Program at UC Irvine.

Speedfaithing was developed by Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that promotes religious tolerance, as a way to help young people interact with members of diverse faiths. Since it began in 2005, similar events have been held at colleges across the country.

In Irvine, organizers planned the midday event in advance of a visit next week by Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, a member of President Obama's inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

"In Orange County we have tremendous diversity," said Raid Faraj, diversity educator for the school's Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. "We have members of almost every major religious faith you can think of.... This is an opportunity to create a safe environment for people to come together and ask questions."

During the first session, a handful of students gathered around Chase Davis, a fourth-year biology major, who was responsible for explaining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He covered the basics — the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the importance of family. And he told his own story, of finding faith a couple of years ago.

"I didn't have a perfect family," he said. "I was a second-year biology major at UCI and I was just stressed beyond belief."

Religion, he said, "really has brought me an amazing amount of peace."

The students in his group asked about missions and prohibitions against alcohol and coffee.

Sami Kabbara, who graduated last year, wanted to know whether it was OK to drink energy drinks.

In an adjacent room, one of the largest crowds gathered around two young atheists.

Albert, a second-year math major, said he was raised Catholic but started to doubt when he was in ninth or 10th grade.

"If I can't really logically deduce that there's a God, it's going to be really hard for me to believe," he told the group.

One student wanted to know whether his family accepted his atheism. Adam Milbes, a third-year economics major, asked, "Do you guys believe in any kind of accountability for your actions?"

"I personally just enjoy being a good person," Albert responded.

The event was the first time Albert had spoken publicly about his atheism, he said later. He asked that his last name not be used because people he is close to don't yet know that he is no longer a Catholic.

"Even going into this, I had a couple of doubts as to whether or not I was an atheist," he said.

But as he prepared to explain his thinking to a group of strangers in 10 minutes, he said, "I settled my feet down and said, 'I'm a good person and I don't necessarily need religion to show I'm a good person.'"


Esquivel writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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