Thursday, January 7, 2010

Born into Religion, Ignorant of the Path?

I don’t usually open myself up like this. Especially about things I don’t know that much about, like the topic of this post. But I do know myself, and the questions that have been raised from my past experiences.

After visiting four countries focused on four major religions – Islam in Bangladesh, Buddhism in China, Hinduism in India, and now Christianity in Mozambique – I’ve seen how people and cultures have been transformed by and, specifically in the cases of India and Bangladesh, governed by the ethos of the dominant religion. The pervasiveness of religion has engulfed me. Abroad, people take their faith more seriously than Americans take the NFL, American Idol, and credit cards combined. I experienced an 8-hour Hindu dowry proceeding in India, which was only after extensive preparation, including careful purchasing of gifts, blessings, and song. If that was the dowry, Shiva only knows how long the wedding was. In Bangladesh I wanted to kill myself every time the public morning prayer blared right outside my window at 5am, but I know all the faithful Muslims were up performing their duties. In Mozambique I’ve been continuously impressed by all the Christians AND Muslims who can recite The Bible better than me.

I put out all these anecdotes to suggest that the intensity by which these cultures zealously follow their religions is praiseworthy, though the origin elicits questions. (And as a side note, I certainly don’t consider duration of ceremonies or numbers of prayers as the definition of religious intensity) If you’re reading this post right now, chances are you are BOTH American and Christian. That’s where I’m going with this. If someone asked me why I am Christian, the answer I wish I could give is that Christ died for my sins and that I am trying to follow the example set by him here on earth. The answer that probably gets more to the root is that, quite simply, I grew up in the US. My parents, family, and friends were and still mostly are Christian; I was baptized before I was cognizant of what was going on; and at an age when Power Rangers was still too violent for me, I was ushered into Vacation Bible School (which was awesome by the way, at least until I got a bit older and it was kind of awkward).

All this happened before I really even knew other religions even existed. My first substantial perception of Islam was that their holy book was instructing people to ram planes into buildings. Only later did I learn that the root of religion's name means “peace”. But by then, Christianity was cemented in my head as “the right way.”

But which religion is “the right way”? If you’re talking to the screen, “Come on Rob, Jesus is the only way”, I’d bet there are a billion Chinese who’d argue otherwise. And even if there is one right way – we don’t have to agree on which one – does that mean that the geographic lottery of birth has more to say about the post-mortem outcome of our soul than the intensity by which we praise Jesus, Buddha, Allah, or whoever? Of course, you can pick up a copy of any of the religious texts to compare, but how many people actually do this? I’d suggest the social and cultural forces are just too strong to compel the majority of people. My translator here in Mozambique, Mussa, is currently reading The Bible cover-to-cover to compare to the Qur'an, the book of his previous religion. This is laudable, but he has had to take great lengths to hide this and lie to his parents to accomplish this. His mother thinks he’s reading it for the English practice, so she bought him The Qur'an with English translation. Families, and cultures, don’t take these things lightly (see Bangladesh-India, the Gaza strip, and essentially the entire Middle East).

For me, my religion is something I’m now uncertain about. I’ve posed the above dilemma to many people, including pastors, but have never really received an answer that satisfied me. Though I wouldn’t be so crass to suggest that all religions are the same, I do think there is a lot in common that I’m trying to incorporate into my life. While by denomination I am a Methodist, I think to call myself a Christian would be a disservice to the faith. So right now, I’m simply trying to live my life in a good way and have the greatest positive impact on those around me, whether that is socially, culturally, or mentally. In high school, I was ardently religious, but in college the piles of homework left until the last minute on Sunday became an easy excuse out of church. While my faith has faded, I consider myself a much better person today than ever before. Today, I’m less judgmental, more open-minded, and seek social goals rather than monetary goals. And, (I think) I’m just a more fun person to be around…one of my friends is going to throw that one back in my face.

I don’t put out this post to attack Christianity, religion, or your beliefs, but rather to explain where I am in my faith journey and to invite anyone to suggest sources of information or inspiration.


  1. That's all very thought-provoking, Rob, but now I think it's time for you to come home! ;-)

  2. I am reading your post now, but neither an American nor Christian:) I like your openness and thinking on this issue. I am through a similar period now, though I have been brought up as an antitheist.
    Have been following your blog quite a while. Enjoy it very much. Thanks!

  3. I think I have learnt a lot from your blog.I know many crazy guys,daring ones and courageous ones.But I can assure you that you are beyong expectation.You braved all those problems and loved your mission.I can only wish you all the best and God be with you!