I was at church once and the pastor was telling us a story about his son’s Christian college class trip to Asia. On this trip they were invited to go inside a temple, and his son and friends said no way. Why would we go inside a religious building for someone other than Jesus? And as this man was telling the story, he was laughing and sneering at the idea that Christians would ever want to go into a place like that. “Why would we want to honor a false god?”
I’m cringing just remembering it.
There is a difference, obviously, between worship and respect. There is so much to admire and appreciate about other religions and their buildings. White Christians have a long history of going into foreign countries and ridiculing and destroying other belief systems and cultures. It is frustrating when you see that still happening, and realize that fundamentalism discourages the development of common courtesy.
On the other hand, it’s really cool to see the opposite play out. I find other cultures fascinating. There is a Bollywood movie I like called Delhi 6, and in it they have a play depicting the story of the Ramayana that included Vali, the monkey king. A religion with a monkey king? What’s not to love about that? So I bought a couple of kids books about it. I wanted them to know the story and appreciate and respect it. But because we weren’t in an area that had a heavy Indian or Asian population, it was for our own enrichment and awareness.
This year however, my son started doing quiz bowl in an area where there is a heavy Asian and Indian presence. And at one of his very first meets, his team had a few questions on Hinduism, and the team seated across from them was all Indian. You could see they were dying because it would have been easy points for them.
But I noticed they were watching to see if these white boys knew anything about their religion. World religion questions pop up fairly frequently at these meets, and yes, part of studying world religions is to score better.
But for me, there is an extra incentive when you are sitting face to face with people of varying skin tones and beliefs, because the underlying question is ‘do you respect my culture enough to learn about it?’
It’s one thing to learn about other cultures in abstraction. It’s another when they are right in front of your face and the answer is ‘no, sorry, I haven’t bothered to learn anything about what is important to you.’
Part of being unfundamentalist is learning from and appreciating other people and other beliefs and learning to respect people’s differences. It’s recognizing that there is truth and goodness in their ways of being, and that it doesn’t make us better to think differently – it just makes us different.
So, because this week was the start of Ramadan, and I came across this article about it, I thought I’d compile a few more resources about learning and helping our kids learn about other religions.
Barefoot Books – I love their world cultures section.
9 questions about the Muslim holy month you were too embarrassed to ask.
The Prince Who Ran Away: The Story Of Gautama Buddha
Celebrate: A Book of Jewish Holidays
Under the Ramadan Moon
Stories of the Prophets in the Holy Qu’ran
Prince Siddhartha: The Story of Buddha
How Parvati Won the Heart of Shiva
Sammy Spider’s First Shavuot
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors
Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha
The White Nights of Ramadan
Storied Myth – an app a friend from high school created
The five major world religions – TED Ed Lesson
Lesson Planning Ideas: The World’s Religions