One of my favorite autumn pastimes is watching Charles Schultz’s, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” After being ridiculed by his friends and especially his sister Lucy, Linus proclaims that there are three things he has learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin. I must admit that if given a choice to discuss these three topics with my own friends, the Great Pumpkin is a clear winner. If we contemplate the importance of each of these topics, and the influence they have on our lives, we might reconsider Linus’s advice, especially when it comes to religion.
Have you ever asked yourself why we often avoid discussing religion with others? Do our beliefs really differ so greatly from one another that we don’t feel it’s worth the risk to talk about them? I don’t know all of the reasons such conversations are avoided, but as one who once served a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sharing a Christ-centered message with others for two years, I still find religion a difficult topic to discuss. I believe that our reluctance to talk openly about religion often leads to undesirable consequences. For example, intolerance and prejudice abound when we lack understanding about others’ beliefs and opinions. I’ve learned that open dialogue and education, especially when it comes to religion, is the best way for us to overcome negative perceptions.
In my experience, there are three simple practices to help me, and all of us, be more understanding and tolerant of each other.
First, I identify and build on common beliefs. Truth is, when we compare our beliefs with those of others, we often find more similarities than we do differences. If we can discover and focus on common belief, our chances of having a successful conversation about religion increase.
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Next, I listen to learn. I approach religious conversations with the intent to learn something new. I try hard to set aside preconceived ideas or notions about other faith traditions. Unfortunately, religious beliefs and practices are often misrepresented by the media who often has just part of the story. Thoughtful questions often result in new insights, knowledge and understanding.
Finally, and most importantly, I strive to be respectful. Our beliefs develop over time and are shaped by personal experiences. I appreciate when I can openly share a point of view or belief that others may not agree with. That respect goes both ways. We all come from different backgrounds and have learned truths in different ways.
So, go ahead and discuss religion with your friends. Let us openly share our beliefs and seek to learn more about the beliefs of others, how we worship and about the shared principles and faith doctrines that bring us comfort. As we do this, our friendships will grow stronger and we will gain greater confidence to discuss even the most difficult of topics…even the Great Pumpkin.