Be Grateful for Religious Diversity — by Michelle Findlay

The night atmosphere is alive with colour and sound. Vibrant costumes adorn humble people as they dance to ward of evil spirits. Bright fires cast a warm glow; the balmy warmth of incense caresses the air. Our spirits soar. This is a traditional Buddhist festival in Nepal. Contrast this with another scenario I experienced:  Before we alight the bus in Beijing we are told not to ask questions. We are told not to mention anything political. We giggle and laugh, every one of us thinks it’s a joke. But our guide tells us again firmly, he is 100% serious. We could get arrested and thrown in prison and that is no laughing matter.

Everywhere is grey, filled with smog and concrete buildings, the atmosphere within our group is somber. We stand on the spot where hundreds died because they asked for nothing more than freedom of speech. This place is bereft of religion and liberty in its place the enforced religion of communism. 
 
I am not a religious person, I do have a faith(ish).

So by rights I could come up with airy fairy reasons for us non-believers to tolerate religious zealots all over the planet.  But I’m not going to. I’m just going to point out some solid reasons why religion is a blessing. (pardon the pun)
. Religious intolerance starts wars.

People always say religion starts wars. But the moment we start to tear down other people’s values, liberties and beliefs is the day we lose respect, tolerance and unity. It is an integral and fundamental part of many peoples lives every single day.

We have no right to tear down other people’s beliefs. If we found an ancient culture living in a rain forest, unknown to man, and they lived more like animals than man, we would not condemn them. They simply lived how they chose, and how they had grown up to know. They weren’t harming anyone. So we have no more right to condemn anyone else’s choice in religion, it’s what they choose and what they know; generally it doesn’t harm anyone else. Who are we to enforce our way of life on anyone? But we do!!

So it’s not religion but religious intolerance that starts wars. So if you too are intolerant of the beliefs of others, you are just as guilty as the war mongers you condemn.

The day tolerance and liberty die is the day we no longer respect the people around us. So fighting would be OK, so the world would descend into anarchy, we would lose our way of life and ultimately the people we love. Tolerance and unity is what holds society together.

Before you knock Bible bashers: imagine the world without them.

If right this moment you stripped the world of every vestige of religious culture what would remain?

* A world bereft of colour and celebration.

* For many people hope would die.

* Many would lose their reason for living; they would rather die than lose their beliefs.

* Many would lose their salvation. Religion gives many sinners a new life.

* Freedom of speech would die. Religion will always be in people’s hearts whether you suppress it or not.

* A culture of fear and hostility.

* People without identity. Everyone the same.

* A wicked, dishonest world. Many people ‘do the right thing’ for religion.

Diversity is what makes us different.

Imagine going on holiday and when you get there the people are all the same as you. They speak the same language, they eat the same food. They look the same. What would be the point in going?

Religion should be as cherished a thing in society as culture, currency, history, language and heritage. It’s right up there with all those precious things. The day we let go of these things is the day we are all the same, nameless, faceless, mindless people. These things define us and who we are and we should fight to keep them alive and treasure the gift of cultural diversity.
Mainstream vs. Extreme

Obviously there are several extreme religious practices that in my opinion go completely against the nature of man, anthropologically speaking. Some examples would be:

* refusal of medical care for a sick child,

* honour killings,

* female genital mutilation.

Generally these practices are done in the name of extreme cult religions, but they go against mans instinct altogether. It’s not our nature to kill our own. The mainstream religions that I refer to for this article in general condemn these practices, for the most part their religion is inert. It is important to recognise where religion ends and the cult begins and use common sense. Even more important not to tar everyone with the same brush.

Religion can attract needy people.

So, even taking religion completely out of it. For many people having a congregation of good people around them, who care about them is the difference between a tolerable life and despair and suicide. The support of precious, god fearing people: Belief or not, it’s a fabulous thing.

Fear of being converted to the nutty cult.

Not fully understanding religion breeds intolerance and disrespect. But wanting to judge something you don’t know is a sign of insecurity.
 
Brainwashed zombies. We have all heard the cliche. It makes us fear that somehow even just learning about religion will allow people to perform a Vulcan mind meld on us and we will lose the power to think for ourselves.

Why do we think this?

* Are we insecure with our own take on life?

* Are we not confident enough in our own non-beliefs?

* Do we not possess the ability to think freely?

* Are we unable to learn something, and then decide weather or not to accept it as fact?

* Do we believe they actually have the voodoo magix?

Open mind – broad horizons.

I possess no such insecurities. I share a healthy curiosity and allow myself to hungrily learn about all the amazing people in my fascinating world. I expect those whom I allow to preach to me to reciprocate my curiosity and to respect my non beliefs. To me there is nothing more rousing than a heated debate and a mutual decision to ‘beg to differ’ over a hot topic.

Tarred with the same brush.

All faiths are diverse with different facets. But with the acts of terror that have befallen us all it’s easy to lay the guilt on the entire group of people within that religion. But what if you knew some people of that faith? If you worked with them shoulder to shoulder, if you actually took the time to talk with them you would understand that most of them are as outraged and scared by terrorism as we are. The vast majority shun the extreme beliefs of the minority of people within their own faith.

Who do we turn to when things go wrong?

The big fella? Him upstairs? The pearly gates?

Along the journey of life, things can happen to any of us to make us abandon our beliefs, change sides, leave religion or embrace it.

We have all seen the scenario of a plane crash or near death event where everyone to the last gets down on their knees and prays. Would that be you? How do you know until it happens? Or when you lose some-one really close, is it supremely comforting to believe they are in a better place? I know many atheists who don’t worship God or believe in religion, but they unequivocally know their Mum/Dad/Nan is in heaven.

But the day we mock people’s beliefs is the day we lose sight of who we are. We become like communists, and force people to let go of their identity and conform. We take away their soul and spirit so people live in a culture of fear and hostility. The gift of religious diversity is a precious, sacred human right.

So before you go and knock the God botherers, remember, there is a good reason why they will live longer than you or I. (FACT) It’s called faith, hope, salvation, fellowship, happiness.

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