I was born and raised Catholic in a suburban, largely white, largely Christian town called Castle Rock, CO. I think at the time, I would have liked to say that I was comfortable with diversity and knew how to interact with people who might be different from me. Reality was different, as I had never really dealt with differing belief systems and had never been close to anyone who didn’t believe in God, let alone the Christian God.
Attending Gonzaga University has allowed me to experience a process of enlightenment when it comes to religion. I have made quite the assortment of atheist and agnostic friends as well as know several people who belong to eastern religions. Alongside that, this past summer I studied abroad in Muscat, Oman, in which Islam is the official religion.
All of these experiences collectively have taught me quite a bit about diversity in religion.
First off, it is important to fundamentally see people as human beings before categorizing them into a religion. We might not be able to relate in our core beliefs but we CAN relate on the everyday experience of being human.
Secondly, it is essential to approach religion with an open mind. When I first entered college I was incredibly defensive about my beliefs and tried to shield myself from people who might challenge me. I don’t think it was until sophomore year when I became close friends with someone who was atheist that I came to understand the validity and beauty of their beliefs. This trend seems to continue as I continually learn about other people’s religions.
Thirdly, being in the Middle East actually seemed to enrich my Catholic faith, as the more I began to understand Muslim beliefs and practices, the more I was able to apply and understand certain beliefs and practices in my faith.
Ultimately, it’s important to understand that there is beauty everywhere and in everything and everyone. The real challenge then is to overcome the boundary of differing religious beliefs by acknowledging the humanity of each person you encounter, and then going into conversations with that person with the goal of learning from, and appreciating what they have to say.