Misconceptions about various religions have been present for a long period of time. Some of the religions that have been the subject to common misconceptions include Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. In this text, I address some of the misconceptions I had with Judaism and how they were altered via my encounter. Further, I amongst other things also discuss steps that can be adopted to minimize misconceptions individuals harbor in regard to other religions.
Judaism: A Concise Overview
According to Geldart (2002), "Judaism is the name of the religion that Jewish people follow." An analysis of Judaism is critical for purposes of identifying what those who subscribe to this religion value, the beliefs they profess as well as their practices. According to Faelli (2006), "Judaism is a religion that began about 4000 years ago in the Middle East." Although Judaism is widely referred to as the Jews' religion, it is important to note that the same is not practiced by all Jews. Indeed, many people find it hard to draw a line between Jews as an ethnic grouping and Judaism as a religion. With that in mind, it could be difficult for some to separate the religious opinion of a Jew from the actual religious position of Judaism. In that regard, making a clear distinction between Judaism as a religious system and Jews as an ethnic grouping would be a good place to start in seeking to understand Judaism, its nature and teachings. This could be regarded a case of distinguishing between personal religiosity with public religion.
In the opinion of Faelli (2006), "the Torah is the first five books of the Hebrew bible." The author in this case points out that in Jewish life, the Torah is regarded the holiest book. In basic terms, Jews just like many other religions believe that there is only one God. This makes Judaism a monolithic religion. A number of tenets are regarded core to Judaism. According to Geldart (2002), a vast majority of Jews believe that they are the chosen ones. In so doing, they hold the opinion that God made a covenant with them. Geldart (2002) points out that just like Christians and Muslims; Jews also regard the Ten Commandments highly. It is however important to note that in the modern day, Judaism does not have in place an exact or well defined religious dogma. This is largely because the religion lacks a centralized authority. As a result, within the realm of Judaism, there are a number of variations in regard to basic beliefs.
Over time Judaism has spread across the world. Today it is not uncommon to encounter a synagogue in a far off place as Mumbai. This expansion can be attributed to the spread of Jews across the world over time. As Faelli (2006) points out, many Jewish people have over the centuries settled in various places across the world. In his own words, the author notes that in the modern day, "there are Jewish people living in over 100 countries" (Faelli 2006).
In the past, I have harbored various misconceptions about other religions other than my own. However, my misconceptions are almost always altered by my encounters. Judaism is no exception. To begin with, I believed that Judaism was a religion of the Jewish people and hence nobody other than an individual of Jewish descent could join. In that regard, I was convinced that even if I did indeed want to convert to Judaism, I would not be accepted into the religion as I did not happen to be a Jew. However, my encounter effectively changed my view of Judaism as a religion of the Jews. Indeed, I came to the realization that any person from any religion, ethnic grouping or even race could convert to Judaism. The only prerequisite to conversion in this case remains a firm belief in the Judaism tenets. That effectively means that as long as an individual chooses to follow the teachings advanced by Judaism, he or she will be accepted into the Judaism fold regardless of his or her prior religious affiliations. Closely related to this, I also thought of Judaism as an ethnic religion. However, through my encounter, I came to the realization that just like any other religion, Judaism possesses significant cultural as well as ethnic diversification. Yet another misconception I had regarding Judaism was that the religion encouraged its members to live a life of hardship and desist from enjoying "the good life." However, through my encounter, I came to the realization that while Judaism encouraged its members to focus as well as temper their desires, it did not bar them from enjoying anything that life had to offer as long as the same was in accordance with the tenets of Judaism. Lastly, prior to my encounter, I considered Judaism as a rather backward and archaic religion. However, there is nothing in this particular religion that makes it archaic. Indeed, just like any other religion, Judaism can be viewed as being rather progressive. Over time, Judaism has undergone major transformations and as Kaplan (2010) points out, "the Judaism in Maimonides' time was as different from the Judaism in Ezra's day as Maimonides' world was different from Ezra's…" This statement brings out Judaism as a progressive religion. Further, unlike in the past, Judaism as I have already pointed out elsewhere in this text has spread to all corners of the world. This can be seen as a good thing as the same goes a step further towards the encouragement of religious diversity which will in turn help reduce religious intolerance.
In my opinion, people harbor quite a number of misconceptions about other people's religions. Just like I harbored some misconceptions against Judaism, people who are not well versed with other religions other than their own are prone to common misconceptions regarding other religions. Apart from Judaism, the other religions prone to common misconceptions include but they are not limited to Catholicism and Islam. For instance, one of the common misconceptions people have regarding Islam is that Jihad or what is in other quarters referred to as the holy way is permitted and indeed promoted by the Islamic holy book -- The Quran. This is however not the case. In this case, the misconception has been fueled by the tendency of some extremist groups to quote The Quran in an attempt to further their own agenda. When it comes to the Catholic Church, the church has had to contend with the common misconception that it encourages the worship of idols. However, the church has time and again made clarifications to the effect that it does not in any way either encourage or condone idol worship. These two examples are clear indicators that misconceptions about other people's religions are very much alive.
In my opinion, the prevailing misconceptions people have regarding various religions are as a result of a number of factors. To begin with, such misconceptions may be brought about by a narrow view of the world and by extension; religion. Next, such misconceptions can be as a result of what is referred to as religious fanaticism. In basic terms, religious fanaticism has got to do with an extreme and often excessive obsession with the ideals, beliefs as well as tenets of a given religion. A religious fanatic could for instance possess excessive devotion to his or her religion and as a result disregard any other religious viewpoint. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, ignorance or lack of sufficient information can also be blamed for the existence of common misconceptions regarding various religions. Unlike in the case of religious fanaticism where there is outright refusal to subject ideals from other religions to critical analysis, lack of information in regard to a certain religion could be as a result of a number of things including but not limited to lack of exposure to such information.
In an attempt to dispel or minimize the existing misconceptions individuals have regarding the religions of others, several steps can be taken. To begin with, schools should consider incorporating into their curriculum religious studies which address some of these misconceptions in greater detail. In my opinion, instead of concentration on only a single religion when offering religious study classes, efforts should be made to incorporate viewpoints from other religions as well. Such a step in my opinion would equip students with the necessary information required to handle the prevailing misconceptions about other religions. As I have already pointed out in the text above, one of the sources of such misconceptions is the lack of sufficient information in regard to other religions, their beliefs, nature as well as practices. Yet another step that can be taken to minimize the prevailing misconceptions in this case is the establishment of an interreligious forum charged with the responsibility of identifying, analyzing and responding to various misconceptions regarding various religions. In my opinion, such a body or organization would ideally comprise of representatives from all religions. Its primary duty would be…