Religious Freedom

Earlier today I refilled my water bottles at the Glacier water machine outside Ralph’s grocery store. The past few days have been muggy so I wore one of my summer tops and a pair of jeans. The top was loose fitting, sort of bohemian hippie style. I was filling my second bottle when I saw a woman come out of the store. She stopped to look at the outdoor plants a few feet away from where I was standing. I don’t know if she noticed me but I noticed her.

She wore an abaya and hijab, similar to the one pictured below, minus the fancy brooch.


I got to thinking about how fortunate I am to live in the United States where 2 women dressed so opposite can walk around in public without being harassed, and for the most part, there is religious tolerance, at least in Southern California anyway. I believe anyone should be able to worship whatever god or entity they choose and if there is a dress code that goes along with it, that’s ok too.

When I was in college I took a class on the world’s great religions and one of my assignments was to research one of them and write a paper on it. I chose the Hare Krishnas because they have always interested me. Too often they are perceived as weird or a cult and someone to be made fun of. I learned a great deal about them when I hung out at their Berkeley temple. Two things stood out; 1. They might be ridiculed in the United States but in India they are a legitimate religion, an offshoot of Hinduism. 2. When a devotee leaves the temple to venture out in public he cannot wear his robes. He wears western clothes instead to blend in. Why? Because too many have been beaten by outsiders who think its ok to hurt someone who looks different than them. I was really sad and angry to hear that.

At the same time I find it interesting that what one sees as a normal part of their religion (like wearing a hijab), I see as oppressive. I am too stubborn and opinionated to follow any religion that requires me to dress a certain way, or be told I can’t do something because I’m a woman. My credo is “You ain’t the boss of me.”  That’s the number one reason I don’t like mainstream churches. There is too much dogma and I can’t question what the guy in the pulpit is saying. In my opinion, just because someone wrote something in a book (like the Bible) doesn’t make it true, not to mention how many times the original text has been rewritten. King James was clearly a paranoid psycho and he has his own version of the Bible.

Buddhism on the other hand welcomes questions and doesn’t poo poo other religions. There is no, I’m right! and all those other guys are wrong!  There are some who think their interpretation of Buddhism is the only correct way (like the argument; is it a religion or a philosophy?) but I choose to follow the middle way, mentioned in the 8 Fold Path.  Some like to argue that a certain quote didn’t come from Buddha. There are even a few websites devoted to debunking Buddha quotes. To them I say, “Who cares if Buddha really said that or not? None of us were there to find out for sure.” I am more interested in the message than the messenger and there are some good messages coming from many religions, not just Buddhism. Its the bigots who hide behind their religion who get all the media attention. They love to cherry pick passages to justify their bad behavior. The media is just as bad for giving them so much airtime. Then again, hate and drama sells newspapers and that’s what really counts. The bottom line.  I seriously doubt we’ll ever get breaking news telling us “To love one another.”

I guess for now, I will be grateful I live in a country where I can write and speak my mind without fear of getting smacked in the head. There are so many women in the world who don’t have that luxury.

hindu proverb. all paths are correct




2 thoughts on “Religious Freedom

  1. I have heard that proverb before and I do agree with it. Personally I love the fact that my religion gives me a dress code. Many Jew women cover their heads too as do nuns of course. The head covering definitely pre dates Islam. I don’t think any religion criticises any other religion.


  2. Unfortunately there are religions (mostly fundamentalist) who criticize other religions, including people who look and think different, etc. It isn’t the religion per se, its certain people who claim to belong to it, who twist the words to justify their bad behavior.


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