October 11, 2010 9:00:00 AM
The weather this week has been so marvelous that I considered becoming a Pantheist. I imagine it is a solitary sort of worship, no mega-churches, no tithing, just recognizing the divine in nature.
I like to keep an open mind about belief systems. After a strict Roman Catholic past, my ideology tends to lean toward less austere faiths. These days, I am more of a live-and-let-live sort of girl.
Every religion has its appeal. When my niece, Gillian, was very young, she decided to become Jewish, because it "had the most holidays." I doubt that she would have stuck to it when Christmas came around. Jewish kids may have eight days of gifts, but it can''t be as much fun without the tree and a house full of glittery décor.
Columbus, and most of the U.S., is a bit myopic about religion. Although there are hundreds of faiths, Americans seem to think our way is the only way. Approximately seven billion people live on this planet. Only about two billion are Christian. That leaves a lot of room for different ideas.
It''s strange how very "un-different" they all are. Most worship a single deity and look forward to an afterlife. One exception is Hinduism, with 330,000 gods and goddesses. Who can keep up with that?
These days, there is too much distrust between people of faith. Muslims are especially vilified. They are much-maligned probably because they are not understood. Since many terrorists are Muslim, the conclusion is that all Muslims are terrorists. That assumption is illogical.
I have a very dear cousin who converted to Islam; quite a leap for the product of such deeply-rooted Catholicism. Now, she wears a scarf covering all but the very center of her face. It appears terribly uncomfortable to me. She is always fumbling with the tiny straight pins that hold it closed. The silky fabric slips off her head, exposing wisps of hair that no man (except her husband) should ever see.
But, aside from fashion failures, it is not easy to understand how a girl with so many advantages could make such a dramatic transformation. Elizabeth (I still call her this, although she now prefers Asma) was Harvard-educated and from a good family. (I, of course, am a bit biased about her family.)
But let''s face it, we American girls like our freedom. We are fashion-forward and independent thinkers. The concept that women are inferior is absurd to us.
I once asked Elizabeth why she converted. "When I was a teen," she told me, "my best friend was Muslim. I spent afternoons at her home. Her mother was so warm and accepting that I fell in love with the life."
It was several years later that she converted. Now she is married, with two small sons. She met her husband only once or twice before agreeing to marry. Her wedding was a strange affair, with women and men celebrating across the room from each other. Even the bride and groom did not dance together.
Most of us just do not "get" it. But we do not need to understand. Elizabeth made her choice, as an adult, and seems happy with her lot.
What I am trying to say is that this religion is not about hatred and violence. Almost none are. My cousin chose a faith that gave her comfort and a sense of security.
Every belief system has zealots. The Inquisition, The Crusades, The Herum were all holy wars. Today, none of the religions that inspired them are considered treacherous. But Islam is.
What I really want to suggest is to look at each faith objectively. That is all we ask of others, that they judge us gently and keep an open mind.
When I think of Muslims, I think not of terrorists, but of my sweet cousin and her search for a spiritual home.
I have no profound answers about religion. But, just for now, I think I might go outside and enjoy this inspiring weather. Pan, and perhaps a few other gods, might approve.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at [email protected]
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.