You hear a lot about tolerance these days, and it’s supposed to be a good thing, yet when someone says they “tolerate” someone or something, it generally means they begrudgingly allow the person (or the thing) to be in their space without active opposition. Tolerance doesn’t necessarily mean acceptance, but only allowing. Where spiritual values are concerned, no one asks that we agree wholeheartedly with other religions; at some point we must agree to disagree. However, I do feel that Sue Fitzmaurice is right: It is not enough to tolerate each other’s religion. We must seek knowledge and understanding of all, without judgment or criticism, if we are to truly live in peace.
Besides boning up on things like who established the religion, the prophet or spiritual leaders of the faith, and the major tenets, it’s also good to know what adherents of other faiths must wear, eat, or do, what their houses of worship and worship services are like, which cultural or ethnic groups are members of the faith, and approximately how many members there are worldwide.
The best way to know something about a religion, though, is to make friends with someone who is of that faith. Some people are not as comfortable talking about their religion as others, but in general, if you show an interest, many people are glad to answer questions. All you have to do is make it clear at the start that you do not wish to be converted, or to convert to their religion, that you simply seek to understand. Be prepared to explain some things about your own religion, and ask the other person about his or her faith with an open mind. Don’t argue about right and wrong. Simply let them have their say and you have yours. Agree to disagree, but let the other person explain his or her faith without telling the person whether you agree or disagree. Simply ask for information and offer information in return.
One interesting way to compare religions is to ask a person, ‘What do you teach your children about your faith?”
If you feel uncomfortable talking comparative religion, then use the Internet to do a little bit of searching. Pretend you are going to write a term paper for a class, and write down some of the questions I proposed above Then do the research and find the answer to as many of the questions as possible.
Here’s a challenge: Wikipedia isn’t everything, but it’s a place to start. They have a pretty comprehensive List of Religions and Spiritual Traditions (follow the link). Look at the list and choose just three religions that you don’t know anything about, then start your research. How do these religions or spiritual beliefs differ from your own? Do any of these religions have any beliefs in common with the tenets of your own faith? 🙂