I had a very interesting discussion with my friend & colleague Brendon on Friday after work. He had suggested that we get together sometime over a drink to discuss sex and religion. Seeing as I really like sex, religion and drinking, I considered this to be a fantastic offer.
We met up after work at a bar in custom’s street and had a few drinks. Well, I had a few drinks, he had one ;).
I discovered to my great interest that Brendon is a Sikh. What instantly endeared Brendon and his religion to me was his pragmatism and the strong sense of pluralism inherent in his religion’s approach. Did you click the link on religious pluralism? Click it! I don’t put these links in here for my health!
An example of religious pluralism (or, at least, acceptance) I experienced quite recently was at Jaishika’s wedding. Her husband and his family are Sikh, while she and her family are Hindu. The wedding ceremony was a Hindu one, at his parent’s agreement. In honour of his father, her father wore a turban to the ceremony (turbans are traditionally worn by Sikhs). When I think about it, I want to cry. How is it that the Pentecostals, the Protestants and the Catholics don’t see eye-to-eye yet these people are able set aside religious disagreements for the purposes of a very important, very special day in all their lives.
A little background about this religion: Guru Nanak Dev is considered to be the founder of the Sikh faith. Troubled by the strife between Muslims and Hindus, and annoyed at the legalistic ritualistic practises of the people in his country, he set about enlightening people, claiming only one single God (as opposed to the many Hindu gods) and speaking out against the irrational superstitious practices at the time (such as throwing water to the sun god in order to make it rain).
Sikhism is a relatively young religion (only 500 years or so old). Sadly, even in that short time, people have moved away from some of the founding principles and have developed a set of ritualistic practises they abide by. Many wear turbans, and have wooden combs in their hair, the reasons for this were originally historic and cultural, but they are now maintained as a tradition. I have no problem with such practises myself, as long as people acknowledge them to be symbolic and traditional only. I strongly believe that nothing we wear, say or do in a ritualistic way can make us any closer to God.
Brendon impressed me by his intolerance of such practices. Ironically, because of this, I would technically consider him a fundamentalist: he has gone back to the founding principles of his religion as it was practiced in the beginning and has rejected many of the more modern themes in his religion. This can cause him a little trouble at times of worship because (for example) he refuses to bow. He claims such behaviour amounts to ritual and is not a part of the faith he chooses to practise.
I can’t help but draw similarities between Christianity and Sikhism. The one true God, the fact that Jesus rebuked people for their blind adherence to ritual, symbolism and laws rather than following the “spirit” of the law (love), and adhering to a simpler faith, a more earnest belief in and search for God.
Some of my more orthodox friends and family may be upset with me when I say I am a religious pluralist. I believe my religion is imperfect, because it’s a manifestation of God as interpreted by imperfect people. I don’t believe that the Bible has been translated nearly as well as people would like to think, and given the widely varying interpretations of these translations, I don’t believe anyone can claim to know the mind of God. Even the apostle Paul who I respect and admire greatly was imperfect and acknowledged the fallibility of his own advice.
I have to trust that God has ensured there is enough truth in my religion for me to live a good life in His eyes, but I cannot believe that God has not chosen to manifest himself to other peoples in other ways. I prefer my religion and of course I think it is “better” than the others (or I would have converted to something else by now) but I disagree with the sentiment that says we should actively convert people (that’s how crusades are started). The most I do is explain the principles of my religion as I understand them, offer to get more information if people are interested and try to live my life in a way that makes people think well of my religion.
My discussion with Brendon has encouraged me to start writing a series of articles about things that trouble me in my religion. I think I will write about communion first, watch this space!