Growing up, my father told me always to attempt to avoid two topics of conversation - religion and politics - while chatting with friends and acquaintances, as well as enemies, as it can only lead to a heated discussion in which confabulations are transformed from debates into heated arguments.
Heated words with lasting repercussions are certain to be exchanged and irreparable damage is sure to ensue.
Unfortunately, I found my father's words hypocritical since he is an Irish Catholic who taught me nearly everything I know about politics and I continually ignore this advice.
Alternatively, those topics are most likely to find themselves center stage in most of my regular conversations.
While these topics are sure to create tense situations and may even go as far as to divide friends and prevent the formation of other relationships, it is necessary to open a dialogue concerning these issues. Without this, we will continue to nurture hatred, bigotry and ignorance.
This may seem exceedingly obvious to many after the events of Sept. 11 and those which followed that date.
However, I would venture to say that the acceptance of Eastern religions, or at least the acceptance to discuss Eastern religions, has existed long before that date.
While that discussion is certainly viable and most definitely necessary, I feel that another dialogue is desperately begging to be initiated.
Despite the fact that we are the most diverse culture on the planet, we are a predominately Judeo-Christian society. Therein lies the problem.
Within that distinction, there are hundreds of subsets and countless different religions, all which genuinely believe to have the one, true understanding of the Almighty.
In a conversation of Eastern and Western religions, the dialogue exists as a series of questions on fundamental beliefs and pillars of the religion itself.
However, if the same conversation were to exist between two Christians from different sects, the focus would shift from discussing religion to fighting over whose religion is "right" and whose is "wrong."
Catholics constantly insist that Protestants are wrong in their denial of transubstantiation. Protestants call Catholics pagans for asking Saints to pray for them. Protestants even bicker among themselves about whose faith is stronger.
These arguments are absolutely asinine and unproductive, and utterly fail to accomplish anything. Their participants often do not enter the conversation with the hopes of gaining further understanding of the other's religion and outlook on life.
Rather, it would seem that they hope, in entering the discussion, to prove the other party "wrong" and "win" the argument decisively.
At this point, I think it is fair to assume that Christians shall never again be united under one church. If we can all accept this fact, we can then move on to attempting to live with one another peacefully as one Christian community.
However, there are fundamental differences between Christians of different sects - differences that are capable of causing the huge divide, which exists in this county between the religious and the faithful.
The religious are denoted as those who understand God through a series of rituals and traditions, in other words, Catholics. The faithful are those who understand salvation to be achieved through faith alone.
This difference may seem miniscule enough, however, it is the very reason my father warned me to tread lightly when approaching this topic of conversation.
Because we understand God in two fundamentally different ways, it proves difficult to see past all that to the common ground that we share.
After all, it is ridiculous to claim that our particular understanding of God, in whatever form we conceive Him, or for that matter Her or It, is the one true understanding.
While we all accept that the Bible is divinely inspired, religion is an institution entirely devised by man. As we know, nothing man creates is perfect. Therefore, no religion on Earth could possibly be 100 percent correct.
That is not to say we should abolish religion. Man needs religion to give him a sense of community and a vehicle by which to understand God.
However, that is to say that religion, then, is an intensely personal decision in which we partake of a particular community that makes the most sense for us.
Therefore, it matters little whether you ask saints to pray for you or you believe that faith is the one-way ticket to heaven.
It matters most that you recognize that those beliefs are what make the most sense for you concerning your relationship with God.
However, you cannot expect everyone else in the entire world to understand God in the same exact way as you.
By opening intra-Christian dialogues, we can attempt to learn about the different understandings of our God and work toward realizing the formation of that united Christian community.
Eventually, we may even be able to apply these lessons on a more global scale and really begin to understand our international neighbors.
Hopefully one day we may recognize that religion is intensely geo-, temporal, socio-, economic, racial and gender-specific and the existence of one true religion does not exist on a global scale, but rather on an individual basis.
The first step toward establishing a religious/moral/faithful community on a large scale is opening dialogue and putting down our boxing gloves when regarding religion.