On Admiring the Religious Other
THE FAITH DIVIDE
Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. His blog, The Faith Divide, explores what drives faiths apart and what brings them together.
On Admiring the Religious Other
Brother Wayne Teasdale was like a character out of a movie, a cross between Zorba the Greek, St. Francis of Assisi and the mad scientist from the Back to the Future series. He would give twenty dollar bills to homeless people on the street, evenly discuss politics with mentally ill people in coffee houses, gaze deeply into the eyes of dogs and, with complete sincerity, pronounce them"very spiritual", a declaration which alternately pleased and alarmed their human owners.
I met Brother Wayne when I was a young teacher in Chicago, a few months out of college, trying to make sense of faith identity and activism. He took my youthful confusions seriously, and I loved him for that.
That Brother Wayne seemed so clear about his identity amazed me. He was a Catholic monk with a PhD in Philosophy who had spent years studying at Hindu ashrams in India and was now entering a serious theological dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His apartment in the Catholic Theological Union complex was filled with pictures of Jesus, CDs of Indian meditation music and books on Buddhism. When he lectured on Zen koans, he often had a rosary with him.
Didn't he see these things as mutually exclusive, contradictory? Not at all, he would tell me. He was a Catholic monk who had learned a great deal from Hindu philosophy and Buddhist practice. He was interested in the similarities and the differences — both enlarged his Catholic commitment. Buddhism's non-theism expanded his understanding of God. Hinduism's diffuse authority structure gave him a deeper appreciation for the Vatican.
Brother Wayne reminded me that many of our most significant Abrahamic religious leaders — Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, Badshah Khan, Martin Luther King Jr. — had a deep admiration for Eastern spiritual traditions.
Of course, admiration sometimes comes about in unexpected ways.
There is a great story about a Christian missionary who goes to India to convert Gandhi, promising his congregation that he will introduce the Mahatma to the Bible and Jesus. He is surprised when Gandhi professes love for both, saying that he read the Sermon on the Mount when he was a young student in London, and it reignited his interest in faith.
Gandhi was a proud and devoted Hindu, but he did not feel that his faith commitment to one tradition meant he had to denigrate others. In fact, to Gandhi, insulting other faiths was a violation of the Hindu ethic.
When this missionary returned to the West, his Christian compatriots eagerly asked him about Gandhi's conversion.
The missionary responded that the most Christ-like person of the 20th century was an Indian Hindu.
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