Several years ago I worked as a waitress in a local coffee shop (the old school kind which actually served food). One afternoon my coworker asked me if she could leave for an hour so she could go to afternoon mass at the church down the street. I said “sure” since there were only a few customers in the restaurant. As soon as she left, a female sitting at the counter snidely remarked, “Catholics aren’t real Christians.” Getting into a religious debate with this woman probably wasn’t in my best interest so I decided to keep my mouth shut.
Back then, I hadn’t study Buddhism yet and my experience with anything spiritual was limited, although I have given her words more thought over the past few months and think her attitude (belief) is exactly why I stay away from organized religion, especially what is considered mainstream in America. Too many people with fundamental religious beliefs aren’t willing to accept there are other religious and spiritual points of view. None is right or wrong, only different. There is no religious superiority over another, but there are people who feel superior in general and use religion to justify their bad behavior.
An extreme example is the self-proclaimed Islamic (religious) group, ISIS. Their members believe their God instructs them to kill anyone who doesn’t believe their dogma. Their mantra is, “Its God’s will.” (Actually, its something different but similar. I choose to paraphrase their words). This group is at the very least a cult, like the Manson followers — on steroids. Their whole dogma is seeped in hate, something none of the major religions I studied in college, teach. I don’t know exactly why anyone would join such a group, no matter how loving and supportive they may seem in the beginning. Then again, I’ve never been a “joiner” of anything. I ask too many questions. That’s why Buddhism is a good fit for me.
ISIS is the extreme but there are individuals who base their hatred on verses in other holy books who can be just as dangerous, albeit on a smaller scale. Religious wars have been around since forever. You would think we have evolved since then but I guess not. The other day I heard a Jesuit priest tell a reporter,” All religious books should come with a warning label, much like the ones found on a pack of cigarettes.” If you think about it, it’s true. They all seem to contain words hazardous to our health. The Christian bible has so many different versions, how do we know which one is correct? I say it’s the one we probably feel most comfortable with and reflects our own thinking. If someone fears homosexuals (as an example) he or she will follow a Christian belief that reinforces that fear (belief). If someone is more open to other lifestyles they may follow Unitarian teachings.
Lately, what I find odd (and disappointing) is there seems to be a rift developing between religions. Or it could seem that way because the news media reports it so much. It’s especially noticeable this time of year when (I thought) we consider ourselves more charitable. The fight is over political correctness.
A week ago, one parent successfully stopped a field trip to see Santa during school hours. She wanted a separation between Church and State. I didn’t know Santa represented any church, in fact I knew a Christian who thought Santa should be banned altogether because he was too “secular.” Anyway this woman’s actions started yet another religious debate.
When I was a kid in the sixties, we celebrated Christmas at school. One year my classmate, who was Jewish did a report in front of the class about his religion and what it meant to him. It was a great learning experience. What we seem to be missing now a days are the opportunities for more learning experiences. Instead of separating ourselves and closing our ears and minds, we could embrace our differences and learn from each other. It’s really a shame when we allow our egos to get the best of us. Our ego is the one who says we should fear anything or anyone who seems different.
Hopefully this fear “of the other” is a passing phase. Maybe its part of our spiritual growth as a nation. God knows, none of these religions, spiritual beliefs and non-religious beliefs are going away soon. I hope we keep talking and yes, arguing because that’s how we will figure this stuff out.