Posted by: Andrew | January 20, 2015

Why Similarities are so Divisive

‘Of course we all believe the same really’ These words that seem so innocuous are the reason why so many Christians give up on interfaith work at the first hurdle (they may also cause problems for people of other faiths but I can only speak for Christians here). Why on earth should these words of inclusion cause a problem? Surely the problem is that we spend too much time on our differences and not enough time exploring and affirming our similarities? Let me try and explain. The simple fact is that we don’t all believe the same things. we have lots in common and I find increasing numbers of similarities and resonances between faiths that are inspiring, interesting and hopeful. But at the same time I’m also increasingly aware of the significant differences between what we believe and the impact that has on our understanding of God, humanity, the world and the relationships between and within all these entities. Learning to live with and negotiate our differences seems me one of the highest callings of dialogue (if that’s not too pretentious a term). Many people I know go along to a dialogue event or visit a place of worship of another faith and one of the first things people say to them is ‘We all believe the same don’t we’. This puts them in a difficult dilemma, do they say ‘Yes’ for the sake of peace and harmony  but feel that they have somehow betrayed their faith or say ‘Well no we don’t’ and risk sounding rude or starting an argument within two minutes of entering the room. I know that some people express the belief that we all believe the same as they genuinely think we do, others as they believe it to be a welcoming and friendly gesture. I think it’s important to recognise that often people are saying this to put us at our ease and we should accept the statement in the manner in which it is meant. My response when people say ‘We all agree’ is to acknowledge that there is lots we agree on but that there remain significant differences and discussing those in a friendly way is what I find so interesting. So if someone says this to you and you feel uncomfortable, don’t be anxious. Accept their friendship and have the confidence to politely acknowledge the many similarities and admit you think there are some differences – which can be discussed another day. And if you’re the kind of person who says ‘We all believe the same’ next time pause and think about how the person in front of you will feel. Perhaps saying ‘There’s so much we have in common’ might be easier as it’s likely they will be able to agree.

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Responses

  1. Thought provoking. And leaves me wondering, ‘well, do Christians all believe the same thing really?’.

    • Good comment Simon. We too often assume that everyone in our church, community, group or whatever believes the same as we do without taking the time to find out.


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