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> Questions of Faith and Doubt: Explore the Church > What can Christians learn from other religions?
Questions of faith and doubt

What can Christians learn from other religions?

We can learn more about God. After college I lived in Japan for two years. Among the many things I did there was to study and practice Zen. Zen introduced me to a tradition and discipline of silence that I had never experienced before. I discovered that silence is a common "language"--transcending cultures and religions. And it was in silence--which I later discovered in the monastic Christian tradition--that I discovered a new dimension of God's love and presence.

Some thirty years later, in the aftermath of September 11, our church community has met and worshipped with members of the local Islamic community. Our initial intent was to express support and solidarity--and to make a common witness. But the more we talked and shared with one another, the more I discovered two things: how much we are different in terms of culture and history and expectations of community; and how much we are the same in our desire to be in relationship with God. I watched and listened to the Imam pray, and his demeanor and devotion opened me up to a new and different awareness of God.

Borrowing on the writing of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas said that God is "that which nothing greater can be thought." The wisdom and tradition of other religions help expand the arena in which God lives and moves and has being.

The Rev. Mark Beckwith

World religions scholar Huston Smith offers an image for the various world faith traditions. He pictures them as a complex and beautiful stained glass window, refracting and revealing the pure divine light of God. Each reveals truth, goodness and beauty, and each has its own unique opaqueness as well.

Here are some of the things other religions have given me:

From Buddhism I have learned a sense of the interdependence of all life and the non-dual oneness of the contemplative experience.

From Hinduism I have learned the richness of a mythology that is embracing and inclusive of the complexity of human experience, while honoring the divine in the midst of it all.

From Jainism I have learned the ideal of Aahisma-- nonharming-- that challenges my violent and power-based cultural norms.

From Islam I have learned the power of disciplined prayer and surrender to God through faithful daily acts of devotion.

From Judaism I have learned to delight in vital and living conversations with ancient holy texts interpreted through the centuries.

From Native religions I have learned the holiness of nature and the revelatory wonder that is the living breath of our mother earth.

From Zen I have learned the limitations of the rational.

From Catholicism I have learned the power of the sacramental presence of the divine within the created. From Protestantism I have learned the passion of a personal relationship with God.

From Science and Humanism I have learned of the exquisite order and relationship of all creation and the responsibility of human beings for the welfare of this fragile earth.

From Christianity I have learned that every creature is blessed by the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ and that wherever there is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [or] self-control," there is God's Spirit. "There is no law against such things." (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Rev. Lowell Grisham

I can only speak for myself, but as a committed Christian I have been helped by studying other religions, particularly in the area of prayer. I have much more to learn, but several personal insights intrigue me. First, my experience has been that the similarities are far more abundant than the differences. Second, there are strong hints in the New Testament that Jesus is reaching out to "other tribes." Is it not at least possible Christ has indeed reached out to other cultures and is called by other names but is in fact the same holy son of the eternal God? Ram Dass has said that his Indian Hindu Guru, Maharaj Ji, told him that Hanuman and Christ are the same! Here are a few other things that Maharaj Ji said:

"Serve the poor and remember God. You become one with Christ."

"Love all men as God, even if they hurt you or shame you. Be like Gandhi and Christ."

"It's better to see God in everything than to try to figure it out."

These quotes speak to me as a Christian. If you are at a point in your journey where you can learn about other religious traditions as a means of strengthening your faith in Christ, then I would recommend the following as a starting point: Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist and Christian monk), Be here Now by Ram Dass (difficult to pin down), The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers by Thomas Merton (Catholic), Jesus Said, Buddha Said by Marcus Borg (Episcopalian), and anything by Anthony DeMello (Catholic).

A final parting thought – there was a point in my own spiritual development when studying other religious traditions might have done more harm to me than good. If that is where you are, then just stay where you are comfortable. God will take you where He wants to take you when He is ready. At this point along my journey I think about Christ’s words, “seek and ye shall find.” As I have done so I have found Christ.

- Nick

Some years ago, my wife and I made an interfaith pilgrimage to Israel. The leaders were a Lutheran pastor and a Jewish rabbi. There were an equal number of Christians and Jews in our party. There were many moving aspects of this pilgrimage, and I venture to say that the faith of each participant was greatly enhanced. For me, some of the real highlights and deepest moments came because of interaction with our Jewish friends. We first saw Jerusalem from Bethany, coming up from Jericho. We all got off the bus, the rabbi offered prayers, we shared wine and all had a profound appreciation for the importance and joy of "going up" to the Holy City. Whenever I read in scripture about "going up to Jerusalem," be it of Jesus or in the Psalms, I remember our great celebration and the joy we shared. My Jewish friends deepened my own delight in approaching the holiest city for both our faiths.

Similarly, when we gathered at the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) on Friday evening just as the sun was setting, I had the privilege of experiencing the beginning of Shabbat, the Queen of Days, in the company of devout Jews. It was among the most moving evenings of my life. The fervor and intensity of the prayer was electric. The joy of Sabbath found new meaning. As a Christian, I felt very privileged to participate in a holy moment, well understood by Jews and rarely appreciated by Christians.

I have no doubt that the Jewish participants found their own faith enhanced and deepened by participating with Christians as we visited Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and other Christian sites. Subsequently, I have twice co-led an interfaith pilgrimage, sharing leadership with Jewish leaders. I am convinced that participants experience deepened faith in ways not possible in a groups composed solely of Christians, solely of Jews.

Yes, Christians can and often do learn from the experiences and faith of non-Christians. We see this in increasing numbers of ways in our multicultural world. For example, followers of several different Eastern religions are assisting Christians to be more appreciative of paradox, more accepting of multiple and even seemingly conflicting truths. Rather than threatening my own faith, I find that insights from other religions tend to help me be less complacent, enable me to apply some new understanding to my own faith, and ultimately enhance my Christian faith.

--The Right Rev. Robert W. Ihloff

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