America’s Religions

16 Sep

I think of myself as a typical American.  I’m nothing exceptional at all.  I’m a bit older than some, and  younger than others.

So moving away from the age debate, let’s get onto another hot topic.

Religion.

We’ve seen religion made a huge issue lately.  It’s likely been one before in American history, but I’m not a historical expert.  I’m also not a religious expert.  Or a political one.  Since I’m an average American, I really don’t see myself as an “expert” in anything.

But I do have opinions and I can be annoyed anyhow.

I have a very eclectic collection of friends and acquaintances.  They have very diverse backgrounds and cultures, even though the majority are Americans by nationality.  For the sake of this post, I’m only talking about the American ones, since I’m also referring to American society and culture.

With such a diverse collection of people, I see and hear a lot of comments about religion.  Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me one way or another.  It certainly does not influence me in terms of my religious beliefs or practices.  I’m quite comfortable with mine, and while they will continue to evolve, they are not going to go through any radical conversion to some new religion at this point in my life.  I think that usually happens when we are younger and still formulating our world view and the concept of our own mortality.

So when does it bother me?

I don’t like to have other people’s religious views crammed down my throat, especially when accompanied by the “I’ll kill you and that will change your mind” ideology.  I’m also not someone who feels a need to convert anyone else, nor do I wave my religious views around like a banner on a summer’s day.  My opinion is that the whole issue boils down to “all roads lead to Rome.”  I can agreeably accept any religious views that don’t include hurting other humans as part of their practice or ritual.

Notice that hurting other humans bit.

Now we have all encountered those who are “witnessing” from various fundamentalist Christian groups.  I understand that this is part of their responsibilities according to the religious doctrines they follow.  Most will accept the “thanks, that’s nice, but I already have mine” very courteously, especially when their answer is given in a courteous manner.  There are a few sects that practice rather aggressive methods of proselytizing to strangers at their homes.  I’m less enthusiastic about that practice.

I have never had a non-Christian religious practitioner come knocking at my door or hand me a tract.  Have you?

I really do not like the Christian groups that picket funerals–I don’t care what religion they are or practice, it is not an appropriate time to picket anything.  They seem to enjoy causing emotional distress to the grieving because of the publicity it draws.  It’s one case of negative publicity that seems to benefit someone.

But we’ll let them go for now.

I’ve read religious conservative statements that advocate returning prayer to school as a method of teaching morality to youth.  I have a  news flash for them.  A single 5 minute prayer at school each day is not going to make anyone more moral nor is it going to make them religious.  Morality and religion happen at home and in life.  Besides, who decides what prayer will be said?  What if the chosen prayer is not one from YOUR religion?

And then, there are the “other” religions.  We all hear about the Big Three: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  We hear plenty about the various sects of those three too.  There are the Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Pagans, etc. too.  Even those get more attention with a label attached than the most rabid and often nastiest toned ones I have encountered lately.

Those happen to be Atheists and the even larger, “Church of” Science.  The two have often been allies lately, as they seem to have a single goal in mind.

The removal of religion from America entirely.

They do have some good points.  Religions tend to divide, not unify, a population with diverse cultures and a broad spectrum of religions.  Practitioners do get caught up in the little “My God is better than your God” little turf wars.  Historically, they have often escalated into actual armed conflicts.  It seems to be one of the core causes of the continual conflicts in the Middle East too.  More people are killed in its name than die from any other cause.  It is quite obvious that religion has some problems.

But these rabid proselytizing anti-religion groups aren’t exactly being endearing either.  They seem to have twisted the “my God is better than your God” bit into a whole new cry: “Your God is dead and I know it, so I’m better than all of you!”

I watch all the flaming going on, and it seems that the only thing that would make them happy is to do away with all public examples of religion.  Churches and cathedrals, mosques and synagogues…they’d all be plain cinderblock buildings with a sign over the door with letters less than 3″ tall, as though you were visiting a VD clinic.  Priests wouldn’t wear the collars that make everyone stand up straight and stop swearing, and nuns wouldn’t be allowed to wear any part of a habit in public either.

Christmas would become “Generic Winter Holiday.”  Easter would be “Spring Break.” Thanksgiving? Just “Harvest Festival”.  Memorial Day? It too has some religious overtones, along with military ones, so obviously that would be re-designated “Beginning of Summer Holiday.”  Labor Day, with no religion attached, might retain its current name.  Halloween would be subject to suspicion, but without recent religion attached to it by the majority of citizens, its consumerist ideology might let it stand.

There would be re-writing of history too, to sanitize it of religious overtones.  Nevermind that many historical events did have strong religious overtones, as the entire war was focused on the idea of “My God is better than your God.”

All of that for political correctness?

To me, anti-religion is just as rabid as religions are when they are at their worst.

It was wrong to kidnap Native American children and send them to boarding schools where they were robbed of their culture, language, and religion and given the “gift of Christianity”.  It’s just as wrong to do that to anyone else, even in the name of anti-religion as the new religion.  It was wrong for the federal government to deny tribes the right to have ceremonies and practice their religions for most of the 20th century.  It’s just as wrong to do that to the rest of American society.

I grew up in a multi-cultural family.  We didn’t practice the same religion as our classmates and neighbors did.  I enjoyed learning about Judaism and their holidays.  I was curious about all of the Christian denominations and their religious practices too.   I’m not Catholic, yet I too was terrified by nuns in their spooky long black habits and that head dress they wore.  I still stand straight and clean up my conversation when conversing with  or even nearby a preacher, priest, or nun.  I’m also respectful of shamans and medicine men/women.  I enjoy learning about rituals and beliefs.  I like hearing the stories too.

But just because I read the Koran or the Book of Mormon or even participate in a ritual does not mean that I have become a convert of that religion.  Just because I am respectful of someone else’s belief system does not mean that I advocate it as a lifestyle.

Respect and courtesy are important traits of a civilized society.  This respect and courtesy means that many people, from many cultures and many religions, can live and work together harmoniously.  That’s what we need.  We don’t need another doctrine to separate groups of people from one another, to divide them and put them in conflict with each other.

I may think it is extremely foolish for a couple to spend a vast amount of money that could be put to better use in purchasing a home and getting established in life (at least in MY opinion, right?) on their wedding and reception.  That does NOT give me the right to go to their wedding and reception, standing around and being nasty or waving a sign pointing out their foolishness.  It does not give the government the right to forbid them from doing so either.

Heck, I might even think that marriage is a ridiculously antiquated monogamous ceremony that is in opposition to our biological and natural sexual and social needs and object to a couple’s marriage on those grounds alone.  Does that give me the right to cause a scene at the wedding? To forbid it?

Wake up, America.  We don’t need more rabid and inflammatory religious or anti-religious sects.  We need the concept of courtesy to lead us towards harmonious respect and co-existence.

Oh, and for the fundamentalists that I have undoubtedly offended…if you are a Christian, see A.  If you are an Atheist, see B.

A) What would Jesus do?  Jesus did not advocate violence of any kind, nor was he ever cruel or rude to others.  His original doctrine was one of kindness and teaching, of giving and not taking.  He had no church, no fancy car, and financial success didn’t happen either.  He never built a church building and never took up the sword either.  He sure never cut someone’s hair,  jailed anyone or took away their personal property because they didn’t agree with him on religion.

B)  If religions are all based on the concept of an imaginary friend, then why are you so adamant about the whole thing?  Do you spend that much time and effort in the eradication of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  Do you even THINK about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  How about Rainbow Brite?  Strawberry Shortcake? The Gingerbread Man?  Star Wars? Star Trek?  Heck, all of Hollywood is based on imaginary friends, so I guess it’s also the equivalent of Vatican City!

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