As I traveled quickly through several religions of the world, I learned numerous lessons about people and religions in general. I also gained a renewed appreciation for my own Christian heritage. I hope to just quickly summarize it all here.
- Community as Identity – Religion isn’t simply about believing a certain set of doctrine or practicing certain rituals. It is about how a certain community contributes to your identity. Most of the groups I visited had a particular language that bound them together, even if that language was confined to the religious texts themselves: Hinduism – Gujarati and Hindi; Judaism – Hebrew; Buddhism – Vietnamese; Islam – Arabic. Even Christianity had a designated language for many centuries, Latin (Vatican II helped end this in the last century, but Protestantism broke away centuries ago). These groups were often sets of families or immigrants. Religion helped bind these people together and define a part of who they are.
- A Generation is Absent – There were very few teenagers at any of these religious services. Badi Ali, on our drive back to the Islamic Temple, pointed out that the American school system prevented many youth from joining Friday prayers. Kim told me that Buddhism in the area was effected by a laxity of belief and adherence, primarily from American value of individualism and a tendency towards apathy. Although the synagogue I visited was large enough for nearly two hundred people, there were barely fifty people there and only two or three teenagers.
- We Are Ignorant – All of these faith groups exist in the same cities and yet, very few people even realize this. I introduced the Baha’i Faith to many people by having to explain what the religion was about. There are fears of these separate groups, especially in evangelical Christian circles, but these fears could be put at ease through lovingly reaching out and getting to know people in these different groups. But this would inevitably lead to issues of proselytizing, so it is difficult to make such interaction possible.
What Christianity Can Learn
- From Hinduism – diverse methods of worship and teaching; use drama and videos alongside music and preaching; break up the message by interjecting other elements.
- From Judaism – everyone participates, no matter their age or if they come in late; teach children your heritage and traditions; go out of your way to welcome outsiders and help them understand the teachings.
- From Buddhism – bright colors and a taste of natural beauty goes a long way; love others and be patient with those who fall away; lessons can be taught through art, especially statues; the aesthetics of a building creates an atmosphere of transcendence.
- From Islam – radically embrace different people, especially immigrants; there shouldn’t be black churches, white churches, hispanic churches – there should be one group of people intertwined in worship; reverence – there is high value in group silence and respect.
- From Baha’i – all persons are equal and should be treated so in practice and speech, not just in theory; home visits foster a great spirit of unity and equality; they are able to reach out more with less money because they do not pay salaries among other things (the house church movement has already learned this!).
What’s to come?
Honestly, I am not sure what I will do next. I am juggling a few ideas. I plan on attending a Seventh-Day Adventist church, Mormon church, and Jehovah’s Witness’ Kingdom Hall soon. But I want to keep reaching out beyond Christianity, perhaps to a local Wiccan group I have found online. I am taking a two month break from school so I at least plan to go to bed early, read Nietzsche, and start a diet to lose 25 lbs. Any ideas are welcome, but I can’t commit too much – I want my lazy break!
Feature Image: Immanuel – Image:Symbols of Religions.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3966889