No matter what some people may seem to think, Christianity does not exist in a vacuum. It is one of many religions on this earth. It may be the largest and arguably the most widespread, but that is not the same as being alone. Christianity itself is certainly not a single, solid monolith either. It is composed of a variety of traditions and denominations, each of which is further made up of individual congregations, families and individuals. The other religions are in the same situation. They are made up of, at the core, individuals. These individuals almost inevitably interact in today’s multicultural world. As such, understanding other religions has become an increasingly important skill in the modern world.
People can do so much more than simply avoid insulting each other when they take the time to learn about one another’s religions. If they begin their research, however informal it may be, with an open mind, they will see that there is a great deal each religion can teach the others. Some people close their eyes to this fact because they feel that admitting that another religion has valid points or practices is tantamount to abandoning their own. This is nonsense. Learning from another teacher does not negate another’s teachings. If anything, adherents of other religions can teach Christians how to deepen their own faith and better their own practices. So what can Christians learn from other religions? A full listing would fill endless volumes, but here are some of the key lessons that Christians can take away from their friends of other faiths.
Begin With Celebrations
Christians are always looking to bring new people into the fold. They want to spread their faith and many of them work hard to entice friends, family members and coworkers to join their church. Unfortunately, some have a tendency to forget what it is that is most likely to draw someone to a new faith. Conversion is not easy on a person, and it is a process. One of the most important things to do is to make the process look like it is worth it and to entice a person to give Christianity a chance. To do that, Christians need to understand what appeals to an outsider. Christians find the knowledge that Jesus died for their sins and saved them to be joyous. Someone who is from another religion might be horrified at the fact that Christians appear to be celebrating a torturous death or confused as to why Christians are so happy to hear that they are inherently sinful and were doomed. Combine this with the serious air that many Christians take on when talking about their faith, and many newcomers will be turned away. Remember, Christianity already has a reputation for being joyless and solemn, so make it a point to change the narrative.
Adherents of other religions are excellent at making it a point to begin sharing their faith with celebrations. Hindus invite non-Hindu friends to festivals such as Holi or Durgapuja where there is laughter, music, dancing and homemade food. The air is one of celebration and joy which makes outsiders more interested in returning and learning more. Faith is meant to be a celebration of God, so show that off. More flies are caught with honey than vinegar. The serious discussions about sin can come later.
Start at Home
Some Christian families make it a point to discuss their faith with their children. Others, however, tend to pass the responsibility off to their church or their children’s Sunday school teacher. This is a mistake. Although Christian parents must be careful to avoid pressuring their child to conform to the family’s beliefs or to force a child to memorize Bible verses when it is the first sunny day in weeks, there is great value in discussing religion candidly at home. Religious rituals and traditions practiced at home can help provide an anchor for children and teens who are growing in their religious lives. Keeping faith a central part of life at home also demonstrates for Christian youth that religion should permeate every aspect of their lives. It is not something that happens for an hour or two on Sundays.
Many other religions are excellent at this. Jewish families in particular practice this as their faith is less common than many others and has been so persecuted. Teaching children about the purity laws and history of Judaism is done largely at home as is much of the preparation for a child’s bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. Neopagans also tend to be very good at encouraging faith at home without undue pressure. This is in many ways done out of necessity. There are few to no Neopagan schools to help teach young Neopagans about their faith unlike Muslim and Christian schools and camps.
Whoever decided that faith and reason were mutually exclusive deserves to be slapped. Unfortunately, the delusion that one must choose logic or religion has stubbornly persisted. The result has been that too many Christians either reject science and reason entirely in order to cling to their faith or they abandon their religion because they are unsure of how to reconcile their beliefs with what they learn in school. The situation is not helped by the fact that Western Christians live in an atheist dominated culture that is increasingly hostile to other religions.
Too many Christians continue to live with and live by the false idea that reason and religion cannot coexist in a single person’s mind. Buddhism, however, shows this is wrong. Many Buddhists place a high value on logic and science without compromising their faith. Christians should strive to emulate this and teach their children how to marry science and faith to avoid either the spiritual withering that comes from abandoning faith or the willful blindness that comes from denying science simply because it is science.
Make Time For God
How much time do most people really devote to God each day? The answer across religions is probably “not enough,” but there are an awful lot of Christians for whom the answer is “very little.” A number of Christians have lukewarm faith. They go to church on Sundays and might occasionally break out the Bible but beyond that and the occasional prayer, they largely forget about God in their daily lives.
Muslims and Jews do a much better job of remembering God in their daily lives. Muslims stop everything five times a day to pray, and many women wear the hijab, a tangible, visible reminder of their devotion to their faith. Jews are often better at keeping the Sabbath than their Christian cousins. They have special meals on Shabbat complete with unique and ritual prayers. Neither one of these religions leaves their faith behind when they leave worship services.
Accepting Other Paths
For whatever reason, many Christians love to create divisions over minor differences and dismiss or demonize other denominations. The theological disagreements between Lutherans and Episcopalians are small, but there are plenty in both denominations that see the other as heretics. This sort of interdenominational squabbling is neither helpful nor holy. All it does is create anger and divisions where there do not need to be any.
Hinduism is made up of a wide variety of traditions so different that some religious scholars argue they should be counted as separate religions. Despite this, most Hindus hold to the theory that all Hindus are walking the same path to liberation, some paths just take longer to reach the goal. Imagine what Christians could accomplish in the world if they would stop worrying about whether a person was a Catholic, Lutheran or Episcopalian and instead focused on the fact that all three denominations are Christian.
Start With Yourself
Christians are known in many ways for reaching out. They usually do a great deal of volunteer work in their communities, and evangelism is celebrated across denominations. That outward focus is often a good thing, but the emphasis on serving others selflessly can make it difficult for Christians to give their own needs the attention that they need. It also means that many Christians are evangelizing and trying to convert others before they have truly dug deep and explored their own faith.
For Mahayana Buddhists, a person must achieve enlightenment themselves and become a bodhisattva before they can put their entire focus toward saving other beings. That does not mean that Buddhists are selfish prior to achieving enlightenment, but they understand that a person who is still blind themselves cannot lead others. Christians would do well to remember that the Bible speaks against having the blind leading the blind and encourage people, especially new converts, to explore their own faith before actively working to convert others. A sick physician with the best of intentions still spreads more illnesses than cures.
Preserving an Identity
What makes a Christian a Christian? What distinguishes a Christian from non-Christians? Ask almost anyone these questions and their answers will revolve around what Christians believe. Beliefs, however, are not always enough to form an identity. Identities are based not just on what people believe or how they think but what they do and how they act. In this way, Christians do not actually have many distinguishing characteristics. The rituals and actions that once made up the Christian identity have largely been lost to time and shifting cultures. At one point, this was not as much of a problem because the culture in which most Christians lived was at its core a Christian culture. Today, however, most Christians live in cultures that are either actively hostile to Christianity or passive-aggressively unfriendly. The lack of a clear Christian identity in this atmosphere has contributed in part to the decline of Christianity.
When it comes to preserving an identity, Christians would do well to look to their Jewish brothers and sisters for advice. Despite spending most of their history either in exile, captivity or as the oppressed subjects of empires and nations, the Jewish people retained a clear identity. Unlike most conquered peoples, they did not merge with the wider culture and become lost within it. If Christianity is to survive, it needs to take a lesson from its sibling religion and form the sort of distinct identity to which Christians in hostile or unfriendly environments can cling.
There is much that can be learned from people of other faiths. From practices that Christians should adopt to reminders of how to keep a religious identity alive in a multicultural world, people of every faith have something that they can teach others. This is the beauty of living in an increasingly interfaith world. There are nearly endless sources of knowledge surrounding each person, and everyone has someone they know that can act as an outsider and see what a religious insider may have missed. From there, spiritual needs that may have been missed can be fulfilled. Anyone can deepen their own faith by observing another’s faith. They only need to be brave enough to reach out to another religion and say, “teach me.”