Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

How Do We Learn About “The Other?”

On Sunday morning, I saw this in the Daily Mail:
Two schoolboys were given detention after refusing to kneel down and ‘pray to Allah’ during a religious education lesson.
In the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3 (NASB), I can read this:
You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image.

But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.

There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.

Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king.

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?”

“Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”
Now, let’s be clear, I am not equating the practice of Islam with the religious practices of the ancient Babylonians. I am, however, wondering about the compulsion factor in each of these accounts. The schoolboys in modern times and the Jews of ancient days were both asked to bow down to a god that was not their own. Seriously, even in the interest of education, can society require (or even ask) this of anyone? I have to agree with the parent interviewed in the Daily Mail article, who said:
“But if Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion, there would be war.”
So, if it would be unacceptable for a Muslim to participate in the practice of Christianity for educational purposes, why is it acceptable in reverse? A bigger question for me is: how can people learn about the religious beliefs and practices of others in the interest of community and understanding without “corrupting” their own religious observance? Is it enough to read about the beliefs of others? Or do we need to actually observe and perform the religious rituals or sacraments of another in order to truly understand? I happen to think that “book learning” and conversation with those who hold different beliefs is sufficient. I think the teachers and administrators at the British school went too far in this case.

My daughter’s music composition teacher told me once that he believes the need for religion will vanish someday and, with it, our need to label as “the other” anyone who believes differently from us. I don’t think that is possible…unless, of course, we all believe exactly the same thing. But then we wouldn’t be unique individuals, created by God for His specific purpose; we would be robots. So, unless and until we all become robots, I think we need to work toward a solution to this “understanding each other” thing.

Your thoughts on the subject?

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