November 10, 2020

Today’s Thought – Religious Arrogance

This past Sunday we took a ride just to get out of the house and see some scenery. We live in a lovely part of Pennsylvania – Berks County – with rolling hills and gigantic trees and streams and rivers and lakes. It is a great place for hunting (which I don’t’ do) and fishing (which I do badly). I like to do this because there are few calming pleasures like sitting with a fishing pole and a cup of coffee, pretending to fish.

As I said, it was Sunday, and we were driving through southern Berks County into Lancaster County, another lovely place. The problem with this kind of driving, however, is the Amish. The Amish are fine people, but they take their horse-pulled carriages along these narrow roads and block traffic. It reminded me of growing up in Monsey, NY, where the large populations of ultra-orthodox Jews would walk on the Sabbath, three across in the street, refusing to give way. Both have their reasons for what they do, and I have no problem with it. It just annoys me a bit.

Except for this – it occurred to me that the Amish are Sabbath-breakers. I have spoken to Amish folks on a number of occasions, and while they are polite and devout, they also come across (in my opinion), at times, as religiously arrogant. Their movement began as a reaction to the “liberal” ways of the Mennonites, and they often divide over what I would consider to be small disagreements – like the buttons versus hooks & eyes kerfuffle of 1885. Generally, though, they conform to the will of the community. 

Back to Sabbath-breaking. As I carefully passed a buggy, I thought, “The Biblical rules about Sabbath demand that your animals should also be allowed to rest.” These poor horses, clopping along on hard, paved country streets, are forced to work on the Sabbath! This isn’t the first time I have had this thought about religious arrogance and the Amish: many years ago, friends of ours visited from Ohio, and we went on a drive to tour the Amish farms. One place offered buggy rides, and the driver started asking my friend if he believed in the Virgin Birth. When he said he sometimes had doubts, the driver (who was also the teacher in the community), went into a long lecture about why the Virgin Birth is mandatory if one is to call oneself a Christian. It was uncomfortable for all of us, which is what religious arrogance does.

We have all probably been guilty of spiritual/religious arrogance, so I am throwing stones at myself as well. We might believe that our flavor of Christianity is the best tasting form; we might think Christianity is better than other religions; we might believe that our “spiritual but not religious” approach is the ultimate form of contemplation. I am a Christian because I believe that God came to earth in the person of Jesus (incarnation is the fancy term), but that doesn’t mean the people who practice other forms of faith are inferior. I also think Chip Mint Ice Cream is the best kind of ice cream (see how I capitalized it?), but that doesn’t mean that all other ice creams are inferior (except that heinous garlic ice cream – really?).

The founders of this country mostly agreed with me: they used the word “Creator” – they made it so that no one religion could or would control the laws of this country – they made it clear that there would be no religious test to hold office, and no mandate to go to church. Why? Because, in America, people are free to be – or not to be – religious. I prefer practicing my faith, and I try to get others to do the same (this is what I get paid the big bucks for, after all). I will never, however, claim religious superiority – it isn’t a Jesus thing to do. I hope you won’t do the same thing to me – this is how we get along – or not. Our choice.

Prayer – God of many names, You have created us all to be equal in Your eyes. Help us to treat each other the same. Amen.

Today’s art is a poster advertising an interfaith gathering at a middle school in Oxford, UK in 2015.