I meant to write about this a few months ago, when I first saw it. On campus, there are some folks who occasionally offer free books to passers by. I’m not sure why exactly they are giving out these books — maybe next time I see them I’ll ask. They are new ones, so I’m thinking it may be a local author who is trying to get their name out there. What caught my eye about these little stands is that there is a box that generally says ‘Free Book’ with a note telling folks that they are ‘Not Religious’. This time, they also added ‘Not Scientology’.
As I was walking by, at first I told the 20-something year old white guy that offered me the text ‘No, thanks’. I mean, besides the fact that the only thing I knew about it was its absence of religious content, I had no clue about it otherwise. Other than that at first I declined because I couldn’t imagine when on earth I would have a chance to read it. When I told him I was just going to take a picture of his sign (because I knew I wanted to write about it), another young white dude walked by, who was also offered the text but his response was something along the lines of ‘For sure! You got me on the ‘Not Religious’. I decided to go ahead and get one — to change my mind and to take a copy so I can see what it is about (I have not read it yet). It is titled ‘The Hope We Seek’ — OK, judging from this I can see where one may think it would be either religious or a scientology text — sort of.
What is interesting is that when I saw this a few weeks back, it was when the class that I teach the students and I had been discussing lots about religious beliefs and where they believe these belong, if anywhere, in the context of medicine — this is an intro medical anthropology course. During Easter week, I brought in candy for my students — bunnies, chocolate eggs, marshmallow stuff and more, and passed it around and we had discussion about the idea that many people believe Jesus, whose resurrection many around the world are celebrating, is the ‘Son of God’ and a healer, and how in the U.S. Easter Sunday is the busiest day of the year for churches, with many places of worship having multiple services to try and accommodate the crowds. I asked them how the candy they were taking and eating complicates the practice and then had them discuss their opinions about that. I’ve made a point to tell my students — not only but especially because a lot of them are pre med, that they will be working with people in various capacities. I tell them that it really doesn’t matter what they believe — as far as if they agree or disagree with their future patients/clients/friends/whoever’s belief system, because people believe differently and rely on these in times of healing. I also tell them that there is such a thing as the ‘belief of non belief’ — that even though one may claim no allegiance to any particular affiliation, that stance constitutes a concrete belief system based on the absence of a popular religious model — and that is an allegiance — they need to orient themselves with this idea — perhaps it is the belief in science. And to know that each person’s belief is just as real to them as their stance, whatever it may be, is to each one of them and being aware of that allows for a greater level of understanding.
The other day on campus in Red Square, there was a preacher man — a white dude — who was shoving out a few words from the ‘Good Book’. He was there two days in a row, and to be honest with you I really thought that it was an act at first because of the way things were going — the back and forth between him and the audience. While he was giving his sermon several young, white kids began to mock him. They started to copy everything he said and added their own ending. One person dawned a unicorn mask and walked directly in the middle of his sermon with a sign that read ‘Unicorns Are Real’ and the crowd started roaring. I took note because there were several other young people around there from ostensibly different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but in the time that I stood there it was only the white kids who were doing the mockery — both men and women. The way I saw it is that the people sneering this preacher were just as obnoxious as they were making him out to be, by being loud and saying those things to him. I happened to run into a couple of my students who are Latina while I was there, and they were saying that had the person preaching been a Muslim and Brown or darker, they would never even allow him to get as far as he did — he probably would have been ousted long ago, if he or she was even able to be there in the first place. And can we imagine what types of things would be said about them?
I know that more and more people these days hold the belief that religion does more harm than good in ‘subduing’ someone into certain lines of thinking. Trust me when I say that I understand the role religion has played in division, genocide, racism, slavery. I also understand the role ‘non-belief’ has also done with the same. And every religion has a peace and love ‘clause’ that talks about doing these things unconditionally, etc but it really depends on the person or people who are practicing to see if they will adhere to those guidelines. There are violent Buddhists as there are violent Christians. I guess my point is that I get disappointed with people who don’t seem to take into consideration another’s belief system. Or, that even though they may completely disagree, to blatantly disrespect someone’s faith just kind of bothers me. What is wrong with allowing someone to share their faith, even though you may agree or not agree with anything they say?
I grew up in an incredibly strict non-denominational Christian home — it was definitely a fundamentalist one. We were expressly restricted from engaging in just about anything that was not ‘Godly’ and protestant — when it came to the music we listened to, the shows we watched — everything. It took some time — years — after I left home to wedge my way out of that line of thinking and it took a lot of difficulty, questioning myself and a lot of anxiety to get past it. I can tell you that anthropology helped.
I find myself these days believing in a number of religions and faiths — Buddha, Allah, Vodou and more. If someone invited me, I’d go to a Christian church, to a Catholic Mass, to Mosque, Temple and more — not because I subscribe to each of these faiths, but because they exist in people’s lives, and so that means they are a very real part of societies, regardless of how I personally feel about them. And I’m not sure I could see myself interrupting someone’s sermon like the folks who were doing so on campus. I also wouldn’t be opposed to reading a religious book and finding out what it may be about — how someone else views things. That just wouldn’t scare me off.
[Update]: A student of mine and I were walking to class the other day and saw this on our way there. The Bible verse that was written in chalk on the side of the library (is supposed to) read: ‘For you will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand’. We both noted how it was interesting that the word ‘Lord’s’ had been wiped away by someone.