The Sunday Poll: Is Your Religion Nuttier Than Mine?

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.

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8 Comments

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  1. William Righetti May 22, 2011 — 11:52 pm

    I will say that the Ten Commandments, the Two Great Commandments, and the Golden Rule are the clearest and most helpful things I have learned from religious life, and study, and I find it fascinating that they appear in some form or another in every major world religion to date. That is all.

    • Alaina Mabaso May 23, 2011 — 8:48 am

      It is interesting that the core teachings of so many religions speak to a common definition of what it means to live a good life. Definitely proof (to me, anyway) that people should stop declaring who is “saved” and who is not.

  2. Hi Alaina,

    Interesting blog!

    I wandered over here by way of our ‘Boomer’ friend’s blog and started with your most recent post.

    First, off-topic, I think the poll idea is a good one. I haven’t explored the capabilites of WordPress very much so didn’t know this was possible. I can immediately think of a few polls that might interest my own blog subscribers, so thanks for that alone.

    I too struggle a little with the “miracles” ascribed to modern popes. For one thing, they’re generally not in the same league as those from many centuries ago. For example, I recall some (now-)saint was executed by beheading (for some unfair reason). She put their head back on and got on with healing/helping/converting people. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember thinking at the time that this would definitely impress a modern populace. It wouldn’t matter which religion this miracle worker followed; there would definitely be an uptick in interest.

  3. I think it’s less about what you believe and more about how you live your life. I have met good people from a variety of religions, and I have seen the atrocities (and wrongs that are less minor than atrocities) that come in the name of religion. Which makes me think that sometimes organized religion is actually beside the point, and some of the guiding rules and principles (such as the Golden Rule and/or Ten Commandments) that religions would teach can be the more important items. I also tend to think a “back to the basics” approach where we can all agree on right vs. wrong trumps some of these more nuanced belief systems, which is where people tend to get into the hazy crazy grey area anyway.

    • Alaina Mabaso June 6, 2011 — 1:21 pm

      Thanks for your thoughtful response. I doubt we could all agree on what’s right and wrong, though…I recently went to a debate of theater critics versus artistic directors, and they all agreed that what everyone was after was well-founded opinions…but who gets to decide the definition of a well-founded opinion? Unfortunately right versus wrong is also a relative concept to many people…

      • that can definitely be true. i was thinking more along the lines of a ten commandments type of deal, where say murder is wrong. i guess there can almost always be a moral grey area of sorts, but the more simple it’s kept, i think generally the more room there is for agreement. (this can be true for politics too.)

      • Alaina Mabaso June 6, 2011 — 6:55 pm

        War, capital punishment, etc are prime examples of grey areas when it comes to murder. I like your point about simplicity making more room for common ground.

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