But at the dance hall a while back, a friend told me that he used to be religious until he took a philosophy course in college. I could relate to that. History and cultural studies often have a similar effect. All those early Greek and Roman gods must have been pretty important at one time, but most of us pass them off as mythology these days. In fact, I’d say that most of us are atheists when it comes to gods and goddesses like Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, etc. Over the history of man, I suppose that thousands of different religions have come and gone.
In the August 24 and 31, 2009 issue of the Newsweek, I was drawn to an article by Lisa Miller titled “We Are All Hindus Now” (http://www.newsweek.com/id/212155).
Hindus believe there are many paths to God. By Ms Miller’s interpretation, America has conceptually become more of a Hindu society than a Christian society. She refers to a 2008 Pew Forum Survey which shows that 65 per cent of us believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. The survey showed that 37 per cent of White evangelicals claim to believe that, too.
I’m really not surprised by that last fact, although I wonder if we’d get the same results if the poll were to be taken here in Heber Springs. Around here, there seems to be an abundance of shirtsleeve Christians who preach that the only way to get eternal life after death is by believing in Jesus. In fact, these zealots say that you will burn in hell if you don’t believe in Jesus.
I don’t claim any personal knowledge about these things, and of course, religious matters are beyond the realm of scientific testability. So it’s certainly understandable why rationalists tend to shrug their shoulders and move along with eyes glazed over.
Nevertheless, religion is undeniably important because, for one reason, it is so often used by politicians to manipulate behaviour.
According to Ms Miller, “Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the ‘self,’ and that at the end time they will be reunited in the resurrection.” OK, maybe I slept through that part of my Lutheran indoctrination. But Hindus believe no such thing, Ms Miller explains, and burn the dead body on a pyre. The spirit escapes and gets reincarnated in different bodies. Since 24 per cent of Americans now say they believe in reincarnation and more than a third of Americans now choose cremation (up from 6 per cent in 1975), Ms Miller sees more evidence that we are becoming more like Hindus.
I told my wife that if I die before her, she should cremate my body or donate it to one of the medical schools. If I could be ground up and converted into some kind of feed, fertilizer or clean-burning fuel that would be fine with me, too.
I just want to be useful after my death. These ideas aren’t based on any religious belief, but rather my very conservative nature. I know that’s a damaged label these days, but I’m talking about “conservative” in the proper and good sense of the word.
You see, I think I will hate waste as long as I exist. I’m the guy who gets ticked off when my guests throw away perfectly good food or drink. So I can’t see why my wife should spend lots of money over my death, putting thousands of dollars into a grave plot, stone, casket, service, etc. I’d rather see her use our money to help her sustain a comfortable lifestyle-something she deserves from years and years of hard work and putting up with me.
Though I won’t give two hoots to support anyone’s superstitions, I try to be respectful (as you can tell) since religious matters are very important to many people.
I’ve thought for a long time that we can learn and open our minds by studying various cultures and religions. America, after all, still thrives on cultural and religious diversity, in spite of the Religious Wrong culture warriors. It seems to me that those who try to impose their own cultural narrowness on all of America do us no favours.
My impression is that cultural hardliners such as those who wish to impose one religion on all of America are often struggling with some kind of personal insecurity, are politically or financially motivated, or are just confused or manipulated. I see cultural and religious diversity as a strength.
If more Americans are turning to Hinduism, maybe it’s a good thing: The Hindus I’ve met are all very kind, humble and polite people. In contrast, it seems that I’m too often snubbed and/or called by nasty names by self-identified Christians who clearly project an air that they are too good to associate with me. Of course, there are all types of Christians and I certainly would not condemn an entire religion based on some very rude people, no more than any rational person would condemn all of Islam because of the bad apples that hit us on 9-11. But I do remember from Lutheran school that we were taught to be civil and well behaved because our behaviour, we were told, was a reflection on the church, a valuable lesson.
(The writer is one of the local contributors to Progressive Voice, a “liberal viewpoint” column which runs each Friday and can be contacted at http://www.thesuntimes.com)