Interfaith Misunderstanding in America

Interfaith Misunderstanding 1

It’s been a great year for interfaith misunderstanding in America.

There was a U.S. senator’s wild allegation about Islamic extremists infiltrating the American government.

There are the ridiculous — and ongoing — claims about a conspiracy to “impose sharia law in America,” starting in Kansas and North Carolina, of all places!

And then there’s the persistent myth — like many other myths, strangely popular among Fox News viewers — that Barack Obama is a Muslim, accompanied by the belief that being so, if it were true, would be a scandalous thing.

Then there were debunked claims — purveyed by the website of a Christian organization ostensibly pursuing justice — that the Muslim Brotherhood was crucifying their Christian opponents. The post is still up, with the words “Stop Christian Genocide in Egypt” prominently displayed.

And then there’s the perpetual news about the latest hijinks of this or that crazed pastor, imam, rabbi or priest who — despite their different traditions — manage to mirror one another’s stellar misunderstanding of “the other.”

Muslims, of course, feel the heat of these misunderstandings. The Sikh community feels it as never before.

Whatever our faith tradition, we all should take the dangers of interfaith misunderstanding seriously because all of us — Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, agnostics, everyone — are affected.

Interfaith misunderstanding is a contagious disease. Misunderstanding among “us” begets hostility against “them,” and hostility against “them” begets more hostility, which eventually circles back against “us.” As the global fever of interfaith hostility rises, everybody potentially finds himself in somebody’s crosshairs.

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But beyond practical reasons for countering interfaith hostility with interfaith benevolence, there are powerful moral reasons for doing so.

For me, as a Christian, at the core of my faith is the call to love my neighbor as myself. Jesus makes clear that my neighbor is not merely my sister or brother — someone like me who likes me. From his Sermon on the Mount to his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes the audacious claim that my neighbor includes the stranger, alien, outsider, outcast and even enemy.

But I notice among many of my fellow Christians a strange and deep-seated resistance against this clear teaching of Jesus. It’s as if we think he was a little overly idealistic on this one — so we’d be better to stick with something more realistic: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”

I’ve been researching and writing on this subject for a long time now, and I have a new book out today that grapples with it in depth and detail: “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World).” My conclusion is — among my fellow Christians, and I imagine in other faith communities as well — that interfaith misunderstanding flows from misunderstandings within our own faith. When we fail to understand the dark sides of our own history, the heart of our own doctrines, the purpose of our own liturgies and the thrust of our own mission, we will project our misunderstandings on our neighbors of other faiths.

In other words, hostility doesn’t begin when we encounter the other. It begins when we’re gathered together among us. It’s an identity thing. The path to greater interfaith understanding begins in a fresh reformulation and deeper understanding of our own faiths. Those of us who have a voice in each of our faith communities can become agents, activists and examples of that better understanding.

Brian McLaren is an author and speaker who recently published a series of e-books regarding The Word of the Lord to… Democrats, Evangelicals and Republicans. His next book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, released September 11th.

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About the Author

Brian McLaren

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren is an author and speaker who recently published a series of e-books regarding The Word of the Lord to… DemocratsEvangelicals and Republicans. His latest book is, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World.View all posts by Brian McLaren →

  • Drew

    Nothing against Brian, but RLC Editors… I would appreciate if this blog wasn’t used to advertise books.

    • Allie

      I like knowing when RLC bloggers have new books out, and what they are about. I especially appreciate knowing what motivates an author to write what they write, and where they intend the book to take us as readers. I have purchased a number of e-books based on plugs or reviews here on RLC, and it has been enriching. I live in a small town with mostly very right-wing thinking, so it is refreshing to be able to come to RLC and find out about things that would never be brought to my attention otherwise. RLC is where ideas are exchanged, and books often contain so many of many more of these ideas than can be expressed in bits and pieces in a blog. Now, if they were plugging the lastest and greatest kitchen slicer and dicer wham-wow or whatever, then I would take issue. :)

      • Drew

        If you like knowing when they have books coming out, check the signature line underneath the article – everyone plugs their books, websites, social media links there. I check out those links frequently. What I am against is using the articles themselves as book advertisements.

  • Frank

    For a Christian In order to love someone as you love yourself you must love them with the word of God demonstrated through the life,death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Remember the first commandment. So loving a stranger, a neighbor, an enemy is about loving them with the love of Christ, not Mohammad, Buddha or anyone else and allowing them to think anything different is not loving. So love comes with sharing your faith you cannot divorce the two. They are not mutually exclusive.

    So yes there is no reason to hate others, criticize others, demonize others but Interfaith relationship cannot be loving if we do. Oohing to introduce them to the love of Christ and show them that Jeus is the only way.

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