Friday, August 17, 2007

Six World Faiths

Cole, W. Owen ed., Six World Faiths (Continuum Books London, 2004), 352 pages

W. Owen Cole is a founder member and past chairman of the Shap Working Party of World Religions in Education. Shap Working Party encourages study and teaching of world religions at all levels. Its aim is to produce accurate information and resources for those involved with religious education and religious studies. Cole coordinates the writing of this book by asking six experts to contribute a chapter on his or her own religion. Cole himself wrote the chapter on Christianity.

The purpose of the book is to introduce to what is considered to be the most important aspects of the six major world religions. Each religion has a chapter to present this. The writers are believers of their particular religion, thus we are provided an insider’s view for each religion namely Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. The book is written for British reader of different faiths or even to those who have no “faith.”

The book is a good source of information about these religions. A chapter is dedicated to each religion that includes the information about their origins, its founder or founders or the absence of it, its scriptures, its society and family structures, its practice and ethics, its religious practices and customs, its festivals and celebrations among others. What makes this book perhaps different from other religious study is that it does not present a comparative study to Christianity or any other religions which is understandable because it does not promise anything like it for the readers. Perhaps it is also its strength; each chapter is not written from a Christian perspective except for a chapter on Christianity. As a result, there are no judgmental or condemning remarks which are very common in other books about religions written by a Christian author.

What makes this book interesting, I think is the inclusion of a section on what is the status and relevance of each religion today. They present what is the latest development and what it contributes to the modern society.

Except for Christianity, we will notice that there is no effort for each religion for self-criticism. But that is understandable since perhaps each writer finds it unnecessary to do so. But Cole in his chapter on Christianity issues a challenge for believers to be more open, accepting of other religion. He also believes that for Christianity should take efforts to make itself more relevant in the future. He states what I believe makes our faith unique among other religions. He says, Christianity is not a collection of beliefs, or series or ritual activities, it is a living relationship with God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Cole is hoping that this book will help in the on-going dialogue among the world religions. The process of dialogue begins with believers knowing about their own culture, beliefs, practices and values. This does require neither dogmatism nor spiritual immaturity. Dialogue is possible only if one party is willing to listen to what other religions are saying and what they believe. Christianity is always guilty of being only wanting to teach and has nothing to learn. We are prone to making a value judgment or comparisons. It is uncomfortable for us being criticized for what we hold dear and we should not do it to others as well. In conversation with other religions, we should learn to hold our judgment.

If you want to have a deeper knowledge about the world major religions, I highly recommend this book. This is a good resource for teachers, theologians, missionaries or to those who just want to learn about different religions. It gives us an insiders view and a chance to listen to what they are saying.

As a missionary, it gives me a lot to think about. I learn from reading this book that adherents of other religions are always suspicious of Christians because they feel that we are out there to convert them to Christianity. They know that Christian organizations doing social works or another are out there to convert them. And they are weary of that. For these religions conversion is unthinkable. However, it is good to note that there is place for Jesus Christ in every religion. For example, in Islam Jesus is considered to be one of the prophets. In Buddhism, Jesus is one of those who became the enlightened one. For Hindus, he is one of the avatars. Is it possible for persons of other religions to become believers of Jesus within their religion? This question is subject of debate among missiologists and theologians.

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