Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's Not About Religion

Let's take a look at a little history, shall we? Throughout the vast stretch of Christian history Biblical passages have been used to justify some really horrible, inhuman things. Then Islam came along, and added to the entire miserable human state. Even the Jews in the early days of Christianity persecuted the new Christian sect, leading perhaps to the anti-Jewish slant to the Gospel of John.

 The monotheistic traditions are not alone in acts of persecution. The battle over the state (now country) of Pakistan pitted Hindu against Muslim. And my own belief system is not free of persecuting; currently the Buddhists in Burma are trying every means possible to expel Muslims. I've seen them in interviews saying very unenlightened things, nothing at all like you would hear from such leaders as HH the Dalai Lama.

 Is it true, as prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins assert, that religion is inherently malicious to competing traditions?

 Richard Dawkins is a pretty smart fellow, and I wouldn't want to face him in a debate on the subject. Certainly religion has its problems. But I contend that the root of these conflicts is not religion, but culture. Let me use as examples racism, of the past (yes, it is still very much around in the present), and rights of same-sex couples, in the present.

 Slavery, while justifiable in the Old Testament, cannot be justified in Christian theology. Even the most casual reader of His teachings would know that Jesus would never have approved of the abduction of a race of people and putting them to work in the sugar or cotton fields. That just wasn't his style. And high school, my world history teacher maintained that slavery was a GOOD for the Black race, for, without it, they never would have been Christianized.

Certainly the pre-Civil War abolitionists pointed to scripture, stating that slavery was immoral. But they didn't particularly want Black folk in their neighborhoods; their idea was to move them away from America, to some homeland, to be established, of their own. Today Southerners will contend that slavery was NOT the cause of the civil war, and I would contend that slavery was only part of the issue. What Southerners found threatening was their way of life. Blacks were not fully human, were thought of as property, and were a vital component of the Southern economy. Like the Abolitionists, they had their own religious justification for their actions.

(As a tangent in the modern sense, I also grew up around people who thought inter-racial marriage was against God's will; if He had wanted Africans to marry White Folk, He would have made them White.)

Let's now look at the hot topic that some Christians and Muslims (and Jews, for all I know, there are so few of them and they seem to dedicate their energies elsewhere...but again, I don't personally know), which is gay marriage.

Having been raised as a homophobe, and learning that "Homo!" was an insult long before I knew what homosexuality is, I was culturally indoctrinated that homosexuality was a sin, an abomination. The notion that homosexuality was a "lifestyle" choice only made sense. After all, God says homosexuality was wrong, and God makes all things, so it would be contradictory for God to create abominations.

But contact and friendship with a gay couple exposed this for what it was: false logic. In fact, the logic was backward! If being gay was a choice, then being heterosexual must be a choice, too. But I knew I never made that choice, I just woke up one day and girls weren't yucky any more.

Perhaps it says something sinister about Southern culture, but the protest against gay marriage, wrapped as it is in the pages of Leviticus, is not really a religious issue, it is a cultural one. Our holy men can stand toe to toe and sling passages back and forth at each other, trying to justify their position of for or against, but in the end the way we were raised plays a bigger role in our outlook (and, let's be honest, our comfort level), even if such raising included religious "teachings."

As we see history unfold, right now, before our lives, and in our recent past, America as a society has moved further in the direction of inclusion. It has made our nation stronger, and recognizing the gay community and its contributions will do the same.

We need to get to a point where "community" is not defined by race, religion, or sexual orientation. I would hope to see that someday it is not defined by arbitrary lines we call national borders.

I had an argument with a Tea Party Republican who was against gay marriage because it was "redefining" marriage. I agree that it is, but it is being done in the spirit of inclusion (or, I think for a large number of people, because they take the position that it is none of their business). And we have precedent for such a redefinition: slaves were once not fully human.

Let's rise above our raising, let's be more than the indoctrination of our culture. If two people of the same sex want to get married and enjoy the privileges, pains, sorrows, and joys ("the whole catastrophe" as the line goes from *Fiddler on the Roof*), let's embrace them. And then we can get onto the real problems of poverty, hunger, disease, and real catastrophes. Let's not turn our raising into catastrophe.