DARE TO ASK: Hey kids, ours isn't the only religion

By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union

Question

Do most Christians encourage their children to explore other religions?

Lauren, 18, atheist, San Antonio

Replies

From my experience as an ex-Catholic, no. It seems most religions . . . think they're right, and everyone else is wrong, and if you believe even parts of another religion, you're going to hell. A religion like that would not promote an open-minded approach to worldly religions.

Derrick, 19, Maple Grove, Minn.

It's important to have a basic understanding of other religions, but . . . we only are told to "explore" when our current religion does not seem right after much deep thinking about it.

George, Catholic, Jacksonville

True Christians know there is only one way to eternal life: belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because no other religion adheres to this teaching, true Christians not only do not encourage their children to "explore" other religions, we actively discourage it!

Melody, 43, Missouri

Since Christians believe that not believing in Jesus will lead you to hell, most Christian families would be horrified at the idea of their children looking at "those other" religions.

Dina M., Chicago

Experts say

Studies do suggest that members of more strict denominations would be less likely to encourage their kids to go on a binge of religious exploration, according to Stephen Merino, research associate at the Association of Religion Data Archives at Pennsylvania State University.

As one might guess, people of more liberal faiths, for example Unitarian Universalists, would likely be more open to their kids learning about other religions because they value free expression, he said.

However, nothing in life is simple, now, is it?

Al Winseman, specialist in religion with The Gallup Organization, says what's most important to look at is how deeply committed one is to one's faith, regardless of denomination.

Surveys by Gallup have found that, generally, the more "engaged" people are in their faith, the less threatened they are by other religions, the more open they are to actively seeking to know about others' religious traditions, and more likely they are to feel respected by and respect those of other faiths.

For example, Gallup found in 2004 that among members who felt a strong sense of belonging in their congregations, 61 percent were "integrated" - wanting to know more about others' faiths. But among "actively disengaged" members, only 27 percent had an integrated view.

What's more, Gallup found that nearly 90 percent of Americans have a "live-and-let-live" stance toward those of other religions.

Misconceptions about who's tolerant and who's not often can be traced "to a difference between leaders' viewpoints and the person in the pew," Winseman said. "There's a gap there. Tolerance doesn't make the news. Intolerance does."

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.