Sean Paul Kelley has traveled in ten fully Muslim countries and not once has he ever been proselytized. At home, however, in the last three weeks, four Christians have informed him that he will burn in hell if he does not find Jesus. How’s that for tolerance?
Today’s much-needed dose of perspective comes to us via mi compañero en la delincuencia, Sean Paul Kelley, and it’s set me to thinking. Sean Paul has traveled a bit more than I have (I’ve traveled in three Muslim countries), but my experience matches his. It’s not that there aren’t zealots in Muslim countries in the same way you find them here, but I’ve never experienced someone screaming at me about my heresy. I’ve never had someone tell me that I’m in the fast last on the Freeway to Hell unless I accept their particular flavor of Mohamed. Unfortunately, the same thing can’t be said for this country, where screaming in the name of religion is a cottage industry.
I can take the train into downtown Portland, get off at Pioneer Courthouse Square, and on most days I can count on someone carrying a sign and screaming about how we’re all going to Hell. Yes, here in American we’re guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, and expression…and sometimes that can be pretty obnoxious. No one wants to have some self-righteous, intolerant, zealot preaching at them at full volume about their sinfulness and evil ways. Of course, any reasonable person would take one look at this sort of zealot and think, “Yeah, right; if your Christianity is the One, True, and Only way, I think I’ll stick with sin and dissolution.”
I’ve found myself in places where Islam suffused pretty much all aspects of life…and yet I can’t recall ever feeling as if I was being preached at, or being told to my face that my sinful ways would earn me a free pass to Club Dead, where I would burn in agony for all eternity.
Here’s the problem from where I sit: too many Christians have forgotten (if there ever really knew) that the faith they’ve chosen is but one option, and one that cannot and does not fit everyone. You may have convinced yourself that you’ve discovered the One, True, and Only Faith, the only true golden ticket to the Pearly Gates…but that doesn’t mean that others are going to share that belief. When you break things down to the most basic level, you’ll see that all religions have the same basic goals- tolerance, harmony, charity, and peaceful co-existence. It’s not about conquest or condemnation or intolerance or zealotry. Religion, in whatever form it happens to manifest itself (or not) for an individual, is really about making the world a better place to be. The problem is not with religion; it’s with adherents who take their faith as validation of their moral and ideological superiority over those who happen to believe differently. Instead of immersing themselves in the teachings of their chosen faith, too many substitute religious intolerance for a sense of inadequacy in other areas of their lives. Feeling as if you’re inferior makes me feel better about myself, and so I begin to see myself as morally superior and therefore entitled to force my narrow beliefs on you. Hence the screaming, I suppose….
Somewhere warm and breezy, Jesus weeps into his Corona….
I have no problem with Christianity; it’s a perfectly serviceable religion with some very noble goals and aspirations. It’s Christians, many of whom see their beliefs as validation of their self-perceived moral superiority who give me the willies. I grew up Lutheran, and for years my parents forced me to go to Sunday School. By the time I finally called a halt to it, I’d learned a lot about the teachings of Jesus Christ. I’d learned enough to know that few Christians really, truly live the beliefs they profess to hold…except on Sunday mornings when they’re trying to stay awake in a pew.
Calling oneself a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew…or, in my case, a Buddhist…should be an invitation to unite in the shared goal of making this world a better place. Instead, these labels are too often a tribal call to arms. If we call all just relax, back off a bit, and try to see the good in one another, I think this world could and would be a better, safer place to be. Call me Pollyanna, but what I’m asking for isn’t a very difficult thing at all. Really; all we have to do is to change how we think. Simple, eh??
WE DESERVE BETTER…and if we could all just get along, we might just realize better. Really.