Back to School: Learn About a Religion #30DaysofGOOD
In 2010, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, published Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World's Religions Can Come Together. One idea the book posits is that improving our collective understanding of all religions is a way to a more peaceful coexistence. In a New York Times op-ed Gyatso published around that time, he shared some additional thoughts.
Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. … [M]utual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers—it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.
Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton takes a different tack (but explores some compatible ideas) in his recent book, Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion. In a CNN editorial he wrote to accompany his "Atheism 2.0" TED Talk, de Botton says that even secular people stand to gain from being more open to learning about and understanding the world's religions.
The real issue is not whether God exists or not, but where one takes the argument to if one concludes he doesn't. I believe it must be possible to remain a committed atheist and nevertheless to find religions sporadically useful, interesting and consoling -- and be curious as to the possibilities of importing certain of their ideas and practices into the secular realm.
Keeping all that in mind, your task for this weekend is to set aside some time to learn about a religion that you aren't at all knowledgeable about. It makes no difference what your personal beliefs are, the idea here is to become more familiar with the traditions and worldviews of others.
A great place to start is the BBC's Religion website, which offers a treasure trove of resources for learning about religion. Be sure to check out the comprehensive index of the world's major belief systems (including atheism), which you can use to explore each religion's history, customs, and notable figures. There are also lots of podcasts, videos, and interactive guides.
Then spend some time at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. There you'll find the esteemed Pew Research Center's surveys, analysis, and work in exploring the role of religion in today's world. There's even a section of the site devoted to the relationship between religion and this year's U.S. presidential election.
Ultimately, the best study guide of all might just be a friend or associate. So you get bonus points if you complete this Back to School task by reaching out to someone with a different belief system than yours and having an in-person conversation with them about it.