#19. Attend a service or rite of a faith tradition that is not your own

IDEA #19. Attend a service or rite of a faith tradition that is not your own

Religious traditions are one of the most powerful forces affecting human behavior and values, and the last decade has amply demonstrated the degree to which the failure to comprehend and respect the beliefs of others can trigger disaster. Few nations of the world are home to as much religious diversity as the United States, and few peoples should have as much incentive as Americans to explore and come to terms with different faith traditions. The author remembers very well being taught in school that “polytheism” describes the religion of the ancient Romans and Greeks—but never being informed that it also describes the belief, for example, of hundreds of thousands of American Hindus, some of whom have been near neighbors.

Worship services are commonly listed in local newspapers and on the Internet, but the smallest and most esoteric of religious bodies may schedule and communicate the times of their services or ceremonies by word of mouth only. In some areas public Native American Indian gatherings include aspects of worship, and indigenous religious festivals also take place in many immigrant communities.

It should go without saying that attendance at a religious observance ought to involve a mindset of respect and openness. While it may be that the observance itself includes language that sounds exclusionary, it is the obligation of those in attendance to listen and watch with an open mind and an open heart, following as much as possible whatever members of the faith may be doing.

It should also be mentioned that the nature of some religious traditions is to seek new adherents. While many religious bodies welcome newcomers openhandedly and without expectation, the young person (and any adult chaperone, for that matter) attending a religious observance needs to be cautioned as to signs that he or she is being targeted for conversion. It might be well to have a practiced exit line to use if the situation becomes in any way uncomfortable. While it is unlikely that such a thing will occur, it is important that young cultural explorers, whether they are participating in a religious exercise or a noshing in a restaurant, know when it is all right to curtail the exploration and return to more a secure setting. But is more important for this young explorer to develop the capacity to experience cultural difference with positive equanimity and not apprehension.

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