As parents, we try to teach our children as early as possible about manners: The idea that there are actually more people in the world than just you, and that what they like and dislike, what they feel and think is actually important too, and if you want to avoid getting into a fistfight with them, it’s best to learn to respect the feelings of others.
Unfortunate, too, so many grown-ups lack any fundamental understanding of what the word “respect” even means, and how it might apply to the things about our lives we hold most dear, such as our personal approaches to life and religious beliefs and backgrounds. And it’s something I’ve definitely had to deal with as a member of a minority faith, but which certainly affects adherents of the world’s largest religions as well, religion having been at the root of so many wars and conflicts over the years.
The dictionary defines respect as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, and should be treated in an appropriate way.”
Get that. Respect doesn’t mean, “Realizing that a subject may be touchy, so just don’t bring it up lest you awkwardly offend them.” This is, unfortunately, the irreducible minimum that “respect” often gets boiled down to – realizing something may be touchy, so not communicating about it at all.
But if you don’t take the time to understand what others hold dear, how can you ensure you’re treating such subjects in an appropriate way?
When you’re inviting known vegetarians over for dinner, it would be a fairly normal request to find out about their eating habits so that you can construct a menu that everyone agrees with. It’s a pretty well-known thing that some folks eat meat, others don’t, some are vegetarians as a personal choice, and others find the eating of meat disgusting, unappetizing or even offensive. Knowing that this is an important choice many make in their lives, it’s easy to ask the right questions, understand your friend’s eating habits & choices, and act appropriately.
But, all too often, I find that in the area of religion, folks don’t make a similar effort to simply find out what the other fellow believes so they can understand what’s important to them and act appropriately.
Example – let’s say you happened to know a friend is a practicing Christian. Would you give them a hard time about coming with you to an amusement park on a Sunday when you know they feel strongly about attending church? Not unless you felt like being annoying and obtuse. But how would you know if you were about to make a terrible gaffe unless you’d taken the time to understand your friend’s beliefs? Let’s say that instead of being a Christian, your friend was a Sikh, or perhaps a Buddhist? What, then, are the parts of their approach to spirituality that are most vital to them? Do they have holy days or times of religious study that they observe? What is their moral code and approach to right & wrong? How does this, then, affect your interaction with them and their family?
It’s a fundamental tenet of my own beliefs that one’s own happiness depends on respecting the religious beliefs of others. But responsibly approaching that respect is a two-way street. One has to make the necessary effort to find out what other folks believe, but one also has to make one’s own beliefs understandable and accessible to others. If you get “touchy” whenever you’re asked about your religion, that doesn’t help anyone else understand where you’re at. They just won’t ask you, and nobody then understands anyone else any better.
Inter-faith understanding and cooperation, in my opinion, depends on people of various faiths learning about those things which others hold dear to them, and finding places where their faiths agree or align.
Any simpleton can look at different religions and see “how totally different” they are. But picture this: put three parents in a room – one’s an atheist, one’s Christian and the other is Buddhist. If they focus on their differing opinions on the spirituality of man, the validity of a single true god, the importance of Jesus, prayer or certain rituals, and who is right or wrong about each, will they be getting along better? Likely not.
But what about taking the inverse approach, and looking for ways you agree?
I was able to make an interesting go at this recently, owing to the large social media campaign which members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have executed in recent weeks, coincident with the theatrical release of their film Meet the Mormons (a film I’m actually quite interested in seeing). There are a number of LDS members who wrote quite excellent blog posts, detailing their feelings about their faith, and what it means in their day-to-day lives. Now, I’m a Scientologist, and while my own philosophical approach may differ from theirs, it was also simple to find large areas where we agree. For example:
Inspiration for my writing this post actually came from Katie, author of Clarks Condensed, where she said, “We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their beliefs. And I believe it’s important for all people to do. I respect all beliefs and viewpoints (even if I don’t always agree), and I would hope you all would do the same.” The two of us obviously hold our own beliefs dear to our hearts, but it’s important to remember that other people hold their own beliefs just as dearly.
Cosette at Free Time Frolics turned to her church for support in a time of great sorrow, and found that the teachings of her church and the community it provided was a source of strength for her that helped her through a difficult time. I’ve had my own fair share of difficult times, and the support I’ve gotten from my own church in difficult times has been a major pillar for me in keeping my own life standing.
Lastly, Aly from An Entirely Eventful Day noted: “The absolute best part about my church is that no one says, “It’s true, just take my word for it.” No! In fact, it’s just the opposite. Everyone is encouraged to find their own testimony.” For me, this encapsulates the most critical part of my own approach to my religion, as one’s spiritual beliefs are a deeply personal affair. Nobody can dictate to you how you feel about your own life. I feel that anyone should be able to study philosophical or spiritual beliefs and make a personal decision on whether or not they make sense and apply to one’s own life.
Please understand, I’m not identifying Scientology with Mormonism. However, I am saying that between our sets of spiritual approaches, there are parallels —parallels that I can respect, understand and hopefully treat appropriately.
I really hope this article communicates how I feel on the matter. With all the different cultures and beliefs on Earth, it is utterly impractical (if not completely impossible) to assume that everyone will have the same beliefs and approach to life as our own. As such, it’s important for us all to do our part not only to take the time to understand and consider the religious beliefs of others in our day-to-day interaction with our fellows, but also to make sure that we, ourselves, are open and accessible enough so that others can do the same.
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