Thursday, July 09, 2009

H&HT takes a small side path for a moment

A person's religious faith should be a private thing.  Or at least that's how I view it.  I recall a passage in the Christian bible's New Testament about how you should go into your closet and pray instead of standing on the streetcorner, because if you pray in public your reward will be of the temporal world and what you really want is a reward in the eternal world.  Besides, inner conviction and conscience are such intensely personal things.  It is one thing to study or practice various devotions with others.  It is a totally other thing to attempt to coerce, scare, prey upon or cajole people to join your particular morality club—as if your passage into some wonderful hereafter depended on how many followers you could number.

Throughout her life my mother kept searching for the right church and the right pastor who would give the right message.  For a time we were Jehovah's Witnesses. In an attempt to be counted among the 144,000 who would be saved (yes, only 144 thousand) she would take hold of the official version of the bible sanctioned by the Witnesses and go door to door spreading the good word and the Witnesses' literature.  At some point she must have realized that she wouldn't make it into that elite group, and we stopped going to the Kingdom Hall.

I was, according to what I've been told, baptized Lutheran.  But in addition to the years spent as a Jehovah's Witness, I believe that mom went to Baptist and Methodist and maybe even Universalist churches.  Later on she found an evangelist who was on television and who published books with which she was enthralled for a while.  She used to exchange the latest little booklets with her brother's wife who also was enamored of this same evangelist.  Her brother, my uncle, was more the scientific sort and as far as I know, simply tolerated his wife's fervor for this "prophet." 

When mom and my step-dad retired to run a small gas station/convenience store in rural Arkansas, she became a ditto-head—yes, a Rush Limbaugh devotee.  She searched the local churches for some place she felt comfortable, but I don't think she ever found one.  On more than one visit there, I remember seeing little hand-printed signs stuck on the shelves next to cans of pinto beans, Spam and 6-packs of Oreo cookies.  The signs read, "Ditto-heads welcome here!" And, "Proud to be politically incorrect."

Until the day my mother died, she seemed convinced that I was a godless hippie and an incorrigible, despicable liberal.  Rush had found a permanent place in her psyche.  I think she still had a few friends who commiserated with her views, but she never found a better congregation than the clumps of ditto-heads who faithfully listened to Rush's AM broadcasts.

Which brings me to why I write about any of this today.  Two ladies, somewhat more aged than I, knocked on my door today.  They clutched handsful of small pamphlets that they offered to me.  The first lady inquired if I was a Christian.  I replied, no, I was not affiliated with any one major religion.  They told me they wanted to invite me to their Baptist church down the street and they wanted to make sure that I knew that their religion was the only one who had a figurehead who had risen from the dead for me, and therefore, was the one true religion.

I do not disparage these sweet ladies' religious preferences.  I informed them that I had studied—at length—most of the world's major religions and that I found remarkable similarities in all of them, by way of explaining that I understood and appreciated each path.  They continued to remind me that there was only one true faith: theirs.  I asked them if they had ever spent any time looking at other major religions' holy books.  They hadn't, and looked puzzled that I would even ask such a question.

The front porch visit ended with them telling me that they would pray for me.  I thanked them, but thought to myself that their words were a tad condescending, and that their energy might be better spent in other endeavors.

I honestly don't mind when Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses or just the local Baptist church ladies come to my door with their messages of redemption or whatever.  What I do mind is when people get it in their heads that their way is the only right way and they purposely infiltrate the political structure in order to be in a position to legislate their particular flavor of morality.

If I stand barefooted doing an esoteric dance, a legominism, at dawn on the Soltices and the Equinoxes, or if I don a robe and perform the Sema on December 17, or if I practice green meditation with a Buddhist monk, or if I chant "La illa ha illala" while sitting in the morning, or if I peruse the Kabbalah, or if the last thing I say before laying down to sleep is, "Lord, have mercy," that is my business and I would never insist that anyone join me.  The spiritual journey is necessarily unique for each person.

For what it's worth, I am not afraid of Sarah Palin because I think she stands a snowball's chance of succeeding in gaining a national political office.  But I am dreadfully wary of what she represents in the religious arena.  Extreme religious views such as the ones I suspect she feeds on, views that insist on a sectarian takeover of every major aspect of life in our country, give me chills.  If I may, "Thanks, but no thanks, to anyone who doesn't understand why we must maintain a clear separation between church and state."
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