Friday, March 24, 2006

Opium to the People

All the lives lost and money spent on liberating Afghanistan has seemingly gone to waste, as far as democracy and human rights go. It is terrifying to read news about a convert to Christianity being on trial for that and facing a probable death penalty for giving up Islam. What has happened to the religion that saved the Western civilization a thousand years ago with its tolerance? Since all the monotheistic religions supposedly believe in one God and share a common foundation, wouldn’t it be a given our Almighty would be the same, no matter under what tradition the worship happens? After all, an Arab calls God ‘Allah’, even if he or she happens to be Christian or even Jewish. Instead of our country’s pushing for American-style democracy, we should insist on mutual tolerance and same respect for human rights everywhere. American values will never be accepted by most other cultures and for a reason. Can you, for instance, expect the Iraqi people be enthusiastic about private health insurance or having to pay fortunes for an education? But we could by our own example, show that different cultures and religions are able to coexist. Unfortunately, this country is not doing a very good job at it. However, we are not likely to execute someone for his beliefs, although a crazed intolerant fundamentalist might go after the life of someone else whose different values irritate him to no end. Intolerance, whether religious, political, racial or socioeconomic, is truly criminal and should be treated as such by law. We should all get along, even in the workplace.

A few days ago I was reading the Guardian and on the front page was a story on the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Anglican Church, who insisted that schools must not teach history and science based on the stories in the Bible. In other words, he strictly opposes the teaching of Creationism. Here is a very religious man, an intelligent believer, who has the courage to say that our Holy Book is not to be taken literally. Kansas could use a leading figure like that! He reminded me of my first and second grade teacher in Finland (we start a year later there). She was a true believer: looking into her eyes was like seeing peace and infinite wisdom; but she insisted that God was the same for everyone in the world. Religion was (and still is) a mandatory subject in school. These days every student has the right of getting educated in it according to his or her beliefs, or if desired, in philosophy. Having read through the Old Testament when I was just seven, I remember asking her about the obvious contradiction in Genesis regarding the creation of the world. Her reply was the wisest I have ever come across: to God a day can be a million of our years. No wonder I stayed close friends with her until she passed away well over 30 years later, and I still feel her presence in my heart.

Love of fellow man and tolerance of others that are different are by many considered to be signs of weakness. I beg to differ. The real weaklings are the pitiful people who cannot see the big picture of life, and resort to threats and destruction in order to advance their own point of view, or to strengthen their seemingly all-important position in society, politics, corporation, organization or even family. God have mercy on them, although I have a difficult time seeing how they would deserve it.