Twenty years ago, I walked the streets of Old Jerusalem almost daily, learning of its history, savoring its smells and marvelling at its markets that have bustled for millenia.
While different from my personal faith, the myriad symbols of religious devotion moved me. To set the stage in your mind, you should know that Old Jerusalem is built in a relatively obscure spot in a tiny land on the edge of a forbidding desert. No rivers or lakes mark its landscape. No tall mountains shade the city.
It is a maze of hills and valleys, with an ancient city perched along the ridge of Mt. Moriah. Around the old city, a blend of modern and old clash with an energy that has led to centuries of ongoing conflicts over religion and power.
Nothing is an ample subsitute for being there, in one of the great cradles of civilization, to see the roots of so many elements of our current culture. No book, no movie, no song, no story can quite convey the passion of humanity that seems to seep out of every stone and crevice. There are untold stories of sacrifice and devotion on every corner, every step.
As a student at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies in 1992, I was taught to appreciate and reverence the devotion and faith of others. For four months I studied the roots and doctrines of Judaism, Islam, Catholicism and other orthodox and protestant Christian Faiths. I also became acquainted with the Copts, Baha'i and Zoroastrians.
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has caused me to reflect on the perspective I gained from learning about another faith. The tremulous change that is coming to the Catholic world is noteworthy for all people, all humanity, so long as we take a moment to deepen our respect for the beliefs of others. Whether one shares Catholic faith is not the point. This is an opportunity to recognize that our Catholic neighbors represent a heritage of belief and courage that has sustained individuals and families for centuries.
As a graduate student at Harvard, I was shocked by the cynicism and even hostility toward faith portrayed by some faculty and students. Since then, I have observed academic historians and secularists simple-mindedly, cynically and regularly affix blame for social strife and wars on religion, which obviously lacks perspective.
Every religion has historical blemishes in which adherents misbehaved, as does every individual. But to focus solely on mistakes is to miss the point of religion and its effect on raising the sights and aspirations of mankind to overcome weakness and acquire more noble attributes.
Granted, those who use religion as a means of power over or abuse of others are ironically and extremely wrong. But when media and historians focus their lens almost exclusively on the error, they purposely ignore the great good done by countless, nameless individuals throughout history. They also cavalierly dismiss contributions and stature of more notable, ardent believers to our modern society. Examples of famous Catholics include St. Francis of Assisi, J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Columbus, Louis Pasteur and even altar boy Vince Lombardi.
I'm grateful for the perspective I gained while in Jerusalem that helped me develop a deep respect for my Catholic neighbors and friends. We should look to this transition as an opportunity to learn more about the faith of others, and recommit to respect and support them in their efforts to be better people, parents and neighbors.
In so doing, we will naturally raise our own sights and set higher standards for our own behavior.
Matthew studied economics at Brigham Young University and business and government at Harvard University. He is a GM at Deseret Digital Media where he oversees Deseret Connect and Deseret News Service. [email protected] or @Sanders_Matt