In the opening years of the millennium it has become even more obvious
that inter-religious dialogue is not a leisure time activity: it
is a matter of survival. There are at least nine reasons why Christians,
particularly, should study, rather than either ignore or dismiss
other world religions:
1) In an increasingly pluralistic society people of
all faiths are neighbors. (You know what Jesus says about our responsibility
toward the neighbor.)
2) As a purely practical matter, since we're all going
to work, study, and play together with people of different faith
traditions, we'd better understand who it is we're relating to and
what they believe.
3) Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, among others, are,
like Christianity itself, an important part of the culture and history
of the world. Learning about these and other world religions is
simply a part of being a well informed citizen of the world.
4) Religions are often involved in situations of dire
conflict that could affect your life in important ways, as became
abundantly clear when the US invaded Iraq. It's impossible to understand
events happening on a global scale without taking into account the
role of various world religions.
5) Your personal faith may actually grow wider and
deeper as a result of encountering the religious other.
6) World religions are fascinating and fun to study.
Learning about them is part of the joy of discovering what it means
to be human.
7) If you are convinced that it is your calling to
convert people of different faith traditions to Christianity, understanding
where the "other" is coming from is the best starting
point for communicating what you believe.
8) If you are convinced that the Bible contains the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then you ought
to be confident that in the free marketplace of ideas, those truths
will stand the test of comparative shopping. Comparing the Biblical
text side-by-side with texts from other traditions allows people
to see for themselves which teachings ring true.
9) People of faith are in a far stronger position
in a largely secular society if they stand side-by-side with an
attitude of mutual respect. Denigrating those of other religions
only serves as evidence of what our critics often charge: that religion
by its very nature leads to conflict and even warfare in the human
The religions of the world: who are they; what are
they; where are they located. Here is a helpful table and map ranking
them by membership statistics, showing their relative size, their
locations, and more. The Top Dozen Religions of the World
CrossCurrents magazine has assembled a list of the
most informative Internet resources concerning world religions,
including Christianity. All of the sites under each heading are
among the very best on the Net.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.