Sympathy for the Hymnocrite: Time to Change our Tune

Column by Rev. David M. Felten on 19 October 2023 0 Comments

Granted, some denominations have published “supplements” with more modern music, but way too many have also bent to internal denominational pressure and included a plethora of hopelessly counter-productive praise choruses.

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How do I respond to those who claim that their religion is way superior and truthful compared to another person's religion?


Dear David,

Religion has played a significant role on the world stage. It has profoundly impacted social justice movements like America's 1960s African American civil rights movement and fomented wars like the Spanish Inquisition (1478 - 1834.) Its Latin root - religio- means to bind and come together for a common good. However, religion has bound people around shared hatred, bigotry, and discrimination, resulting in theologizing of antisemitism, American Slavery, and White Christian nationalism, a.k.a Trump evangelicals.

People who believe their religion is superior and the absolute truth to the exclusion of all others are called religiocentrists, and it's analogous to ethnocentrism. This group, while usually small and not politically powerful, undermines a nation's ideals of a democratic society. They are traditionally Bible-thumping nationalists who are not proponents of separation between church and state and see themselves as patriotic and God's Chosen People. This group of people is intolerant, typically displays fanaticism when defending their beliefs and stances, and lacks respect for religious diversity of beliefs and practices.

However, conversing with this person might be challenging and transformative for you both.

It is essential to look for the reasons behind a person's beliefs, like their upbringing, especially if insular and homogenous, early family life rooted in a particular religious tradition, or a pivotal life event like tragedy, illness, or political or economic upheaval. Understanding why people want to live their lives a certain way makes engaging in conversation easier.

While it might be difficult for them to observe another faith tradition in person because it might be perceived as heretical and blasphemous behavior, it is essential to highlight that most religions- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and beyond- have similar core values. It's easier to respect all beliefs when it is understood that every religious person is working to be the best version of themselves.

Religions can coexist without trying to convert or position themselves as the true ultimate one. Celebrating the things in common and respecting the ways they differ is consistent with following their beliefs. And, in that exchange, an appreciation for a diversity of religious beliefs and practices might occur.

~ Rev. Irene Monroe




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