Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, September 8th, 2006.

I’ve Been Saying This for Years


Amanda and PZ call our attention to the testimony of an evangelical Christian who became opposed to pre-game prayers. He was handed a clue by experience — he attended a high school football game in Hawaii, and the pre-game prayer was Buddhist.

We were frozen in shock and incredulity! What to do? To continue to stand and observe this prayer would represent a betrayal of our own faith and imply the honoring of a pagan deity that was anathema to our beliefs. To sit would be an act of extreme rudeness and disrespect in the eyes of our Japanese hosts and neighbors, who value above all other things deference and respect in their social interactions. I am sorry to say that in the confusion of the moment we chose the easier path and elected to continue to stand in silence so as not to create a scene or ill will among those who were seated nearby.

Wow, that was big of him.

Anyway, over the next few days the writer found out that, because the community was predominantly Buddhist and Shinto (I didn’t say “or” because Japanese often don’t see a need to be exclusively one or the other), the pre-game prayers were ALWAYS either Buddhist or Shinto. The local Baptist minister was not included in the prayer rotation. The evangelical Christian was so freaked out by this he refused to attend any more football games. He continues,

I am a professional, educated and responsible man who is strong in his faith and is quite comfortable debating the social and political issues of the day. Yet when placed in a setting where the majority culture proved hostile to my faith and beliefs, I became paralyzed with indecision and could not act decisively to defend and proclaim my own beliefs. I felt instantly ostracized and viewed myself as a foreigner in my own land.

I like the part about a “majority culture proved hostile to my faith and beliefs.” I’d be very surprise if he experienced any actual hostility from the locals. The Buddha taught his followers to be respectful of other religions, whether one believes in them or not. If you want hostility, try being a non-Christian in the Bible Belt. By “hostility” he seems to mean “we weren’t allowed to dominate everybody else,” not “people shunned me or reacted angrily to me because of my faith,” the latter being what “hostility” means to me.

In fact, if he and his family had quietly sat down and silently said a Christian prayer instead, I doubt anyone would have minded.

On the other hand — the writer doesn’t say what sect of Buddhism was involved, which is a detail I would find interesting. He says the residents of the community are mostly ethnic Japanese or Chinese, which leaves a lot of possibilities. Most likely the priests were some variety of Pure Land and they chanted the Nembutsu to invoke the Amitabha Buddha. Or, they may have been from a Nichiren sect, in which case they would have chanted the Gongyo (that’s the chant recited by Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It”) to invoke the Gohonzon, which I sort of understand but don’t have the energy or inclination to explain. Or, the priests might have been Tendai or Zen (awesome web site, btw), in which case the priests might have chanted the Heart Sutra. Or, they might have been from one of several other sects.

And within Pure Land and Nichiren and Tendai and Zen there are various rival sects and subsects, several of which are on speaking terms only intermittently. They’re a minority, but I have met self-identified Buddhists who will not take part in other Buddhists’ practices.

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I came to appreciate that there were Christians, and then there were other Christians. The Born-Agains didn’t think infant Baptism counted, meaning Lutherans were damned, as were those who were A-millenial instead of pre-millenial or post-millenial. Catholics were widely regarded as Satan-worshippers, and Jews might as well have come from Mars.

Amanda comments:

What I find interesting about this is that the guy still seems to whole-heartedly buy into the lie that there’s some kind of generic “Judeo-Christian” prayer that would satisfy a crowd that’s nothing but Jews, Catholics, and Protestants of all sorts of stripes. But the truth of the matter is the only reason the theocrats of these various religions are in an uneasy alliance is because the leadership (who is mostly Protestant at this point, the Dennis Pragers and Rick Santorums of the world aside—but the Pragers and Santorums out there are still a troubling indicator that there are Jews and Catholics who trust that they aren’t next on the official oppression checklist) is keeping their attention trained on other enemies, like atheists and “pagans”. What I find interesting is they are able to quash their significant differences with each other and demonstrate tolerance in their public alliance, but they can’t quite wrap their minds around extending that tolerance out to the atheists and “pagans” out there. Except this guy, who had a jarring experience that woke him up.

Well, he doesn’t seem so much “tolerant” of the “pagans” than he is afraid he again might be exposed to awful things like robed Asian persons chanting in foreign languages (the horror!), so he’s willing to call a truce and allow public schools to be secular. He’s still clearly repulsed and afraid of “paganism,” which is not very tolerant of him.

However, public schools or other agents of government should not be fostering religious practice, and I agree with the evangelical that he shouldn’t be coerced to show respect to an alien religion. And if he’s willing to reciprocate, when we’re good.

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