Can we talk for a moment about the relationships of different faiths? If we do it right, it will be an exchange of views done with respect, awe, wonder, patience, expectation, curiosity, and joy. As Will Willmon describes, a widespread misperception is afoot that religious differences are the worst sort of possible differences, and the most deadly. Popular opinion would indicate that differences on opinion, race, or sexual orientation are fine, but differences in matters of faith are troublesome in more volatile ways. This point gets announced as simple, uncontested truth.
But today I push back. Most of the bloodshed, violence, horror, and genocide that has been propagated in the past century has nothing to do with our religious differences. Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin all killed for reasons other than religious. The rise of these darkest realities does not correlate to the rise in the world profile of, say, Christianity or Islam. The rise of murderous violence correlates more closely with 1) the rise of the modern nation-state, and 2) technology.
Such blind fear toward religion, particularly among those who fancy themselves intellectual or sophisticated, often expresses ignorance about religion. Even more, many of this liberal tribe are indoctrinated in the belief that religion doesn’t matter, that it is vestigial to being a modern person, and that religious devotion is just a primitive throwback, with no place in today’s world. Interestingly, many of this crowd sees little wrong in killing for abstractions like “democracy” or “security.” Funny how that seldom gets challenged. Will Willimon makes three key statements.
- Yes, differences in religion are real and difficult. But living with four Jews, I learned that a good beginning point is acknowledging that these differences are real, and not phony. Our differences are not merely doctrinal, they shape and form us into different people who think, act, and perceive the world in diverse ways. In other words, stay away from truisms like, “I am Christian and you are Jewish, but we are both saying the same thing.” That shows a lack of respect. Instead say something like “tell me about your devotion.”
- People of faith have more in common with each other than those who profess no faith. After admitting differences, expect to be delighted by the bond you will never feel with secularists. It’s the wonder of feeling accountable to a higher power. We affirm God as the center of the universe, not us. All major faiths (except Buddhism) express a version of: A) there is a God. B) you are not that God. Personally, I find that our dismissive treatment at the hands of disbelieving secularists enough to unite those of various faith.
- Encounters with other faiths help us grasp our own. It is like learning to speak Spanish and read Greek, I finally grasped English. We too much believe our own Congregational way of life is the most universal, normal, and rational. Guess what, it is not even close! Only the Christian faith teaches to love or forgive enemies (even if we are not very good at it.) On the other hand, we’ll talk a lot about prayer, but Muslims intensely practice it.
The closer we get to Christmas, the more we are reminded the “Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” We Christians believe (though not all faiths believe it) that “Word” was given not just for us as a community, but for all people. Our Gospel, our Good News, is meant to be shared, enjoyed beyond the walls of worship. So ponder with me Good News as for all peoples.