Want to know why Americans tend to think of Hoosiers as a bunch of ignorant Bible beaters? Sometimes the depths of religious stupidity that's on display in our fair state is staggering.
Take, for example, conservative blogger Steve Dalton's recent post on Northwest Indiana Politics about the politics of Christmas. Instead of simply acknowledging his own beliefs and the meaning behind the holiday according to his religious traditions, Dalton goes on the attack against other faiths. (Emphasis mine)
In this culture we celebrate the fact that everyone has their own beliefs ... yet the downside is that we've lost the ability to truly debate which of those beliefs are right and which are just plain hogwash. It's even become rude to suggest that one has a belief that is true, since this assigns "false" to another belief. Let's be frank, truth exists and all other beliefs are false, even if that hurts someone feelings.
The "truth," of course, is Dalton's religion of choice.
While books could be written over the implications behind his need for his invisible deity to overshadow other mythical sky daddies, let's focus in for a second on the sheer intellectual laziness and over generalization that Dalton's post accentuates. In fact, we'll narrow it down to the one tenet of Christianity repeatedly espoused by Christ.
The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule is one of the basic themes of Christianity. It's taken many forms and phrasings over the centuries including "Do unto others what you'd have them do unto you," and "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
In Matthew 22:34-40 [NIV], Christ is challenged by a group of Jewish fundamentalists who hope to trick him into saying something outside the boundaries of their dogma.
34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
That's a pretty ringing endorsement. All of Christianity's principals and purposes "hang on these two commandments." The Golden Rule is also referenced by Jesus in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. Other mentions in the New Testament include this writing from Christianity's foremost evangelist, St. Paul of Tarsus, in Galations 5:14 [NIV]:
14The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
The Greatest Commandment (of the Jews)
What was the Pharisee referencing when he asked Christ about "the greatest commandment?" For the answer, Christians can look back into the Old Testament - Leviticus 19:18 [NIV] specifically.
18 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
The Old Testament of the Christian Bible is also part of Jewish holy scripture. Jesus was, of course, a Jew. Other Jewish scholars reworked the Great Commandment with the Golden Rule like the Sage Hillel did in Talmud, Shabbat 31a:
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
Granted, that whole "One God, Two Religions and Half a Book" thing can get tedious for your short-sighted evangelical. Still, the shared references to the Golden Rule should be a major clue.
By Any Other Name
While the phrasing changes from region to region, a variance of the Golden Rule is the basis for most world religions. The similarities are scattered throughout the holy texts of dozens of traditions.
"Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not." "Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself." Baha'u'llah
"This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you". Mahabharata, 5:1517
"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18
"Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" Analects 15:23
"Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant (Written in 1640 BCE, this is acknowledged as the earliest version of the Golden Rule ever written.)
"This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you." Mahabharata 5:1517
"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths."
"In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self." Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara
Native American Spirituality:
"Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself." Pima proverb
Roman Pagan Religion:
"The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves."
"The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form. Be charitable to all beings, love is the representative of God." Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga
"Don't create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone." Guru Arjan Devji 259
"The basis of Sufism is consideration of the hearts and feelings of others. If you haven't the will to gladden someone's heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone's heart, for on our path, no sin exists but this." Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order
"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien
"We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." Unitarian principles 8
"And it harm no one, do what thou wilt" The Wiccan Rede
"One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts." Nigerian proverb
"Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others." Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29
Weaving a Tapestry Fundamentalists Overlook
One of the most disappointing facets of Steve's post is that he's a generally nice guy. He's not your typical Bible beating religious fundie that condemns everyone else to hell but thinks he's on the right path as God's chosen one. That is what makes what he said all the more frightening and deplorable.
Religious fanaticism is rarely a sudden development; it takes time to develop that needed blind spot to facts and logic. Unfortunately, some children are reared in a fundamentalist environment that puts more emphasis on the belief that certain biblical stories actually happened instead of the moral or spiritual truth behind the preserved parable. While many young adults who go to college end up questioning and re-examining their beliefs, the uneducated tend to be the most faithful sheeple of any religion.
Not every educated person turns away from their faith, of course; not every scientist is an atheist and many religious leaders are incredibly intelligent. Humans are a many-faceted beast. Our happiness is fleeting, our concentration is fickle, and our capacity to enjoy both cruelty and kindness in almost equal portions is written in our bones.
The multiple personalities of its citizenry is what shapes our societies and how our civilizations have embraced that diversity has defined them. One of the main reasons polytheism was popular is the universality of the Golden Rule. If everyone is minding their own business and treating each other with kindness, what does it matter which aspect of God your neighbor believes in?
Pulling Out the Loose Thread
Every weave has a weak spot. Any determined mischief maker can work at the web and by pulling out threads and unraveling connections destroy the whole thing. Sometimes the knits are accidentally torn or disfigured by rot.
Demanding that your religion is the "truth" and "and all other beliefs are false," isn't just tugging at a loose thread, it's grabbing handfuls of cloth and attempting to rend the entire weave. It is, simply put, a bid to aggrandize the speaker at the expense of others. This isn't "hurting someone's feelings," it's a thinly veiled attempt at domination while needlessly insulting others so the author can satisfy a Freudian childhood itch that his daddy can beat up someone else's daddy.
The "truth" is that 99% of the world's religions share the same common thread - the Golden Rule. The overwhelming historical need by societies has been to find a way to keep their citizenry happy and at peace with each other.
Religious zealotry, however, has been the basis for countless massacres, wars, and political machinations that ended in genocide. This end result goes much further than hurting someone's feelings; it concludes in a riot of blood and prejudice.
That's about as far from Christ's teachings as possible. And that's the truth.