Apology: Other Religions

I saw this video on facebook today, and I figured it’s time I wrote this post on other religions.  The video isn’t really what I want to talk about, but it’s worth watching anyways.  I recognize that this post is very similar to the previous one (which I had forgotten about completely when I started writing this one), but it’s different enough that I’ll post it anyways (after all, I’ve already written it).

How do Christians see other religions?  This video gives good examples of two different views.  The first example, those who are eager to burn the Qur’an in a twisted commemoration of 9/11, are the radical extremists that tend to get the media spotlight.  The speakers in the film would likely be labelled as “liberals” by many more radical Christians, but I’d say that they exhibit all of the traits of moderation.  If I had to categorize three different Christian responses to other religions (of course it’s much deeper than that, but let’s generalize for a minute), they would be as follows:

1. Syncretism.  This option is usually considered the most “liberal” option possible.  As well as accepting people of other religions, a syncretist accepts their religions as well, making other religions a part of their own religion either by mixing them together or else by claiming allegiance to many religions at the same time, and in both cases ignoring the religion’s claims to exclusivity.  This is an eyes-wide-shut approach, because it belittles each religion that it melds together.

2. Dialogue.  This is the moderate option, in which it is possible to tolerate a person of another religion without accepting their views.  Disagreement, combined with civility and interaction, lead to dialogue in which the knowledge of both parties can be shared and the perceptions of both parties can be challenged and reformed.  I am able to love and acknowledge a person of another religion without converting to his cause, or even agreeing with him, and honest dialogue and even debate gives room for mutually beneficial examination of both of our religions, as well as ample opportunity to bear witness to the work of Christ by explaining my faith and understanding of God.  Disagreements continue within Christianity about how much witness and attempt to convert should play a role in interfaith dialogue; at worst, an attempt to convert another person can be the only reason for dialogue, which is actually just demeaning to the other person and their faith because it shows that you have very little interest in dialogue at all; it’s a monologue.  On the other hand, if we hold back from bearing witness to what Christ has done and is doing, we do our own religion a disservice and, since we believe it to be true, we do our friend a disservice by failing to present it accurately.  Either way, if we have honest and civil dialogue, it’s win-win.

3. Hatred and fear.  People hate what they fear, and they fear what they don’t understand.  There are many (who will usually claim some label of “conservative”) who see every other religion not merely as error (i.e. that people who follow other religions simply misunderstand God because they lack complete revelation of him) but as a direct tool of Satan (“the devil”) used to distract, mislead, or pervert people.  In the worst situations, they see people who follow other religions as active participants in the perversion of the world, often claiming that these people worship Satan or the like.  They occasionally make public statements such as the group we saw above who wants to burn the Qur’an, and demonize anyone who disagrees with them (though they usually only call Christians who disagree with them “liberals” – which may actually be worse, in their eyes).  The answer to this problem is to convert all of the heathens (as Ann Coulter loves to prescribe), at which point a person would be welcomed as a brother who moments before was at best pitied and at worst outright despised.  The especially frustrating thing about groups of Christians who hate and fear those of other religions so much is that, in general, they not only know nothing about them but that they don’t even want to know anything about them.  The knowledge of other religions that gets passed around in these groups is the worst kind of rumour, libel and urban legend – the same sort of things that the Nazis did to the Jews (and still happens in some countries today).  Honestly seeking knowledge of other religions, in deeply “conservative” circles, borders on apostasy – so the cycle of fearing what you don’t know and hating what you fear just keeps going.

I don’t know God’s plan for people from other religions; see the last post if you want to see more about my thought on that.  The point is, no matter what God’s plan for them is, he’s very clear on the necessity of loving them here and now – even if they’re my enemies.  I’m sorry if a Christian ever tried to justify war or violence based on religious issues.  I’m sorry if a Christian has ever despised or harmed you based on religious reasons.  The fact of the matter is, those people must be as ignorant of their own religion as they are of yours if they think that they are ever justified in that.  I’m also sorry if a Christian tried to tell you that all religions are the same; this shows just as much ignorance, and a poor understanding of truth and reality to boot.  There’s all sorts of issues surrounding the meeting of East and West, or Islamic and Christian cultures, as Muslims immigrate to the West – and there’s all sorts of ideas about how to deal with it.  But one thing I know for sure is that ignorance is never the way forward.

So this 9/11, read a book.

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