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Is an open religious dialogue possible? If so, how?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I'm looking for suggestions on how to talk to people of other faiths.

My own personal philosophy is that everyone follows the path that feels right to them. I don't begrudge anyone their beliefs. I would love to understand more about other religions/spiritual philosophies (is that even a term?), but it seems like an open dialogue has never been possible for me.

I try to be as respectful as possible, but everyone (including myself) always ends up getting defensive and angry.

I know it's cliche, but I just wish we could all get along! Maybe I am just looking in all the wrong places. Or maybe I don't know how to approach it in such a way that makes people feel open to discussing with me.

What has been your experience in discussion your faith or the faith or practice of a friend or family member with them? Have you been able to have open and loving conversations, or do they always deteriorate? Can you be friends with someone with whom you can never discuss your core beliefs?

Peace.
post #2 of 13
I will not lie, sometimes...most of the time... it is hard for me to have an open discussion about my religion.. I do get defensive. I wonder what is the motive of people when they ask about my religion(LDS) because I instantly think all they want to do is try to turn what I say around & stab at my beliefs. I have had that happen. Many people have.

For me..I don't want to change people. If they are happy, healthy in their religion, then who am I to judge? Yes my church is big...huge on missionary work. But by golly, leave well enough alone if that person is not seeking. I feel that way & I hope people can say that about me. I hope they can see I'm happy & I don't want to change...well..ok..I would like to chage somethings

Our beliefs are so personal. I think that's why most of us can not leave out our passions. & for the most part...I think that is great... As long as we are respectful of what other people believe. With such personal feelings, we want to guard everything that we hold so dear. And sometimes we will bare our teeth.

I love to see how people tick. I love to hear stories about how other people gained their faith. It really intreges me. I do have many Catholic friends (& (Baptist & a few Athiests thrown in for fun). We have a great time together. When we go out to dinner w/ each other we talk freely about our religions. I'm always asking what this or that means & they do the same. But for us, it's because we know each other so well. We have seen our babies be born & babies grow up. We have been throught it all....well not allllll, but pretty dang much! We feel comfortable & safe w/ each other.

Now I will admit...I am gun shy around new people. But for the most part, people like to talk about their religion. & it's ok to stay away from those who hurt you or disrespect your beliefs. And it's ok to ask questions. And it's ok to not believe what they believe. And yes, I have had friends who I do not discuss my core beliefs with. For many years, I had a close, loving friendships w/ a few women who were so vastly different from me. They actually helped my through loss of faith & mental health (ahhh, depression ain't it grand?!) I love them for that. So YES, you can have a close friendship w/ someone not of your own beliefs! You'll have to pick carefully, you don't want someone to tear you to shreds of course. But why would you pick a person who is like that for a friend anyway. Did that make scence? Can you understand anything even though I suck at spelling & my spell checker doesn't work?
post #3 of 13
InMediasRes - I don't believe it's possible, I really don't. And I have always felt like you do - everyone has their own path. I find all religions and spiritual philosophies have fascinating aspects. I don't believe one faith is right.

I used to think as long as I was polite and open - I could engage in discussion about religion with other people.

But it doesn't work that way IMO. If you are talking to someone who thinks their religion, their way of worship and thought is the only one truth and only way to GOd - there is no room for negotiation.

I'm fascinated by Hinduism and the religion of Islam. But you can't tell someone who believes Jesus is their saviour and the only way to survive death that "That's fine what you believe but I think this and this are also the way to gain life after death". People become defensive.

Some people's entire existence is basd on what they believe is the Truth. If you start to rock the boat and say that their Truth may not be accurate or complete - watch out. Just my own experience ....
post #4 of 13
Open discussion is possible, but both parties need to have that as a goal and really work for it. I have had open discussions about religious beliefs, it stems from the understanding on both sides that there is no desire to convert the other.

It can be a very delicate balance though, at one person can't hold it on their own (unless they are talking to themself.) Which is why it's so hard to find, so many people, even those who are open about hearing others religions, have a point where they feel it goes from being an open discussion to "you're wrong/silly/ignorant" even if it doesn't actually do that.
post #5 of 13
I know it is possible, as I have discussions about religion with many friends (and even when they were new acquaintances) about religion when they are of different religions. I think religion tends to come up a lot because in many circles I work/live in, I'm VERY religious. (obviously not particularly more religious than other folks at my synagogue lol, but I definitely.... have more of the outer trappings of being more religious. I dress modestly, cover my head, I LOOK religious to my religion, basically etc.)

I think that open dialogue about religion requires several things:
both/all parties are interested in dialogue
all parties are curious about the other parties' beliefs/practices etc
No party is trying to recruit/convert/convince another, they are only sharing their beleifs
All parties are ok with other people having different religious beliefs. It is impossible to have open religious dialogue with someone who beleives their truth is the only truth, and everyone must be convinced of it. (If people beleive their truth is the only truth, however are fine with other people not beleiving in their truth, it might be possible, I'm not sure.)

If you feel unsafe/threatened by the other person, then of course you can't have religious dialogue. (and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that it is a form of threat/lack of safety, when someone comes up and harangues you for your beliefs and tries to convince you of theirs, or tells you you are going to hell/etc. And I'm quite secure in my beliefs.)

I also think it's sometimes harder to have open religious discussion with family. (or maybe my family just isn't open to it.) I mean, I can discuss it somewhat, but not entirely.

In terms of how to approach the subject, I think genuine, respectful curiosity of another's religious practices/beliefs is always a good way to go.

In terms of getting defensive and angry, I'm not sure. maybe discussing one person's religion at a time? so like, asking someone about their religion, and just listening, not really talking about yours? also, depending on who you are talking to, and what your religion is, they may feel innately threatened by you (as a representative of your religion, and not specifically you.)

A pagan who has had a lot of trouble from catholic relatives won't nessicarily be as open to discussion with a catholic. A Jew who has faced anti-semetism specifically from evangelical christians might feel threatened by another evangelical christian. A evangelical christian who has faced persecution from baptist co-workers might feel threatened by open religious discussion with a baptist. etc (I chose these groups randomly, with no offense meant to anyone. I'm sorry if picking your religion felt offensive. It was just an example.)

Do you find that there is one or two things you usually get defensive about? If you find that there is, maybe there is something about that/those issues you need to work on yourself before you can have open discussion.
post #6 of 13
I agree with the pps, in the foreground of the discussion there must be respect of whatever they're going to say. Even if it's about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I also agree that you can be friends with someone without going into detail about religious beliefs; however, there are lots of cultural differences that could become sticking points for some people if they are inflexible.

As an aside, up to now, we (my husband and I) haven't been honest with my in-laws about religious matters, because we didn't want to open a can of worms. Recently I decided I wasn't going to lie anymore, and answer any questions they have very honestly. There probably won't be any questions though, since I go to a church which is open and liberal, a Unitarian Universalist fellowship where I've been a member going on 3 years now. The fact that occasionally I say the word 'church' in conversation is probably enough for them to leave well enough alone, not that I wouldn't love to have a conversation about it with them.. anyway, sometimes these conversations can be put off.
post #7 of 13
It is possible if all parties engage in a "polite fiction" that they absolutely respect the other person's beliefs (or lack thereof) and that they do not view their own religion as superior (which, lets face it, almost everyone does.) If you go into it with this polite fiction and with an earnest desire to understand what the other person believes and how they practice (all the while supressing the urge to make suggestions, invite them to a service etc...) it is possible. On the internet, this is not going to happen. Here, the important thing is to engage with the people who *are* having the conversation you want to have, and direct your questions and comments to them, and simply don't acknowledge the flamers. I think you could go back to the heated threads, read back through them and then talk with the people who are communicating well.
post #8 of 13
An interesting question. I think that it IS possible. I think that it mostly depends on the group of people and their motives. I have probably had more negative experiences than positive ones but I've had some really great soulfull discussions with people of different faiths.

It only works when everyone involved is trying to seek for commonality and understanding. It only works when everyone involved is trying not to offend and trying not to be offended.

For example, I have had many horrible discussions in which people tried to tell me that I was not a Christian. However, I once had a good discussion with a close friend in which she told me what it meant to HER to be a Christian. We got into a great discussion about grace and what it really meant to us personally. Even though we didn't understand the concept in the same way, we both shared our faith and we were both nurtured. And now I understand better why some Christians think that I am not a Christian.

I also had one friend from India ask me why my church sent missionaries around and what missionary work meant to me. She didn't start the discussion by telling me how annoying it was when people knocked at her door. She just asked me what I thought about it. And I shared with her about the amazing blessings I have received and how I would like others to have the chance for those blessings as well. This led into a discussion about people nurturing each other, helping each other to mature and grow and become better people.

I also think of a friend I had who couldn't tell a story about something that had happened to him without mentioning God. That was just how he thought about his daily life. Everything that happened to him had something to do with God. If I have a close friend, even of a different faith, I find that I can share my own personal experiences this way. That way I am sharing my faith but I'm not putting any pressure on them. If they want to comment on God's role in my story, they can but if they'd rather not discuss it, that's fine too.

If I have a friend who is struggling and I think that she could be happier with some spiritual guidance, I might very carefully ask a question. Like, if she has already opened up to me emotionally about a problem I might quietly ask if she believes in prayer and see if she is interested in having a conversation about how spirituality might apply to her situation. If she is, I share my own personal experiences rather than try to convince her of anything.
post #9 of 13
I also think that seeking commonality is key. In every positive open religious discussion I've had with people of other faiths, that is major. If it is me asking about their religion, I try to see things in it that appeal to me. Maybe I don't want to be their religion, don't beleive in it, or even personally thing some of the tenets are impossible/completely untrue. What I still can do is realize the wonderful things about their religion.

I can find an aspect of their ritual that I like, and appeals to me, like explaining the significance behind two shabbat candles at candle lighting (even if their significance includes jesus, which sure doesn't fly for more), or respecting the beauty of marian traditions, or the ability to live a life surrounded by sisters, (even if I don't beleive mary was the mother of g-d or that g-d had a mother or a son, even if I don't want to joing a convent.), or the practice of mindfulness appealing to me or a truely beautiful prayer, that doesn't address my beleifs, but sincerely conveys the heartfelt prayers of the speaker. Finding the beauty, wonder, the moments when the divine is surely experienced in another's religion helps keep me open minded and respectful, EVEN if I have issues with the tenets, or philosophy of the religion, or huge political/personal/historical/religious issues with the leaders/ancestors/other members of the religion.
post #10 of 13
Some things I find useful in such discussions - and also other delicate topics:

Go into the discussion with the idea that you could, in fact, be convinced. Since none of us are in a position to be really definitive, there is always that possibility.

Try hard to make out what the person is really trying to express, rather than trying to tear apart their words. Many people have trouble expressing themselves succinctly about religion, and struggle to find the right words. Repeating what they tell you in your own words to make sure you understand is a good idea.

Try to imagine it from the POV of the other religion of spiritual practice. Don't be a Christian trying to make sense of Hinduism. Rather, imagine Hinduism is your system and look at the world that way.

Ask a lot of questions.

Personally, I think in theory it is ok to say if you have a particular difficulty with their system of belief, and why, or why you prefer your own. But in practice if I feel the other person is sensitive, I don't. Sometimes it can help to phrase it as a question. So, instead of saying "I don't understand how in Islam you can explain how God is related to the world if he is a perfect and complete unity" you might say "So how does Islam deal with the problem of explaining how a perfectly unified God can have any knowledge or relation to what is outside itself?"

And don't expect people to be experts on every aspect of their religion.
post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by InMediasRes View Post
Can you be friends with someone with whom you can never discuss your core beliefs?
I think you can, although I think someone will question the depth of the friendship. I have the religion I've chosen, and then I have my core beliefs which don't necessarily correspond. While I can take that people disagree with my religious choice, since I'm coming at it from a certain point of view, there are some absolutes for me and when I clash based on those, it can feel frightening and damaging to a relationship. I almost never discuss my core beliefs to any great extent, not even with my children and husband. Not to say that I'm trying to hide anything, but I think my husband is more or less aware of them.

The problems is that while I like to discuss ideas with my children and I don't mind sharing beliefs to a point, but my husband and I end up having these arguments where we have to agree to disagree. Likewise, my children do and say things that go against my values, or I say things to them that they find upsetting. They feel like they should be able to have their own opinions and beliefs, so I end up feeling like we have to have certain boundaries. The whole thing can get very complex, but there are always innermost thoughts that you aren't going to share with a person for a variety of reasons.

I think there are people for whom a polite discussion is possible, but unless there is that whole shared belief thing, they aren't really going to connect to another person as a true friend. My thing is that all my life I've encountered people with whom I don't necessarily agree, and then it gets to a point where I just don't know what I'm supposed to do when things get contentious. So not letting them get too contentious seems easiest.

I have friends with whom I disagree on many topics, and we kind of just try and emphasize the things we do have in common.
post #12 of 13
Sure. In college I was housemates with Hindus and Muslims and Catholics; I'm Pagan. We had lots of respectful learning about one another's religions. I guess the Muslim friend wasn't altogether too observant; had he been he probably wouldn't have been comfortable with my being female (he was male) and the fact that some of the others were drinking in the house. He even had pork once, said he wanted to try it (and never had it again after). But he was relatively Muslim otherwise, I mean he kept Ramadan and knew his Koran pretty well and all. But he was pretty open to new experiences. The other Muslim people that came over (there were several) were similar, although one or two were more strict with their observance.

Personally I love religious discussion; I majored in religious studies at university so I know just enough about most religions to be able to engage in conversation with lots of people if they're interested, regardless of their personal faith. And since I am polytheistic I don't try to go "mine vs. yours" - I genuinely enjoy learning about what paths work for people. Typically they are equally respectful of my beliefs - usually I end up explaining stereotypes they may have had about what Paganism is.

ETA: I also could never be in a relationship with someone (let alone a marriage) unless open, true conversation was possible about religious beliefs (or lack thereof). I've had people that I've agreed with and some people I don't quite agree with but there's always an element of respect. I couldn't be in a serious relationship unless our beliefs were at least compatible. Maybe not identical (DH is agnostic, mine is not; an ex was nominally Catholic but not enough to worry that I was going to hell, etc.) but compatible. My mother and I have a strained relationship because she DOES believe that unless I convert to her religion I'm going to hell. It's always quite awkward because, well, it is. I couldn't voluntarily be in a romantic relationship with that dynamic. A friendship either really unless it was a really superficial "our kids play together so we chat in the meantime" sort of thing.
post #13 of 13
I think it's possible if you both have that goal. Unfortunately, a lot of religious discussions don't always begin that way. Part of the problem is that there are a lot of myths out there about what other faiths believe... and often times (at least in my experience) people want to continue to believe those myths...regardless of what somebody of the other faith tells them. The other issue comes from the "my religion is the only right one" and if you don't believe it, you're going to hell or whatever type attitude. Not everybody has those issues, though... and I think it's with people who are genuinely interested in other's beliefs, preferably without judgment, that you can have some really neat conversations.

Like, I don't mind when people ask me if I'm Muslim (I wear a hijab (scarf))... or even if they ask me if I'm hot (I'm in FL... it's usually hot for people with or without scarves ).... or why I wear a scarf...but if somebody starts off with, "Does your husband make you wear that?" or something along those lines... it's generally a clue that it's probably not going to be an open religious dialogue.

One of my neighbors is a born again Christian, but we still have good conversations about where our beliefs are similar and where they are different. I think we view each other as people of faith..so thus, there are some similarities/commonalities... rather than get into the theological differences.
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