“Ask a Priest: Is It OK to Explore Other Religions?”

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Q: What does the Bible say about exploring other religions? I don’t want to put it out like I’m questioning God and his glory, but I’m curious as to what else is out there. And I’ve also realized my willingness to hear about others and their faith. I just want to know if this is normal and if the Bible speaks on this at all? – K.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The Old Testament certainly dissuaded the Israelites from getting involved in the pagan cults around them. Messing with pagan religions brought immense problems to Israel.

Yet, Our Lord himself was willing to enter into dialogue with the Samaritan women (John 4), whose own beliefs differed from the Judaism of her day.

Catholics aren’t absolutely excluded from studying other religions. Various Catholic scholars, for instance, have become experts on Islam and Buddhism and other religions.

The important thing here is that you don’t expose yourself to things that will make you doubt your own faith. Is there a reason you are “curious as to what else is out there”? As Catholics we have an obligation to protect and nourish the gift of faith.

If you feel compelled to study other religions, it might be good to do so through the works of Catholic writers who are solid in their own faith and who can put things in perspective.

A few examples: Inside Islam, 111 Questions on Islam, On Islam, “Comparing Christianity and Islam,” “Comparing Christianity and Buddhism,” and “Comparing Christianity and Hinduism.”

The Catechism gives perspective on other faiths. Two numbers are worth quoting here:

No. 843. The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”

No. 844. In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them: “Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.”

Also helpful might be a forthcoming book from my colleague Father Bartunek, “Spiritual but not Religious: The Search for Meaning in a Material World.”

I hope some of this helps.

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