Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 13: On "Other" Religions

Okay, no excuses--late again. It's been a really full week--full of good stuff, but I've just been going from one thing to the next nonstop (wait, I think that was an excuse...). So for Wednesday's post, I decided to share the response I wrote to my student whose question I shared a few days ago. I came off pretty darn universalist in my answer, so I'm curious to hear what you think about my response. I think in wanting to encourage his spiritual curiosity and engagement, I decided to leave things open and make things possible instead of drawing boundary lines for thinking about other religions. I think this would likely be his natural tendency anyway, based on the nature of his question, but my hope for him is that he'll be able to engage other religions and enter inter-religious dialogue with an open mind instead of the foregone assumption of "as a Christian, I'm always right" or "as a Christian, my only job is to proselytize those of other faiths." Of course, you can't get into all the finer points of this huge theological issue in a brief note to a fourth grader, but this was my best shot.

Here's his question again: 

"How do we know God is real when so many other religions could be right, and [how do we know] there can be only one religion that can be right because if there was several, someone in the Bible like Joseph would write in the Bible, 'it is not just one religion that's right, there are millions that are right.' PS-I need this answer as soon as possible."

Dear M.,

Thank you for this good question. I will do my best to answer it—it’s not an easy question and many people spend a lot of time thinking about it. Here’s what I think:

I know sometimes we might hear that Christianity is the only religion that is right or is the only religion that can lead us to God. I disagree with this belief. Though I am a Christian and believe that the Christian way of doing things is the best way to encounter God for me, I think there is a lot of truth and good things about other religions. I do not think only one religion can be “right.” I also do not think that each religion is worshiping a different God. I think we all recognize the same God or divine being but we describe or understand God in different ways.

Imagine in your mind a mountain. Now picture God on the top of that mountain. There are many different “paths” or ways to climb the mountain—just like there are many different religions. Each path is going to be a little different and is going to have a different perspective or vision about what God looks like and what it takes to get to the top. But everyone sees God on the top of the mountain and wants to live life in a way that will bring him or her closer to God.

To answer your question about someone in the Bible, like Joseph, writing that only one religion can be right—remember that people in the Bible were just like you and me. Their understandings of God and of religion were not really any different or better than ours. They were people, too, and were trying to make sense of God and religion just like we are. Now the Bible certainly will argue that Christianity is the best religion (and some places in the Bible say this explicitly). Those are some of the hardest verses in the Bible for me to understand, personally. Again, I think it’s best to remember that even the Bible represents only one perspective or “path” up the mountain.

I hope this is somewhat helpful, M. If you would like to talk about it with me further, please feel free to ask. I am always available before or after school, or by email.

-Ms. Pierce


Thank you, Eric M., for the mountain metaphor :) 


a grateful heart i give said...

I'm refraining from commenting on EVERY post! All of your words are such wonderful pictures of your sincere heart for ministry. Your humility is to be admired! Please know that my soul feels a much-appreciated strengthening from your honest reflection, Whitney.

a grateful heart i give said...

oh, you've got to love a child's honesty and passion! I love how he wasn't afraid to tell you he needed your answer as soon as possible.