1. Christianity is obviously a massive force in the world, and has been for fifteen centuries. That is not to say anything comparative about any other religion. (There’s not a “most influential” contest going on here.)
First, using Christianity as an example of actual good effects and bad ones, please say: what are some possible contributions and harms a religion can make to society?
Second: when Christianity itself is very clear that it is about God’s mercy, not our being good, why do so many see it in moral terms: that if I do more good than bad, I’ll go to heaven? Christianity quite directly teaches this will never work; only grace, undeserved favor, can save us. So why do so many people, including many Christians, think it is about “earning” or “deserving” to “go to heaven”?
2. Islam has been a must-learn religion for thoughtful–or just concerned–Americans since 9/11. Our lack of attention paid to it before is a national lesson in the punishment reality doles out to ignorance.
– Just as unearned grace in Christianity is a difficult concept for many go-getter Americans, so peace through *submission* is no-go territory for Americans when thinking about Islam. Can submitting to God, to each other, to anything at all, be a source of non-dysfunctional peace in a person’s life?
– When a religion, especially a missionary religion like Buddhism or Islam, goes out from the culture it began in, the missionaries have to confront the challenge of sorting out which parts of the religion as practiced in the religion’s home base are essential to the religion, and which ones are just local ways it happens to work out in believer’s lives in that particular culture. Can you imagine what an Islam that was “as American as apple pie,” that felt no more “Middle Eastern” than Christianity does, might look like?
3. There are a couple of topics worth discussing with regard to Judaism.
The first is testimonial. Do you know people who are anti-Semitic? Is it a “thing” in your own family or other circles? Maybe your church has a specific view of the role of the Jews in the end-times; maybe you’ve heard conspiracy theories. Or maybe not.
Second, reflect if you will on the concept of there being a “chosen people.” Does this seem reasonable or likely to you, as a way God (if there is a god) would go about things? (The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said “How odd / of God / to choose / the Jews.” He was an atheist.
Third, Jews have long had what many of us have only acquired in the past few decades: an absolute obsession with figuring out our identity. Put your own identity in dialogue with the debates Jews have about it: is your identity religious? political? ethnic or racial? cultural? Who or what do you identify as? That is, distinguish what happens to be true of you, from what makes you be you. You *are* a Muslim; you happen to be from Alabama. You *are* pro-life, you happen to be African-American. You get the idea.