“Buddha was not a Buddhist.
Jesus was not a Christian.
Muhammad was not a Muslim.
They were teachers who taught love.
Love was their religion.”
These words are on a poster that hangs in the hallway near my office door at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County. And it’s true: Jesus was a Jew, Buddha was a Hindu and Muhammad was born into a tribe that worshiped several gods and goddesses.
It is also true that all three taught love and compassion. They were accepting of people who were different, and neither one of them ever taught or condoned violence.
Their religion was love.
It is incredibly sad, in my opinion, that for centuries, even millennia now, folks have used their religion as an excuse to gain power and riches. The crusades in the Middle Ages were not undertaken to convert the heathens in the Holy Land to Christianity — no, the true motivation were the treasures to be found in the ancient cities of the Mediterranean. The Islamic State does not engage in acts of terrorism to convert people to Islam, its real motivation is power, the desire to rule over as many countries as possible.
This is important for us to realize, and to keep in mind when we meet people from other religions. All world religions are peace-loving. Yes, there are violent people in all religions, but the vast majority are just like you and me: striving for a reasonably happy life, being able to have safety and security for their families and themselves. Anyone who uses his or her religious beliefs to hurt other people — physically or emotionally — is not religious, is not a true follower of Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha.
Today, more than ever, it is important to first and foremost practice tolerance when we meet others who are different from us. All of us want to live in peace, want to be in loving relationships with each other. However, most of us are aware that consistent and enduring tolerance is but a dream.
So, many of us try to use alternative words instead of tolerance: maybe acceptance? Or, embracing? Or, maybe even celebrating? Like, “I accept your different beliefs,” or “I embrace your unique culture” or “I celebrate your distinctive traditions.”
This sounds really good to me. And all of these words work really well with the people whose opinions and beliefs we agree with. But alas, we run in to big bumps when we meet people who appear to have very different ideas and values.
Jesus had some very clear words to say to this topic. In Luke (6:32/38), you can hear him say, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” I think that’s sound advice, just as true 2,000 years after it was said.
Of course, it is a lot easier to “love your enemies” if you know them better. So I would encourage you to approach your neighbors who look, act, speak and eat differently from you, and start a conversation. Try to learn about them, form a relationship. Or, go to the library (or on Google) and research different religions, different cultures. I can guarantee you that with an open mind and an open heart you will find many commonalities, as well as fascinating differences.
Get involved in interfaith activities, for example with the Interface Initiative of Centre County, or with Global Connections. Learning about, and interacting with folks with different religious beliefs will open up pathways to new relationships — which will lead to a much better chance for a peaceful life together.
The Rev. Gabriele Parks is the transition minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County in State College.