Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Viewing World Religions Fairly

A room full of paintings by Claude Monet from a 2013 trip to the Art Institute of Chicago
Hey part-timers, it's the Part-Time Critic with some confident, but lightly held thoughts for you. I wanted to share with you today an insightful excerpt from a world religions book I just began reading by John Dickson. Dickson is a Christian theologian and historian. In the preface of his book he begins with a a critical question, "Can he and should he, a committed Christian, present other religions fairly?" I think it is a fair to extend this question to everyone, even non-Christians. Is there something about the personal nature of our beliefs that renders us unable to present other beliefs fairly and accurately?

I have personally witnessed all stripes of religions present terrible presentations of their perceived worldview opponents. I've seen Christians reduce atheists to moral monsters and atheists reduce Christians to unthinking sheep. I've witnessed Muslims caricature the Christian conception of the trinity and Christians paintbrush all Muslims as aggressive, dominant, and violent. We have all watched the media mangle and stereotype nearly all world religions. Sadly, I could go on and on with examples of how religious adherents diminish other religions through unfair and inaccurate presentations. 

John Dickson offers us an interesting and useful analogy for how Christians (and everyone I think) should approach their presentation of other world religions:

“Imagine yourself as an art curator who is convinced that one piece in his collection has an unequaled quality. What will you do? Will you dim the lights on the ‘competitors’ in the gallery and put the spotlights on your favorite piece? Of course not. That would be a sure sign you were not actually convinced about the special beauty of your treasured masterpiece. I mean, if you've got to obscure the other pieces in order to make your favorite look good, something is clearly wrong. A truly assured curator, that is, one with a deep confidence in the excellence of his prized item, would place all the gallery lights on full, confident that as careful art-lovers inspect the whole collection, viewing all the works in their best light, one painting, in particular, will draw people’s attention.

This is a little how I wrote this book. I am more than ever convinced that each of the world’s religions is a ‘work of art,’ worthy of a public showing in the best light. At the same time, I am also more than ever confident of the unique character of the Christian faith. I can think of no better way to help readers see that quality than to turn all the gallery lights on full and let you view the whole collection for yourself.”
I like Dickson's analogy of an art gallery. Every piece of art in a gallery should receive the lighting and framing it deserves to look its best. Christians should be confident that with every religion presented in its best light, the world will notice something different about ours. 

What do you think? Should Christians (and other religious adherents) strive to present all religions fairly and accurately, as a curator would a piece of art? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

2 comments:

Evan Christopher Weppler said...

It's a great analogy-- It reminds me of this quote- "You don't have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” – Charles Spurgeon. The truth can stand on its own two feet (or, following the lion analogy, four feet). This analogy though speaks more of the beautiful, the true, and the good that is found in the Christian faith. (And nice YouTube clip too!)

Kyle Leaman said...

Thanks for chiming in Evan.
Who would argue with Charles Spurgeon? Certainly not I!

Glad you clicked the Youtube link. I think I'm going to start putting little asides like that in my posts from now on. I really like it.

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