Wishing the ‘true believers’ had open minds | AspenTimes.com

Wishing the ‘true believers’ had open minds

John Colson

There may be no more loaded word in any language than “religion.”The underlying ideas that infuse that word with all its meaning have caused wars, split families, undermined international relations and brought on fits of screaming doubt among individuals, neighborhoods and whole states.The nature of obeisance to religious authority, as varied as the religions themselves, has brought immense wealth to some among the priestly classes from time immemorial to the present. Others, meanwhile, have deliberately eschewed wealth and privilege in favor of ascetic simplicity, poverty and monastic devotion. And those are just the extremes.No wonder we’re so confused.I’m not a religious guy. I find myself in churches once a year to sing in (or merely attend, if I’m feeling lazy that year) the annual production of Handel’s “Messiah,” but it’s more because one of my best friends in the world is standing at the conductor’s lectern than for any expression of piety.I’ve tried out a couple of religions over the years, starting with the Lutheran Church when I was a toddler and my parents thought Sunday school would benefit my development. They gave it up quickly, for reasons that I was too young to know but which I’m told had a lot to do with my high-volume resistance to the whole deal.I attended a few Baptist sermons as a teenager, urged mainly by my welling hormones and the fact that my girlfriend said I had to give it a try or she’d stop seeing me. That didn’t last either. The one time I felt a vague temptation to answer the call and be baptized, I dug my fingernails into my palms in the hope that sharp pain would bring me back to familiar terrain, and I waited out the urge.As a teenager I tried Buddhism, through the Nichren Shoshu sect that was invading Washington, D.C., at the time (remember “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”?). I was lured to a temple by a sprightly pair of nymphs who shamelessly used their sex appeal to capture dazed youths wandering around the hippy havens of Dupont Circle. Once snared, I chanted my way through several months before I realized the sect was highly militaristic in its organization and fervor, and that they wanted me to sign over to them all my worldly goods in order to attain true bliss. It began to seem a little too much like Sung Myung Moon’s Unification Church scam, which also was making inroads in the D.C. area, and I split.There have been other explorations, equally halfhearted thanks to the fact that I seem to regard all attempts to tell me who God is as little more than self-aggrandizing power grabs by the greedy and the needy. As such, I don’t need any of it. I’ve got questions about the nature of life and the universe, like everyone does. But given the track record of the major and minor religions, I’m doubtful that answers will be forthcoming in this life. Not that I’m at all sure there’ll be a next life, but that’s another topic.All this came up as I was listening to a radio news report about a college coed from the south, born into a Christian family and a devout churchgoer, who went on a yearlong exploration of other religious “traditions” in the Far East. She hung out in places like Thailand and India, where practitioners accepted her inquisitive presence quietly and openly.Working her way through some heavy self-doubts, she finally came back to the U.S. and took up the new moniker of “religious pluralism.” That allows her to at least entertain what she called “the possibility of validity” that might hold true for faiths other than Christianity.This got me wishing that the “true believers” among us would take a deep breath, open their eyes and realize that their answers are not the only answers to be had in this world. Just like with science, cooking and methods of relaxation, the billions of people around the globe have come up with different ways of looking at gods, religion and spirituality, which should come as no surprise.President Bush, for example, seems to have destroyed Iraq based on a combination of his testosterone-driven need to avenge some perceived slight against his dad and his born-again Christian certitude that Muslims are heathens and devil worshippers. If his eyes had been opened by more honest exposure to other cultures as a youngster, maybe we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in today.I guess all this points toward a need to see more, think more and question more as we go through life, with a decided emphasis on the seeing part as a critical first step. So, when your kids are old enough to know how to behave themselves, and maybe before, send them anywhere you can and hope for good results.John Colson can be reached at jcolson@aspentimes.com

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