Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Understand Me. Accept Me. Love Me! Not My Religion

For all of us, religion is what we practice, in our homes, in the way we live, in the way we behave. It is who we are.  And...... a lot of it is the same.

What will it take to help us appreciate all religions?

There are Many, Many Religions - And All Have Fun Celebrations!

When I was very young, maybe 7 or 8, I had a home room teacher who wanted to help us understand different religions.  We were divided into groups based on religion and asked to present our religion to the rest of the class.  We presented what we had experienced of our religion. She presented those that were not represented.  I learnt that there were different types of Christians, that the Jews and Christians shared the Old Testament, that Muslims, Christians, and Jews all shared a common holy place, that Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains were considered to "really be Hindus", that there are religions like Rastafarianism, Cuban Santeria and Haitian Voodoo.  They were all fun religions, for we only heard and participated in the fun parts -  the celebrations that welcomed all with open arms.

Customs Can Be The Same Across Religions

A colleague once told me that his grandmother would make him wash his hands, feet, and face whenever he came home after visiting a Hindu friend's house.  This lovely, old Muslim lady would dissuade him from eating in a Hindu's house as the food was not prepared in the correct way - the halal way.  Surprise! Surprise!  My Hindu grandmother and his Muslim grandmother thought exactly the same. My Hindu grandmother would dissuade us from eating in Muslim or Christian homes because of their food habits i.e. eating non-vegetarian food.  I am happy that he and I, both, ignored our much loved grandmothers, and had a shared "A-Ha" moment.

Strong Faith Could Build Better Appreciation 

I have a colleague, whom I consider a devout Christian.  He goes to church every Sunday, is active in his church community.  He fasts during lent.  He probably reads the bible regularly and goes for bible study. He helps those who are less fortunate than himself in the name of his God.  He is also the person we all turn to, if we need to clarify a piece of Hindu mythology, or complete a story from the Ramayana or Mahabharata!! To me, this shows that his faith in his religion is strong enough to be able to talk about Hindu mythology with an accuracy born from close studying.

My Religion

I was born a Hindu, to parents who were moderately religious (i.e. they would go to temples, pray, conduct religious ceremonies). In fact, I found out we were Brahmins only in my teens when my brother came home and asked my mother.

For me and my siblings, going to temples was a chore that we converted to adventure - counting the steps at Palani or watching people do parikramas on their knees at Thirupathi.  My sister used the time spent at Malai Mandir to solve chemistry equations in her head.

The main purpose of attending ceremonies was to eat good food - my maternal grandmother would actually check out what was being served for dessert beforehand and warn us to "save our appetite".

Added to this was the fact that my maternal grandfather was an atheist - his belief in God was lost when he witnessed the segregation and cruelty meted out to his widowed mother.

So I may be born a Hindu, but I am not a practicing Hindu.  I am at best, agnostic, and at worst, atheist. And people of all religions, look at me aghast when I say so. To them I say, can you accept that this is my "religion", my "belief"?  In my "religion", being a good human being - helpful, kind, considerate, respectful; and helping others to be good human beings is the sum total of "ceremonies". I don't wish that you become like me.  I wish you accept me and let me celebrate with you.

I say, make faith so strong, that we can all celebrate in all religions with an open heart

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