Over the years, I have heard many people say, “I do not discuss politics or religion with my neighbors or friends.” I certainly have been in situations in which I wished I had followed that advice. Few people enjoy arguments which usually lead most to remain tribal in religious beliefs and political involvements.
My main point for this column is based on two ideas.
First, whether one is apolitical or political or a person of faith or a non-believer, political and religious actions affect most people in this country.
Second, those who shy away from discussions for fear of the expression of unsettling ideas are throwing away the opportunity to learn and grow.
To me avoidance would suggest that honest exchange of ideas and workable compromises are not possible. I believe that people of goodwill could approach discussions with an open mind and a respectful attitude. Imagine what political bodies could achieve if discussions were based on doing the right and humane thing without political obligations. If the space between political parties could be used as neutral ground, compromises could be reached. Honest and respectful exchange of ideas could be the path to solving problems.
Each person has the right to privacy about voting and worshiping, but an open mind always gives space for the winds of fresh ideas to blow; therefore I recommend the respectful exchange of ideas with a wide variety of people.
Now, what about not wanting to discuss religion? Because many people are more rooted in their religion, discussion should be approached cautiously. The purpose should be to understand the beliefs of others. Why? Many shifts in the world’s major religions are occurring. The fastest growing religion is Islam. Hindus and Muslims tend to be younger. Exposure to people of different faiths is increasing.
Years ago, when I first heard the expression that we were living in a global village, it did not ring a bell. Now, I understand that we are living in a global village and need to become a global family if we are to survive.
Some of us grew up with little contact with people of different faiths; therefore, we tend “to preach to our own choir.” Instead we should reach out and embrace people. We should not judge others for their beliefs, but try to find common values (Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”)
Religion should never be a sword to fight people of a different faith or those without one. All God’s children, believers or non-believers, should be respected.
I am reminded that the Old Testament people of God tended to be intolerant of people of other faiths. We should remember that the Bible is the history of one God, and the Hebrew people had a responsibility to protect their religion and to find a home for God’s people. Today, we live in a different world. We must ensure that people of all religions can find a place to worship safely.
With a different question in mind, I am interested in the way that different religious people present their beliefs. I will start with the question, “How do Christians present themselves to non-believers and people of other faiths?”
The parables, miracles and sermons of Jesus give solid insight into Christian beliefs, but there are many people who do not read the Bible. In fact there are 1.1 billion people with no religious affiliation and many more with different sacred texts. To people of different faiths or non-believers, Christians can reveal their values by deeds and words of hope.
Billy Graham said, “Being passionate about Christ will help others see that there’s something different about you, and they will want to know what it is. You can also reflect Christ through kind words, patience, a gentle temperament, choosing to love and treating others with respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 gives guidance to good Christian behavior, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Even though Christ confronted the money lenders and hypocrites, he revealed his love and kindness through deeds of healing.
“If you want to be hopeful, you have to do hopeful things. Nonviolence is a hopeful thing to do.” — Father John Dear, SJ (paceebene.org)