We have innumerable religions across our globe, some with millions of adherents down to individual enclaves set in a single rural or tribal village. Most of the larger groups break down into subsets, sub-subsets and more, finally into micro-sets. These religions may differ over allegiance or interpretation of their founding or current teacher; over dogma and teachings; over ritual and practice; over how the religion integrates (or not) into the secular culture of one’s everyday living. But some form of difference from among myriad possibilities drives them apart from each other.
When two different religions meet, the all-too-often response is division. One might reasonably presume that religion should be the great unifier and bridge among humankind. Inexplicably, it is more often the separator. One seeks to dominate the other rather than to celebrate the other.
God created all of these many religions and their variations for two reasons. One, given that each human is an individual being with unique thinking and response mechanisms, these many religious options give each of us the ability to find the best possible vehicle to envelope and express our unique spiritual self. Second, this diversity of religious thought gives us a tool by which we can better understand, and therefore practice, the religion we do ultimately choose.
This available tool is why we are called to examine religions other than our own. Not to be pulled away from our religion, but in fact to be pulled deeper into it. As children we accepted without thought, without question, without experience the religion presented to us. When we later use the beliefs of other faiths and dogmas to ask questions about our own, use other religions as a reflection towards our own, we do not betray our religion. Instead, we are forced to move from our current limited understandings and practices and instead dig more deeply through what we think we believe, and as a result come away with knowing we do believe.
It is by reflecting our own experiences and beliefs off of others, by entertaining questions from those who have different beliefs and experiences, that we can see things that we had never seen before. From these reflections, we begin to ask ourselves the questions that we had never even thought needed asking. We see familiar images in a new, fresh way, from a vantage point we had never considered.
It is just as we use a mirror to confirm or deny what we think we look like; the mirror leads us back into ourselves now knowing what we do look like. From that deeper knowledge of ourselves we can now move into a better, more informed spiritual place. The mirror guides us; it does not swallow us. There is nothing to fear from learning, but there is much to be gained.
Even if we choose not to use reflection to understand our spiritual selves, we can still learn to better understand our neighbor of a different faith. An understanding based upon information, not superstition and inherited prejudice. From that, perhaps we can then become one of the links in a bridge of human understanding that we are currently missing. That which is unfamiliar is that which teaches us. Perhaps that alone is worth reflecting on.