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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The In Between

I am not the most religious person. I believe in something. I just don't always know what that is.

I don't think that not knowing makes me bad. Or makes me less worthy.

Although I am sure there are those who disagree. To be more clear, I KNOW that there are those who disagree.

I was born Hindu. It is a religion, like most others, with when practiced with good intent and true faith, espouses love, acceptance and forgiveness. I believe that there are flaws, as there are with most organized religions.

But being Hindu has been a part of my identity that I could not shake, just as I could not shake the tan skin that belied the Indian heritage of my family.

I can't wash it off - just as I can't change the tone of my flesh. It is immersed in my culture, the seams which make up the fabric of my family.

It was and has been a part of my identity, though you can probably question how "legit" I am in terms of actual practice.

I recall having questions about religion early on. I attended the epic number of "pujas" or religious ceremonies, that my parents and family seemed to hold each weekend - sometimes multiples on one weekend.

That's a lot of praying.

It's especially a lot of praying for a child who could not understand the Sanskrit readings of our family priests, yet had to sit for hours, laboriously feigning interest in something I could not understand - while shamelessly daydreaming about my crushes at school or how I might get the curls to lay flatter against my head.

My mind was elsewhere.

I recall hearing from a friend in high school that I was going to hell. We were reading the Divine Comedy - more specifically - "Dante's Inferno" - in Advanced Placement English. I was having trouble grasping some of the levels at which Dante Alighieri had allocated some of the true despots, heathens and unworthy to their specific levels, or circles of Hell.

I described the trouble I had understanding the idea of "Limbo" - which was the first circle of Hell as described by Dante. This is where all the unbaptized and the virtuous pagans, who had not sinned, but did not accept Christ, were actively punished.

Having been fairly sheltered thus far from such ideas, at the age of 17, I was startled when my friend said, "That's ridiculous!"

I was not startled by the fact that she said, "That's ridiculous!" but in what she said afterwards . . .

"Everyone knows there is no such thing as limbo for people like you. You are just going straight to the deepest levels of Hell."'


But you know me. I don't usually stay silent for long.

"Really? So if I rape and if I steal and if I murder but I repent and accept Christ - I would be in better shape than I am today?" I asked.

She looked at me as if I was crazy and said the words that left a very lasting impression on me.

"Well, that's just the way it works. Everyone knows it."

Funny that. I guess I hadn't.

(And just for the record, our friendship kind of fizzled out after that).

My thoughts ran through my muddled mind (as directly after AP English, we had Organic Chemistry - so my mind was already a jumbled mess)

"But this is how I was born. Why would God punish me for that?"

"Even if I convert, would God punish the rest of my family? What kind of idea of Heaven is that for me if I don't have my family with me? Even if I convince my family here - what about my family in India? What about the ones who are already gone?"

"So many parts of the world have never been exposed to Christianity. Was God's intent to banish them directly to that circle?"

(And no, I am not talking about the world today, where online mechanisms and ever-expanding missionary efforts are taking place - but the world we lived in for much longer, where in fact, Christianity was centrally focused in Europe).

"Did that mean God did not want (for at least a few centuries) - Non Europeans to be granted access to Heaven?"

I have had friends who have discussed conversion with me. In a safe, approachable way. And I have considered it. I think there are two quotes by Gandhi (who per this definition, would also be confined to that first circle of Hell, a thought which completely boggles MY sometimes less than lucid mind) that really define how I feel about the matter.

In regards to conversion, Gandhi said at his famous speech at Harijan in 1935:

"I believe that there is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the accepted sense of the word.

It is a highly personal matter for the individual and his God. I may not have any design upon my neighbor as to his faith, which I must honor even as I honor my own.

Having reverently studied the scriptures of the world I could no more think of asking a Christian or a Musalman, or a Parsi or a Jew to change his faith than I would think of changing my own."

So, while sometimes I remain confused and sometimes I believe that I am just a "little bit of everything" and for now, that works for me. And I find my own truth and faith in that and it works for me.

Because, similar to Gandhi, I also believe that when you take the best parts of religion and evaluate them and leave the noise behind, that there is truth in all of them:

"I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian."

Gandhi, (Young India: January 19, 1928)

You don't have to agree with me. I am not seeking validation of where I stand. I am far from fundamental so I can handle a little discussion.

What I can't handle are absolutes that don't address the true nature of the reality that our world is not that black and white.

Hoping you all are close to your own truth.



grace kay said...

a deep and poignant post, kiran. i had similar thoughts a coupla weeks ago. i'm christian, born in a christian home and my faith is very important to me. i had the same lessons most kids when growing up, that your faith is the only way and everyone who isn't like you is doomed.
two weeks ago i went to a children's home run by a lovely muslim lady called mama fauzia. turns out that abandoned children in my city, nairobi, are dropped randomly to children's homes like hers depending on where they are found and beds available. it doesn't matter if the kids were from christian or muslim families, they're raised as muslim. other children end up in homes run by the catholic church or anglican church etc and are raised christian.
i did wonder, like you, why would God punish someone for something they didn't get to choose?
most of us end up practicing the faith of our parents, and these precious orphans grow in the faith of the home that they landed in.......makes you wonder doesn't it?


Anonymous said...

i hear ya! as you know i grew up in an UBER religious christian household (dad=minister, aunt=missionary, grandfather=evanglist). my best friend growing up was raised with no religion at all. i always thought of the unfairness in the "absolute" approach to ones religion...what about my best friend and her family, they are good people, salt of the earth people...

my views on religion have been tweeked over the years. that all of these gods are in fact one God. that life on earth is a circle of Hell and in the end i believe that all will be redeemed.

Seeker of Truth said...

Hey, Kiran.
I questioned my own faith deeply in college and for years afterward, all the way through my time at VS, but the one thing that got my attention most in your post was "I believe that I am just a "little bit of everything" and for now, that works for me. And I find my own truth and faith in that and it works for me."

When my sister was about eight, she declared to our mom that she didn't want to go to school because she had learned all there was to know. My sister believed this, but it wasn't the truth. My point is that truth is something that exists outside of ourselves, not something that we make up. We can believe that things are true when they're not or vice versa, but whether we believe in something or not doesn't make the truth any less true or something false any less false.

The second thing was that I find a huge difference between Christianity and other religions I've studied (mostly Judaism and Islam, but also in what little I know of Hinduism and a couple others). It's not that "I believe it is correct and so it is different," but that other religions rely on salvation by works. You pray five times a day facing East and give to the poor and you get to Heaven...probably. (The Koran gives Allah authority to accept or deny admission to Heaven to any Muslim, Christian, or Jew at his own discretion.) You live a life of peace with all things and you ascend into Nirvana. Christianity is simply accepting Jesus. There are things Christians are expected to do as marks of their belief, but their salvation is granted with or without them.

When Shaila was born, you loved her and provided for her. She hadn't done a thing to earn it and she can't really pay you back for what you've done for her. That's how I believe God is with us.

Your comment about murder and rape and yet being better off for believing, as astonishing as it sounds, has some truth in it because it's not about what you do; it's about what Jesus has done. If you have time, take a look at Isaiah 43:25.

Lastly, for those who haven't heard of Christianity, the Bible never specifically addresses that issue. Personally, I believe that God will judge our hearts and have great mercy on those who have not heard the message. Matthew 10:15 hints that those who have not heard will be dealt with more leniently, as does Luke 12:48.

All that having been said, even though I'd love to see you become a Christian, I'm going to respect and honor your decision and beliefs on this because, ultimately, only you can decide this for yourself.

God bless,

400 Wakeups said...

WOW! What a post to come back in on. And John raises many good points about following God. I wish I had answers on this one but I am more like you than I am like John. With so many friends who follow so many other religions, how can I look at them and say "well, you are going to Hell because you don't accept Jesus Christ as your Savior"? And how can I believe in a God that dooms someone to Hell because they are raised in a society that knows Him by a different name. I actually believe that all of these gods are just one God, but we know Him by different names. There are a plethora of people who would disagree with being one of my best friends. But the God that I worship is all-loving, all-accepting, and all-understanding. While I choose to bounce back and forth between Catholicism and multi-denominational, I still believe in an Almighty power....just not necessarily the image that we have given him...white guy in sandals. Oh I could go on and on about this because I have yet to dedicate myself to solely one faith. But I appreciate you opening up the dialogue. You are a brave blogger and I will check back to see what other kinds of responses you get!

Annie @ astonesthrowfrominsanity said...

Oh my girl.

You are so very brave to put into words exactly what I have been struggling with for awhile.

Like you, I have a hard time reconciling my personal relationship with my God and the absolute way my religion says that I am supposed to believe. The two are vastly different.

For many, many years I felt so very guilty about the fact that I did not believe in all of the tenets that I had been raised with, but today, like you, I seek to only better my own relationship with god, and maybe through my example and actions make my world just a bit better.

Thanks for such a thought provoking post on such a cold and icy Midwest day!

anatlus said...

Wow!thats one thought provoking post.I'm so confused when it comes to religion and faith. I'm a born Muslim ,studied in a Christian Convent ,went to church, have many hindu friends and visit temples with them. I dont know what i'm practising but i know there is God but i'm not able to classify him as Allah,Jesus Or Ganesh/krishna... I just pray that people will stop judging which God is best and let them do their own thing.Thanx Kiran For such a lovely post.

webb said...

MANY years ago my uncle (a nominal protestant) fell in love with a very Catholic young woman. It was in a time when such "mixed marriages" were few and far between. He was required to meet with her priest who inquired very seriously about his religions beliefs. He explained it this way:

"Well, Father, I think that some people get into the bath (I told you it was long ago!) and start by washing their faces and then wash everything "down" until they get to their toes. And, I guess there are also people who start at their toes and work "up" to their heads. Whatever the means, the goal is the same. I think that's how it works with religion."

The priest had no problem marrying him to my aunt.

If more folks would relax and let others participate in religion however they are comfortable and feel successful, we would have a lot less dissension over religion! I'm with Ally on this one... one God with many ways to worship and believe.


Ruby said...

Interesting! I agree with you there is much i can't change about the religion that was passed down to me and while i did all sacraments and even have baptized my children there still are some things i don't agree with that are not of this nature but i chose to stay with my religion because it meant that much to my family and was the only real tradition my grandfather valued.
I must say tho like you I am no one to judge i get along with who ever what ever they believe in or dont. I just wish people could be more open and accepting as well.

I must say off topic i thought about you when i was watching 90210 the girls went to a yoga retreat and they kept saying Namaste i thought "Kiran taught me this word long ago" :)

Stephanie Faris said...

I think the honest truth is, none of us really know for sure. We know what we are raised to believe, but who am I to tell anyone else that what she believes is wrong? Maybe SHE's the right one and I'm wrong. In the end, faith is just a very personal thing.

Expert MT said...

I am from India, and I am frequntly asked about which state I am from and this irritates me no end. Having never spent more than 4 years in anyone state, I always reply I am just an Indian. Similarly when it comes to religion, I would like to say I am a humanitarian and would like to practise Humanity. I think that is the point of religion to be good and do good. No religion teaches you to hate or the license to harm, if somebody says/ believes that they are self delusional or lying. I do not want to sound priggish but that is the way I feel


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