Religion. It’s brought people to love and to hate each other for centuries. I’m not sure if anyone knows exactly how many religions there are in the world but there are the prominent faiths, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and some may even throw in Atheism for debate. There may be hundreds, possibly even thousands of religions and faiths out there. With so many different people and religions in the world, is it possible for there to be religious respect? Is it possible for us to truly coexist?

I think that the first step of learning to respect religion is defining what it means. According to Merriam Webster, religion has a couple of different definitions. One is the “belief in a god or a group of gods” and another is organized “system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods.” That’s easy to understand in the general sense of things, but I think it’s more important to define what religion means to you personally. What does it mean to you and where does it factor into your life if at all?

If you’re going to adopt some sort of religion or spiritual practice into your life, you want to be knowledgeable about it. When we learn more about something, it can increase the level of respect or the reverence you have for it. For example, I personally don’t practice Hinduism or Taoism but while I was in undergrad I took several courses on Eastern religions just because it interests me. Just understanding even the little bit that I do about Hinduism and Taoism has increased my openness to it and my respect for those who practice it, whether it is a practice of mine or not.

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Ask questions. We all know someone who is of a different spiritual background than ourselves. Have a discussion, note the word “discussion” and not “debate” about your friend’s belief system. Teach them about yours. Who knows, you guys may feel just a little closer afterwards. One of my best friends practices Islam, also not a religion that I practice, but I’ve learned a lot about her as a person and her culture just through asking questions and I respect her religion and culture.

Let’s recap and take a step back to the definition of religion. It’s a “belief.” We all have those, religious or not. I say this to remind you that no matter what beliefs people hold, they are still people. Yes, religion can tell you a lot of things about people, what some of their values are, how and why they live their lives a certain way, why they dress, walk, and talk the way they do, etc. Let other people have their own spiritual compasses. I’m pretty sure that just about every religion includes love somewhere in their doctrine. Try practicing more of that. When you read the news and you hear about all of the hate and division in the world, it seems that we forget that we’re supposed to love too. The next time you look at someone and want to judge them based on their beliefs or tell them where they deserve to spend eternity, remember that on a basic level they are just like you.

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Guess what, whatever belief system you have is full of fixed constructs. You’re not going to go back and change that Noah built the ark or that Buddha achieved his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. People believe in what they believe in. It’s certainly important to stand up for those things but at the same time understand that it may be different from what you value. At the end of the day, religious respect doesn’t even have to come down to respecting religion per say. It’s really a matter of being able to honor the fact that there are ideas and people who are not the same as you.

If you ask me, coexistence is about all of us, all of our seven billion different selves, living together in the world and treating each other with dignity, respect and love.