Recently, I was in a public space and overheard a conversation that was obviously intended to get my attention. Two young people, who seemed to have a problem with organized religion, were having that “Why are there so many religions?” conversation.
Since they were speaking so loudly and seemed to want me to hear them, I joined the conversation. “I know,” I said. “I feel the same way about restaurants. Bluffton has more restaurants than any other business. Why can’t we all come together and agree? All we really need is one, fantastic Italian restaurant.”
Those young people laughed and walked off. I was glad they got my point and were not offended.
My response was more serious than one might expect. Our religions are one method we use to feed our souls. Most of us have favorite foods, comfort foods, holiday foods and special occasion foods. There are some foods we prepare only when we are sick. There are others we eat if a certain cook prepares them. Some foods we eat because they taste good. Others we eat because they are good for our bodies.
My father died almost 10 years ago. Since his death, I have added one of his favorite junk food items to my diet. I know it is not the most healthful food, but it reminds me of my dad.
There are parallels between these food categories and our faith traditions.
Without getting into all of the doctrinal questions, I think we can agree that how we worship, where we worship and when we worship are very personal matters that reflect our diversity and uniqueness. The rhetorical question, “Since there is one God, why are there so many religions?” misses the point.
There are so many religions because people – not God – are so unique. Our faith traditions, just as our cuisines, capture our history and culture and transmits them to future generations.
I, too, hold the view that most of our faith traditions grew out of petty disputes and disagreements. However, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Our various faith traditions serve a much larger purpose. They do reflect our disagreements, but they also reflect the wonderful smorgasbord of human diversity. I find great benefits in the wide variety of faith expressions.
A friend of mine frequently says, “God writes straight with the crooked lines of humans.” God used our misguided efforts to produce a wonderful buffet of faith traditions.
A few years ago, my beautiful wife and I took a walking restaurant tour in New Orleans. In a few hours, we were able to sample dozens of foods. In our modern, multimedia world, we can sample or worship with a wide variety of faith communities on any given day.
Imagine how boring life would be if we all sang the same songs, in the same tempo, prayed the same prayers, heard the same sermons and worshiped in the same way.
I am glad we have a wide array of faith communities to explore and to enjoy.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.