We have been discussing religion in my Cultural Geography class lately. The teacher mentioned two types, philosophical religions and secularism. I raised my hand and asked where Unitarian Universalism fit in, and I said “I was raised UU but I don’t know!” The teacher – who I’ve known for a while now – said “oh now I understand you better!”
After class, I asked what she meant. I said “is it because I’m always questioning everything?” She said yes, it was that, and also because I don’t insist on one way of doing things – I always consider that there are multiple approaches to everything. I thought it was very perceptive of her to notice that.
And she’s right. I think it is due to my UU upbringing that I refuse to accept that the Muslim rules about covering women are inherently evil. My wife is very much against them; we recently saw a woman in a store wearing a full chador, nothing visible – my wife called it a “body bag.” And yes, there are many extremists who use the rules to oppress women. But I don’t have a problem with the idea itself: it’s just different from how we do things. I do not think chador, niqab, hijab, or burqa are wrong, just different.
The same applies to fundamentalist Christians in the US. Last night we watched the documentary “Jesus Camp” and I was astonished by the level of their devotion, and what it leads them to do. It seemed that the kids don’t get to play baseball or anything, it’s all Jesus all the time. But although it dismays me that these people invest so much into politics, I don’t have a problem with them doing so. It’s their right to pursue God by uttering nonsense syllables and falling on the floor. I think they look a little silly doing it, but I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just not for me.
Now, I can predict some people suggesting that this means I endorse the former slave-dependent culture of the American south. After all, wasn’t that their way of life – just different from mine? My response is that while I may be tolerant, I do have morals. Human beings owning each other is immoral, particularly for reasons of skin color alone. Depriving people of their human rights, especially liberty, is not acceptable. My wife will say, “but Muslim women are deprived of their rights!” And this is true. But they were not captured and enslaved by another culture; they are part of the culture that keeps them behind closed doors. And I don’t have a right to judge their culture; I accept it as different from mine.
Religion is a funny thing, and it makes people behave strangely. But I’m pleased to note that the nature of my religious upbringing has resulted in tolerance and open-mindedness. And asking questions, always asking questions.