If you want to understand the world around you, then understanding different faiths is essential. So I was really glad to hear that the Huffington Post is launching a series this month on faith.
We will not be able to thrive as a society and prevent increasing division unless we dig behind stereotypes to understand why people believe what they believe.
As a Christian, I want to know why people believe that I am wrong - either because they count themselves atheists or believe in something or someone else other than Jesus Christ. I should always want to understand others, before I seek to make myself understood.
But here's a chance to make myself understood! It's fundamentally human to confront the big questions of life - why are we here and what are we here for? I wasn't always a Christian, and I didn't grow up in a Christian home. I made a decision at 18 based on what I perceived to be the historical accuracy of the New Testament documents and based on a feeling in my gut that God was real and that Jesus' claims, if accurate, were earth-shattering and demanded a personal response from me.
Christianity isn't a list of rules to follow or a strict theological code. It is primarily about a relationship with a God whose character means that he seeks a relationship with you. The Bible is full to the brim of accounts of God seeking a relationship with people who fail, and are then rescued from that failure by the God who loves them despite the fact that they hardly love him back.
The chasm that costs human beings a relationship with God is caused by our need to be forgiven. Indeed, Jesus makes it really clear that our greatest need is not food, water, shelter, human relationships, health - he states that our greatest need is to be forgiven so the relationship between us and God can be restored (Matthew 9 v 1-8 sums it up nicely). So here's the rub: if that's the case then we must have done something that needs forgiving - and most of us don't like being told that. But faith in Jesus Christ isn't an ointment to sooth you, it is abrasive and challenging and a threat to your ego. Christians should not believe ourselves to be especially good and worthy people. Quite the opposite - what marks out a Christian is that they've understood that we need God more than anything else, we need to be forgiven and have met in Jesus Christ someone who can provide that forgiveness (because he is both fully God and fully human and he died to pay for every wrong thing you ever did). Our experience is that Jesus will accept us however much we fall short of our own and others' expectations, and will give us the power to change.
Being a Christian doesn't dictate my political position in the way that you might stereotypically think. I don't believe in a theocracy! I am a liberal in my politics so naturally I'll vote differently from my colleagues in other parties. But it does shape what I get passionate about - housing for those in need, compassion and dignity for those claiming asylum, tackling poverty. What is more, realising that you are part of a religious (and political!) minority tends to heighten my liberal instincts to protect freedom of speech and association, and to defend those on the margins whose worth is undermined, ignored or misunderstood in a rush to appeal to the majority.
Faith, by inherent definition, is about trust. What you trust in will give your life meaning, structure and purpose, whether you realise it or not. I think we've all probably seen people whose jobs (as an example) give them meaning. When things go wrong, their world crashes around them. They've trusted in something which fails them. Their self-worth becomes wrapped up in the success of "the project" to the detriment of all involved. But for Christians - including those in political roles - we aren't made any more or less valuable by what we do. We are declared worthy by a God who thinks we are worth the cost of even his own son.