Voices of Faith: Should I study the sacred texts of faiths other than my own?

Arvind Khetia
Arvind Khetia

THE REV. BOB HILL, pastor emeritus, Community Christian Church: The simple answer is “Yes.” For any person yearning to live a truly relevant and authentic faith in an ever-changing world, the answer is “Absolutely, yes!”

Some people may regard the sacred texts of religions other than their own as detrimental or potentially damaging. But such thinking borders on superstition.

How poor is our faith and how weak our understanding of our own traditions if a Muslim is threatened by reading the gospel of John, or a Christian is threatened by the thought of perusing the Bhagavad Gita, or a Hindu is threatened by exploring the soaring rhetoric of the prophet Isaiah.

We are impoverished if the only sacred texts we read are the holy books from our own faith. Reading sacred texts from religions other than one’s own expands one’s worldview with surprising insights. For example, when Christians read the Qur’an, they discover that Mary, Jesus’ mother, is cited more there than in all the New Testament documents combined.

Further research reveals that Muslims, particularly in Turkey, highly venerate Mary and regard her as a holy person.

For Christians, the Hebrew Bible, what is commonly called the Old Testament, is not only recommended but essential reading for a fulfilling faith. The Psalms were Jesus’ prayerbook, and he continually referenced psalms and the prophets throughout his foundational ministry.

Sacred texts are the cornerstones of every religion worthy of adherence. And understanding the sacred texts of others is a crucial cornerstone for a saner and safer world.

ARVIND KHETIA, Hindu and an engineer: Now more than ever before, we are living in an environment where we come across people of different faiths. Ignorance about that faith can result in fear, hatred, intolerance and even violence. It is essential that one learns about other faiths, to foster an environment of understanding and mutual respect.

Reading the sacred texts of other faiths can be a challenging endeavor. To make such an endeavor easier, one might begin with a book like “The World’s Religions,” by Huston Smith or a similar compilation.

It is necessary to approach such a study with an open mind. This study should not be limited to the external aspects of religious doctrine and dogma only, as these vary and make every religion seem different. Despite those differences, when one understands the deeper spiritual aspects, one recognizes the point of union among religions and sees the inherent unity in diversity.

According to Hinduism, the study of a sacred text involves three steps: reading, then reflecting on what is read, then meditating on that reading to grasp the deeper spiritual meaning. The purpose of studying the sacred texts of any religion should be to help build one’s moral and ethical character.

Swami Vivekananda has stated that, “In building up character, in making for everything that is good and great, in bringing peace to others and peace to one’s own self, religion is the highest motive power, and therefore, ought to be studied from that standpoint.”

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