I’ve always loved studying different religions. It started when I was first grade and started studying the religions of the ancient Egyptians and Aztecs. It carried over into high school, when I became fascinated with the pagans of the pre-Christian British Isles, and it got even worse when I took Florida Southern College’s Myth and Legends class.
My fascination with different religions—from the classical myths to the inscrutable totems of Göbekli Tepe—has raised many eyebrows. After all, I do live in a part of Florida that seems to have a church for every neighborhood (sometime two), and I was raised by very devout Christian parents. But I would hazard to say that more Christians should study other religions, and that they do themselves a disservice if they do not.
This idea hit me forcefully the other day while I was reading a translation of the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text dating from the fifth to the second century BCE. In it, the warrior Arjuna and the god Krishna are together on a battlefield. The two have a long conversation wherein Krishna teaches Arjuna about his duties as a man, about life and the nature of life, about Krishna as God himself, and about the nature of the universe and man’s place within it. Many of Krishna’s teachings are remarkably similar to many of the teaching we Christians also embrace. His descriptions paint a portrait of a God very like our own—omniscient, omnipresent, unchanging, at once loving and just—and Krishna offers many lessons that would not be out of place in our neighborhood churches.
Many of my friends and family would likely be aghast at the suggestion that Krishna’s teachings mirror the teachings found in the Christian Scriptures. But if one considers Romans 1:20, which says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse,” one can not discount the idea that all men have, in some way, glimpsed certain aspects of God. If we take Romans 1:20 seriously, we should expect that those glimpses are evident in different religions.
And yet so many become defensive at the thought of learning about the religions of others! Tension between religions are the root of conflicts all over the world, and are the basis of much fear and discrimination here in the States. To you Christians who are reading this, I would urge you to pick up a translation of the Bhagavad Gita, or a copy of some of Joseph Campbell’s books, or a primer on world religions. You won’t agree with everything. You don’t have to. But you will learn more about the other people in the world, you’ll understand more about humanity, and you will see, here and there, a glimpse of God, of his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.