Once again it’s the Holiday Season. Hanukkah. Kwanzaa. Christmas.
All are celebrations of beliefs; each differs from the other, each is the product of religious sincerity, each a celebration of history, of culture, of community. In our particular corner of the world, the Christian Christmas is by far the most visible because Christianity is, after all, this nation’s dominant belief system, the one that preaches Charity and Joy, Tolerance, Understanding, and Love of Others. Right?
A quick look around at recent “Christian” viewpoints suggests something a bit different.
What puzzles me most about those four posts — selected randomly, without effort and in just minutes — is not their specific detail, but more the overall undercurrent that clearly drives them. Why, I have to wonder, so much irrational fear and hatred? I was always taught that the virtue of religious belief was the opposite. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Be your “brother’s keeper.” Et cetera. Where’s the Christian admonition to hate Muslims? To find solace and comfort in torture? Why does Santa need a gun? Why is the freedom to believe differently, to not be forced to accept a Christian thesis, a product of Communism? Wherefrom derives — and why — the obvious fear, the implicit hatred?
A decade ago I was a frequent visitor to an online discussion group that had participants from around the world, people of every race, of every religion. Just recently I happened across a folder filled with old discussion files. The one that first caught my eye was dated January 5, 2005, and was my response to a religious “question” posed by a gentleman from Pakistan. He was a banker, also a devout Muslim; the fact that he was a regular participant in a US-based discussion group during the Bush aftermath of 9/11, and was willing to speak his mind on any issues that might arise there was, I thought at the time, both courageous and interesting.
What I found even more fascinating was that in said discussion group there was none of the vitriol, none of the fear and hatred that was so constantly featured on TV news reports and parroted back by people everywhere — those irrational fears and hatreds that were (and still remain) common to both sides of the world. Over here we’ve been instructed constantly on the best reasons to hate Muslims, to fear their next attack, and to accept torture as a legitimate consequence of (and potential solution to) our irrational fears and hatreds. The world’s other side was and still is, of course, similarly taught to hate America and to fear everything it’s presumed to stand for — the potential consequences of our irrational fears and hatreds (read: anti-Islamic passions) in particular.
Still, all participants in those discussions understood that rational chit-chat amongst divergent cultures and religions was a definite virtue. This is the only hard copy on this particular topic I’ve so far found, but to me, at least, it still speaks a lot louder than the hate and fear crap which remains so common even today.
(Note: Mr. Ashraf’s first language was obviously not English, yet he managed to use it to communicate far more lucidly than I could have ever managed in whichever lingua is common to Karachi Pakistan):
Adeel Ashraf wrote:
I agree that being human is most important thing. However, if i may submit that one can be a best human while being a bit of relgious. as per my information on Islam. Human Rights , and being human has been given first priority than duties towards Allah. For example, its mutually agreed by all muslims, that Allah might forgive his rights on judgment day i.e. saying prayers but will not forgive a penny to a misdeed on account of our fellow human beings. so i might get forgiveness from God if i dont say my prayers..But i will not be spared it i screw any of my friends, family, other human beings …animals, etc.
Adeel — I have the utmost respect for each and all who adhere to the religion of their choice, so long as each and all live a life which respects the sum of this magnificently beautiful planet and every life form upon it, all of which is offered free of charge to those who care to take a moment to ‘see’. I do understand full well that there is beauty in each the Quran, the Jewish bible, the Christian New Testament, and in other holy books everywhere — and I respect each and every shred of that aspect of all of them, always. I am, however, troubled by what certain men do with holy text, how they interpret it to satisfy their own selfish agenda, how convenient it can be for a scoundrel to find millions of his subjects loyal to words only — to backward interpretations of words — rather than to the basic ideal which should (and would, if practiced properly) allow each to find his way to live and prosper — man, beast, bird, and tree alike.
Human, however, invariably imposes his own baggage, and all too often it is self-serving baggage. My choice was, a long time ago, to walk away from Human agenda and to instead immerse myself into the vibrancy of the creation itself, that immensity of beauty of which I am but a tiny speck. In my view, I’m entitled to no more, and no less, than any other collection of atoms — and therefore I try to walk carefully. I’ve found room to have no more argument with the stars and constellation than with the bacteria which digest sewage — or anything between, above, or beneath (save for politicians and crooked clerics, of course). I have no argument with the whims of the Earth’s crust as it shakes and moves, nor with the storms that blow across sea and shore. I have no argument with beasts, with trees, no argument with thorns or with sharp teeth; I only have argument with Human agenda, and then only when it is dark, seeking power rather than the light of truth or beauty.
So I hope always to draw upon that which is good and beautiful in life, and to disassociate myself from that which is not. I’ve abandoned the label, but pray I’ve saved the essence of my Christian upbringing — because it does, in its purest sense, represent too the essence of Judaism, of Islam, of Love itself, of all that is worthy of the ideas which underlie the words “Creation” and “Life”, and even “God.”
I can’t imagine that God, in any concept or context, would sanction wanton destruction — whether of Earth, or beast, or Human himself, or of property, of cities or farms. To destroy serves no useful purpose, but yet ‘destroy’ is what Human does best — and so often, he proclaims, it is destruction that is mandated *in hoc signo*, under the banner of God. I think not.
Today in the US, a topic which is near the forefront is whether America should, or will, preemptively attack and/or invade Iran. To do so is necessary, some say, to rid the world of the Mullahs in charge there, to make the world safe for …. for … for what? For me? For the children? No. More likely for agenda; some suggest it’s a good thing to make war in the Middle East because it will speed the return of the Christ. Apocalypse? Bring it on!
Do you see that I can’t associate myself with those voices anymore? That I must, instead, find the means to live as far from that chatter as is possible? I’ve found a way, I think — a way which allows me to pursue the never-ending search for Truth even as I disassociate myself from each and all of the major religions and their respective dogmatic “bandwagons” (for lack of a better word). And in so doing I can still hear the music but I no longer feel the obligation to march in lockstep. “God” is in the music, not in the rhythmic pounding of muffled feet. And while some surely believe they’ll burn in hell for the occasional misstep or sour note, I’ll be seeing “god” in the center of a flower, or in the approaching storm clouds, in a sunrise; or I’ll be hearing His voice in the howl of a wolf, a baby’s cry, or in the rumble of thunder — because I know that “God” IS the creation — a knowledge that puts me in instant communication with that one power which seems to forever elude popes, mullahs, preachers, priests, and even presidents.
In the movie Gandhi, actor Ben Kingsley, in the title role, spoke a line that (paraphrased) went something like this: “I am a Christian, and a Muslim, and a Jew, a Hindu and a Sikh …”
Would that we might all — truthfully — one day find ourselves able to say the same.
That was ten years ago, and still no progress toward understanding, toward tolerance and compassion. Why is that, I wonder? Maybe Michele Bachmann has it all figured out? I suppose it could happen because, as someone once observed, “There’s a first time for everything.”
Yeah, well, OK. Maybe tomorrow.