Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 8

A few friends and acquaintances have started to notice this project (I post each "Day" on Facebook) and are becoming more and more curious about my rituals and how I'm adjusting. Most people seem to have a genuine interest in each religion and, even though some philosophies aren't for them, their own intellectual curiosity causes them to keep a relatively open mind when hearing about things that are different to what they believe. This is my fourth religion thus far, but this is the first time that I have actually received some hateful message because of "my" religion.
You know you're probably going to Hell for this "project". Don't think that God isn't watching you.
And my personal favorite:
You're an idiot for believing these ass-backwards "religions."
I'm going to put those classy comments to the side for just a moment in order to explain how some people have reacted to my religion this month. In class this morning, we were discussing religious freedom and tolerance in Korea and I was delighted by the amount of respect and admiration I witnessed during the post-lecture discussion. First of all, it should be said that Korea is largely nonreligious. There are certainly a lot of very devout Christians roaming the peninsula and doing missionary work around the world, but overall, Korea has maintained its historical balance of shamanism and X religion. In the past the "X" was either Confucianism or Buddhism, but the most active religion now is clearly Christianity as Christian proselytizers easily outnumber their Buddhist counterparts. The shamanistic aspect of Korea is mostly centered around homeopathic medicine rather than any pagan-like rituals which essentially translates to a culture that fears no deity. 

This lack of a divine force doesn't suggest that Koreans aren't spiritual. Like most East Asians, Koreans have historically preferred a more practical approach to their spirituality rather than the notional belief systems witnessed in the Abrahamic religions. A simple look at Brahmanism will clear up much of what Eastern philosophy is based upon. Considering all of that, it's not hard to understand why Koreans seem to be relatively tolerant of many or most religions. They have no universal or accepted "god" for whom they must be defensive about.

Now, I'd be lying to claim that religions were all viewed equally here, though. They're not. The  American "War on Terror" has painted Muslims as unpredictable in the eyes of many Koreans. When a Korean sees a Muslim on the streets of Seoul, they are more confounded than fearful.  Yet, when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Koreans tend to side with Palestine over Israel because of Korea's own past under occupation. They don't identify with the Muslim on the street, but the can relate to the plight of the Palestinians. It boils down to the fact that Koreans have very little contact with the religious making the need to form an opinion one way or the other useless. 

Americans and Westerners around me tend to fall into three categories. One group is interested and will engage in intelligent discussion. That is the only positive category though. The other two are not as open minded. The second group will make snide comments in an attempt to delegitimize the entire religion and the third group will use me as a proxy to express all of their own anger towards world religions. If the flash of a moment, the conversation will go from pleasantries to insults. This is frustrating for me because I want to believe that Americans, at least, are better than that.

As a nation founded on the very notion that there would not ever be an official state religion, tolerance should be rampant. That was one of the original reasons why people fled England and mainland Europe. They wanted to escape religious tyranny and persecution. As such, America is easily the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Oddly enough, Americans seem to be somewhat intolerant when it actually comes down to accepting the validity of other religions and their rituals. This, to me, is troubling. If you were to ask an American on the street about Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or any of the other major religions, they are probably going to know very little about the details (if any at all), yet they have no problem forming a very strong opinion about those followers. 

The true test of tolerance can be witnessed in politics. 

figure 2

I fully understand that some practitioners of many world religions can not or do not wish to pursue a public career, but I'm sure that there are many who do. An article in the Post asked, "What is so miserably wrong and unelectable in being a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain?"  I wonder the same thing. It took Americans until 1868 to elect a non-white male to Congress and even now, in the year 2010, there have only been four black Senators (and one of them was appointed to replace Obama). Some would argue that race isn't a factor anymore (I would disagree. People just don't admit it publicly out of a fear that they would rightly be called 'racist'.) and while there are certainly cases of minorities holding office, it doesn't address the fact that people openly distrust, hate and mock other religions. If we are truly diverse, other faiths must be allowed to flourish.
American Muslims faced this cruel non-acceptance, of course, as President Obama's keepers, forced to combat disingenuous allegations that he might be a Muslim, put his church-going Christian credentials front and center. The pigment of Obama's, Jindal's or Haley's skin does not seem to matter goes the popular narrative, but Christian faith is a foregone criterion for electability. A religious litmus test is clearly in play.
And now, let's go back to the two messages I received.
You know you're probably going to Hell for this "project". Don't think that God isn't watching you.
Since I am "friends" with the person who sent me this, I was able to click on his profile and view his information. He is a "Christian" and also a "conservative". I don't much about this fellow anymore, but I have read the entire Bible recently and while his god might be "watching me" with the intention of torturing me in his version of the afterlife, I know that Matthew 7.1 tells Christians not to judge others.
You're an idiot for believing these ass-backwards "religions."
If being an idiot means reflecting on my life through the lenses of different religions and taking away valuable lessons that will help me become a better, more aware person, then I guess I am an "idiot". 

The truth is that we live in a huge world and even though advancements in communication continue to make it seem smaller, there is no way that we can truly understand it until we admit that there isn't one path for all of humanity. Nothing is "ass-backwards". I often judge America harshly. I do that because it is my future home and the land where I will raise a family. I want it to work and I want to be able to explain it to my children. It's a shame that a "friend" would feel the need to admonish me and these amazing religions because they feel that their religion is superior. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for articulating your thoughts so well, thoughts that I firmly concur with.