A guest post by Jamal Smith, M.A. '11
Three years ago, a friend, John, and I were having drinks at the pub in Rochester, Old Toad. While we were there, we came across another friend. Dan was a self proclaimed Buddhist-shamanist, a blend of Buddhist philosophy and shaman spirituality. During our conversation, Dan explained to us his belief that it was possible for humans to change shape. He used the example of glass being a liquid caught in solid state, yet still being liquid.
We listened to his beliefs and afterward excused ourselves as we had to leave. While walking back to the car, John finally expressed his opinion of Dan’s religion as crazy. My response was that I agreed with him; shape-changing made as much sense as the idea of someone being raised from the dead. John was quiet for a moment, and then replied, “I see your point.”
There are certain ideas and beliefs that are common within the Christian community and seem normal. Most Christians do not think twice about the existence of God and accept the inability to prove it. The resurrection of the dead is as real as death itself. When we hear other religious ideas however, we tend to ridicule them as absurd and illogical.
Rarely is it taken into account that many of the revered articles of the Christian faith seem just as ridiculous to the average secular listener as Dan’s belief of shape-changing seemed to John. Christians want their stories and faith to be heard credibly—we don’t like the idea of having Jesus’ resurrection disregarded or laughed at.
In Luke 6:37 (NIV), Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”
This is an ideal that needs to be taught regarding other peoples’ beliefs. Condemnation is not the goal. Recall instances when godly people committed “heathen” acts. Judges 11 tells the story of Jepthath, who swore to God to sacrifice the first thing that left his house if he returned victorious from battle. Jepthath had the victory, and what greeted him from his house was his daughter. Though he was grieved, he followed through with his word and sacrificed her. More notably, it is not said that God tried to stop him, nor was the grieved father punished or rebuked.
It seems to me that Christians must also take into account that, perhaps, myths that are ridiculed may somehow have elements of truth. For example, when exploring the risks of sex in space, recent studies from NASA showed that prolonged time in zero G resulted in a decreased sex drive for astronauts.[i],[ii] The connection between Earth and sex was also evident in some early religions—sexual religious practices of the worship of Baal were designed to encourage the god to make the earth fertile, producing crops for the season.[iii]
All this is not to say that all beliefs must be accepted and believed. Rather, in addition to discernment, it is to say that a certain amount of respect when hearing others’ beliefs, regardless of how crazy or illogical it may seem to us, is in order. In a pluralistic world Christians need to exercise this practice or otherwise, to twist the phrase, Judge and you shall be judged. Condemn and you shall be condemned.
Jamal Smith, M.A. ‘11, works as a consultant for Sutherland Global Services and is a volunteer member of the Commission of Christian Muslim relations and the Interfaith Forum.