Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
Religion is and always has been a central aspect of my life, although the reasons for its prominence have shifted greatly over the years. A brief knowledge of my background is necessary to understand how I came to be interested in building relationships with those whose traditions differ from mine. I was raised in a very conservative, traditional Mormon household where I was taught that I was very blessed to be born into the one true religion on earth. Every religion, I grew up believing, had some truth and some goodness, but none had the fullness of truth that was contained in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To be honest, I never questioned this belief at least partially because I was never personally exposed to any other belief system or its adherents. I truly didn’t realize that there are other ways to look at the world and humanity’s place in it. However, as all young Mormon men are required to do, I served a two-year full-time proselytizing mission for the church. I was assigned to southern New Jersey and while there I interacted with people of many different persuasions: Protestant Christians, Catholics, orthodox Jews, reformed Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Baha’is, agnostics and atheists. Although my goal was always to convert them to my own beliefs, I greatly enjoyed meeting with and learning from other people. My horizons were expanded and I began to realize that my “othering” of those whose beliefs were foreign to me was unwarranted.
After my mission I returned to Brigham Young University and began studying biblical languages and history in-depth as part of my ancient Near Eastern Studies major. I am now continuing these studies in a doctoral program at Brandeis. As I have studied both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament I have realized how much both Judaism and Christianity have changed over the centuries. In many cases the original context and meaning of a biblical passage is quite different from how various religious groups interpret them now. Further, my study of the history of religions shows that religious movements generally grow out of prior movements and that religions mutually influence each other. Knowing this has helped me to see why certain religions and philosophies believe and practice what they do. It is learning about the history and beliefs of others that bridges the chasm between people with differing ideologies. Knowledge breeds understanding and cooperation. My scholarship and my personal beliefs have both benefited from working with and learning from those of many religious and philosophical persuasions. The result is that the ethical and doctrinal superiority that I once felt has been replaced with respect, admiration, and, in some cases, emulation. My desire is to share what I have learned with others so that we can all live richer and more peaceful lives in our pluralistic society. Ultimately, although we differ in belief, we need not differ in our mutual respect for one another.