“I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.”
Perhaps you recognize the beginning of this little ditty. Maybe it stirs memories of Sunday School or Church School, or Church Camp, or Vacation Bible School, or…whatever. I don’t believe I had ever heard it before being introduced to it a couple of years ago. Here, it simply serves as a pseudo-clever way to introduce today’s blog post.
A few months ago, I was with a group of adult learners as we explored “Good God Questions,” a video series intended to spark personal reflection and conversation about some of the challenging questions that people of faith often ask (or get asked). One of the questions was, “Do Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God?”
This post will not seek to answer that question directly, if at all.
Insteand, the impetus for this post came from a comment Professor Carol Miles made in the related video segment. Miles recounted a foreign exchange experience she had during which she was housed with a devout Muslim family. This family had invited her to attend prayer with them. Her experience caused her to raise a question about her religion (paraphrased below).
“Am I only a Christian because that’s how I was raised?”
Miles’ experience (seems to have) showed her that people of another religion were every bit as devout and faithful to their beliefs as many Christians. If she had been born to the family who hosted her, rather than a visitor, it wouldn’t have been at all extraordinary for her to be an adherent of Islam rather than Christianity. And so, the question has lingered with me since, and surfaces occasionally, like now.
To be fair, I’m not an expert on any other world religion. Heck, despite have a “Master” of Divinity degree, I still mostly feel like a novice Christian! What little I know of other religions has been through “survey” courses and other seminary studies/work. But, like Miles, I was raised in a Christian household. I had a passing awareness of Judaism, but I’m pretty sure Islam wasn’t in my vocabulary until well into adulthood. Y’see, even if I had been bold enough as a child in the 70’s to reject the family faith, there just wasn’t a temple or a mosque to run to as a “seeker.” As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure when I became fully aware that there were other denominations of Christians. So, I was kinda “stuck” with the whole Christian identity.
Even in my twenties, though, when I sort of let faith and religion fall away, I wasn’t compelled to try out something new. Sure, I read/skimmed a couple of books on Zen, one on Taoism, but none of it really captivated me, and it didn’t really seem all that important.
Years later, when I made a return to faith and religion, again, Chrisitanity seemed like the only option, especially since I had a spouse who also had a Christian upbringing.
Since the mind-expanding, faith-altering days of seminary, I have come to know a little more about other religions, and to appreciate the similarities and (try to) respect the differenecs. I really don’t know if I would be a better Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or whatever, than I am a Christian, and I’m not really in a position to “start over” or go through an “experimental” phase. That time has clearly passed, and while I remain curious and interested in other religions, it just isn’t a leap I see myself making.
The most interesting, and I think true, revelation about these religions is they aren’t “monolithic.” That is, there isn’t ONE way to be Christian (despite what some preachers and politicians might tell you), there isn’t ONE way to be Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim. Instead, there is a broad spectrum within each. But, I believe we gravitate toward that which “makes sense,” or we agree with, or that gives us an experience of some sort. Its more than which has the easiest “rules” to follow (I hope).
And so, back to the original question. If you are a person of faith, are you that because that is just the context in which you grew up?
If you now follow a different religion than the one in which you were raised, what was the catalyst? What was it about your new religion that brought about the change? Was it a process?
If you are not a person of faith, have you ever explored any religions in depth? What was that like?