The best, most memorable sermon I ever heard in a church was at a Baptist church in Provo, Utah. The pastor said he’d been praying about what to teach his congregation that Sunday, and he kept coming back to the Book of Judges. He half-yelled, “Lord, why would I teach my congregation about all these fallen men?” And then it hit him. The Book of Judges talks about these great men who fall from glory so we can learn that grace is not in leader worship but in worshipping God.
And that was my first experience with making another religion’s teaching part of my faith.
Adopting Other Religious Beliefs
I used to be pretty exclusivist with my religious beliefs — as in it was my religion or nothing. But when my faith was shaken and I realized that some of my beliefs were built upon a culture rather than a religion, I realized religion was something different than I had grown up believing. Religion is an organization; whereas, what I wanted to believe in was a “gospel” or teachings that I deemed to be divinely inspired — not mortally inspired.
After hearing such a beautiful sermon at that Baptist church, I didn’t go out and immediately become a Baptist. I still knew that the core teachings of my religion were true for me, and I wanted to remain a member of that religion. But what I did do was look at my religion and assess the leader worship I saw in my own religious organization. And then I decided I didn’t want to participate in the culture of leader worship that I saw in the culture of my religious organization.
Adopting what I saw as a divinely-inspired teaching from another religion didn’t make me any less a member of my own religion. But it did make me a better follower of God, who I choose to believe in.
Analyzing World Religions
It may seem ironic, but learning about religions other than my own has deepened and made more beautiful my own faith. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from other faiths:
In Hinduism, followers worship a specific avatar of one of the three mirktis (main gods): Brahman, Vishnu, Shiva. An avatar is basically a manifestation of the god in another bodily form. One family might worship the god/avatar of fertility (Parvati), while another family worships the god/avatar of the sky (Varuna). So, a family can choose to focus their worship on the god that most fits their needs.
How does someone monotheistic (believing in one God) apply that Hindu practice to their faith you ask? In the New Testament, there are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Upon close reading you’ll notice in each book Jesus is portrayed slightly different. In the Gospel of Mark we see a Jesus that seems a bit more mortal (getting upset). In the Gospel of John, you’ll notice Jesus is a very regal, pedestal-divine Christ. So, which Christ is the one that you choose to believe in?
Hinduism can teach us that perhaps we can benefit from following a Christ that fits our needs best. Is it the Mark Jesus or Luke Jesus? And how will that effect our faith or practice of religion and faith?
The word “Islam” means “peace,” which already creates a beautiful feeling. How do we create a beautiful feeling for our own religion?
In Islam, followers say five prayers throughout the day, all at the same time. Imagine people all over the world rolling out their prayer rugs, and kneeling and standing to pray all at the same time. Doesn’t that kind of synchronized faith and dedication — five time per day — create a beautiful image?
Islam can teach us to pray with a deeper reverence and dedication. How can you make your participation in prayer more unified with others and God? How can you incorporate a beautiful feeling of peace into your prayers?
To be Jewish is to question. Part of the Jewish faith is encouraging the members to question. Every year, Jews take part in a seder, the Passover meal, where they tell the story of the Exodus. During that telling, there are questions that are asked — so from the beginning, Jews are taught to question. In a post on the Jewish Book Council website, they describe the necessity for questioning: “Why are questions so important? The Maharal of Prague explains that people feel satisfied with their view of life. Thus they are complacent when it comes to assimilating new ideas. But when a person has a question, it is an admission of some lack. This creates an ’empty space’ to be filled.”
By adopting the act of questioning in your faith, of course it can lead you to no faith, but it can also lead you to a deepening of your faith — it just depends on your approach. When you question things concerning your faith, you become an active participant in your religion and can develop a deeper understanding of your faith. How can questions about religion lead to filling “empty space” in your faith?
Creating Your Faith
When we learn about different religions, we can adopt their beautiful teachings and more fully develop our own faith. We just have to think critically and use a little bit of that Jewish questioning.