Tag Archives: Religion

Read On: Prothero on May 21sters

Whether or not Christ is returning on May 21st, this op-ed by Stephen Prothero is provocative and insightful for any reader. (Source: eurweb.com)

This is the first in a new category of posts I’m starting called Read On. These are short posts that include a brief introduction to a topic followed by a link to an article, op-ed, video, or other piece on that topic. I’m starting this category for two reasons: First, this will allow me to continue writing and encouraging discussion about interesting and provocative topics and issues, even when short on time (which I have been of late). Second, there are many pieces to be found online that I feel merit more discussion, so I want to share these with my readers.

As many of you have likely heard, the world is going to end tomorrow, May 21st, at 6 pm. Well, that’s the story at least.

Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, made a prediction about the end of the world, declaring that it is to come on May 21st: tomorrow. This isn’t the first time Camping has made this prediction, and after 6:01 passes without incident tomorrow, he’s likely to come up with another.

Now, the idea of this world crashing down around our heads tomorrow seems unlikely at best to the vast majority of us. And while I would agree that this theory is pure lunacy and fantasy, perhaps this kind of unfounded belief is not as far from home as we would think.

In the article I link to below, Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, discusses the idea that we all have our pet irrational beliefs, and perhaps we’re not all that different from the May 21sters.

My Take: Doomsdayers not so different from the rest of us

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Global Community, Global Responsibility (Part 1)

The international community is continually becoming more tightly-knit, but that comes with a great deal of responsibility. (Source: icicp.blogspot.com/www.icicp.org)

Our world is growing increasingly global and interconnected. Countless alliances, agreements, treaties, and organizations bind together countries and peoples all around the planet. Many companies are turning abroad to emerging markets to expand their business. It’s now almost commonplace for a student to spend months or even years studying abroad.

The degree to which the many diverse groups of people around the world are connected is astounding. We’ve managed to cross many lingual, social, religious, and cultural barriers as the world continues to become more globalized, or as Thomas Friedman might say, flat.

Globalization brings with it a plethora of advantages and advances that not only offer more opportunity to those in emerging countries but give us a chance to understand each other more. Perhaps more importantly, it has allowed many countries around the world to move past dangerous nationalism and allowed international cooperation where it hasn’t existed before.

I’m majoring in International Studies at my university, so I believe that an examination of these changes is critical, not only for gaining a better understanding of the politics and economics of the world, but for understanding the people of it. And though I’m nowhere near graduation or a full knowledge of international relations, I feel that I’m beginning to realize something about our trend towards the global.

As nations continue to draw more connections to one another, they become beholden to an increasingly high standard of responsibility and accountability. As a nation moves outside of itself and reaches out or is reached out to by other parts of the world, its standards must be carefully examined. The more involved a country is on the international stage, the higher its national credibility must be. Once a nation becomes globally active, it can no longer make decisions based entirely on its own needs and desires, nor can it expect to avoid all international scrutiny.

Yet many members of the international community are not living up to the standards that they should be expected to adhere to if they want to receive recognition from other countries. In a way, these governments – such as those of North Korea, Rwanda and Serbia in the 1990s, Sudan, and Libya, as well as countless others – want to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. They want or wanted to have a presence on the international level (and have that), but are or were unwilling to live up to the standards that such nations must hold.

The nations I listed above have had in the past or currently have grievous human rights violations staining their records. But in each of these circumstances, the international community either spent weeks, months, or years deliberating about what to do, or is still doing nothing. Why is this? Why were 800,000 Tutsi people killed in Rwanda before anyone put a stop to the violence? Why was Slobodan Milošević allowed to stay in power in Serbia after massacres of Bosnian Muslims, when 3 weeks of NATO bombing stopped him later? Why are people still being killed in Darfur?

I’ve decided to split this post into multiple parts, as it seems likely to become rather lengthy, and I haven’t published in some time. Check back soon for part 2!

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 2)

Will we finally let go of our differences? (Source: scu.edu)

This is the second part of an earlier post, which you can find here. If you’re a bit lost, give my earlier post a read!

Sadly, we’re nowhere near as far toward this as we could be, or should be, and I must admit there’s a long way to go. But progress is being made, and in no small way! A great example of this is in the steady advancement of gay rights over the past years. Public opinion is moving toward favoring marriage equality, DADT has been repealed (nominally at least), 6 states allow gay marriage, and Maryland will soon join them. To add to this, the Department of Justice is no longer upholding DOMA, a strong step that shows that government is moving with the popular opinion. The long run for marriage equality is looking even brighter, as more than half of voters under the age of 30 (55%, to be exact) approve of same-sex marriage, and the media generally treats it as both normal and acceptable.

Of course, this is by no means the only place we’re moving forward! Huge strides are being made across religious, social, cultural, and linguistic barriers, as people all around the world are connecting in new and incredible ways. Even just in the short time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many new and amazing people, and talk with them about some of the most important things in life, and we’ve been able to do this across entire oceans!

This new century brings incredible new potentials with it, unlike anything in centuries past. Just as the 20th century brought about amazing new developments and turning points in our collective history, the 21st century is bringing a new kind of change, one that brings understanding and peace, instead of division and strife.

Maybe this is just the optimistic musing of a young mind, but as I mentioned above, this seems to me to be happening in a variety of very real and tangible ways! I’m finding more and more people who are willing to reach out and understand others, no matter what their differences are. People seem to be slowly becoming more willing to accommodate the different ideas of others, without feeling the need to be right. In schools, more children are being taught the value of acceptance and tolerance, instead of the value of winning an argument. There seems to be a greater and greater need and desire for interfaith dialogue, and prominent religious leaders (Feisal Abdul Rauf, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and many others) are standing up to try and bring greater peace and unity between religious traditions, without sacrificing diversity.

As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done here, but a lot of progress is being made as well. Though we’re only a tenth of the way through it, I can see this century being a bright one, a time when people will slowly but surely realize that all of our differences, all of our outward appearances and supposed differences can be left at the wayside. This 21st century will be, I’m sure, one of Common People.

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Seeking the Spiritual: Perception From Belief

A member of the English Defence League, a group whose harmful beliefs have definitely given rise to dangerous perceptions, in their case, of Islam. (Photo credit: Gavin Lynn. Source: Creative Commons)

One of my favorite overused cliches is “seeing the world through tinted lenses.” While this line is used far too often, it’s still a good one.

We all see the world in different ways, and I’ve come to realize more and more that these different views and visions about the world drastically alter the way we see our environments and everything (and every person) around us. In other words, our perceptions of things stem directly from our beliefs about those things.

While this is a very natural thing, it can also be a very harmful one. If we have harmful beliefs, we’ll begin to develop harmful perceptions to match those beliefs! For example, if I hold the false belief that all fruit is poisonous, I won’t eat any fruit, and that will take a toll on my health. I see this kind of progression from dangerous belief to dangerous perception (and ultimately to dangerous action) all the time, in the news and in the world around me.

A great example of this is the story of Terry Jones and his church in Florida. Last summer, Jones’ tiny, 60-member church made clear its intention to publicly burn a copy of the Qur’an. There was a huge uproar over this (and rightly so) from nearly all sectors, including the American military (who feared this had the potential to cause a spike in terrorist attacks), and eventually Jones gave up the notion. But this last March, Jones decided to go through with his initial book-burning plans, staging a mock trial of the Qur’an on his website on March 20th, on what he called “International Judge the Koran Day.” The “trial” ended with a burning of the holy book.

Naturally, this outraged Muslims, particularly in the Middle East, and violent protests have taken place in Afghanistan and elsewhere, leaving at least a dozen dead. This is a perfect example of a dangerous belief turning into a dangerous perception and then into a dangerous action. And, as we saw here, it was only one more step toward yet more dangerous and violent actions, all of this due to a crazy belief.

But it’s not as if we can (or should) carefully regulate all of the thoughts and beliefs of all people in a country, much less in the entire world. So what can we hope to do? We can watch our own beliefs, and be carefully aware of what kind of perceptions stem from those beliefs. I’m of course not saying that my readers are likely to start burning holy books of any religion! What I am saying is that it’s much easier to let our beliefs become our perceptions than most people want to acknowledge. And if we allow our negative thoughts and beliefs about other people affect us too deeply, then our negative perceptions of those people will grow stronger.

It can be very difficult to keep our beliefs from affecting our perceptions, because it’s only natural to do so! But what’s so important for us to remember is to keep our negative beliefs from giving us negative thoughts and attitudes toward others, especially when those attitudes become negative actions. We can only start getting rid of harmful beliefs when we don’t let them become harmful perceptions.

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Seeking the Spiritual: Dueling Monologues

Part of the interior of Hagia Sofia, a monolithic museum in Istanbul that has been both a church and a mosque in its past. The beautiful building has a stark and beautiful blend of Christian and Muslim art and symbolism. (Photo credit: Yours truly!)

I’d like to thank Musa Askari for helping me find inspiration for this post by sharing some of his father Hasan’s writings, and for broadening my perspectives on spirituality. I’d strongly recommend reading his blog to any of my readers out there. Thanks so much Musa!

Countless religions are represented in our modern world, spreading over the entire world, and affecting the lives of billions. Many consider religion and spirituality one of the most central parts of their life, and I would put myself in this camp.

But so often, this expression and belief leads to terrible conflict with those who may not hold the same views. Strong convictions born of powerful spiritual experiences or cultural forces lead many people, from all religions, to insist that only their religious beliefs are the best and only valid ones to have.

What this inevitably leads to is a dreadful and anger-ridden stalemate. When a person’s religious convictions become deeply rooted in the wrong way, they begin to lose the ability to listen to others, and only focus on how they can best spread their own beliefs.

And so the situation becomes one of dueling monologues, rather than a cooperative dialogue. For people of different religious backgrounds to truly get along and respect each others’ beliefs, those people need to abandon the notion that they are absolutely and fundamentally correct. A good image to help visualize this is that of two people shouting at one another in an argument. Both people are shouting their opinions very loudly, and being very vocal about what they think. But their voices are too loud for them to hear anything, let alone what the other person is shouting at them! The problem is, far too many religious people are so closed-minded and forthright about their beliefs that they can never manage to get along. Instead, people of different religions who fit this description waste their energy on trying to convince people of other faiths (people just as devout and rigid in their own, different beliefs), that they fail to accomplish anything.

There’s a great need to move away from this model of “monologue vs. monologue” and begin to engage in real dialogue with people of other faiths and beliefs, even if it’s a challenge to our own way of thinking. As long as people keep talking to each other as though only their own beliefs have any significance, and all other people need to believe the same, there will only be a greater distance between people of different faiths.

People of different faiths often have many goals in common, though of course they have different approaches. Religious faith can be an incredible way to satisfy our deepest needs, and often it can lead us to a greater understanding of spirituality and the world. If people of all different backgrounds and beliefs can realize that there is valid wisdom and strength to be found in other religions, then we can work together, rather than apart. This doesn’t even require total cooperation of beliefs! While different people may disagree on specific orthodoxy, or even how they think of God and spirituality, they can still set aside their differences and agree to try and learn from each other, working toward the same goals of unity, peace, and understanding. It’s time to give up our monologues, and finally learn the skill of dialogue.

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Seeking the Spiritual: Languages of the Divine

What if we're all just speaking different languages to the same divine source?

I attend a book discussion group every Tuesday night at a Methodist church in my town, which I might add is one of the best churches I’ve ever been lucky enough to attend. This last Tuesday (the 8th, I think it was), we were discussing the book we’re currently reading, when the pastor mentioned a fascinating idea that he had heard: Religion as a language. This immediately resonated with me in a way that I didn’t really understand, and still can’t claim to completely comprehend. Truth be told, he mentioned this idea only in passing, but it has stuck with me strangely.

When I really think about this, it’s a very simple idea, but such a beautiful and profound one. Religion as a language. There are so many layers to this statement, so I’ll cover what I can in the time and space that I have!

First, language is the key method we use to communicate with those around us, so a “religious” language might be seen as the way we communicate with the spiritual aspect of our lives. But, as with language, there is no one unique way of communicating with the spiritual. Some may speak the language of literal or verbal prayer. Others speak the language of meditation, and still others speak the language of dance or song. Just as we use different languages to talk to each other, we each can use different spiritual languages to connect to the spiritual in our lives, in the way that best fits our personal needs.

Second, no one language needs to be dominant in any sense. While more people may speak a particular language, the fact that they speak it in no way takes away the validity or importance of another language. The fact that my first language is English doesn’t mean that every person must speak English. There is no “right” language that the entire world must know and understand, and no language can claim moral superiority over any other. A person may be raised with a language or choose to speak it, just as a person may be raised into a religion or choose one.

And while it may come most naturally for someone to know and speak only in their own spiritual language, and only to those who understand them, I really don’t think it’s necessary. Just as someone can become multilingual, someone can become multispiritual! The conflict that so often arises between religions can be expressed in terms of language as well. If I speak my native language at someone whose native language is completely different, and neither of us knows the other’s tongue even a little bit, we can’t possibly understand each other! It’s the same with religious dialogue. If we can’t take the time and energy to learn another person’s spiritual language, the way they see the world and the spiritual, then there is no way we’ll ever understand each other.

And this leads me to what I think is the most beautiful part of this analogy. If you think of religions as spiritual languages, then it becomes possible to envision a “multilingual” spiritual existence. In this way of thinking, a religion need not be elitist and dominating, but can be something that is understood by others who may speak a different language. If a friend speaks the language of Hinduism, I can grow to understand her way of seeing the world and the spiritual by learning some of her language. Perhaps, one day, I can even speak it myself!

If we continue to tell ourselves that there is only one true language, only one way of understanding life, then we will never be able to approach others and their spirituality in a loving way. In fact, we don’t necessarily need to even understand another’s language; we need only allow them to speak it. I don’t need to fully understand the ways in which other people approach the divine. We only need to sit back and appreciate the beauty of their language, and allow them to speak to the spiritual in whatever way they know and understand. Only then can we achieve true religious understanding.

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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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