Wading into the hot soup of religion here, so put on your gumboots and pick up a spoon. Remember: we can talk about these things. It’s okay.
When I was an entirely clueless young undergraduate at Temple University, rather than the almost entirely clueless adult I am now, I left class with a friend whose name I no longer remember to go to another class. This friend was Indian and pleasant, two qualities that are relevant to the remainder of this anecdote. As we walked past SAC (the Student Activity Center), a completely bald young man wearing an orange robe stepped in front of us, proffered a flower, and asked if we’d like to go to a talk that was being hosted shortly. Without missing a beat, my Indian friend said, very politely, “No thank you, I am a confirmed Hindu,” and we breezed by him.
This made quite an impression on me at the time. The Hare Krishnas on campus were generally considered pests, but my friend had somehow put the fellow off in a way that was firm, courteous, and final. Back then, I didn’t know a single thing about Hare Krishnas or Hindus, so it all seemed irrelevant, even meaningless. There was no difference between a proselytizing Hare Krishna and a homeless man asking for a dollar: neither had anything I wanted, and I had nothing to give to either. Such people were time vampires: grant them a second, and they’d take an hour.
As a Jew, I was proof against the blandishments of other faiths. Judaism is as much a culture as a religion, and to give up one would mean to eliminate the other. Whether or not I ate bacon cheeseburgers on Rosh Hashanah and then fasted on Yom Kippur was immaterial: I had a religion, and it was as much a part of me as my blood.
Recent events from the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision to the idea of “separation of church and state” being used to eliminate all expressions of faith from the public sphere tell us that religion is still a massively complicated set of issues that can’t be legislated, argued, or compromised into simplicity. Not by me, not by anyone.
However, an important point needs to be made: there’s a gigantic difference between a Nativity scene placed on the front lawn of City Hall at Christmastime, and someone sticking a Bible in your face and demanding you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Degree matters, especially in a world we share with people who don’t agree with us. Today’s hypersensitive, politically-correct culture didn’t start in a vacuum: it started with this lack of proportion. It started when someone discovered that he had the power to make everybody else cater to a whim based on that lack of proportion.
Many of us are actively offended by proselytizing, by witnessing Christians and Mormons at the door. That’s perfectly okay. Nobody’s saying you shouldn’t be offended. But before you call the Freedom From Religion Foundation, do one small thing: ask yourself why. Try to determine the reason why you’re so offended. We all have to deal with things we don’t like, disagree with, or otherwise find offensive: why is this so off-putting? If we’re offended by what we see on TV, we change the channel. In a novel, we close the book. On the radio, we tune out. In the street, we turn away. But when it’s religion, it’s got to be dealt with, and usually through legal means.
Why? What happened to our sense of proportion? What, exactly, is being assaulted here?
Dig deep. The things that hurt us most are the unhealed wounds.