Having been indoctrinated in the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism, I have been taught since I was young to live in harmony with others. However, the often repeated line, “You’re Buddhist!? Do you rub his tummy?” signaled the difference between my friends and me. So far, I’ve tried to live my life with understanding and goodwill but I’ve often asked myself how it is that religion can be so different yet evoke such similar fervor and faith from so many?
As I’ve grown up, I’ve been able to balance my own religion with one that constantly surrounds me. With the majority of my friends being Christian, I still celebrate Christmas and Bodhi Day and feel no different from everyone else. Besides, who’s to say that Easter is better than Ramadan, for don’t all religions have their own stories and beliefs? Celebrations are not the only difference since I’ve been subjected to countless stories about my friend’s religious trips involving the annual trip to Mexico to build houses and the vacation-like houseboats. As I envied such escapade-filled activities for community service and fun, I slowly realized that my own seemingly boring religion was just as fulfilling despite its lack of fun bonding trips. Nonetheless, this contrast in faith was only an indication of the magnitude of trying to understand religious distinctions.
Religious leaders all over the world have asked questions about the plethora of violence due to religion. Focusing on one country, America is a melting pot of people bound by values that are deemed “American,” some of which are freedom, opportunity, and tolerance. These ideals are put to the test as religious persecution and discrimination run rampant. In 9-11, terrorists attacked because they believed that they were following their religion. In return, there were acts of violence across the country against innocent people, simply because they were Muslims and looked like the enemy. Not quite as catastrophic as an exploding plane, but just as effective, are simple derogatory comments directed at race and religion. They can come from anywhere, anyone, for any reason. These contrasting actions only show how religion can preach the same ideals but influence ideas and morals on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Though sometimes subtle, religious similarities are astounding, not only in theology but also they way in which people act according to their beliefs. Every year, there are hordes of people who turn out to make other’s lives better. These helpful people represent all religions and work to make the world a brighter place, regardless of any conflicting beliefs. I once worked in a soup kitchen to feed the homeless and chopping up vegetables with me, were three Buddhists, two Muslims, four Mormons, five Catholics and three Jews. If the world came together for a common cause and stayed together long after that, the biggest soup kitchen ever could easily support everyone.
This I believe: faith is universal. There is no need for war, fighting, or discrimination based on race, religion, or nationality. Everyone believes.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.