Category Archives: Religion & Reason

Seeking the Spiritual: The Intimate Bond of Culture and Religion

Grow up in a different culture, and chances are you'll follow a different faith.

One of the very important things that I’ve been realizing about the world and the people in it over the last few months is the level to which religion is a cultural tradition and inheritance. This may seem like an extremely obvious conclusion for anyone to come to, but for me, this has been a difficult thing. As I’ve mentioned in a number of previous posts, I was brought up in a strongly Christian environment. For most of my life, when I was an adherent of evangelical Christianity, I rarely, if ever, questioned why I believed what I did. If I were to seriously ask myself this question a few years ago, my answer would’ve been, “Because you know that it’s true!”

But recently, I’ve allowed my old conceptions of religion and people be challenged and remodeled. This has been partially due to my travels over the last summer to France, Holland, Greece, and most importantly, Turkey. I’ve had the privilege of seeing how other people live their faith, particularly in the case of Islam, as I experienced life in a country where the (very) dominant religion is one very different from what I had experienced for the greater part of my life. I also have a great many friends from China (due to the large international student program at my school), and getting to know them and their fascinating culture has helped my understanding of Eastern thought to broaden.

Here’s where I’m going with this. Over recent months, I’ve discovered more and more that the reason I believed what I did for most of my life has been because I grew up with it, in a mini-culture that told me that the right thing to believe was Christianity. And more importantly, I’ve realized that others (again, this sounds like an obvious point), particularly those in vastly different parts of the world like Turkey, have grown up being taught that the right thing to believe was Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or even atheism. I can see now that so much of what I “believed” was simply what had been passed down to.

Now, this is only natural. Parents teach their children what they think is right, and in fact many holy books instruct parents to do this (Proverbs 22:6 of the Bible, for example). But when someone becomes a brash conversionist (I know, I made it up) with their religion, they seem to leave sanity behind in their mad rush to change others to their way of thinking. What I mean by “leaving their sanity behind,” is that these religious practitioners have so thoroughly convinced themselves of their own rightness and the wrongness of others, that they forget that they probably only believe what they do because they were raised that way!

More frightening than that though, they forget that the beliefs that others hold dear are ones that they were always raised on as well. The reason for their belief in whatever religion it may be is their upbringing, not some deep-seated and witless desire to be a heretic. So when you get down to the heart of the issue, an evangelical Christian (this is only an example) and the young Indian Hindu he is trying to convert both believe in their respective religions for the same reason: They were always taught to.

I strongly believe that if more people, from all places, traditions, and religions could accept this, there would be far fewer people condemning each other for what seem to me to be obviously cultural influences. No person can decide the circumstances of their birth, and it’s a terrible thing that religious people of all kinds issue bold proclamations that anyone who doesn’t accept their truth, including young children who have heard nothing about it, is doomed. Truth be told, this is a pretty typical trait of the evangelical Christian in particular. I was talking with an evangelical acquaintance of mine about this very issue, not too long ago. I asked her, “What about an orphaned child in India? Chances are they’re going to grow up learning Hinduism as their religion. What happens if that child dies, and they’ve never heard anything about the Christian god?” She answered (paraphrase), “God’s justice is different from our justice. It’s sad that it has to happen, but the Bible says that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ is going to hell, no matter what. And that’s just the way it is!”

There is something desperately wrong with that picture.

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Filed under Religion & Reason, Seeking the Spiritual

God & Government

Just as it should be.

“Separation of church and state.” It’s one of those phrases that gets thrown around the political arena endlessly, and permeates almost all talk involving the role of religion in government (and really, vice versa as well).

But what exactly does (and should) this mean? That’s where the conflict starts arising.

The phrase itself isn’t actually found in the Constitution, but instead in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote about said document, in which he praised the American people for building a “wall of separation” between the church and the state in the form of the First Amendment.

A number of conservative Christians claim that “separation of church and state” is found nowhere in the Constitution, but it seems crystal clear that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment doesn’t want the state to influence the church, and especially doesn’t want the church to influence the state, at least outside of the normal voting rights of members of the church. “No law respecting an establishment of religion” seems pretty black and white to me.

And yet, as usual, there’s conflict. The issue from the typical Christian’s viewpoint though, is that God unilaterally¬†supersedes¬†government, no matter what. I hope it’s as obvious to my readers as it is to me that this is an incredibly dangerous way of thinking, at least from the perspective of the general public. The religious right is already adept at insisting that all members of American society should adhere to their definition of what is right. In doing this, they are both invoking and revoking the First Amendment simultaneously.

Let me explain what I mean by this. The religious right (and, to a lesser extent, the majority of the evangelical Christian movement) is invoking their First Amendment right to freedom of religion, refusing to let the government repress their religious expression, which is a good thing. But at the same time, they’re essentially saying that all citizens of the US must respect their establishment of religion. Laws that are brought into being out of religious conviction are inherently un-Constitutional, as they turn the state into a vehicle of whichever religion those convictions sprang from (mostly Christianity).

So many evangelical Christians (I’m sort of zeroing in on this one religious group, I know. I give no excuse for this, having been one in past) have such a strong “God over government” mentality that they don’t hesitate at all in their willingness to trample the rights (and sometimes humanity) of others to do the “godly” thing. In a democracy, disdain for the authority of government in some ways shows a disdain for the rights and authority of the governed, because the authority of said government is derived from the consent of the governed. The laws and protections afforded by the government don’t just reflect the desires of the president or Congress, they reflect the desires and needs of the people under said government. And if the religious right thinks that that government, the one whose job it is to protect religious and ideological minorities (no matter how much disagreement the evangelical Christian community raises), is still beholden to a homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic God (just to give a few religious right examples), then they will stop at nothing to mow down the institutions of that government that they don’t think their God would agree with.

 

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Filed under Constitution & Controversy, Religion & Reason

And You Thought America was Uptight!

Before I get started discussing this, I’d like to say that I know this is old news, so please refrain from telling me to pick up the paper. That said, this news is still sadly relevant! In fact, it’s come to the forefront again very recently. So hear me out.

Homosexuality and homosexual practice has always been a point of contention in Africa, especially in recent years. The general sentiment in many African countries (most notably Uganda) is that homosexuality is not just wrong, as many Americans feel, but an outright abomination and crime. In October 2010, the magazine pictured here (not the Rolling Stone you’re thinking of) released the names and addresses of 100 “Top Homos” in Uganda under an injunction to “Hang Them.” One of the people named in the article (and pictured on the cover) was David Kato, a gay rights activist in Uganda who was beaten to death with a hammer just 3 days ago in his home.

It’s been proposed (and perhaps not wrongly so) that the flames of anti-gay sentiment in Uganda were stoked in large part by a number of evangelical Christians that have helped “encourage” the evangelical Christian community in Uganda to view homosexuality as an aberration, an unnatural way of life, and of course, a sin. In the thinking of such blameless souls as Rick Warren, homosexuality is against the grain of normality, and is thus not something that need be considered a human right. To slather icing on the cake, a number of American evangelical leaders have popularized the idea that homosexuality is the immediate precursor to the dissolution of the African family. In the words of the minister of ethics and integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.” Classy guy, eh?

Ya know, this sounds pretty similar to what the Evangelical movement is seeking to achieve on American soil. Fundamentalist Christians have for years been striving to exorcise homosexuality from the US, but this isn’t a fight reserved just for America. No no, the “gay agenda” must be rooted out across the globe, according to folks like Scott Lively.

And Uganda seems to take this as a sacred and blood-soaked duty. The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, drafted a bill that threatens to drastically expand the penalties that can be imposed on gays in Uganda, up to and including capital punishment. Besides that, the bill, if passed, would call for homosexual Ugandans who have fled the country to be deported for punishment. But wait, it gets better! Museveni made the decision to bring this bill about after being converted to Christianity by American evangelicals. Regardless of who actually drafted the bill, none of these “good Christians” have voiced strong opposition to the bill, at most discouraging Parliament from such drastic measures. Similarly, none will say that Museveni’s insanity toward gays was at all inspired by them.

Yet more proof of the destructive capabilities mustered by members of the American evangelical movement. All we can do now is hope and pray that this bill never passes.

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