Can We Talk About Religion, Please?

Religion is a controversial subject.  If you want to get people excited or make them defensive, start talking about religion.

People say you shouldn’t talk about religion or politics, but I have noticed folks talk about politics.  They don’t talk about religion.  Why is that?  Religion is an important topic.  No matter what religion you are, your beliefs determine what happen to you when you die.  Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we do talk about religion.

Discussing Religion is Not Taboo When…

1. We are trying to convince someone else to join our religion. 
People are more than willing to invite me to their church.  I would love to think it is because they like me as a person and think I could add something to their congregation.  Maybe they invite me just because they are being friendly.  More often than not, however, I get the feeling they are inviting me because somehow they feel responsible for saving my soul. 

We feel comfortable talking about religion with others when we think we can help them, and when we think by helping them, we can help ourselves.  People have been taught the way to reach salvation is through the teachings of their religion. That often includes converting others and spreading “the word” to all nations. 

2. We are discussing it with people of our own faith. 
People love to talk religion with people who believe as they do.  It is safe, comfortable, and doesn’t create hard feelings.  We love to go to worship with people who look like us, act like us, and generally believe like us.  We are in fact, birds of a feather. 

Yet, churches are one of the places where we are truly divided into race and income levels.  Even those of the same religion tend to congregate with others in their sects of the same income level and race.  Look around your city. Is there just one church for each religion, or are there several? Do the congregations in different neighborhoods look very different from each other? How often do they mix with each other?

Why Discussing Religion is Taboo…
The reason we are okay discussing religion in the previous scenarios is they are comfortable situations.  The problem with discussing religion in these scenarios is we are not likely to learn much. Why? To begin with, we are typically convinced we are right in our beliefs.  Therefore, we approach discussions about religion more in a teaching mode then in a learning mode.  Few missionaries spend much time listening to the beliefs of those they are witnessing to because they are too busy teaching.    

If we spent more times as scholars of religion, willing to listen to the views of others, we might actually learn quite a bit.  More than likely, what we learn will just add on to what we already know.  In fact, it may not be as drastically different from our current beliefs. 

Why Discussing Religion is Important… 
No matter what religion you are, I believe you can learn something from the spiritual beliefs of others.  I say this only because I have lived and witnessed it first hand. 

I have been blessed to visit over 40 countries on six continents.  I have knelt at the shrines of, and been blessed by Monks, in more than 20 Buddhist temples.  I have also knelt and received blessings at the altar in several Mormon temples.  I have cried at the Wailing Wall with the Jews in Jerusalem and was privileged to be one of the only non-Muslims to visit the Dome of the Rock, one of the two most sacred places to Muslims. 

I have been to many Mosques and have had dinner in Mohamed Ali’s castle.  I have toured the ancient ruins of Egypt and studied the ancient religions of their inhabitants.  I have dined with the village chief of the Achuar Indians in the Amazon jungles of Ecuador and studied the ruins of the ancient Indians of Machu Picchu, Peru and Tikal Guatemala.

I have had the opportunity to do the jumping dance with the Masai Warriors of Tanzania Africa and talk about their dual black and red God. I have received several Hindu blessings, often thought to be the world’s oldest religion.  I have also knelt at Jesus’s birthplace and cried at his sepulcher putting my hand into the hole where the cross was planted for the crucifixion.   I do not have a degree in theology, but I have studied it throughout my life.  Perhaps my lack of degree from any one sect gives me a more open perspective. 

The Lessons from Different Religions… 
What I have taken away from these experiences is the understanding of just how dedicated and spiritual each of these groups can be.  Without exception, people want to be happy and to have more for their children than they had. I have also learned most adults become the same religion of their fathers.  In fact there is a 95 percent chance that you are the same religion as your parents, and an 80 percent chance you are the same religion as those in your community.  It’s hard to chock that up to choice.  

We could learn so much from each other if we could learn to listen and help instead of blame and stereotype based on religion.  It’s unfortunate that so many times we place being right above loving others.  The strange thing is that love of others is taught in most religions as the strongest of all values.  The great teacher himself said when asked the greatest of all commandments, “Love God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength . . . and the second is like unto it. Love they neighbor as thyself.  No other commandment is greater than these.”  

Wow, NO other commandment greater, not even being right. That’s something to think about.

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