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The Parliament of World Religions

I’ll be attending and presenting at the upcoming Parliament of World Religions meeting this year in Salt Lake City, October 15 – 18, 2015.

The Parliament of Religions - Salt Lake City

The Parliament of Religions – Salt Lake City

And, I thought about something Mother Teresa purportedly said some years ago:

“I love all religions, but I’m IN LOVE with my own.”

I love that. In fact, I have loved it so much, I created a pendant I wear that pronounces that very  truth.

"I love all religions, but I'm in love with my own religion."

“I love all religions, but I’m in love with my own religion.”

But is it even possible? Can you appreciate, even love, another religion and remain in love with your own religion?

Some would say “No.”

There was a time in my life I would have agreed. I would have felt, for example, that to even respect another religion would be to compromise my own.

Today, however, I realize that was an expression of my insecurity, not a compromise of my faith. In fact, I have discovered, the more I know, love, and am devoted to my religion, the more secure and capable I am of knowing, respecting, even loving the religion of others.

Over the years, I have made what I regard as significant spiritual progress. I am convinced, in fact, what is sorely needed today among all religions and religious people is spiritual maturity. People need the capacity, as Saint Paul put it, to “lay aside childish ways of thinking, speaking, and believing” (1 Corinthians 13:11) when it comes to their own religions.

Christians needs this, I know.

It is true, there are zealots, even violent ones, in all religions. They appear hell bent on making everyone like them and on killing those who refuse to oblige. The world cannot tolerate such people.

In much less violent ways, however, there are religious people within all religions that need to learn to respect, even love, other faith traditions or I am afraid the survival of humanity is threatened.

Here are 5 ways to love all religions while remaining in love with your own.

1. Religions: Know Your Own.

Most religious people do not.

For example, among Christians, the religious with whom I am the most familiar, there is widespread ignorance about Christian history and theology. Even among devoted followers of Jesus, there is little knowledge of the Bible, Christian history, or theology.

Frankly, it is appalling.

In fact, what I have discovered is that the more defensive people are about their faith, the greater their ignorance about it. For example, when I meet a loud and argumentative Christian, and they are as abundant as flies at a hot, summer picnic, I know I am meeting a person with little knowledge but lots of opinions. Most of them wrong, distorted, or just plain ignorant. I wish not to be unkind in these comments, but that is the plain truth.

The more you know your own religion, the greater your capacity to know and appreciate another’s religion. The less you know about yours, the more aggressive and usually offensive you are toward theirs.

2. Religions: Grow in Your Own

Many Christians know just enough about their religion to be dangerous. They’re often argumentative. And, basically, they are very insecure religious people.

Why? Well, I suspect it has something to do with their spiritual maturity. Or, more accurately, the lack of it.

“I could not speak to you as full grown Christians,” writes Saint Paul of the Corinthians. “I spoke to you as if you were baby Christians” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

Not much has changed, has it?

Grow in your faith. For Pete’s sake, my hunch is the outspoken atheist, Richard Dawkins, could articulate the history and theology of Christianity more accurately than ninety percent of those who claim to be followers of Jesus.

Knowledge, however, no matter how accurate, isn’t enough. If you want to develop the capacity of loving all religions while remaining in love with your own religion, you must grow in your faith. Spiritual maturity must be your ambition. This takes practice. Regular practice.

More than what I was taught as a child by my religious teachers. We went to church every Sunday the way most people grow to the grocery weekly. We mistakenly thought we could stock up on enough “religion” in one day to suffice for all week. As a consequence, rather than growing, most of us got stuck at an immature developmental stage.

In short, rather than living a transformed life, we were mostly spiritual schizophrenics. We learned to behave one way on Sunday and live any other way we thought right the rest of the week.

Real spiritual growth takes discipline. Practice. Meditation. Daily introspection. Self-examination. Honesty. Integrity. In other words, a regimen of religious practice not unlike that of a Zen Buddhist.

Only those serious about growing in their own religion ever learned to love and appreciate the religion of others.

3. Religions: Give Up the Notion Your Religion is the “Right” Religion

For one thing, you don’t know that any more than you know whether there is intelligent life on another planet.

And, don’t make the mistake of saying, “Oh, I just believe it because the Bible says it and that settles it.”

That settles nothing.

All that does is erect a temporary internal wall behind which you can hide and pretend your fear of being wrong is actually your faith in what is right.

I got news for you. What you pretend is your faith is nothing more than fear dressed up in a Sunday suit and tie.

Actually you’re deceived. What’s worse, you’re so deceived you actually believe everyone else is deceived. Which is what makes your deception so self-deceptive.

And, evil.

But this IS the deception many, many religious people across America live in almost daily.

If you were raised a Muslim, you’d be just as tempted to tout your faith as “the one true faith,” as some Christians do theirs. And, you would be just as deceived.

Now, permit me to take this one step farther.

I believe with all my heart that Jesus was perhaps the most God-conscious, God-aware, God-infused human being who ever lived.

Can I prove this? No. Do I teach this? Yes. Do I think he’s the only one who was from God, in union with God, or the only God-conscious person to ever live?

Hardly.

In fact, I am pretty sure there are such persons who have lived in every religious tradition. I’m even pretty sure that you and I have the capacity to be as just as fully human and fully God as Jesus was.

Why do I say this?

Precisely because Jesus said this.

“Greater things than I have done, you will do” (John 14:12-14).
“Who are my brothers and my sisters?” (Matt 12:46).

Jesus lived most fully into his humanity. That was his secret. It was the secret many other students of their faith tradition found, too. You become most God-like, not by escaping your humanity, but by living into it as fully as possible. This is the meaning of the “incarnation of Jesus.” The miracle was not that God became man in Jesus. The miracle was that this man, Jesus, became God.

I suspect that same capacity is what all religions in their various ways actually teach.

I say this because I have sought to make it my spiritual practice, not only to know and love my own religion but, as I have become more and more a student of other religions, I find myself falling head-over-heels in love with my own.

4. Religions: Be a Student of Other Religions

I wish to know other religions. As I do, I discover many things.

One such discovery came a few years ago when, one day, it dawned on me there may be only one spiritual truth in all religions. This singular truth, however, is experienced and expressed in a variety of anthropological, social, and cultural contexts.

I love to study the life of Buddha, for example, and Buddhism itself. It is an utterly amazing philosophy of life. A life-transforming philosophy. To say it isn’t is just plain ignorance.

I love to study Judaism, particularly the Kabbalah tradition, given my propensity to be a Christian mystic. Which is why I am also a student of the Jesuits, the Benedictines, and the Franciscans in our Catholic tradition.

How do you read the Old Testament and not be amazed at just how remarkable a leader Moses was to the children of Israel? Sadly, most Christians I know do not really know the Moses of the Old Testament. They know only the perverted portrayal of him by the equally Biblically-ignorant Cecil B. DeMille in his movie, The Ten Commandments.

Further, I am lately beginning to love Muhammed. Frankly, this is one religion to which I am a “Johnny-come-lately.” Like almost every Christian reading this, I have studied little of the Koran. But I have made it one my ambitions to know more about Islam. The more I know, the better I like it. The more aware I become, too, that the Muslim faith known by most Americans is a very extreme, limited, and obviously, a distortion of the teachings of Muhammad.

Does my interest in and growing respect for other religions make me love Jesus less?

For me, it has not. In fact, what I am discovering is just the opposite. I am discovering what Mother Teresa discovered: As I love all religions, I find myself more in love with my own.

Besides, Jesus was very likely a student of other religions.

Why do I say this?

Many of his teachings were not original. For example, the oft-quoted Golden Rule most Christians mistakenly think Jesus first coined or spoke is a case in point. He was not the first to say it. Various versions of the Golden Rule appear in almost every religion, a few that predate Christianity by two to three thousand years.

Where then did Jesus get the Golden Rule?

Either God revealed it to him, as he must have done with hundreds of others in other religions. Or, Jesus picked it up himself from his study of other religions.

Maybe it was both.

Who knows? We don’t.

Does it matter? I think it does.

5. Religions: In All Things, Practice Compassion and Humility

We are living at a critical time in human history. We need religious zeal. What we don’t need are more religious zealots.

There are people running for president in our country, for example, who scare me. They actually believe we are living in the “last days,” as they call it. Their twisted theology is such that they actually imagine everything coming to an end very soon. And, some of them believe God is calling them to run for office to help usher in the end.

Maybe that doesn’t scare you but it scares the hell out of me.
I hope Americans look with care and discernment at these candidates.

Which is why I believe we must elect political leaders who demonstrate sound and sensible judgment and leadership. Extremists only ever bring about consequences that are extreme.

You’ll have to be the judge as to which political candidate demonstrates judgment, maturity, humility and compassion, not only toward those of us inside these borders, but toward all of humanity, toward people of all traditions, nations, cultures, and religions.

Now, when it comes to religion, there are only a few religious leaders today demonstrating exemplary leadership.

One is Jimmy Carter. Oh, I know he was a politician. But he is a remarkable man of faith, too? A humanitarian, too. What more can I say?

There’s the Dalai Lama.

If you have been watching the news lately regarding Pope Francis’ visit to America, you are likely thrilled as I am at the leadership role he is taking. The response of the American public to his visit is indicative of the longing in America for spiritual leadership. If you cannot see this, remove your blinders.

Is Pope Francis going far enough?

I’m sure some think he’s gone too far already.

Personally, I do not think he has gone far enough. I wish he would take on the religious establishment with greater fervor. I wish he would demonstrate greater God-consciousness and change the much-too-entrenched hierarchy that is the Catholic Church…

  • A Church that still relegates women to a lesser role in its structure;
  • A Church that still assumes only men are clergy-worthy and must be celibate;
  • A Church that still regards homosexuality as an expression of flawed humanity.

Which just proves, for all of Pope Francis’ beauty, he is not Jesus. Of course, compared to the poor papacy of his predecessor, how could I not be pleased? I am. Pope Francis is having an incredible and positive impact on world leaders and world religions.

I am thrilled.

I am hopeful.

I am humbled and hopefully half as compassionate in my own life and, hopefully, I, too, am living as fully as I can into my own humanity.

Pope Francis is far more than I am, and perhaps far more than most of us will ever be, in terms of our walk with God, our compassion toward others, and our embracement of all religions, all religious people, including those who wish not to be associated with any particular religion or spiritual tradition.

But, for all of us, should not the goal of life be, by whatever means you may choose, to become fully human, to live compassionately, and to walk humbly with all humanity?

Isn’t that what it means to be fully human…to be fully God?

See you at the Parliament in Salt Lake City. Click here to find out more.

This article first appeared on Dr. McSwain’s own blog: SteveMcSwain.com/blog

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