Krister Stendahl, a Swedish theologian and previous dean of the Harvard Divinity School, set forth what has come to be known as The Three Rules for Religious Understanding. I have summarized them as follows:
1 – If you want to understand another religion, talk with its believers, not its enemies.
2 – Don’t compare your best to their worst.
3 – Leave room for “holy envy.” Be open to feelings of deep respect as you explore other faiths and actively seek elements of these other religious traditions that you might incorporate into your own faith.
As a seeker of religious understanding, I have found great success when following this simple formula and I always appreciate when others apply it when learning about my faith.
I think all too often, when dealing with deeply rooted and cherished religious beliefs, we feel the need to constantly emphasis the “rightness” of our own church. To be sure, interfaith education does not necessitate leaving our own convictions at the door, but it does require an open mind and heart if anything of worth is to be gained.
I love how this balance is described by Maurio Properzi in an article he wrote entitled, ‘Learning about Other Religions: False Obstacles and Rich Opportunities’. If you have some time, I would HIGHLY recommend reading it. Click here for a link to the full article.
While speaking to a audience of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), I think his comments are just as relevant to any devoted religious follower. He states,
“I base my remarks on a firm conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ generally requires balance between true principles such as balance between a sympathetic approach to other faiths and loyalty to one’s own, and balance between openness to learning from the “religious other” and the ability to share Mormonism’s truths in love.”
He goes on to say,
“There is obviously a need for balance between the recognition of the light and truth that can be found in other religions and a personal commitment to the unique and all-embracing truths of Mormonism. To be sure, finding this balance may be challenging, and in this context we do not need to look too hard to find examples of two very different kinds of excesses. On the one hand, overzealousness and skewed conceptions of loyalty close the door to dialogue with the “religious other,” thus allowing prejudice to reign supreme. On the other hand, radical liberality of thought reduces all differences among faiths to naught and gives rise to conversations built more on fears of offending than on desire to learn and to be challenged. Latter-day Saints are not immune from the difficulty of finding an appropriate balance. Yet Mormonism advocates equilibrium, and the gospel may be rightly viewed as a harmony of correct principles that ought to be kept in fruitful tension with each other. It is then balance between the faith’s exclusive claims and its liberal recognition of the general goodness of religion that allows Mormonism to be both particularist and inclusive. When we fail to live in this tension and do not experience this balance, we risk losing the full perspective of the restored gospel.