Religious tolerance, not conversion, is the answer

Religious tolerance is an issue that has been brought to my attention in recent weeks.

By: Jessica Montgomery | West Virginia U.

Posted: 4/13/07

It all started a few weeks ago when I was talking to a few younger girls at the horse stables.

They couldn’t have been older than 14 years old. For one reason or another, I mentioned the fact that I am a Buddhist. Their reactions, I can honestly say, made my head spin.

One girl asked me how it was possible that I did not believe in God.

Another asked me how exactly I planned to re-route my supposed trip to Hell.

The questions went on, each being more preposterous than the next. I asked if they believed in evolution.

One of the girls remarked, “Do you honestly believe we came from monkeys? Science is just here to test our faith.” Another girl chimed in and informed me that in Bible school they learned that Charles Darwin admitted “making up” evolution on his deathbed. And right now, I really wish I were making this up.

I am all for freedom of religion. In fact, lay it on thick. Those girls could possibly be right about the whole thing, but that was not the issue.

What I find disturbing about the aforementioned situation, however, is that today’s youth should be learning how to think critically and be open-minded.

Instead, in places where we should see children learning to embrace diversity of thought, we see religious indoctrination that will undoubtedly lead to intolerance and conflict. See the Middle East for examples.

If anyone has seen the 2006 documentary, “Jesus Camp,” they should be well aware of the religious indoctrination of this country’s youth.

In this documentary, pastor Becky Fisher attempts to train children into what she calls “God’s Army.” She likens her camp to Islamic extremist camps, and expresses her wish to see children in this country radically laying down their lives for the Gospel just as children are in countries such as Pakistan and Palestine. Why? Because Pastor Fisher exclaims, “We have the truth.”

In the United States, we are assured freedom of religion. But when children are brought up in environments where they are constantly and incessantly preached to about the need to form “God’s Army,” are they really free from religion?

I find no harm in bringing up a child to hold a certain faith. However, in the interests of forming a productive and successful generation of future leaders, children should be brought up learning tolerance of other ideologies.

It is sad to see what our world has come to. If one were to examine all major world religions, one would find that although the details may differ, the message is the same – be a good person. Although many religions define “good” in different ways, it isn’t hard to find the commonalities.

For example, killing is looked down upon in most religions. If religions would just stop bickering over the details of their theology and embrace the parallels that most of them hold, everyone would be better off.

I am not insisting that any one religion is any better or worse than any other. Certainly all religions have their positive and negative points.

Furthermore, one can pick out extremists in every religion. When children are brought up in closed-minded environments where they are taught that their set of beliefs are the only ones that can possibly be true, it is sure to cause problems in the future.

All the Islamic suicide bombers in the world wouldn’t be able to convince Christian zealots to embrace Allah. Conversely, all the Jesus Camp pastors in the world wouldn’t be able to convince Islamic radicals to convert to Christianity.

It is counterproductive for people to try and impose their own religious faiths on others. Instead, people of all religions should work together to help solve the problems that exist in the world today as opposed to creating more.