Improving the quality of interfaith dialog is necessary in our ever-shrinking world. Creating and maintaining positive interactions, however, can be challenging. The similarities of the world’s religions far outweigh the differences. Yet, when opinions and beliefs do differ, blood pressures begin to rise.
Left unchecked, an impulse to "defend the faith" may override one’s desire to follow the teachings of one’s faith. To combat this baser tendency to haggle — especially on social media — I come back to the following passage again and again.
“Do not allow difference of opinion, or diversity of thought to separate you from your fellow man, or to be the cause of dispute, hatred or strife in your hearts. Rather, search diligently for the truth and make all men your friends."
This passage from the Bahá'í faith reminds me to view the tense moments of a conversation as sacred. True religion, according to this view, is about kindness and unity, not “winning” arguments. Being argumentative, condemning the other, hurling insults at them or their beliefs; none of this relates to spirituality, only ego.
To “search diligently for the truth” while making a new friend is a worthy standard. Without humility, generosity and kindness, a real exploration of truth with another soul can't happen. Becoming defensive, being opposed to a legitimate exchange of ideas or insisting only on one’s own walled-off beliefs, stymies the search for truth.
To keep the conversation positive, avoid the all-too-familiar pitfall of debate. In a debate one takes a firm "position," supports only it, and criticizes the view of one's "opponent," To avoid this, avoid using a "tone" of insistence, and use statements that include "I believe" or "in my view." Then, try to understand the other person’s frame of reference in a generous, non-critical way. Ask questions, don't just make declarative statements.
The golden rule of kindness is the essence of religion — Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i and others. Some form of this teaching is found in all sacred texts. “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.”
As diverse world views continue to mix, how can I help? Embrace the reality of religious diversity, learn about them, use “I believe” statements, steer around argument or debate, stay open-minded, and most importantly make friends — even when your deepest beliefs are rejected. That will help the world.