This I Believe About Religion in the United States

Melissa - East Lansing, Michigan
Entered on December 11, 2008

I believe that in the United States, our lack of knowledge and understanding about religions other than our own has caused religious differences to become a divider among us. I firmly agree with Diana Eck in her book, A New Religious America where she presents her theory on pluralism. Pluralism is actively working with people that are different from us, while attempting to understand them, but not necessarily agreeing with their beliefs. In her book, Eck makes the case that in order for us to experience true pluralism in this nation, we need to go to different religious sites and meet the adherents of those religions. She argues, and I believe, that these experiences with the religious traditions and relationships with members of those religions cultivate understanding, and are the only ways to have true unity with people of different religious groups than our own. Without these two essential ingredients, our religious differences will always form barriers between those of us with opposing beliefs, and we will never be able to effectively connect with the people that are different from us.

I have witnessed this to be true in my own life. Before taking this class on religion, I often found myself avoiding or shying away from people with different religious beliefs than my own. It is true that I did not understand them or think that I could relate to them because of our differences. I could not imagine having anything in common with these people that seemed so opposite from me, and therefore, had no reason to talk to them. Furthermore, I was afraid to talk to them because I knew nothing about them or what they believed. My ignorance and unfamiliarity caused me to intentionally separate myself from both the religions and their adherents.

However, through visiting different religious sites and meeting members of those religions this semester, I have found my comprehension and respect for those religions and the adherents of those religions to have increased tremendously. I now openly welcome conversations and even relationships with people of different religious groups without hesitation or apprehension. I feel a sense of familiarity and confidence when walking into an Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist site that I never would have thought possible before now. I watch as the knowledge and understanding I have accumulated about other religions melt away the walls that had separated me from so many people my whole life. My experiences in this course have begun the process of my individual pluralism. These experiences have started me down the path of engaging with people of many religious groups and intentionally visiting their sites in an attempt to fully understand both them and their religion, rather than avoiding them altogether. This is a path I continue to follow in the future and encourage others to follow as well.