Friday, October 12, 2007

serious religion

I found that op-ed piece really interesting, because as a member of a faith (somewhat conservative Christianity) that gets lambasted in our culture a lot, especially by the crazy liberals I count myself as part of, sometimes I get tired of a certain hypocrisy in the left-wing treatment of religion.
Now I will say, I'm fully aware that other faiths that are not mainstream in the US probably have it a lot harder. Christianity, at least the cultural kind, is firmly entrenched in our culture. It's easy to be a Christian here, in many ways. So perhaps I'm just being whiny. However, I think that as The Religion of the US, we get our fair share of bad representations. When you see a Christian on most TV shows (Touched by an Angel excepted), they're usually huffy, prudish, and judgmental. Angela on The Office is one example.
What I thought was interesting in the article was the idea that a lot of our Western contempt for fundamentalists was based in the disbelief that they could take their faith seriously. Whereas we counted ourselves superior because were were above such ridiculousness. *
I'll give you a for instance. I was sitting with some writer friends at a holiday party a few years ago. We were quite a mix: a Wiccan, a semi-orthodox Jew, me, and a Unitarian. The Humanist asked the Jew (this is sounding like a bad joke) about his faith, and then started saying how, really, all four of us really believed the same things, that the faiths were basically alike. From her assertion, it was clear she wanted us all to chime in with Yesses.
The Wiccan agreed. The Jewish guy kind of smiled, and changed the subject.
Now, I can't really speak to what my Jewish writer friend thought of her assertion. He may have agreed. The conversation was uncomfortable enough that I didn't have the guts to ask him about it afterwards. I just wondered at the look of discomfort on his face and his lack of assent. If it had been me, I would have been a slightly peeved. I was slightly peeved. Because I didn't really agree with her, and sometimes I get tired at the liberal line that really, there is no difference in faiths, that they're all interchangeable, and that truly enlightened people would agree with that statement.
I think you can have respect for other religions (for example, I respect that the Wiccan belongs to a tradition that takes women seriously, or that the Unitarian admires other faiths and seeks to understand them, while finding the beauty in all of them), but still realize that there are fundamental differences between them, and that agreement in ethics is not all--and that you have to acknowledge that, say, a Jew, Muslim, and Christian have serious differences in theology--not to mention a Hindu or Buddhist or Wiccan or Mormon or Scientologist. They have some overlapping ideas--Golden Rules and all that, but the faiths have different feels, different world views.
Perhaps it's akin to me saying "Oh, I'm color-blind" when it comes to different ethnicities--which, really, is a little presumptuous. People's ethnicities often have a big effect on who they are--so for me to say ethnicity doesn't matter is to deny the possibility that it does.
Current liberal culture values tolerance--"there is no difference, everyone is right" tolerance--over all. The only thing we won't tolerate is, well, intolerance. So a faith like evangelical Christianity (or some strains of Islam), which dares to say this is The Way, is foolish, or heretical. In other words, if we take Christ's words seriously--or at face value, we're unenlightened.
I respect your right to disagree with me. Heartily. The post may make some people mad, or offend them. It's really not my goal: more, I just hate pussyfooting around this issue with friends that are not of my faith...worrying that they'll be offended by, what is to me, a central tenet of my belief system. And maybe they wouldn't be--maybe it's more of my hangup. I don't know. But the op-ed piece made me feel like someone had spoken about the elephant in the room, and helped me to acknowledge to myself that yes, sometimes I am really out of step with our culture, and it's not necessarily because I'm wrong.
Personally I find the claims of Christ to be The Way troubling myself. Sometimes--most of the time--I don't like the proselytizing that such claims would make necessary. Really, it's more of my style to be of the "they're all beautiful and essentially the same" camp. And then there are all of the real problems of violence and hatred that fundamentalism of any kind can breed. And yet--I still choose to be a Christian, and thus must reconcile my wants with the demands of my faith, as I understand them.
I guess what I'm asking is this: is it possible for 'intolerance' to be part of the fabric of a faith? So that to ignore it, or belittle it, is to belittle the faith, as well? Is it possible to be tolerant--to a point--of other faiths, while saying, I disagree with them, fundamentally?
I guess what I finally liked about the op-ed piece (is any of this actually addressing the piece) is the smugness, the hypocrisy, and the self-satisfaction of our culture. We're free to criticize the Taliban for destroying beautiful sculptures of Buddha, but are complacent when our modernist, relativistic world-view changes or eclipses more traditional world-views. We criticize the (peaceful) "intolerance" of some faiths, while ignoring the intolerance of our viewpoint. And we refuse to take seriously those who would actually believe in their beliefs.
I would like to know how to balance those two sides of the coin--real knowledge, tolerance, and appreciation for other faiths, while still finding that I disagree--and being able to say that, publicly. I would like to be enough out of our monolithic Enlightenment culture to be able to sense my own hypocrisy on this issue. And I'd like to be able to have a real dialogue with people of all faiths about how we learn about each other--while still agreeing to disagree.

*I don't exactly want to be counted with the Taliban in my pursuit of serious faith. There's serious where you keep an eye on love, and there's serious where love is abandoned in the pursuit of seriousness. One has to remain firmly in the first camp.

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