Giving Thanks for Other Religions

Giving Thanks for Other Religions June 29, 2014

I recently came across a blog post which mentioned (unfavorably) the existence of prayers giving thanks for religions other than Christianity in the Book of Common Worship used by the Presbyterian Church USA. Here’s an example (pp.409-410):

For World Religions

We thank you, God of the universe,

that you call all people to worship you

and to serve your purpose in this world.

We praise you for the gift of faith

we have received in Jesus Christ.

We praise you also for diverse faith

among the people of the earth.

For you have bestowed your grace

that Christians, Jews, Muslims,

Buddhists, and others

may celebrate your goodness,

act upon your truth,

and demonstrate your righteousness.

In wonder and awe

we praise you great God.  Amen.

Can you give thanks for traditions other than your own? I’ve learned a lot from other religions – Sufism, Taoism, and atheism spring immediately to mind. How would you express your appreciation for what you’ve learned from another tradition in a formal way? Here’s how theologian John Macquarrie did so, by extending Hebrews 11 (which I quoted here some years ago, from his book Jesus Christ in Modern Thought:

By faith Mohammed, when he saw the people of Mecca degraded by idolatries, brought them the message of the one invisible God who is righteous and merciful.

By faith Gautama Buddha, when he had perceived the damage done to human life by undisciplined desires, taught the multitudes of Asia to restrain desire and learn compassion for one another.

By faith Krishna brought the presence of the high God among the hosts so that they might know God cares for them.

By faith Confucius, living among the warring states of China, had a new vision of the blessings of rationality and sought to build up human relationships in accordance with the will of heaven…

And what more shall I say? For the time would not be sufficient to tell of Gideon and of Barak, of Zoroaster and of Lao-tzu and of Nanak, who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, quelled agressors.

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  • Michael Wilson

    Part of my reason for not identifying as Christian is the value I find in other religious tradtions. I think that Christians could find a lot of wisdom in them, and I encourage attempts to intergrate them into Christian religion. However, I think one ought not to whitewash the distinct features of other religions to make them all co-compatible. They have their own ideas about meaning and salvation, and while I like yo think of religions as architectures, so long as it serves as a house the style doesnt matter, they do have exclusive ideas. Buddhist and Confucian ideas have long lived together but their ideologies couldnt be further apart.

    And if we praise Muhammad for freeing Meccan’s from “degrading” idolatry, we are passing a rather negative judgement on a religion that is not much differnt from the Krishna worship we are also praising and giving offence to all the many other peoples in the world that practice “degrading” polytheistic and animist religions which I also find a lot of value in.

  • Pearly1

    Spirituality at its core transcends religion (the outer expression or outgrowth from an initial spiritual experience). True spirituality is universal. Therefore I am grateful for the myriad ways people around the globe are pointed toward the transcendent inner reality where one may discover that we are all connected, all one, all children of the divine Source.

  • Guest

    Yes, yes, all us polytheists are degraded idolators… no room in your prayer of thanksgiving for us… I guess “inclusiveness” has its limits after all…

    • For some, this may be true. In my case, I have also learned a great deal, and found much that I appreciate, in Hinduism, and so I can give thanks for polytheistic and not only for monotheistic religions – and of course the meaning of “monotheism” and which religions if any truly fit that description is itself highly debatable.

      • I agree with your statement here. I am not that certain, but isn’t one of the tenets of Hinduism that although there are many gods, they are all one?

        • Yes, that is an emphasis in modern Hinduism, particularly the Advaita Vedanta school of thought, which regards all things as ultimately one, and so is arguably more monotheistic in one particular sense than religions which posit one God over against everything else.

    • Michael Wilson

      To be fair, the Presbyterian prayer doesn’t have the reference to idolaters, just the reimagined verse from the theologian.

      Guest, you have a point about inclusiveness, and I think a lot of people that push for ecumenism miss it. Their embrace of other faiths strikes me at times of being glib and superficial. Often the message seems to be, “I embrace Islam and other faiths so long as they agree with my faith, and I say they do”. Maybe Macquarrie does think that polytheist worship statues and have a valueless religion that should be stamped out, but I suspect he just wanted to say something nice about Mohamed and was willing to accept the caricature of an idolater from the Koran as fact and not imagine that the people who worshiped Pagan gods at Mecca might have their own valuable spiritual traditions.

      This delves into another topic James touched on here, respecting other religions. For many people that ask for respect of other faiths, it seems that what they are doing is translating other faiths into their own value system and saying they respect that but disrespect faiths that actually disagree with their world view. A while back I read an article blasting a clergyman, I’m not sure of the faith, I think it was Jewish or Christian, for saying that members of the other faith were heathens destined for damnation. I thought at the time. Isn’t that most religions? is it news that a pastor thinks that people will go to hell if they don’t think XYZ about Jesus? Clearly I would disagree with that position, but for me respect for another’s belief is not to say I think it is compatible with my own, but that I respect your right to believe it. I’m not going to harass someone that doesn’t think Jesus was a worthy person or thinks I will go to hell without Mohamed so long as they treat me civilly and lawfully. That to me is respecting other beliefs, treating them civilly as other members of the community, not treating their beliefs as really just extensions of my own.

  • Atheism a religion!?