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.

19 thoughts on “I’ve Been Saying This for Years

  1. White christain guy finds himself in a context where he is not the ‘norm’- he is other and cannot take it . Poor thing, his world got rocked. He ought to come out to oklahoma and go to a ceremonial ground where native people dance their “heathen” dances and there’s no white faces in sight. He’d really get it in a wad wouldn’t he? He doesn’t get what it is to be a stranger in his own land does he?

  2. Hostile? Ostracized? Unless there’s something more to this (courageously anonymous) Christian’s story, he’s being “oppressed” by nothing more than his own bigotry. Were his Buddhist neighbors proselytizing to him? Protesting actions that weren’t in line with their own faith? Deliberately excluding him from activities for his religious identity? Sounds like projection to me.

  3. Fundamentalist Christians have this mentality of we (“the saved”) versus what they literally call “the world”. The more dogmatic and cult-like the church culture they come from, the more these people exhibit this seige mentality, and the more black and white their world becomes. It’s hilarious/sad to those of us who are a little more detached and a little more widely educated to see this poor sap, in his paranoia, viewing the locals peacefully offering their prayers as hostility toward him. (Are there such things as Militant Buddhists?)

    Good for the writer, that by what he regards as a negative consequence, he made the first step toward rethinking this whole Dominionist idea of merging state and religion. Maybe we can get some sort of foreign exchange program going to encourage more of this behavior. The good news, is that in this day and age, the fundies would never have to leave the United States to experience this kind of mind opening. The hitch is getting them to want to engage in this kind of exploration, to get them to venture out of their comfort zone.

    Now if the writer could only take the next step, and get out of his ideological box that sets up these we vs them divisions, where his tribe defines what God is, and everyone else is outta luck.

  4. If he was a real Christian he would have figured this out on his own. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…You know, like thinking to yourself, how would I feel about prayer in school if the school is predominantly Buddhist, Muslim, LDS, Jewish, etc etc etc. If you aren’t comfortable with your children being indoctrinated in someone else’s religion, then don’t force yours on their children. If only those who call themselves Christian would remind themselves more often about the golden rule they would find that life is much easier, less conflict, whether it is locally, nationally, or internationally. They might even figure out the hard questions and answers, like that the terrorists don’t hate us for our freedom…

  5. There’s very little “hostility” toward any religion in Hawai’i, be it Christian or otherwise. I live 10 miles from Wahiawa, a former sugar plantation town now kept afloat by the presence of Schofield Barracks; I know it well. The guy’s been listening to O’Reilly too long.

  6. “If you want hostility, try being a non Christian in the Bible Belt”
    Well Maha, we’re “fixin ” to find out about that in my little town, there is a Mosque under construction about 4 miles from my house, and a Sikh Temple being built 6 miles north of here.
    I’m sure the conversations down at the Harvest Baptist Church are a bit heady of late.

  7. (Are there such things as Militant Buddhists?)

    I think that at various points in Japanese history Buddhists were not only militant, they were the militants. This isn’t even considering the later role of Zen in Samurai culture. And, certainly, some of today’s militants in places like Sri Lanka identify as Buddhist.
    I say this even though my understanding of Buddhist principles suggest that it is the most pacifistic of the world’s major religions. But adherents are human, with their religious beliefs heavily molded by their cultures in ways that can contrast mightily with the underlying philosophy of their professed religion. This is why I think that people who blame militancy on a particular religion — whether Christianity, Islam, or whatever — are wide of the mark.

  8. As a person who has experienced the tender mercies of Evangelicals in Oklahoma, I can assure you, they do not brook disagreement in faith very lightly. This guy could have taken the words of the 14th Dali Lama to heart.

    “Do not use what you learn about Buddhism to be a better Buddhist.
    Use it to become a better what you already are”
    the 14th Dali Lama

  9. modus potus — you are right about the militant Buddhists. In fact, in the Zen lineage in which I trained, back in the 1930s many of the monks and sensei backed the militarization of Japan and marched along in military parades. There’s no way that could have been justified by the Dharma. On the other hand, a few priests of some other sects — Nichiren and Pure Land, mostly — spent years in jail rather than endorse the militarization.

    As you say, there are strong connections between Zen and samurai culture. The connection between Zen and martial arts goes back to early China. A monk from India named Da Mo, a.k.a. Bodhidharma, of the famous Shaolin Temple, is credited as being the founder and First Patriarch of Zen.

    And the moral is, nobody’s perfect.

  10. “Freedom of Religion” by evangelicals is frequently interpreted to mean “Freedom of Christianity” as if MODERN liberals have thwarted the obvious intent of the founding fathers by taking advantage of a mistake in wording. For those Republican evangelicals who claim ‘This is a Christian Country’, I submit the words of the first Republican, Thomas Jefferson:

    “[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom… was finally passed,… a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.” –Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:67

    (For once the misspellings are not mine, but he wrote before the spellchecker, with the precision of a scientist.)

  11. Ya gotta love these fundies, they’re all for freedom of religion and public display of religion as long as it’s their own. I wonder if they teach Buddism in this school district? That would be great.

  12. Well, Amanda mentioned Rick Santorum, so I guess this comment is not totally off topic. I watched the Meet the Press debate tape from last Sunday with Rick Santorum vs. Bob Casey.
    Just wondering if anyone else who has studied ‘types of character defense structures’ [Wilhelm Reich, et al] noticed that Santorum really, really epitomizes the psychopathic defense structure [loud and fast aggression designed to unsettle the other]? IMO, Bob Casey creamed Santorum because he, Casey, calmly smiled and remained factually centered every time Santorum did his aggressive bullying-with-words turn at speaking. Even the look in Santorum’s eyes [a sort of fear creeping in] fits with that character type.

  13. Why is a pregame prayer important anyway? I’m a Christian and I’d already decided that public prayer of this type is useless anyway, both because I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of it (a la #6) and because Christ’s own words condemn this sort of public display of piety. Christianity is (or should be) a religion that’s about one’s personal relationship with God. How does a moment of self-congratulation before unleashing the local teen chapter of Steroids Anonymous even begin to approach communion with God?

  14. In fact, in the Zen lineage in which I trained, back in the 1930s many of the monks and sensei backed the militarization of Japan and marched along in military parades. There’s no way that could have been justified by the Dharma.

    I read a book on the history of “Japanese Warrior Monks” and I was very suprised at how much political activism / interference the various Temples engaged in.

    “In the year 710, the first permanent Japanese capital was established in Nara, a city modelled after the Chinese capital. Large Buddhist monasteries were built in the new capital. The monasteries quickly gained such strong political influence that, in order to protect the position of the emperor and central government, the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784, and finally to Heian (Kyoto) in 794 where it should remain for over one thousand years”

    The temples engaged in fierce competition over who would get appointed to important posts, especially the ones which could be used to get more monery for the temple). There were even a few instances of outright warfare and the mass killing of rivals.

    Religion and Politics don’t mix.

  15. Having been raised an evangelical christian, a statistic I had heard for propagandizing purposes was that most christians have no significant interactions with non-christians one year after having converted. If you are raised in a christian home you will have no significant non-christian friends (really meaning not friends outside of the church you attend). The us vs. them, insular mentality is very real. You can’t convince christians to willfully be exposed to different ideas and such, they have to be practically forced onto them. Buddhists must move next door where the christians must interact on some level, or build the mosque or temple in town. They won’t open their eyes willingly.

  16. Bucky Blue — I think that tends to be true of any homogenous community with limited exposure to outsiders. It’s not just a “Christian” thing.

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