The teachers of the two courses took very different approaches. The professor of World Religions 2 took an almost mocking approach to religions not our own. Deliberately or otherwise, we came away with the notion that you debate about your faith by trying to ridicule or demoralize the other person's viewpoint. And yes, she led by example in this regard. The professor of World Religions 1, Dr. Bonk, took a very different approach, making friends with the practitioners of other religions, listening to them, treating them with respect, making the lines of communication go two ways.
Unfortunately, this particular year, there were rather a lot of us who, like me, took World Religions 2 before World Religions 1. So we brought into the latter class the ideas and methods taught us in World Religions 2. One afternoon, Dr. Bonk brought in a friend of his. I can't remember now where his faith lay, I believe the gentleman may have been Buddhist,but Dr. Bonk brought him, a very nice person, in so we could ask questions and learn. Naturally, having come more or less straight from the other World Religions class, we asked questions designed to make his faith look silly and frivolous. We ridiculed our guest mercilessly. I am not proud to admit my own part in this. Dr. Bonk was justifiably furious with us, because we had done a very effective job of undermining the rapport he had been building with his friend for years.
I lived with the guilt of this incident for years. It didn't take a rocket scientist to make me see how utterly unacceptable and inappropriate my behavior had been, and how poorly I had represented my own faith.
A few years ago, our church got a new pastor, with whom I quickly developed a friendship. I discovered, somehow, that this new pastor of ours knew my old World Religions 1 proffessor, and what's more, knew his e-mail address. I saw a chance here to try to undo some of the damage I had done, so I e-mailed
him. I reminded him of the incident some eight years previous, and I told him how deeply I regretted my actions, that I was truly sorry, and that I had at least learned from my indiscretions. Dr. Bonk wrote back to me, telling me he forgave me and that he considered it an honor to have had me in his class.
These days, apologies - and I mean sincere apologies, not the shallow placating type - are almost frowned upon in society. For men, it's not "manly" to apologize. Women who apologize are viewed as submissive. Either way, apologizing is viewed as an almost cowardly act. Far easier to try to twist things around so we're right, far easier to deceive people, especially ourselves, into believing that we're right and the rest of the world just has it wrong.
If you're one of those people who think they simply can't afford to be wrong and admit it, consider the freedom I felt when I knew my former teacher had forgiven me. Consider the relief I felt when I realized my apology had not been too late.
I lost a parent just over five years ago. I've often wondered, how would I have felt if I'd had unresolved guilt, things which I hadn't cleared up with my dad until it was too late? There would have come a point when I simply would have no more chances to deal with Dad on these issues. What then? How would I live with myself? Again, I was blessed to have dealt with all the major issues well before Dad's death, and so Dad and me could both live through those last days in peace and father-and-son love. Thank God for that.
There's nothing wrong with an apology when you owe one. In fact the person who admits a mistake is a lot more worthy of respect than the person who refuses to admit those mistakes, though you can bet he or she has made at least as many of them.