I ran across an online article about how "Religion and faith can be good for you." It is an interesting read and mostly got me thinking about how difficult it is to have a conversation about religion among those of divergent opinions.
I'm in sales (yes, you've been warned) and many good sales people will tell you to stay away from two topics: politics and religion. It is a tricky minefield - talking about politics and religion. It isn't the same as discussing an alternative driving route from home to work. We are very willing to listen to something that might lessen our commute or make it more enjoyable, or at least give us an alternative if traffic is bad. Not so much with religion.
Part of the challenge is that many of us consider the route dictated by our religious path a single path to a singular destination. There is only one way to get to the one place. What is more, we tend to be rather cautious about considering that our route might not be THE one. It is understandable, in part. If the metaphorical alternative is a ride that will take you off a cliff to your death - exchanging religious ideas might be dangerous.
The part that doesn't make sense to me is that historically speaking, we have all been down the wrong path. There isn't a religious tradition or denomination that hasn't, at one point or another, driven full throttle over the cliff all the while insisting that it was on the right path. Consider - the crusades, the US Civil War, Civil rights, and any number of pseudo-political religious actions.
However (and this is a really BIG however), what about the value of open mindedness? What about the momentary suspension of one's personal convictions in order to hear, understand and perhaps learn from a contrary point of view? One of the greatest freedoms available to us as citizens of the USA is freedom of speech - yet, we seem to be among the last to freely exchange ideas and contrary opinions without going all fisticuffs on each other.
While in college, I was vehemently opposed to atheism. The thought of disbelief in God and all of the trappings of my personal faith was appalling and, well... terrifying to me. Somehow I had thrown up a wall around my mind and if the conversation turned to anything that smacked of atheism, I was gone - as fast as my little doctrinal legs would carry me.
One day a religion professor - a educated, kind and openly Christian man - suggested I take the risk and talk with one of the better known atheists on campus. He suggested I NOT talk with him with the intent of changing his mind, but rather seek to listen and understand why and what he believed. I forced myself to listen, to ask questions and allow myself to hear another point of view. At one point he said, "I don't believe in God." Seeking to be open, I asked him, "Tell me about this God you don't believe in." He talked for an hour or more . When he was done I could honestly say to him, "It is interesting. I don't believe in that god either." When spent many hours together over the following years talking about our personal beliefs and similar hopes and fears. He never came to believe as I did (perhaps he did admit a few times he had grown to be more agnostic than atheist), and I never lost my faith (although I did learn some difficulties with my beliefs). We would both agree, however that we were better because of the friendship.
Perhaps there is something to fear in the failure to listen to others of different beliefs and traditions - that's scary!