Faith Matters: Whose faith are we listening to?

Faith Matters: Whose faith are we listening to?

Saturday, November 13, 1999

By DAVID WATERS, Scripps Howard News Service

Listen to a person of another faith talk about her faith.

Not her beliefs or doctrines or rituals. Her faith: what Thomas Merton called "God-consciousness."

Listen: "Faith to me is very personal. ... My faith brings meaning to my life ... comfort ... joy ... hope. ... I think of God as a friend ... with me all the time... . God guides me ... in my heart ... morals and values ... a way of life."

Personal. Values. Meaning. Joy. Comfort. Hope. Life.

Those are the words of Punam Chopra, a senior at Christian Brothers University.

Punam, who grew up in Memphis, was born in Dallas. Her parents are from India.

Punam is a Hindu.

Not that it matters. Listen, and you will hear the same words from a Baha'i or a Baptist, a Muslim or a Mennonite.

Are we listening to other faiths? Or just to our own?

Listen to this: "More than 900 million people are lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism. ...Most Hindus do not have a concept of sin or of personal responsibility, nor do they have a concept of a creator God..."

Lost. Hopeless. Darkness. Sin. Those words are from a new prayer guide published by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

The guide urges Southern Baptists to pray that Hindus - "slaves bound by fear and tradition to false gods" - will accept Christ.

The guide was released just as Hindus around the world celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. "The purpose of the Diwali guide was to help Southern Baptists understand and identify with Hindu people as we express our love for them in prayer," the Mission Board explained.

How can you understand and identify with people who are portrayed as inferior?

How can you pray for people you are preying on?

The mission board apologized that the guide "may have offended our Hindu neighbors." Previous guides of the kind also have offended Jews and Muslims.

"There is an arrogance in truth," explained the Mission Board's Don Kammerdiener.

Apologies aren't enough. Arrogance is unacceptable.

It's possible to tell someone about Jesus without tearing that someone down. Billy Graham does it all the time. It's possible to show someone the love of Christ without contempt. Mother Teresa did it all the time. It's possible - no, it's essential - that people of all faiths stop talking about each other and start listening to each other.

"Our times require it," religion historian Huston Smith wrote in "The World's Religions."

"Daily the world grows smaller, leaving understanding the only place where peace can find a home."

Listening brings understanding, which brings mutual respect and concern.

That, Smith says, leads to love - "the only power that can quench the flames of fear, suspicion, and prejudice."

So people of another faith celebrate their faith. They call the celebration Diwali, the festival of lights. Adults light lamps and shoot off fireworks. Children sing, dance, laugh. People of faith - in this case Hindus - will be praying, thanking God for the victory of love over fear, good over evil, light over darkness.

Listen and learn.

©Copyright 1999, Naples Daily News
Original Story

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