Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others

By: Barbara Brown Taylor

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Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest who eventually found herself teaching Religions of the World at the college level. At first it was somewhat shocking to see God in unfamiliar spaces, but as she began to immerse herself in other faiths, she gradually started feeling envious of them. Some of the practices and beliefs of these faiths mirrored her own Christianity, but there were also many things that spoke to her on a spiritual level that had no parallel in her own faith, making it seem lacking at times. Although she always promised her students that studying other faiths wouldn't make them lose their own, she, herself, came away from these exploration with a view of her chosen religion that is very different than the one with which she started. In Holy Envy, Barbara tackles all the questions and concerns that arise when we encounter those with religions different than our own and shows us how we can use these experiences to deepen our own faith and to learn from the abundant riches of the spiritual teachings of other faiths.


Holy Envy was our latest book club pick. It's part memoir as Barbara Brown Taylor details, to some extent, her time as a professor of world religions at Piedmont College. But really, as the sub-title says, it's more of a discussion about how we can find God in the faith of others. The author has an interesting background, having grown up in a secular environment and not regularly attending church until she was a teen. Yet she ended up becoming an Episcopal priest. That later dovetailed into her becoming a professor of world religions which took her on yet another spiritual journey. During this time, she found much to appreciate in other religions, but still kept coming back to Christianity as her foundation. But along the way, she also discovered a healthy case of holy envy.

What is holy envy, you may ask? Well, it's all about finding those things in the religions of others to which you can relate to and appreciate, things that perhaps you wish your own faith did better, and then allowing those things to help transform your own beliefs. If you think this sounds like cultural appropriation, it really isn't. It's more about finding common ground with those of other faiths and allowing it to deepen your own. I think that many of us are pretty ignorant of other faiths besides our own (if we adhere to one at all), and so by learning about what others believe, we can be more accepting of them. Since Rev. Taylor taught at a church-affiliated college in a predominantly Christian area of the country, many of her students identified as Christian. Some of them were bothered by her teaching methods, which included field trips to other religions' houses of worship. But there were other students who drank it in as not only an educational, but a spiritual experience as well. In fact, through her teaching experiences, Rev. Taylor herself learned much and grew spiritually.

Rev. Taylor gives some background on each of the five major world religions she taught: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. I learned a number things myself merely by reading this book, not just about other faiths, but also my own. I have to admit that there were some things that surprised me and maybe even made me a tad uncomfortable. Rev. Taylor said that happened to her as well, but over time, she's worked through those issues. I think that's where I am, as well, working through it all and figuring out exactly what I believe. But I love learning about all the ways in which the beliefs of other religions intersect with my own. I also enjoyed seeing certain Biblical passages interpreted in a different way from what I'm used to, offering fresh, new, valuable insights. As Rev. Taylor demonstrates through one of her metaphors, the reality is that, whatever our chosen faith, we're riding just one wave in a much bigger ocean, and even within our chosen faith, there are so many divergent beliefs that it is pretty much impossible for one sect, denomination, or even an entire faith to have all the answers and be the only game in town. So for that reason, I highly recommend Holy Envy to anyone who is open to learning about other faiths or who might be searching for a way to peacefully co-exist in our religiously pluralistic society.


Barbara Brown Taylor