Experience the divine

Rick Sheridan teaches at Butte College in Oroville

In recent months, I’ve been attending a different religious congregation each week as part of my interest in interfaith dialog. I’ve 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 adventure started last March, when I attended a Catholic Lent service in New Orleans. At that point, I decided to explore other faiths and get a first-hand experience of what they are all about. I’ve found that these different religions have many things in common. For example, the “Golden Rule”—the ethic of reciprocity—is found in the scriptures of nearly every religion.

This “interfaith tour” pushed me outside my comfort zone. While attending a Muslim service in Sacramento, I was called up in front of the 120-plus worshipers. This brought a few seconds of anxiety, but they welcomed me and encouraged 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.

Sacramento’s Hindu and Buddhist temples are amazingly beautiful. The Hindu temple had several large statues of their gods, while the Buddhist temple’s altar had many lovely tapestries, carvings and other artifacts. At the other end of the spectrum, Shinto and Mormon places of worship were simple in their design.

I believe that many of the world’s problems are directly related to conflict between various religious groups and that more tolerance is of vital importance. A main area of conflict is in literal versus metaphorical interpretation of key religious passages. Any group that takes its beliefs to the extreme and that thinks it has a monopoly on truth will be more likely to see everyone else as sub-human or “infidels” and quickly brand them enemies. Someday I would like to design a religious hybrid: 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.