A Quick Religious Comparison: We’re Not So Different

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Remember when we were all kids who fought over whose mom made the best cookies, whose uncle belched the loudest, or whose dad was actually a super man? As we grew, we learned those petty points of contention were never going to be solved; everyone’s own mom, dad, or uncle were the best, at least by their own perception. It’s also likely they were probably all quite similar, just as many of the things we fight about as adults. Unfortunately, we no longer work out our angst with do-overs on the ballfield to prove who’s the best. Instead, we wage literal war against one another not only with words, but also real military weapons, fighting over whose god is best, or who is the most righteous.

While these deadly battles play out in villages and towns torn to shreds while children look on, the looming question is: what does any of this matter? Just like everyone’s dad was a superhero in his own right, each religion has their own important figure who is probably wonderful. Moreover, just like all the dads were similar in that they held similar positions: worker, father, provider, protector, each religion is strikingly similar.

Admittedly, this comparison leaves out a great many religions. It will not cover eastern or pagan religions. It completely excludes atheists and agnostics. The focus here is on the big three: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Why? The answer is pretty simple. We don’t see many wars fought over Buddha, nor do many Wiccans commit terrorists attacks in the name of a sacred crystal. That statement is only recognizing fact. It’s not meant to say any religion is superior.

Having an attitude of moral and spiritual superiority is what causes us to fight in the first place, so let’s put that aside to investigate how three religions are similar rather than constantly pointing out why one is right or wrong.

I’ve included a nifty Venn diagram I found on the net to help compare some of the bigger components. It’s not my own, but I think it’s fairly accurate. I also think we can add to it.

religion

As we can see, great parts of the beliefs are the same. Only a very few are different. There are some other similarities we can add:

• Head coverings—
All three religions include some component of females covering their heads. Catholic nuns wear the habit, which includes a white coif. Married Orthodox Jewish women wear the tichel, or mitpachat. Lastly, Muslim women wear hijabs.
We tend to micro-focus on Islamic religions requiring head coverings for women, but as we can see, they are not the only ones. Furthermore, none of them feel oppressed when they wear them. It’s simply a part of their religious tradition.
We should also recognize it is not only women who cover their heads. Although the traditions vary and may not necessarily be religiously required, Muslim men may wear a prayer cap called the taqiyahs. Jewish men wear the kippah. Although men in Christian religions do not normally cover their heads, Roman Catholic cardinals regularly wear head coverings called the zucchetto and the biretta.

• Beards—
Another common denominator betwixt the three is beards. No matter Jewish, Islamic, or Christian, beards can be required. Because of the media, we are more familiar with the Muslim beard, but the Old Order Amish also require beards, as do Orthodox Jews.

• Modest Dress For Women-
While it seems Muslim women are the focus of many discussion concerning their modest form of dress, all three religions may require women to be covered and dressed in a modest fashion. This may include sleeves to cover elbows and dresses long enough to cover knees in the Orthodox Jewish and many Christian religions. It could also be a complete covering from shoulders to ankles in the Muslim and other religions. Regardless, the Islamic religion is not the only one to require women to cover themselves, especially if they are married.

• Raising Devout Children
Although we often hear words like “brainwashing” used to describe the way children are raised in the Muslim community, all three religions begin teaching children from birth, specifically when they are old enough to attend school, in the ways of their respective churches. The Catholic Church, in fact, provided all the education and educational materials for most of Europe until secularism gained popularity during the late 19th and early 20th century. While secular teaching was used as early as the late 17th century and was the subject of many philosophers like Locke and Voltaire, church-led education was still the standard until well past the Enlightenment. Yet today, if one so chooses, they might send their child to a Christian or Hebrew school. Muslims do not own the market on educating children in religion.

• Conflict—
There has been no shortage of conflict between the three religions. From the earliest crusades to now, the three have had obstacles between them. The Jewish and Christian communities do not have the long-lasting war we see between the Muslim and Jewish communities, but we cannot overlook the fact Hitler used religion against the Jewish community during the genocide he and others committed in WWII.

To say we have all been peaceful in our religious practice would be what we might now call an “alternative fact.” However, I’ve only listed a short amount of similarities here, omitting the similarities between these and other religions not listed. Why we continue this battle between whose religion is best astounds me. We’re all great in our own ways. We all have downsides. Most importantly, we’re all humans trying to attain the same thing.

It shouldn’t matter what word we assign for “God”. It shouldn’t matter on what day we worship. It shouldn’t matter what book we read the message from. All that should matter is if we would all stop killing each other, we might actually be living the way all three texts expect us to. If we all quit fearing one another, maybe we can see we’re more alike than we ever imagined.

( Since this is not meant as a scholarly paper for publication, I did not cite the information in this piece. All the data and facts are easily searchable, and most is basic common knowledge, anyway. The source of the diagram is watermarked inside the graphic.Thank you for reading. I’ll include a couple links in case you’d like to fact check me.
The history of secular education: http://science.jrank.org/pages/11240/Secularization-Secularism-History-Nature-Secularization-Secularism-1914.html
Islamic Male headcovering:https://www.reference.com/world-view/muslim-men-wear-heads-1cdc44449fd15f2f
Traditional clothing for Orthodox Jewish women:http://www.orthodox-jews.com/jewish-clothing-for-women.html#axzz4XS3f9gRB
)

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Welcome to Modernity, Austin, IN.

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How long have we been battling HIV/AIDs? Since the mid-1980s or so, we’ve actually had a name for the disease that still goes without a cure. Many places in the world have been fighting not only the direct effects of the disease, but the indirect effects as well for decades. In places like Africa, misinformation about HIV/AIDs has even led to folklore such as the belief that sex with a virgin would cure or somehow prevent the disease, leading to the rape of many innocent young people. While the United States has not experienced this effect, we have our own brand of bad information.

Recently, the tiny town of Austin, Indiana made national news because of an HIV outbreak. The outbreak, according to officials, is largely caused by IV drug use of the prescription pain killer Opana, and of course, heroin and methamphetamine. While one might wonder how what should be a quiet, tiny town becomes the hotbed of drug addiction, and makes National news as the “epicenter” of an HIV outbreak, it really isn’t that much of a shock to those of us who are native to this area. This little town has been a center of drugs and violence for decades.

With little industry, few resources, and no growth in sight, the town has basically been a dead zone for years. Austin has always been a place plagued with trouble. It’s just now that stronger, more lethal drugs have become prevalent and people are overdosing and becoming ill, heads are turning in that direction. That’s not a shocking trend. Overlooking areas such as Austin is not unique—many small towns never make the radar until something shocking happens. What is troubling is the horrible misinformation about both the cause and the solution to the problem.

Watching my local news reports on the goings on in Austin, one story sticks out in my mind. A woman stood on her porch describing how she and her children had borne witness to drug deals and prostitution on her street. She spoke of caring a gun, now, to protect her home and children. While this probably isn’t a crazy idea, it is a bit misguided to think that she could combat this problem with a firearm. Could she protect her home from intruders? Sure. Protect her children from strangers? Sure. Stop drug deals and prostitution? Probably not—maybe…maybe she could get lucky and stop what is going on directly in front of her home, but there is no way that gun ownership will lessen drug addiction and the prostitution that often accompanies it. What really troubles me, though, is during the conversation about people who have contracted HIV, gun ownership rears its head as part of the solution. I mean, the woman never said she’d kill or harm HIV patients, but the news report seemed ill timed when the focus is on stopping the spread of HIV/AIDs and not on stopping crime.

Other misguided conversations on social media called those who had contracted the disease “disgusting” and “scary,” making it seem as if one could catch the virus from a neighbor’s sneeze. It actually took the CDC to clear up some antiquated ideas about the spread of HIV/AIDs. Hearing what people still thought might happen reminded me of 1986-1987 when I first learned about the disease. We were frightened then because we didn’t understand how this all worked. We asked questions like “can we get it from sharing a glass of water?” I really thought, though, that the uncertainty and incorrect assumptions we all made nearly 30 years ago were long gone. Granted, we haven’t been fighting this monster on the scale they have in larger municipalities, but we have had residents with HIV/AIDs for years. Why did we all of a sudden think sharing a neighborhood was akin to sharing a needle?

I do understand that addicts dropping needles all over the place is a danger, as is the danger for medical professionals, but rather than talking about taking up arms to protect oneself, why aren’t we having involved conversations about clean needle exchanges and free condoms? Those subjects are nearly taboo in an area where fundamentalist conservatives have a stronghold.

The CDC did make its way into Austin when the number of those testing positive for HIV hit double digits. By the time it had hit triple digits, a temporary clean needle exchange had been established, as well as free testing. The keyword is “temporary”. For only 30 days, addicts can come in free of fear of incarceration to exchange their needles for clean ones, thereby helping to halt the spread of the disease. What happens after 30 days, though? Where do these people turn?

Surely, we understand that very few, if any, of these people will be drug free and clean in 30 days. Since the needle exchange is working—people are absolutely coming in for clean needles just as they do in larger cities with the exchanges—why aren’t we going to continue? Drug addiction isn’t going away. Guns won’t scare it away. Sorry. That demon is not afraid of death. This idea that giving away clean needles and condoms somehow “supports,” “condones,” or even “encourages” drug use and promiscuity is absurd.

I’ve read the remarks of people who have said we need to show people this behavior is not to be “admired”. The idea that people become drug users/addicts because they think its “admirable” is asinine. Truthfully, it’s the socioeconomic climate the residents of Austin must fight that breeds addiction, and prostitution just follows along as a cottage industry built by their broken lives. I would never assume any of these people wanted to be an addict when they grew up. To believe that is to totally misunderstand addiction. Addiction is something people turn to when there’s nowhere else to turn. It covers their pain. It’s the self-medication that is both the cure and the disease. Loose morals and lack of religion didn’t create this situation. Hopelessness, helplessness, and a feeling of living in an inescapable hell built what we’re dealing with for most. For some, this is a multigenerational problem that both parents and grandparents couldn’t escape. But no one cared 40 years ago, 30 years ago, or even 5 years ago. The violence and drug and sex trade are nothing new to Austin, Indiana. HIV is—or at least people knowing they have HIV is.

Putting a gun in someone’s hands will not kill this problem. Killing the bad information, killing the idea that if we close our eyes it will all go away, and killing the conservative stance that clean needle exchanges and free condoms somehow hurt society will fix this problem. Maybe it won’t stop people from using drugs or working in the sex trade to earn a few dollars, but it might very well stop the rampant spread of HIV. Locals who are too invested in personal religious tropes to invest in the public heath might want to rethink their primary investments before they end up bankrupt.

No. HIV is nothing new. Austin, Indiana, unfortunately, is just a small town that was hurled into modernity to meet up with what the rest of the world has known for decades: You cannot stop addiction, but you can prevent HIV!

(Image source: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/01/indiana-hiv-outbreak-health-workers-funding)

Just a Note for Your Sunday

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When a person is not willing to examine his or her own philosophical or political systems of belief, little progress can ever be made in the world. If a person refuses to question the authority of political and religious leaders, nothing in the world will change. If a person does not recognize that religion and nationalism, while at times binding, mostly create a divisive atmosphere, we will continue to live in chaos. If a person follows tradition simply for traditions sake without questioning if they are harmful, we will continue to live in a status quo.. We must be willing to take a stance to change the wrongs of the world, regardless of threats from authority, if we ever want peace. We must recognize that knowledge is power, and knowledge only comes from opening one’s mind to question all he or she has believed to be absolute truth. Question authority and what you’ve been inculcated to believe always! ~TLN