About Corazon

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holy Envy

A Challenge to
All That Believe

Krister Stendahl, the Late, great Professor of Theology at Harvard, once gave a sermon in which he outlined what he believed were the three rules of religious understanding. They are:

1.When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

2.Don't compare your best to their worst.

3.Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)
The phrase "holy envy" is one that caught the attention of many, and the idea is one that I agree with 100%. Too often, people of faith get caught up in the finger-pointing game. For whatever reason we can sometimes believe that "exposing" the negative aspects of other faiths will somehow add legitimacy to our own belief system. And though I agree that all religions need to be dissected and deserve serious scholarly scrutiny, sometimes I think we can forget that all religions are essentially striving for the same thing: to make people better than the sum of their parts.

For this reason, I would like to issue a challenge to my fellow blog buddies. At some point during this holiday season demonstrate your "holy envy." What are some of the things that you like in other religions? What do Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Muslims, etc. do on a regular basis that you would like to adopt into your personal life? What would you like to see your own religion do better?

Of course, nobody is asking you to compromise on your beliefs. Faith is a very personal and intimate aspect of life. However, if you cannot see the good in other belief systems then perhaps you are looking at the wrong things. Having "holy envy" for specific practices/beliefs of others is, perhaps, the only occasion in which God will be OK with you being covetous. Take advantage of it!

With this in mind, here is my "holy envy" list (in no particular order or preference).

Islam: The Masters of Prayer
I think we all recognize that Islam has unfortunately gained an undeserved reputation in the Western world. Too many people associate being Muslim with being an extremist, a terrorist, a radical, and/or a heathen. These stereotypes are, of course, based on fear and ignorance. Reality is that Islam is a beautiful faith with much to be admired. The Qur'an is a wonderful holy book chalked full of insightful, inspiring messages that are worthy of our respect.

For me personally, the thing I have admired most about Islam is their INCREDIBLE devotion to prayer. In my opinion nobody does it better. For Muslims, the practice of prayer ("Salah" which means "connection") is fundamental to their faith. The Salah is one of the 5 Pillars of Islam and is arguably the most fundamental component (along with reading the Qur'an) of what it means to be a Muslim. The Salah requires Muslims to pray at least five times a day at specific times. Each of these prayers has a unique purpose that brings the believer closer to Allah. Of course, Muslims are encouraged to pray more than just those five daily occurrences, but the five "required" prayers illustrate the emphasis that Islam has on prayer. Needless to say, Muslims make prayer as much of their daily routine as drinking water. How many of us can say the same? As Sura 2 (Al-Baqara), verse 238 states:

Guard strictly your habit of prayers Especially the middle prayer, and stand before Allah in a devout frame of mind.
What fantastic advise!

I have actually had the opportunity to pray with a group of Muslims during one of their daily prayers and it was an experience I won't soon forget.

Hinduism: If It's True, It's True
The Western world can sometimes misunderstand/misrepresent Eastern religions, and Hinduism, being one of the largest religions in the East, is no exception. What I love about Hinduism is that it doesn't obsess about "being right" like so many Western faiths. Too often religions in the Western world will attack one another in an effort to discover who is "more true." In addition, Western religions do, on occasion, have a hard time accepting certain truths (i.e. science) which appear threatening to their respective doctrine. Essentially, the division between Western religions and Hinduism can be summed up this way: Western religions sometimes let their religion stand in the way of truth, while Hinduism doesn't let truth stand in the way of religion.

Some may see this approach as being too doctrinally liberal. After all, Hinduism is far less restrictive than other faiths. But Hinduism isn't about doctrine but about the individual's approach to God. Hinduism insists that all of humanity (and all religions) are striving for the same God, just in a different way. The important thing is to put one's life in harmony with the divine through meditation, tolerance, etc. It's emphasis on the individual's unique journey as opposed to strict doctrine allows Hinduism to fully accept scientific discovery and adapt to a changing world. In short, Hinduism simply strives to cling to truth, regardless of the source.

Catholics: It's a Matter of Reverence
A lot of people see the Catholic faith as outdated, too conservative or too superstitious, but nobody can doubt that Catholics are the best at showing sober, sincere reverence for the divine. The liturgy of the Catholic mass is saturated with solemn reverence for both God and the Eucharist, as are all of the significant days of their liturgical calender. Yes, you probably won't find upbeat Christian rock music coming from their churches but that is what makes the Catholic faith so special. It insists upon the individual demonstrating his/her quiet, heartfelt respect for God through solemn ritual and purposeful repetition.

Too often the modern day "disciple" wants to be "entertained" when he/she goes to church, and too many churches today are more than willing to compromise on this matter. Catholicism, however, has managed to maintain their quiet reverence in the face of a changing (and evermore loud and obnoxious) world. As a result, Catholicism has not forgotten one of the most important aspects of religion in general: church isn't about you, it's about God.

Jehovah's Witnesses: A Religion of Action
We've all experienced it. You lie in bed on a Saturday morning, happily smiling at your alarm clock as you bask in the knowledge that the busy work week is over and you can finally sleep in, when all of a sudden..."DING DONG!" Who could possibly be knocking at your door at 7:30 in the morning! And what to your wandering eyes should appear when you open the door? Those darn Jehovah's Witnesses!

Yes, we all may get irritated from time to time when our weekend slumber is disturbed but have you ever tried to see it from their perspective? Are you not amazed at incredible devotion that so many JW's have for their faith? After working a busy week themselves, the JW's get up bright and early in the morning to spend the weekend sharing their faith with anyone who will listen, usually meeting with anger and scorn from those "Christians" they have "disturbed."

As a former missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I can sympathize with those JW's who know first-hand just how hard it is to knock on doors and talk to people, most of whom are furious to see you at their door (they act as if knocking on their door is the same as desecrating a loved one's grave). But what is amazing about Jehovah's Witnesses is that they don't proselyte for only two years (as Mormon missionaries traditionally do). They do it for their entire life. Getting out and sharing the "good news" is in their DNA. To be a Jehovah's Witness is to be a hard worker, and very few religious people can out-work a JW!

Judaism: You'll Never Keep it Down!
Most Christians have a healthy respect for Judaism. The religion essentially serves as a father figure for Christians. After all, without Judaism you wouldn't have Christianity!

But what most Christians don't stop to ponder is the fact that the Jews are TOUGH AS NAILS!!! Has any other religion been through the hell that they have? Time and time again the Jews have faced violent opposition that has threatened their very existence. And despite all of these terrible atrocities (almost too many to mention) the Jews are still going strong. What the Jews would call "routine discrimination" would likely break other faiths. Judaism is the epitome of fearless faith in the face of evil. It is the refiners fire of affliction that has put grit in their teeth and made them some of the most resilient people on the planet. There's no doubt in my mind that Judaism is the embodiment of the phrase "when the going gets tough, the tough get going."

Evangelical Christianity: Scriptures and Patriotism
I'll admit that I have, from time to time, knocked Evangelical Christian beliefs on a few points that I don't agree with. And though I will likely never embrace their belief in America being a "Christian Nation" or their rejection of evolution, I cannot deny that Evangelical Christians are second to none in their appreciation of scripture. Their love of the Bible and its teachings have inspired a countless number of Evangelicals to live a more Christ-like life.

In addition, I believe that Evangelical Christians tend to be some of the most patriotic people you will ever meet. In consequence, they unapologetically defend this nation in the face of ridicule and scorn. Evangelical Christians enthusiastically show their love and support of God and country in such a way that their zeal has become incredibly contagious. As a result, they have improved the lives of millions in their communities. Having lived in Colorado Springs (a very Evangelical community) I have seen with my own eyes how a love of God's word and country can bring about beautiful change in a community. In essence, Evangelicals have followed the admonition of Christ to "let your light so shine."

In short, I am grateful for the wonderful lessons that are to be learned from the diverse approaches to religion that each religion embraces. I realize that I didn't mention every religion in this post (there are so many great faiths that have much to be admired) and my omission is by no means a judgement against them. Aside from groups like Scientology or the Jonestown cult, I believe that having "holy envy" for the practices/beliefs of others can only serve to help build bridges of understanding and increase one's personal conviction in the divine. For these reasons, I am personally very grateful for the prayers of the Muslim, the truth-seeking of the Hindu, the reverence of the Catholic, the work ethic of the Jehovah's Witness, the resilience of the Jew, and the patriotism and love of scripture of the Evangelical. It is my hope that I can better incorporate these teachings/beliefs into my own life and worship. God knows I need the help! =)


Deb's Big Hunk said...

wow those are some of the nicest things I've heard you say about a evangelical christians. those are some good points. I do think we need to point out the benefits of each religion, even and especially the daily conversation with other religions. thanks for sharing those good points.

Grant Hart said...

I couldn't agree with you more! Light and Truth is Light and Truth no matter the banner it may be under.

Andreas said...

I've always admired the JWs, they relentlessly share the Gospel putting most Christians to shame.

Revolutionary Spirits said...

Krister was Dean at Harvard Divinity when I was a studying there. I didn't know him well, but he seemed to exude scholarship, sincerity and a genuine interest in the students, even those like myself who were rather young and unfocused. Thanks for reminding me of his notion of holy envy. It's a different way to think about how differing faiths can complement each other.