Leap of faith to common ground

A Butte College instructor takes in different religions and finds we’re not so different after all

Rick Sheridan teaches at Butte College and has lectured at Chico State University and Stanford University.

Rick Sheridan teaches at Butte College and has lectured at Chico State University and Stanford University.

For background information about world religions, Rick Sheridan recommends two Web sites: www.theharmonyproject.org/sacredpaths and www.origin.org

For the past few months, I have been attending a different religious congregation each week, as part of my interest in interfaith dialog. So far, I have visited: Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan, Mennonite, Lutheran, Unitarian, Unity, Jehovah’s Witness, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Catholic and other places of worship, in both Chico and Sacramento.

The whole adventure started when I was in New Orleans last March and attended a Catholic Lent service. At that point, I decided to really explore other faiths and get a first-hand experience of what they are all about.

Up until that time, I had been attending the Unity Church in Sacramento, a church that is generally very tolerant to other faiths. What I have found by exploring these different religions is that they have many things in common. For example, the Golden Rule, or the ethic of reciprocity, is found in the scriptures of nearly every religion.

This “interfaith tour” really pushed me outside my normal comfort zone. While attending a Muslim service in Sacramento, I was called up in front of the 120-plus worshipers. This brought on anxiety for a few seconds; I didn’t know whether they were going to expect me to speak, evict me, or worse. Actually, they welcomed me and encouraged other members to greet me after the service. From what I have read, fewer than 5 percent of Americans have attended a Muslim service, yet nearly 50 percent have an unfavorable opinion about the faith.

The Hindu and Buddhist temples in Sacramento are amazingly beautiful. The Hindu temple had several large statues of their gods, such as Shiva and Gnash. The Buddhist temple had an altar with many lovely tapestries, carvings and other artifacts. On the other end of the spectrum, the Shinto and Mormon places of worship were simple in their design.

I believe that many of the problems in the world are directly related to conflict between various religious groups, and that it is vitally important to have more tolerance today. One of the main areas where conflict occurs is in the literal versus metaphorical interpretation of key religious passages. Any group that takes its beliefs to the extreme, that thinks it has a corner on the truth will be more likely to see everyone else as sub-human or “infidels” and quickly brand them as enemies.

Someday, I would like to design a religious hybrid, with the social consciousness of the Unitarians, the passion of the Pentecostals, the health awareness of the Seventh-day Adventists, the middle way of the Buddhists, the ritual of the Catholic Church, and so on. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to explore the wonderful places of worship in this area and find out for themselves that each has its own unique perspective on the world.