“We fell in love, despite our differences, and once we did, something rare and beautiful was created.” – Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
One time when my wife and I calmed down from a passionate disagreement (mind you, we are both Cancer’s), and she stated: “Honey, I love you, but I do not like you very much right now.” Wow! What a statement. Love is not a degree of how much we liked each other, but is something much greater than that. Love transcends even the most heated moments.
Religion can be a divisive tool as it allows one group to be defined and divided from another. But the reality is that we live in an interconnected world, and as such, we need to learn better ways to interact with each other despite our religious differences. We are all a giant community now. We live in a religiously diverse world with examples like Jewish presidential hopeful (Bernie Sanders), Pentacles and Mjolnir (Thor’s Hammer) being authorized on veteran headstones, and Sikh soldiers in the US Army being authorized to wear dastaars (turbans) and keep their unshorn hair and beards as part of their uniform. Unfortunately whenever one group can unite against an opposing group, persecution and suffering is often the result. We see it in the Islamaphobia overtaking the United States, the political battles regarding gay rights or Planned Parenthood, and in the atrocities being committed by ISIL all in the name of religion.
So how do we get along when we have such a variety of different religious beliefs, practices and thoughts? Even if we do not like each other, how we still interact with one another in love?
First, we must commit to wanting to live together in peace. I do believe that conflict is a natural part of human nature. The modern world is a collection of conflicting viewpoints and dysfunctional behavior, but we must commit to the idea that getting along is both a noble and practical goal. That does not mean that we cannot continue to have conflicts, we just must learn to confront them in peaceful and productive ways. The great irony of conflict is that it is critical to growth. The key is to learn how to have conflict in a useful and productive manner.
“I refuse to allow any man-made differences to separate me from any other human beings.” – Maya Angelou
Second, we must learn and accept the differences between us. A lot of fear and angst about other religions is often based on inaccurate assumptions. When you are educating yourself about other religions, you cannot have a closed mind. You actually need to be really open to learning and you are truly being receptive. This doesn’t mean you have to convert, and it is acceptable to agree to disagree on some things.
“Now that I am no longer a child, I can see, that God is the God who can see the black and the white and the grey, too, and He dances on the grey! Grey is okay.” ― C. JoyBell C.
Third, embrace the differences between us. Differences can help you stretch what you think and know. Consider your own life, and everything that has shaped your beliefs. Realize that everyone on this planet as their own story. When you meet anyone, try to imagine, understand, and sympathize with that person’s story. Challenge yourself to appreciate the differences of others and see them as being able to provide you insights into your own religion.
“The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.” ― Eric Berne
Fourth, embrace the similarities between us. As you find similarities between your religion and others, you will find areas in which you can work together. Focus on beliefs that you share about God and teachings that are similar in both your religions. You may find out you have more in common than you thought.
“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” – Linda Ellerbee
Fifth, avoid stereotypes. Don’t allow yourself to define a person based upon one stereotype about one aspect of their complex identity. Just as most Christians would disagree that the KKK, Fred Phelps, Timothy McVey, or Pat Robertson defines Christianity, avoid making similar leaps when viewing the actions of isolated groups of other religions.
“People are much deeper than stereotypes. That’s the first place our minds go. Then you get to know them and you hear their stories, and you say, ‘I’d have never guessed.” – Carson Kressley
Sixth, clarify your own religious identity. Make sure you understand your own religion. Defensiveness is often disguised as insecurity. People quite often become defensive about things they doubt or are unsure of. Apologetics comes from the Greek word “apologia” which means “to give a defense.” In a general sense, anytime a person is asked to defend a position or a belief in some system, he is asked for an apologetic. Good apologetics needs to be based on reason, it needs to be knowledgeable, and it needs to be done in a spirit of gentleness and respect. In addition to strengthening your own faith, learning apologetics can turn what used to be threatening discussions into a desire to speak up and share.
“The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. I would not interfere with any one’s religion, either to strengthen it or to weaken it. I am not able to believe one’s religion can affect his hereafter one way or the other, no matter what that religion may be. But it may easily be a great comfort to him in this life–hence it is a valuable possession to him.” – Mark Twain, a Biography
Seventh, participate in other religious practices. Attending the service of other religions doesn’t mean that you are converting, but it does help provide you understanding that could rarely be achieved through just discussion or reading.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
Finally, enjoy other faiths. Each faith has wonderful aspects that can be enjoyed from celebrations to perspectives. Do not feel guilty if you admire an aspect of another religion.
“Love is the true means by which the world is enjoyed: our love to others, and others love to us.” – Thomas Traherne
We must put aside the idea of “otherness.” When it comes to any person of faith, we need to realize that we are always talking about “us.” We have to respect that each individual is different. We should respect those difference and realize that each of our paths, in their own special and different way, call us to love and to be loving.
“Respect… is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.” – Annie Gottlieb
It is ridiculous that we would miss out on all the ways in which we could benefit from each other, grow from each other and expand our own world view, just because we have different religious beliefs.