“Love is a temple, Love a higher law
Love is a temple, Love the higher law
You ask me to enter, But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on, To what you got
When all you got is hurt – U2, “One”
I am not the most religious person. I believe in something. I just don’t always know what that is.
I believe in God. I believe there was a great man named Jesus. I look at the people I admire most in life like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama and their grace, dignity and presence have left me no choice but to accept that there is something divine inspiring them.
I will admit that I don’t know what form God takes. Some people believe they do. People have died over what that image might be.
I don’t claim to know. I don’t think that makes me less worthy.
Although I am sure there are those who disagree. To be more clear, I KNOW that there are those who disagree.
I was born Hindu. It is a religion, like most others, which when practiced with good intent and true faith, espouses love, acceptance and forgiveness. I believe that there are flaws, as there are with most organized religions.
But being Hindu has been a part of my identity that I can not shake, just as I can not shake the tan skin that betrays the Indian heritage of my family.
I can’t wash it off – just as I can’t change the tone of my flesh. It is immersed in my culture, the seams which make up the fabric of my family.
It was and has been a part of my identity, though you can probably question how “legit” I am in terms of actual practice.
I recall having questions about religion early on. I attended an epic number of “pujas” or religious ceremonies, that my parents and family seemed to hold each weekend – sometimes multiples on one weekend.
That’s a lot of praying.
It’s especially a lot of praying for a child who could not understand the Sanskrit readings of our family priests, yet had to sit for hours, laboriously feigning interest in something I could not interpret – while shamelessly daydreaming about my crushes at school or how I might get the curls to lay flatter against my head.
My mind was elsewhere.
I recall hearing from a friend in high school that I was going to hell. We were reading the Divine Comedy – more specifically – “Dante’s Inferno” – in AP English. I was having trouble grasping some of the levels at which Dante Alighieri had allocated some of the true despots, heathens and unworthy to their specific levels, or circles of Hell.
I described the trouble I had understanding the idea of “Limbo” – which was the first circle of Hell as described by Dante. This is where all the unbaptized and the virtuous pagans, who had not sinned, but did not accept Christ, were actively punished.
Having been fairly sheltered thus far from such ideas, at the age of 17, I was startled when my friend said, “That’s ridiculous!”
I was not startled by the fact that she said, “That’s ridiculous!” because I too was thinking, “This Dante is talking some ridiculous shit!” I was more startled by what she said next . . .
“Everyone knows there is no such thing as limbo for people like you. You are just going straight to the deepest levels of Hell.”‘
But you know me. I don’t usually stay silent for long.
“Really? So if I rape and if I steal and if I murder but I repent and accept Christ – I would be in better shape than I am today?” I asked.
She looked at me as if I was crazy and said the words that left a very lasting impression on me.
“Well, that’s just the way it works. Everyone knows it.”
My thoughts ran through my muddled mind, searching for lucidity.
“But this is how I was born. Why would God punish me for that?”
“Even if I convert, would God punish the rest of my family? What kind of idea of Heaven is that for me if I don’t have my family with me? Even if I convince my family here – what about my family in India? What about the ones who are already gone?”
“So many parts of the world have never been exposed to Christianity. Was God’s intent to banish them directly to that circle?”
(And no, I am not talking about the world today, where internet technology, global cell phones, international video conference calls and ever-expanding missionary efforts are taking place – but the world we lived in for much longer, where in fact, Christianity was centrally focused in Europe).
Even then, you must assume in the deepest villages, Christianitynwill not make it to many children who live by candlelight at night and work in fields during the day.
“Did that mean God did not want (for at least a few centuries) – non-Europeans to be granted access to Heaven?”
I have had friends who have discussed conversion with me. In a safe, approachable way. And I have considered it. I think there are two quotes by Gandhi (who per this definition, would also be confined to that first circle of Hell, a thought which completely boggles my mind) that really define how I feel about the matter.
In regards to conversion, Gandhi said at his famous speech at Harijan in 1935:
“I believe that there is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the accepted sense of the word. It is a highly personal matter for the individual and his God. I may not have any design upon my neighbor as to his faith, which I must honor even as I honor my own. Having reverently studied the scriptures of the world I could no more think of asking a Christian or a Musalman, or a Parsi or a Jew to change his faith than I would think of changing my own.”
So, while sometimes I remain confused and sometimes I believe that I am just a “little bit of everything” for now, that works for me. And I find my own truth and faith in that and I am content.
Because, similar to Gandhi, I also believe that when you take the best parts of religion and evaluate them and leave the noise behind, that there is truth in all of them:
“I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.”
Gandhi, (Young India: January 19, 1928)
You don’t have to agree with me. I am not seeking validation of where I stand. I am far from fundamental so I can handle a little discussion.
What I can’t handle are absolutes that don’t address the true nature of the reality. Our world is not that black and white.
Hoping you all are close to your own truth.
“One love, One blood
One life, You got to do what you should
One life, With each other
One life, But we’re not the same
We get to, Carry each other
Carry each other.ONE.”