Getting to know others is best way to learn faiths
The Rev. Andrew Mitchell, Stull United Methodist Church, 1596 E. 250 Road:
In late 2008, the results of a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed most American Christians think at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to salvation. Only 29 percent of Americans affiliated with a particular religion agreed with the position “my religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life.” Sixty-five percent believe “many religions can lead to eternal life.”
Some will say, “believing this doesn’t make it true.” True, but perhaps such results tell us that an ultimate desire to love and understand others instinctively trumps our tendency to make ultimate judgments about others’ destiny. Or maybe it shows that persons of faith intuitively know that God and God’s purposes are bigger than the human mind can comprehend — that while maybe not all religious practices are legitimate, many walk paths where God’s grace is found.
That sounds rather optimistic. My guess? In a diverse society most Americans have had friendships or working relationships with persons of a different faith; we either don’t want to see our friend or associate absent from an afterlife with us, or we have witnessed positive character traits that have been shaped by their practice of faith.
Religion is obviously complex. It’s hard enough to become an expert in one’s own faith tradition, let alone becoming familiar with others. Most people, however, aren’t seeking expertise but understanding.
To fear examining other faiths is to fear other people. In the context of my religious practice as a Christian, such fear would negate an important principle of my faith — “love your neighbor as yourself.”
If we don’t engage first-hand other persons, we fail to love them fully — especially if we are swayed by one-way conversations of hearsay. Burst the bubble of stereotypes — the best way to learn about other faiths is by getting to know persons of neighboring faiths.
— Send e-mail to Andrew Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Understanding religions is not easy to generalize
Robert Minor, professor of religion, Kansas University:
Whether you think all religions are right, no religions are right, or only your religion is right, history, politics and social institutions locally and around the world are often understood better when the religious views they interact with are examined.
Predictions in past centuries of the end of religion have the same accuracy as those that forecasted the end of the world. Religions are still here and still a part of people’s lives for better or worse.
What makes a working knowledge of the understanding of religion difficult is that there is no such thing as religion in general. It’s always religion as understood, expressed and applied by someone or some group of believers.
That means generalizations about religion, or even one of the so-called major religions, will almost always fail us when we apply them to individuals. A generalization about Buddhism, for example, will probably be irrelevant for most Buddhists.
The search to understand the religions of other people is therefore lifelong questioning and listening. It involves asking people what they believe, why they do what they do, and what they mean when they talk about their faith.
When we settle for stereotypes about what Islam, Hinduism or Christianity is, we will not understand what is motivating people. We will misunderstand and, thus, not be effective in a world that is more globally present and more locally diverse.
And the misunderstandings about religious people are alive and well. I cringe regularly when I hear our media repeat them. I dread the harm they perpetuate and how it continues to hurt real people.
I’m disappointed about how people would rather not spend the time it takes to understand the religions of others, but maintain prejudices (good or bad) that are certain not to challenge their own beliefs about reality.
— Send e-mail to Robert Minor at email@example.com.