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Lip Service to God(s)


Butters
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I travel a fair bit, to places with fairly diverse religious beliefs. On occasion, I have either visited a temple, or met up with people who have taken me along to their religious ceremonies or included me in their beliefs.

 

This is very nice, but I also feel that it is a bit strange of me to participate. I've been to midnight mass whilst staying with a family in England, and I did all the kneeling and crossing and so on that was required but it felt very odd to me. I get that same feeling at funerals, in fact even more so, when there is a hymn being sung or I am asked to participate in some part of the religious ceremony (as I was at most of my grandparents funerals). I've lit incense in Buddhist temples, and prostrated myself in mosques. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying anything bad about the people who go out of their way to include me in these things, and I certainly don't voice any objections at the time or make it an awkward situation, but it just feels disingenuous. I guess I figure in their place of worship I should do as I'm asked. After all, I put myself there.

 

I like to visit temples and mosques because I enjoy the architecture and have an intellectual interest in religion. I don't respect religious beliefs, which doesn't mean that I don't respect the people who hold them, but I really don't like participating in what I see as superstitious rituals. So what is more disrepectful, doing it anyway, or politely declining?

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I've been in exactly that kind of place; I know where your coming from. These rituals do seem alien and unintelligible.

I feel it's better to join in the experience (Any experience) than to decline and look like an awkward stranger.

it's good to put yourself out of your comfort zone for a while; maybe even feel apprehensive and scare yourself in the process, the insight potentially to gain, far out-weighs ducking out and not knowing.

I am friends with a very religious Christian family (in Kent, UK) who asked me 'If i wanted to join them' for their Sunday Baptist pentecostal service: complete with arm waving, Jesus praising, kneeling in the aisle activity which goes with it. i still felt like an outsider looking in; but gained an understanding and respect for other beliefs which I could not - indeed have not - gained simply from reading about it.

I'm still an atheist, but not one whom wishes to soap-box about the absurdity of other's beliefs.

 

Whilst chatting to some pastures afterwards, I stated the old scientific maxim that

"Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs; their own opinions, but no-one is entitled to their own facts."

The fact which I discovered at that religious service was that everyone is very friendly, polite, congenial and we all had a fun time.

 

I also asked the question

"Why are there eight credit/debit card machines at the back of the room?"

"So as people can give money to the church, for it's up-keep etc." was the reply.

I enquired thus.

"Surely lending money at interest (Usury) is a bit of a no-no for most religions, and having the money changers (Or at least their means) In the temple, is something Jesus got a bit annoyed about... Mark 11-15."

The room filled with silence.

 

 

I've not been back since.

Edited by tomgwyther
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So what is more disrepectful, doing it anyway, or politely declining?

 

For the most part, it probably depends on various factors. For example if there are a lot of others who aren't part of the group and fitting in, it would be much less awkward to not participate, and it would also show that the group is OK with that. For most things a religious group would be delighted for you to participate even as a non-believer. For example a christian wouldn't mind you praying, singing, donating, reading the scriptures, and just about anything else they do, and in fact would be glad for anyone to join in regardless of their beliefs. However, they do have a few things that you shouldn't do as a non-believer, such as baptism and communion/Last Supper, which are specifically restricted to believers, but these happen only very occasionally. Maybe preaching the sermon since it would be rather hypocritical, but then random strangers don't really get invited to preach anyways.

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I have actually stayed in an Ashram in India run by a woman called Amma aka the hugging mama. That was by far the most awkward one, as it involved various meditation style events that they were desperate for us to attend, but we chose not to.

 

It turned out of course, that the inclusion factor here was designed more to get donations and turn us into long-term residents who would work their fields in return for accomodation and spiritual enlightenment. They also held us passports the whole time we were there and made it VERY difficult to get them back when we told them we wished to leave. They also locked us in our compound (their word) at night, so if there was a fire, we would burn to death.

 

I guess part of my discomfort also comes from the idea that by participating I am also somehow endorsing it. That's an extreme example with a borderline cult, but I get a similar feeling in more normal circumstances.

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I have actually stayed in an Ashram in India run by a woman called Amma aka the hugging mama. That was by far the most awkward one, as it involved various meditation style events that they were desperate for us to attend, but we chose not to.

 

It turned out of course, that the inclusion factor here was designed more to get donations and turn us into long-term residents who would work their fields in return for accomodation and spiritual enlightenment. They also held us passports the whole time we were there and made it VERY difficult to get them back when we told them we wished to leave. They also locked us in our compound (their word) at night, so if there was a fire, we would burn to death.

 

I guess part of my discomfort also comes from the idea that by participating I am also somehow endorsing it. That's an extreme example with a borderline cult, but I get a similar feeling in more normal circumstances.

 

I do not understand as to why you would be allowed to or choose to stay at an ashram, if you were not seeking some form of enlightenment within the context of that religion.

 

It is not meant to be a hostel.

 

But with regards to the OP, I try to follow respectful customs of wherever I am staying...I still have to take off my shoes when I enter some people's houses. But if a situation came up, where I felt like it was impinging on my intrisinc values, (like, I would not participate in a KKK rally, "just to fit in") then I would make a graceful exit.

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I chose to stay at an ashram out of curiosity more than anything else. And in the case of Amma's ashram it very much is run like a hostel, which is perhaps part of the problem. It makes so much money now (Amma also tours the world giving shows) that it maybe has lost sight of its original purpose.

 

Visitors are not only welcomed, but you meet acolytes in surrounding cities who actually try and convince you to go there. Leaving is the far more difficult part.

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