Saturday, August 3, 2013

Can Christians Be Open to the Followers of Other Religions?

If anyone from any religious background could attain salvation, why did then Apostles tell "under the sky there is no salvation other than through the name of Jesus, the Christ"?

This thought-provoking question, raised in an online forum, initiated a lively discussion. I had the opportunity to participate in the discussion, and what follow are the ideas I shared with the others.

As Christians we have absolute freedom and right to believe that under the sky there is no salvation other than through the name of Jesus Christ. We also have the freedom in most of the places in the world to propagate our belief. Nobody is asking us to believe that anyone from any religious background can attain salvation. But the problem lies elsewhere. 

Imagine a small village somewhere in India. Jacob, an Orthodox Christian, lives there. He believes that Jesus is the only way of salvation. His neighbor at the left side, Ravi, believes that Krishna is the only way of salvation. His neighbor at the right side, Ali, believes that Mohammed is the only way of salvation. His neighbor at the back, Anil, believes that there is no God. His neighbor at the front, Abhaya, believes that meditation is the only way of salvation.

Now the problem lies here: How can they all live together peacefully in their neighborhood in spite of their diversity in their beliefs?

If you are in the place of Jacob, what would you do? I think Jacob has two different options. He can speak to his neighbors in one of the following ways:

1. I believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and so I believe that your beliefs are false.
2. I believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, but I like to hear what you all believe.

In both, Jacob holds on to his own belief. He does not compromise with or dilute his own belief. But his approach toward the belief of others is different. In the first, he passes a judgment on the belief of the other people. Imagine what would happen. His neighbors would stop talking to him,  and he will not get another chance to tell them anything about what he believes.

In the second, he acknowledges that others have similar beliefs, and that they have the right and freedom to keep their beliefs. He also expresses his willingness to listen to them. Imagine what would happen. They become friends and good neighbors talking to each other and maintaining a good relationship in spite of their diversity in their beliefs. He will get a chance to explain to them what he believes.

In the first option, Jacob passes a judgment upon others. Jesus does not want us to judge others. Jesus said, "Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you" (Mat. 7:1-2). When I tell a Hindu or a Muslim that his belief is false, I am making a judgment. The result? He will in return pass a judgment upon my belief in the same measure. Isn't it better for us to avoid passing judgments upon people of other faith? Isn't it enough for us to tell them what we believe to be true? We have the freedom and right to tell a Hindu that Jesus is God, but it will be very offensive to tell a Hindu that Krishna is not God. 

In the second approach Jacob shows a willingness to listen to others. This is based on another command of our Lord. "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets" (Mat 7: 12). This is the golden rule that summarizes the Bible. If I want a Hindu or a Muslim to listen to me, I must be willing to listen to him first. If I am willing to listen to a Muslim when he tells me the Good News of Mohamed, he will be willing to listen to me when I tell him the Good News of Jesus Christ. That does not mean that I have to believe whatever he tells me. Listening to someone is not the same as believing him.

Let us imagine that Jacob is someone who lives his faith. How would he live his faith in relation to his neighbors? Here is my answer: He is going to love his neighbors as he loves himself. He would treat his neighbors as his own brothers and sisters regardless of what they all believe and what religion or class or caste or race they belong to. He would be willing to give any kind of help to them any time they are in need. Jacob would love them even if they hate him. When they see Jacob's unconditional love, slowly they will come to know the God Jacob believes in—the heavenly father who loves all people in the world unconditionally by giving rain and sunlight to both the righteous and the unrighteous. Jacob is able to love his enemies because the God he believes in also loves His enemies. 

The relationship between religions is not the topic of discussion here, but the relationship between human beings is. Regardless of the religion or race or caste or nationality of a human being, he/she is a child of God, and therefore, a brother/sister to us. The central message of Jesus was that we should love our enemies, accepting our heavenly father as our role model who loves not only those who love Him but also those who hate Him. If we can practice a life of love, it is the best way to do the Christian  mission. Action speaks louder than words. The in-authenticity of a preacher who does not walk his talk shouts louder than his messages.

Let me conclude with a familiar story. Four blind men went to see an elephant. They touched the elephant at different parts of its body, and described it differently. One said it was like a wall, another one said it was like a spear, and so on. That is what we do in an inter-religious dialog. We express different opinions based on our own experience and knowledge, and we cannot understand each other. To continue the story-- finally, somehow all the blind men touched at the same place of the elephant, and described it the same way. They agreed on something. This shows to us that if we try, we can agree on what is common for us. What we need is an open mind, with a willingness to listen to others without claiming to have the custody of the ultimate truth.


Jaise's said...

You can see the similar kind of life as your example in villages. I am coming from one such place and I know from experience everyone can be open to every religion. The problem comes when someone introduce extremism to their belief. This extremist ideas usually comes from perverted teaching and understanding about their own faith..

Jino M Kurian said...

I had a tough religious debate with one of Muslim friends today. On this evening, when I came to read this article, I realized what was happened between us.
We should respect and hear the other side, then only we can contradict it in an amicable way.

Eclecticity said...

I think friendship is the path to dialogue. We need to get to know the other before we can engage in serious dialogue, otherwise there is no trust. Trust is usually earned, oftentimes, as you suggest, based on unconditional love for the other-even of the enemy.

The problem in today's world is that religion is becoming extremist and fanatical and intolerant of the other. Instead of sitting down to talk peacefully, the extremists want to kill the other or convert them to their religion without caring about, listening to, or loving the other.

Interesting blog. I will follow your google friend connect if you agree to follow mine at: Eclecticity