Respect in Religion
How to converse respectfully about religion, how to share your religious beliefs in a respectful way that will help others to feel comfortable.
Sometimes it seems to me like some people take for granted that religion is an inherently controversial or divisive subject. I do not believe this. I think that how a person approaches their religious beliefs, and how they present them to others, has a huge impact on how other people respond to them.
On this page I will explain how I think people can share their religious beliefs in a respectful manner.
Have you ever experienced someone who seemed to be pushing their religious beliefs on you?
Has someone ever been pushy enough that it made you uncomfortable?
Sharing Your Beliefs vs. Forcing Them on People
Examples of the distinction between positive sharing, and aggressive or pushy approaches that can be harmful
Forcing your beliefs on someone sounds like a bad thing, right? And sharing your beliefs sounds perfectly acceptable. I think most people would agree with these two points...but the problem is that people do not necessarily agree where exactly to draw the line between positive sharing of beliefs and disrespectful or obnoxious pushing of them on other people.
What exactly is the difference between these two things? Here are some examples of key distinctions that I think of:
- Sharing uses "I statements" and keeps your beliefs personal rather than putting them forth as universal truth. Sharing your beliefs might be saying things like: "I believe in God." or "I don't agree with everything that the Catholic church teaches." Pushing your beliefs on others aggressively might be saying: "God doesn't exist." or "The Catholic church is the one true church." or "The Catholic church is wrong."
- Sharing involves listening and interactively conversing with a person rather than talking at them. If someone is asking you questions about your faith, then it can be great to talk about it. But if you repeatedly bring up the topic of your religious beliefs when people don't ask, and you keep talking about them at length when other people have made clear that they're uncomfortable, you're being too pushy.
- Teaching your children about your religion is a great way of sharing your faith with them; forcing them to participate in ceremonies they don't want to is forcing your faith on them. There is nothing wrong with raising your children to have an awareness or familiarity of the religious traditions and teachings that you believe in or practice. This can enrich their lives and help their spiritual journey. But as children get older, if they voice that they are not interested in participating in certain activities, and you force them to by punishing them or even expressing disapproval if they don't, then you're forcing religion on them. It is very important for people to discover and embrace religion of their own initiative.
How often do you talk to people about religion who have different beliefs from yours?
Talking to People With Differing Beliefs
How to converse respectfully with people from different religious backgrounds and with different belief systems
If you take the right approach, it can actually be relatively easy to converse with people who have radically different religious views from your own. Some tips that I find are as follows:
- When someone says something you disagree with, ask them to explain themselves. Often, people seem to disagree not because they have fundamentally different beliefs, but because they use language in different ways. For example, people might use the word "God" to mean different things, because they believe different things about the nature of God. When someone brings up a point that doesn't make sense to you, ask them to explain and delve deeper--you may find that you agree with a lot of their underlying explanations, but even if you don't, you'll understand them better.
- Look for common ground. You won't ever agree 100% with what someone else believes, and this is especially true when talking to people with different belief systems. But if you focus on common ground, you will likely find that you develop a richer connection with the person and become better able to keep your dialogue positive.
- Be assertive about your own disagreement without forcing it on the person. When someone says something that you disagree with, it is okay, and even sometimes important, to be up front about the fact that you disagree. But you can do so in a way that respects the other person's perspective. Don't say things like: "You're wrong." or "That's wrong.", but instead say: "I don't agree with that; I think..." or "I think about this differently...I believe..."
- Be mindful of context. There are times and places where religious discussion is more or less likely to offend. Repeatedly bringing up religious topics in a secular workplace is likely to strike people as pushy, whereas the same way of presenting the same ideas might be perfectly acceptable in a group oriented towards religious discussion, or even a casual or personal conversation with a friend.
If you sense that someone seems defensive, you can emphasize that you respect them as a person and respect their beliefs even if you don't agree with them. You can also express that you are grateful to them for giving you the opportunity to talk to them about their beliefs. You can also focus on common ground and try to steer the subject to points where you agree with them.
Two of my videos in which I explain how to disagree respectfully (left) and in which I explain the distinction between personal religious beliefs and official organizational stances (right)
When People React Negatively To Respectful Sharing
It's possible that you can be fully respectful, but people will still take offense--don't take it personally!
Religion can be a sensitive topic, and if you talk with enough different people, it's almost inevitable that you will encounter a situation where someone takes offense even though you did your best to be fully respectful of their views.
Don't take it personally when this happens! In these situations, it is important to remember that you are not responsible for other people's reactions, and that just because someone reacts negatively does not necessarily mean that you've done something wrong.
Does this mean it's good to stop talking about religion (even with this particular person)? Not at all! I think it is important to challenge people. Just because someone gets upset in the moment doesn't mean that they are going to stay upset. My experience is that if you are consistently respectful to someone, and don't take it personally when they get upset, most people will quickly get past this feeling so that you'll be able to have a more constructive dialogue with them. You may even be helping them to work through some of their own issues.
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