Sunday, September 21, 2014

DEAR JOKER:





It's been a while when I saw this (on Facebook, where else - seriously, what people used to write about in times before social media!?). Apparently a kid somewhere decided to ignore his high school's policy that a prayer not be included in the graduation ceremony and said it anyway.

Big deal, right?

I wouldn't pay much attention to it, if it weren't for reactions of some of my Facebook friends, who seemed to be just as confused about WHY "everyone loses their minds" as our friend Joker above. And they were cheerfully celebrating the young hero who scored yet another victory for Jesus Christ.

The problem is, that while I can see why Christians might consider such an action a victory, we shouldn't be forgetting that there aren't only Christians living in this country (and sending kids to public schools).

While surfing the Internet looking for opposing viewpoints I found a comment at Yahoo Answers that summarizes so well how I feel about this that I took the liberty to quote Jennette H., whoever she is:

"Prayer in school is fine, if every child of every faith is allowed to do so. If little Amar is allowed to leave class and pray facing Mecca, if Dana is allowed to offer prayers to Vishnu, if is Susie who is Buddhist is allowed to meditate, Lars is allowed to offer prayers to Odin, and little Jenny is allowed to chant and pray to the Goddess.

The problem being that I doubt that you or many other Christians would tolerate any such thing happening in a school that you child attends. If you want your child to have a Christ-centered education I would suggest sending them to a church-run school. There are many around these days and quite a few of them are affordable, and then there are always Catholic schools."

Read the whole discussion thread here, if you are interested. And kudos to Jennette for making such an excellent point in several sentences (while I was thinking the whole afternoon how to word it). I appreciate Jennette's comment especially because she identifies herself as a Christian; proving once again that it IS possible to be religious yet open-minded.
Following up on that, I would be curious to find out how many high schools would be okay with the class valedictorian, who just happens to be a Muslim (or insert any other religion, including - gulp! - atheism), to recite a Muslim prayer and quote the Qu'ran at a graduation ceremony!

I know that this is something that Christian fundamentalists have a difficulty to understand, but there is a separation of the church and state in this country - or should be, if we really want to call themselves the leader of the democratic world.

Let's say for the sake of the discussion that a public school is located in a predominantly Christian community. Even then I have difficulty to believe that there aren't at least SOME students of different faith, agnostics, or atheists. Why should they listen to a Christian prayer at THEIR graduation ceremony!?
Having beliefs is fine. Pushing them on others is not. 

When they announced a prayer at my college graduation four years ago, I wasn't exactly jumping for joy. I'm not a Christian and so naturally I have no desire to participate in Christian rituals. But here is the fundamental difference: My college was a Methodist institution. No one forced me to go there. I chose it voluntarily - because it was a good school (liberal enough that my spirituality wasn't threatened) and because it offered a very generous academic scholarship. So if I didn't feel comfortable during a prayer at the graduation, it was on me, not on the school.

And yes, I survived just fine! And I know that some people would argue whether it's really such a big of a deal to sit through a prayer.

Well, it is and it isn't! I have plenty of Christian friends who would be horrified if I invited them to participate in, say, Wiccan celebration of Samhain, because it's a pagan ritual and as such against their beliefs.

Fine.

But reciting with others that Jesus Christ is my savior happens to be against MY beliefs. I don't plan on ever having children, but if I did and sent her to a PUBLIC school, I would expect everybody's beliefs in that school being treated as equal.

So this, dear Joker, is the reason why (some) people make such a fuss about Christian prayer being included in a public school's official event. It's not an attack on Christianity, as some might lead us to believe; it's because even in the United States, not everyone is obligated to be a Christian - and those that are not might not feel comfortable participating in a Christian ritual - even if it's only a short prayer.That's democracy for you...


Sunday, September 7, 2014

THE ETHICAL DILEMMA OF A WORLD TRAVELER



"We are being so careful to accept everyone's religious, spiritual, and ethical beliefs that we will accept almost any idea, lack discernment, and have forgotten how to choose between right and wrong. A good example of this might be how we protect women's rights in the own country, but, if we hear about abusive sexism, we might tolerate it because ‘it's just their culture’”.
(William Bloom, The Power of the New Spirituality)

The reason why Dr. Bloom’s quote has been on my mind for past couple of weeks is that I had recently finished two autobiographies, which I randomly found in the library and which have a lot in common.

The White Massai is a story of Corinne Hofmann, a Swiss woman who on her vacation in Kenya fell in love with a local Massai warrior, married him, and spent over a year living in a hut made from cow’s dung with her husband and his mother. Although the marriage didn’t last and Hofmann ended up returning back to Switzerland with her baby daughter (where they have been living ever since), the book is still a very powerful testimony of a White European woman’s experience in a pre-industrial, deeply patriarchal society.



Tales of a Female Nomad is a story of Rita Golden Gelman, an American writer, mother and wife, who at the age of 48 decided that she was tired of living in our money + success-driven society and has been traveling the world ever since, living with local people in their villages, learning indigenous languages, spending a couple of years here (Bali, New Zealand) and a couple of months somewhere else (Thailand, Israel). She considers herself a global citizen with no permanent address – a true modern-age nomad. 



So what do these two ladies, one European and one American, have in common and how does it relate to the quote in the beginning of today’s column?

Apart from both their stories happening in the 80’s (and their hair in pictures from that time looking accordingly), the two writers impressed me by their open-mindedness and humility. They seemed to be (relatively) free from Western ethnocentrism, so common in people traveling to exotic countries, based on the firm belief that our culture is superior to all others.
BUT: Apparently even if you are the most accepting, multiculturally sensitive person, when living in countries like Kenya or, say, Argentina you are bound to see things that you won’t like – and for a good reason.

It is an ethical dilemma that both authors deal with in their stories (and future counselors in their multicultural class). They are aware that as guests in the cultures they decided to become a part of it’s not their place to judge people around them based on their own beliefs and values. However, they both admit openly that they have experienced moments when they struggled.

It’s simple – even as a multiculturally sensitive person you still have compassion for fellow human beings and it’s therefore very difficult, if impossible, to remain neutral when witnessing things like



- female circumcision done to teenage girls (without any medicine or anesthesia), who are then married off to men decades older, often crying desperately before and during the wedding (witnessed by Hofmann in Kenya)

- domestic violence leaving the wife with two black eyes, barely able to walk (witnessed by Golden Gelman in an indigenous village in Argentina)

- a woman pulling her dead baby out of her body all by herself because her husband wouldn’t take her to a doctor in time - out of jealousy (witnessed by Hofmann in Kenya)

- a family ruled by an incompetent, despotic, selfish man with no leadership skills and no intelligence to speak of but holding the title of the “king” and therefore having power over everyone around him for the rest of his life (witnessed by Golden Gelman in Bali).


And I don’t know how I feel about that.

I’m usually the one who resents deeply the notion that civilization starts and ends in the United States (or Europe, for that matter). But I’m afraid that I do have some serious limits when it comes to accepting unconditionally every barbaric tradition the humankind is capable to come up with just to be politically correct. It’s exactly what Dr. Bloom talks about in his quote – those of us who are trying to break from the ethnocentric state of mind, so to speak, often feel that in order to become truly non-judgmental and accepting we have to look at every tradition in the world with no opinion and no questions asked.

But how do you do that when you are facing a twelve-year old howling in pain, bleeding from her vagina (and knowing that within several weeks she might quite well be dead as a result of infection)?

I don’t know how you, but I probably can’t. If that makes me multiculturally insensitive, well, I guess it’s one of those things I will just have to live with.

And how about you? When it comes to acceptance of other cultures than yours, where is your line?