Religion has been taking up a lot of space in my head recently, though probably not for the right reasons (at least according to my Christian upbringing). It’s not even because of the latest Rapture disappointment – my current religious mental tornado dates to an afternoon last month when I was cleaning the fish tank while listening to NPR.
It was a quick news item about the impending beatification of Pope John Paul II. The NPR commentator reported that a miracle has been attributed to Pope John Paul II, thanks to a nun with Parkinson’s disease who claims she was cured after praying for his help (or something like that).
Hearing NPR report on a “miracle” alongside the latest developments in the ever-testy Middle East really shook me. Maybe I would feel differently if I were a Catholic, but I think that papal “miracles” have no more business alongside real-world news than the “findings” from the latest episode of Ghost Hunters. As far as I’m concerned, beatification and sainthood are merely Earth’s biggest popularity contests.
But the thought vortex was gaining strength. Who is to say what is bizarre and what is not, particularly when it comes to religion? Surely there are people who didn’t believe the Rapture was coming on May 21st, but who believe that terminal diseases can be cured by a dead pope. I was taught to believe that a virgin gave birth to a son who rose from the dead three days after he was crucified. Is this any stranger than the belief that Gautama was transformed by his spiritual enlightenment into the Buddha while he sat under a fig tree? Joseph Smith or Moses – whose supernatural tablets do you prefer?
One of the only personal spiritual beliefs I still rely on does happen to be gleaned from the Bible, after years of Sunday School projects depicting burning bushes, pillars of cloud, and the miracle of the loaves and fishes. But if I printed up brochures on the value of the Golden Rule and handed them out in the train station, I’m sure some people would look at me the same way I look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
And so we cometh to the poll.
It was a shock to realize that, after years of lessons explaining how foolish and false other faiths were, that I could have learned what I know as the Golden Rule from any number of faiths and philosophies ranging from Greece to China and from the Qur’an to the Torah. In the latest hoopla over when, exactly, God may appear, it’s probably best to focus on our similarities – even if that means admitting our beliefs are all equally strange.