can Christians learn from other religions?
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.
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.
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.
Rev. Mark Beckwith
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.
are some of the things other religions have given me:
Buddhism I have learned a sense of the interdependence
of all life and the non-dual oneness of the contemplative
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.
Jainism I have learned the ideal of Aahisma-- nonharming--
that challenges my violent and power-based cultural norms.
Islam I have learned the power of disciplined prayer and
surrender to God through faithful daily acts of devotion.
Judaism I have learned to delight in vital and living conversations
with ancient holy texts interpreted through the centuries.
Native religions I have learned the holiness of nature
and the revelatory wonder that is the living breath of
our mother earth.
Zen I have learned the limitations of the rational.
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
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.
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
Rev. Lowell Grisham
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
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:
the poor and remember God. You become one with Christ."
all men as God, even if they hurt you or shame you. Be
like Gandhi and Christ."
better to see God in everything than to try to figure
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
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 Christs
words, seek and ye shall find. As I have done
so I have found Christ.
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.
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
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.
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.
Right Rev. Robert W. Ihloff