Faith and tolerance

I walked into the classroom and sat down. I was early, class wouldn’t start for another twenty minutes, so I pulled out my schedule. I had a busy semester and needed something light. A friend had suggested Religious Studies 101 with a particular professor. He claimed that it was an easy A. I just needed to make sure I had the same professor.

When a different professor walked in and announced that he would be teaching the class, I changed my plans for my afternoon. Once the class was over, I would run to my advisor’s office and drop the class and add something new. I contemplated getting up and walking out immediately, but I was sitting close to the front and it seemed rude like such a rude move. I was carrying 18 credits and needed a strong semester. The last thing I wanted was a class that was going to take everything out of me to get a good grade.

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My bad luck

I listened half-heartedly as the professor handed out his syllabus and started talking about the objectives of the course, to study the history, origins, rituals, and basic tenets of the world’s major religions. He had an easy-going manner. He explained that he wasn’t out to convert anyone, we all had our own personal beliefs or non-believes for that matter and that was fine, we would instead be taking an scholarly review of the religions and their religious texts. We would review various stories from the Torah, Quran, Bible, and the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, and other scriptures. We would be learning critical thinking skills and comparing and contrasting what we found.

I looked around the classroom, many of my classmates sat bored, but I was fascinated with the stories he was telling. One minute he was talking about Noah in the wilderness, being told by God to build an ark and collect two of every kind. He somehow managed to transport you from our cold, stoic lecture hall, back in time, standing with Noah and imaging how frightening that must have been. The next minute he was talking about the Angel Gabriel approaching Muhammad, the prophet, and founder of Islam, and revealing to him the beginnings of what would become the Quran. In the same vein, he told the story of Jesus getting on his hands and knees and washing the apostle’s feet and telling them, “Where I go you cannot come, so now I say it to you. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you.”

After each story, he questioned the class on what they would have thought in the moment and whether the story changed our understanding of that particular religion. He talked openly about why some might believe and why some might question and not believe in any religion at all. He left belief up to the individual.

I had never been in a situation like that. I had never been challenged to see beyond broad stereotypes and see people of different religions as people — not some broad stereotypical category.

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Time to make a decision

When the class was over, I sat a few more minutes in my seat. Most of the students had left. I stayed behind, because I needed to make a decision on what I was going to do: drop it or add something else. The professor came over and asked me what I thought. I guess he had figured out I was thinking.

We chatted a bit, nothing all that memorable. I just remember him emphasizing again that the class would help with critical thinking skills and taking nothing at face value. He left me there to think some about my decision.

Of course, I ended up keeping the class.

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A blessing in disguise

I ended up loving it. The class still ranks as one the best-led discussion classes I ever had, it was less about religion and more about questioning what you see and read, challenging the status quo, searching for meaning and being tolerant of others. You believe in X, I believe in Y, we can disagree and still get along. Heck, we can still be the best of friends.

I find that I think of the class often when I see others of my Christian faith espouse their deep love of Jesus Christ, but in the next breath complain about refugees or the sick or the poor or call for the death penalty. I wonder if we’re reading from the same Bible. I think of the class too when I see members of one faith claim theirs is the only way and to heck with everyone else. I wonder where the tolerance has gone.

So yes, all these years later, I’m glad I stayed. I’m glad I kept the class I wanted to drop. I learned a ton about the world’s religions, but what’s more important, I learned a ton about myself.

54 thoughts on “Faith and tolerance

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  1. I believe it was Ghandi who said “I like your Christ. I do not like his Christians” This is a hugely tragic statement of failure. Because, yes…have they actually read the Book from the One they claim to follow?

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I feel fortunate Karen that I’ve met more than a few Christians who live their beliefs and are kind, loving people. They help others in need, they truly love their neighbor and follow Jesus’ teachings. But, sadly I’ve met others who fit the example that Ghandi gave. I think it’s like any thing, you have people who like the tag or label . . . but following the teachings can be a challenge. I know for me, each day give’s me another shot or attempt to live my values. Hopefully it’s the same for them. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Same. As individuals, I know some i credidibly deep, warm, compassionate, Christlike Christians. As a generality…not so much.
        I don’t like labels, as they often carry immense baggage. ‘Christian’ being one such label. So much history, politics, etc bound up in one smallish word.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yea, I don’t like labels either. I compare what you said to how a good friend of mine who was in the Army talks about his service. He says that when it comes to Army with a capital A, it’s a bureaucracy and will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t watch. But, when it comes to the army, small A, as in the people he served with, he can’t talk enough about how great they were, how they helped him, and how he would do anything for them. I think organized religion can be a lot like that. I call myself a Christian but remember that it’s made up of humans who fail and stumble, but still hope for the best. Does that make sense. I hope so. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It does, for sure.
        I don’t generally call myself ‘christian’, because beliefs-wise I am kind of a christian/jewish blend. Neither the Jews nor the Christians would claim me. And that’s okay. Organized/institutionalized religion didn’t help me much, but the PEOPLE who love the Lord in a visible way are a different story.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautiful! Such a lovely example of giving things a beat or two before taking action…especially when we’re frightened. I totally related to your first thoughts…oh, no…with the change in professor…but the outcome? A great experience for you! Cheers to that! 😊😊😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh no, I was definitely prepared to walk out of the class. I was close Victoria. The biggest thing weighing me down was that my advisor’s office was all the way across campus. I was weighing the walk into the equation too. Yes, not my best look. In any event, I stayed and a few weeks into the class, I was so grateful that I had. I think it helped too that the prof liked the way I phrased things. It was great for my self-esteem. It’s funny how the little things play a big role in our lives. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, it’s always hit or miss with those kinds of things. I had another class the prior semester – a Geology class – that everyone called the Rocks for Jocks class. I again had a hefty course load and needed something on the lighter side. It knocked my socks off. It was incredibly hard. I pooh poohed it. Geology, can’t be that hard, right? Turns out it was hard for me. I ended up with a good grade, but I had to work for it. Ugh. Good luck to your daughter.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m imagining myself in that classroom and loving the course! I challenge so many things that were passed down to me about Christianity, especially in these times where it’s obvious more talk the talk than walk the walk. I would have enjoyed knowing more about other religions as well. I’m glad you stayed!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, the learning about the other religions was probably the best part. It broadened my environment. The funny thing is too it ended up strengthening my own faith. I wasn’t expecting that to happen. It got me really thinking about what I believed in and why. I didn’t allow myself to just keep believing something because that’s what we always believed. If I was going to be a christian, I wanted to know why.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this post, Brian. How often in life do we set out looking for the easy A and then end up getting the education of a lifetime? That is wonderful – and I’m not surprised that you stuck with it. It seems right in-line with your character to keep learning and growing!

    Have you read Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor? This post makes me think you’d enjoy it immensely!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No, I have not read that book, but it sounds interesting. I think I need to put that on my list, because that’s what happened to me. I actually became much stronger in my faith. In the process of learning about other religions, I figured out why I believed in what I believed. I became a much better Christian. It was less about “we’ve always done it this way so that’s how I’ll handle it in the future” to really analyzing and figuring out my principles and values. When I’ve gotten frustrated or start to question my faith, I’ve pulled out those notes in the past. It’s been helpful for me in seeing the big picture. Thanks for the book suggestion Wynne. I’ll take a look at the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love Ghandi’s words, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.” It is obvious that the three Christian ministers in my family walk the talk. It’s the sanctimonious, judgmental, quick-to-condemn folks who claim to be Christians that give the rest a bad name. Oh geez. Didn’t I just sound like one of them with that last sentence?! Uh oh. Better to keep an open heart and open mind than an open mouth that condemns and judges others. Wish I’d been in that class, Brian. It sounds wonderful!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh I’m like you Julia, I’ve seen some true believers, kind, love people who’ve given back and lived their lives with love and treated their neighbors the way they would want to be treated. And then yes, I’ve seen some others, who care more about the letter of the law or keeping things for them. It’s really sad. I want to ask them how they think Jesus would show up today. How he would look and where he might go but I’m not sure it would make much of a difference! Thanks so much for commenting Julia, I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling this.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I had an experience like that with a Revolutionary War History course in college. I wasn’t enthused about taking it or sticking it out, but the professor literally brought the conflict to life in class and it was one of the most rewarding educational experiences I’ve ever had. Great read, Brian!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Your post sounded so familiar. I had a course in Logic that helped teach me how to think and listen to what others were saying. My first impression of the professor was, heck no! but after listening to him for an hour, I was sold. The sad thing was how many students wanted the school to drop the Logic course requirement. They didn’t, thankfully. All students should have at least one course that forces them to think outside their comfort zone.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Enjoyed reading this, Brian. I especially liked your thoughts on differing beliefs and tolerance, something which seems to be getting less in our society. I was thinking of you on Monday morning and woke to the Super Bowl result. (The game didn’t start until 11pm in the UK, so had to do with the highlights.) The Eagles were so close.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, tolerance does seem to be slow to take hold nowadays. And thanks for thinking of me Davy. Yes, a sad day here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but I can’t be too disappointed. The Eagles came close, Kansas City is just a really good team. I’m not sure that I can ask for much more! Thanks for checking in on me! Ha, ha.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for sharing your story about this class, Brian. Your professor sounded like he had a lot of experience teaching children to have open minds regarding differences in religion. The sessions you described sounded fascinating. What a great professor.

    I was born a Jew, but my family didn’t practice the religion (or any other faith). I was automatically put into ‘Jewish Scripture’ classes at school, but it was all about reading the Old Testament and learning Hebrew, but with no connection to current life. I remember being bored stiff. I’m glad your teacher made your studies far more interesting than that.

    As I got into my forties, I became a Christian and got baptised. The teaching at my church wasn’t dissimilar to that at school, and the Minister was very critical of anyone who didn’t live by his standards, which put me off the whole religion idea. I walked out of that church on the day that Minister told me that my Mum (a couple of weeks after I lost her) had gone to hell because she didn’t practice Christianity. I was devastated, as you can imagine. I know the Bible teaches that if you don’t come to Jesus before you die, you automatically go to hell. Personally, I don’t think any kind and loving God would reject a good person because they didn’t declare their faith. And I always believe that no one knows what the last thoughts of my Mum were before she slipped away. Perhaps, she came to Jesus just in time. Who knows? I’ll never know. Maybe, I will, too.

    I’m glad this wise professor of yours made the topic so fascinating for you and, no doubt, other children, too. I would have loved to have the opportunity to learn about various religions rather than simply having the Old Testament in Hebrew shoved down my neck. I never did get the hang of Hebrew.

    I did go through a stage when I learned Transcendental Meditation and practised serious Yoga. At that point in my life, I read quite a lot of the Bhagavad-Gita, although I have to confess, I can’t remember much of it nowadays.

    I’m afraid I don’t practice a religion at all these days. I think, if I had to choose to be one of the other, I would probably be a Buddhist. I like a lot of their teachings. Perhaps, I should look into learning more about their faith. I do, however, practise kindness and tolerance towards all people, whatever religion they have.

    Sorry for such a long comment (as usual) – your post triggered so many thoughts for me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your faith and learning along the way. I’m sorry I missed a couple of your recent posts. I’ve fallen behind, having spent the whole day writing a 3000-word essay today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh what a horrible thing for a minister to say. He doesn’t know. I would’ve left the church too. Ugh, I hate religious folks like that, they give a bad name to the faith (no matter what it is). And I know what it means to search for your faith, but I will say this, practicing kindness and tolerance towards all people is a very good thing. No problems with keeping up. I appreciate your comments and it sounds like you’ve been busy . . . that’s awesome. 3000 words. Wow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your kind understanding, Brian. There are many Christians who believe what that Minister said. He also damned to hell all gay people and those who were divorced. He also said that those who do evil still go to heaven as long as they repent before they die! I shall never go back to that church and would now find it difficult to go to any place of worship at all.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m really sorry Ellie. That’s a horrible things to have to go through. I’ve never been great about reciting verse to disagree with what he said, so I won’t go there. But I will say, if he really believed what he was telling his parishioners, you can still console the living and give them hope. You don’t need to tear others down to hold up the church. At least that’s what I was taught and believe. Jesus stood for love, not death and despair. (I hope that doesn’t sound too preachy. I’m sure it does. In any event, thanks so much for reading.)

        Liked by 1 person

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