By Amy Nolan-Smith
Are you the type of person who loves to explore other faiths? Do you ask questions of every person regarding their culture and practices? Do you find music from a choir, the call of the adhan and the cantor's recital of the Torah equally inspiring and pleasing to the ear? I know I do, and sadly, I am often perceived negatively because of it.
I am a teacher as well as a student of religions, but that's not to say I am non-religious. I attend countless interfaith events in the community, yet I also attend church regularly and faithfully. I am a Christian and I believe wholly and passionately in the power of Jesus. What I don't believe is that Christianity is the only path towards God. For many in my own faith, this is a profoundly disloyal statement, and tantamount to blasphemy. I remember saying something like it in a youth Bible study class a few years ago, and the reactions I received ranged from shock, disbelief and even fear.
Yet if you think about it, what is it we fear? What is it about ourselves that make us want that sense of superiority and exclusivity within our religious beliefs. Why can't I be Christian and yet accept the faith perspectives of others? Will it reduce my own happiness to admit others into Heaven? Is the mercy of God so limited that He cannot allow those who love and honor Him and His creation equal reward? I cannot accept this way of thinking, and because of it I am often labeled a pariah.
So be it. I have learned so much from my interactions with human beings of every faith that I can confidently say I have been enormously enriched by these interactions. From Muslims I have learned a sense of devotion that allows them to leave even the most pressing of worldly matters and pray. From Hindus I have learned to identify and worship aspects of God that I didn't even know existed. From Jews I have discovered a need to seek forgiveness from those around me before I can be forgiven by God. From Buddhists I have discovered a new type of peace that comes through meditation, and not the new-Agey kind! From a number of tribal religions I have found a new appreciation of duty, loyalty and family that seems to be lacking in our world today.
I have learned so much, and I firmly believe that my faith as a Christian has become stronger because of religious study and interfaith dialogue. So to all those who ridicule me, who warn me of the dangers of getting too close to people of other faiths, I say that the true danger lies in not getting close enough. I plead, take a step towards a place of worship different from your own, knock on the door of a neighbor with a different skin color, sit at the lunch table with a student who has a different accent. I guarantee that you will love the experience. You may even become a better Christian in the process.
Amy Nolan-Smith is an online instructor of religious studies and has recently moved to Houston. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.