The man sitting next to me on yesterday's flight had these words emblazoned on his t-shirt (I really didn't think much of it.) He seemed nice in an ordinary sort of way and we easily struck up a conversation.
He asked me what my profession is. So, I answered and asked the same. (He sells medical equipment.) He wanted to know if I had a wife and kids. I gave him the full download. After about 10 minutes of directionless small talk, I was ready to pull out a book, when he asked me if I am a religious man.
After I realized that he was serious, I knew that this discussion was going in the wrong direction. Still, I politely answered, no.
In hindsight, I should have just ignored the question or told him it was a personal issue. Because, this man then proceeded to explain to me how important it is to love God and believe in one's faith. Although, my instincts were imploring me to end this conversation (no good ever comes from debating religion, especially with a zealot,) I decided to humor myself by turning the tables on him to become the interviewer.
I asked him what religion he prescribed to. The man in the Jesus shirt said he was a devout Baptist and he believed that Jesus is the most important thing in his life and brings complete bliss to him and his family. I explained that while I am Jewish and definitely believe in a higher being (God,) I don't need any sort of deep religious fulfillment to be happy. And, that's where the conversation fell off a cliff.
You see, this man just couldn't fathom how (as a Jew) I am not as religious as him (I guess because I'm from the "chosen" tribe.) He actually implored me to rethink my values because "God is real and He is the only glue that holds our society together.”
That was quite enough for me (it was time to go on the offensive.) I asked him a series of questions (in my opinion, none of which he answered well at all.) Are you saying that if I don't have deep religious faith I'm lacking values? Did you ever think about the reality that if I truly believed that my faith is the right one, then it means that all others are wrong (too bad for the tens of millions of Muslims and Christians who believe their path is different than mine, I guess?) What proof is there that your faith is real or that God exists? And, how do you know that God is a he?
Mr. Jesus Shirt (my new name for him) soon realized that he was falling mighty short on converting me. And although we did debate the Bible for a few minutes (naturally, its' 100 percent accurate to him,) he soon shifted his body to face the aisle and fell asleep about 15 minutes later. (I guess talking religion really tired him out.) There ended what could have clearly been a blossoming friendship.
On a serious note, I decided to write this post because the topic of religion has been on my mind lately. To me, religion is simply a belief. It's important to the masses because so many need to believe that there is a higher being watching over them (versus random chaos) and that life can always improve (thus praying for health, prosperity, etc.). It also does provide a moral compass to many and clearly bonds groups of people culturally (and that's the positive for me.) Quite simply, religion is a critical part of our world, and my feeling is that everyone should happily believe in whatever faith (or not) that they want.
What galls me though is just how foolish, naive and downright offensive Mr. Jesus Shirt and his followers can be. Let's start with foolish and offensive. He is happy. That's wonderful. No one is pushing him to change direction or do something else with his life to be happier. The man needs to realize that the same rule should apply to the countless unassuming travelers that he probably accosted just like me.
Naïve: Sorry, but the Bible was written hundreds of years after Jesus lived and died. Who knows what is real versus fiction. Even many scholars of the Old Testament question Abraham (whether he was one man or many,) Noah's ark, Sodom and Gomorrah and so many other morale stories. Should they be believed? Absolutely— by those who want to. But, there is absolutely no empirical data which shows that any of these stories are real. And, what about the question regarding whose religion is the right one? If he thinks that because I'm Jewish I should believe more in my faith, then he's also answering the question about whether Jesus was the son of God. Because Jews don't believe that.
I hope my Catholic friends aren't offended with the specific example I use here. This bizarre dude could have been peddling extreme Muslim fundamentalism, Judaism or any other religion. It all would have been the same to me. Religion is based on faith. It should bring people together. Not tear them apart as it has done in our society since the beginning of time.