Saturday, May 17, 2008

Religion and More Religion

For the third post in my potentially blasphemous series on Religion, I will explain my belief that religions don't have to be mutually exclusive to each other. I'm going to describe my thoughts on this on a couple of different levels.

On the most basic nitty-gritty rules-and-regulations level, all religions with which I have at least a passing familiarity appear to have at least a few clauses in their religious texts or other bases of belief that, at minimum, suggest that followers remain friendly to members of other faiths, and at the extreme, suggest that it is okay to become cozy to the beliefs held by other religions. Now, I won't claim to be an expert on any religion, really. I was raised Christian and I've read more than my share of other religious texts. Some very interesting (and lesser-known) passages can be found:
Christianity: this appears to me to be one of the more hard-lined faiths when it comes to getting cozy with other religions. Even so, examples can be found to the contrary. 1 Corinthians 7:13 says, "And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him." To be fair, there are also examples (2 Corinthians 6:14) that suggest the opposite. The Bible is a difficult text, because many passages contradict each other.
Islam: Yes, Islam. Remember that crazy middle-east religion that hates freedom and wants to kill us? Well, I suggest getting to know some Muslims. I have. Doing so can be a study in the falsehood of stereotypes. The common belief is that the Koran says directly to be unfriendly toward Christians, Jews, and others, and that it portrays them as evil. However, it appears that some (not all) of those are taken out of context, and there are some lesser-known passages to the contrary: [60:8] "Allah does not enjoin you from befriending those who do not fight you because of religion, and do not evict you from your homes. You may befriend them and be equitable towards them. Allah loves the equitable." [5:46] "Subsequent to them, we sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the previous scripture, the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, containing guidance and light, and confirming the previous scriptures, the Torah, and augmenting its guidance and light, and to enlighten the righteous."
Judaism: There are a lot of misconceptions about the origins of Judaism, but those can be easily cleared up simply by looking at the wording of the earlier books of the Torah, known to Christians as the Old Testament. Ron Wixman, a university professor with an uncommon amount of common sense, originally enlightened me on this subject. Judaism's origins were not as a big, bad religion hell-bent on converting everything with a pulse, characteristic of the behavior of many Christians and Muslims in recent history. On the contrary, it was a local religion, initially intended to co-exist with other beliefs. Take Exodus 20:3, the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me." This wasn't originally meant to state that other beliefs were false; it was intended as a message specifically to the Jews, the "chosen people" that they were to revere this particular god more than (or in exclusion of) the others. Many passages refer to other gods, such as Psalms 82:1: "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods." In fact, around twenty other gods are mentioned by name in the Torah. If there was such co-existence back then, I don't see why there can't be now.
Buddhism: Of all the religions I've read about, Buddhism is definitely the most friendly toward other religions. The Dalai Llama himself has stated that it is desirable that there are so many other religions in the world. Buddhism, in many forms, is openly acceptive of other religions, and even holds that many other religious beliefs are based in truth. These values likely arise, at least in part, from the fact that Buddha himself taught different people in different ways, suggesting that one single belief doesn't work for everyone. Makes sense to me.

In a higher, moral values and be-nice-to-others sense, I have always believed that one of the most sacred things to any person is what they hold in their brains. Forced belief is one of the worst crimes possible, and all those people who spend their lives trying to convert others, at gunpoint or otherwise, need to get a grip. Some of the world's worst wars, some of the most horrible events, boiled down to one group trying to get another group to believe their unprovable assertions about spiritual beings that never show themselves. I think it's wonderful that you believe what you do, but don't try and force it on others. This goes for pushy asshole atheists just as much as it does for staunch loudmouth missionaries; let people believe what they want. And to all of you evangelists who lie outright to others to frighten them, or worse, to trick them into believing your way, I'm sure your religion has an appropriate place in hell for you. Agnostics, you're still alright with me.

And to all of you out there who have had some near-death experience where you've seen a vision that proves to you that yours is the one true faith and how could anyone ever believe anything else? Well, other people have had those experiences too and attributed it to their own religions, so get over yourself!

Okay, I'm done now. Have a nice existence.

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