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Lead with Curiosity

Since beginning my podcast, I have spoken with a wide variety of people – by design. It’s been a fascinating guided tour through individual faith practices and experiences across three major world religions –Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Along the way I have discovered many engaging comparative questions, particular experiences, and open questions. Today, I’d like to consider how curious people are about others: Are they open to new ideas? Have they stayed with the beliefs from childhood or considered other views and either incorporated elements or rejected them completely?

My guests have spanned the spectrum, from those who believe that only they have the path to God, on one end, while those at the other end believe that all religions, within bounds, are equally valid paths to God. In comparative religion and interfaith circles, the former belief is considered “Exclusivist,” while the latter is deemed the “Pluralist” view. The “Inclusivist” hews the middle path, maintaining the Exclusivist view that there is only one correct path to God while also acknowledging value in other traditions.

Full disclosure: I sit in the Pluralist camp. While some ideas or practices may seem odd to me, I do not judge or criticize. Rather, I probe to understand: How does the guest live their beliefs? What changes have they made as they have interpreted their faith for themselves? I believe that for religious beliefs to be meaningful, they need to be alive. Cultural or religious practices, scripture and family traditions are valuable, but holding onto beliefs or practices simply because that was how you were raised or what scripture says is, in my view, not the way. I believe that thoughtful reflection and learning about other ideas are healthy antidotes to blind faith.

Each of us can learn and reflect, whether the scope is solely one’s own religion or denomination or includes other religions. The part that I struggle with is that, given the complexity of the world and the recurring conflicts over difference, a narrow view limits understanding and can lead to religious intolerance and hate. Examples include the current campaigns in America to ban books in public and school libraries, cancel Drag Queen Story Hour events, and block trans kids’ access to appropriate health care. For me, the fervor of these campaigns by a few very loud voices prompts a question: What are they afraid of?

“Difference doesn't mean hatred or anything. Difference can be okay. I think that's powerful."

Mutual respect for the range of beliefs and ways of living a life is crucial in a pluralistic society like the USA. As Zachary Davis commented in the Bonus episode “Religion in the Public Sphere”: “Difference doesn't mean hatred or anything. Difference can be okay. I think that's powerful."

While bridging differences of belief can be challenging, an open dialogue and exploration of meaning benefits us all. In my podcast, hearing my guests’ stories of commitment and transformation stretches my understanding of faith and practice. I am prompted to think more deeply about why I believe what I do, what triggers my discomfort, and how I can continue to hear the other person clearly despite feeling unsettled.

My encouragement to listen more closely to others is a plea to everyone, liberal and Orthodox alike. I speak from experience. Many years ago, I realized that my liberal acceptance was not honest; that I was accepting only of other liberals. That was a bitter realization, but it challenged me to become open to other viewpoints. Accepting does not mean liking. It means allowing others to live as they choose, again, with the proviso that they do not harm others. I don’t have to agree with, like or take on those beliefs.

"There's so much to learn from one another. We just have to listen.”

I’ve heard this willingness to accept other views from some guests who are more conservative religiously. For example, in the last Bonus episode with Zachary Davis, I was impressed with his mix of commitment to Mormonism and curiosity about other ways, due in part to attending and working with Harvard Divinity School. In discussing the importance of learning about other traditions, he spoke enthusiastically about attending different services, commenting:

“Religious communities are just amazing and interesting. And as you learn what sacred values other groups have, you'll start to appreciate why they may think the way they do. Read their sacred texts – super easy. ...There's so much to learn from one another. We just have to listen.”

I encourage us all to lead with curiosity. We can all become complacent, set in our points of view and the correctness of our position. It is a challenge to talk with someone holding another perspective. It takes effort and humility, the willingness to admit you do not have a corner on the market about an issue. What point of view do you find odd, different, or strange? What steps could you take to listen and learn?

Click here to listen to Zachary’s Bonus episode (#43).

The ‘Living Our Beliefs’ podcast is available on Apple podcasts, other major podcast apps, and through my Talking with God Project website.

Thoughts? Send comments and questions to me at or write a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you! Méli

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1 Comment

Karen Hirschfeld
Karen Hirschfeld
Jul 21, 2023

Thank you for this excellent reminder to stay open-minded - and that tolerance doesn't mean that you have to like or agree with someone elses religion, politics or worldview - but you have to respect their right to have it. I, too, definitely fall into the trap of being open-minded to all of the beautiful diversity in our world, but closing my mind to others who aren't as "open" as me; who I see as close-minded. I guess that makes me close-minded!

But it is an interesting question - what consitutes not harming others? There are some parts of some religions that i have issus with because of their attitudes towards women, which very much impacts and limits their lives.…

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