“When god created the horse, he said to the magnificent creature: I have made thee as no other. All the treasures of the earth lie between thy eyes. Thy shalt carry my friends upon thy back. Thy saddle shall be the seat of prayers to me. And thou shalt fly without wings, and conquer without sword; oh horse.” 

— the Qu’ran

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee:  for whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and they God my God.

–Ruth 1:16.

What is wealth? Being happy with what you have.

The Torah

September 1963.  I begin 10th grade in a new school in Wilmington, Delaware, a southern leaning state.  Before class starts, we have the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.  We sit down.  Then, the homeroom teacher opens a Bible and begins to read.

I was stunned.  Bible Reading?  This isn’t upstate New York, any more, Mike.  You are in the South.  She read a few verses, then we all stood and recited the Lord’s Prayer.  Well (n-1) did, because having been raised Unitarian, I never learned it.  Within a week, I knew it cold.  Good thing, too, for the Supreme Court banned Bible reading after that.

Prayers in the school, before events were common.  Frequently, I would hear “let each of us in our own way, pray.”  I like that.  What I didn’t like was the leader ending it “in Jesus’ name”. when a good share of the school was Jewish, or me, a Unitarian, where it was said the only time the word “God” was spoken was when the janitor fell down the back stairs.

On Memorial Day, 2012, one of the Arizona legislators gave a speech, honoring “Christian veterans.”  I was appalled.  I was also angered.  I am a veteran who happens not to be Christian.  Did that make my service somehow less valuable?  What did being Christian have to do with military service?

Two months earlier, two Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my front door.  I listened politely, then told them that I did not foster my religious beliefs on others, and I did not appreciate their trying to convert me.  I asked them, using “Please”, to leave.  They did.  My late mother had a different approach, when the Witnesses said, “Don’t you want to live forever?”  My late mother, a Unitarian, said, “Certainly not.  I can’t imagine anything worse.”  The Witnesses were tongue tied.  That might have been a first.  My late father was fond of saying, “My prayers were answered, and the answer was ‘NO’.”

On a language Web site, a Muslim from Algeria looked at my profile, saw that I didn’t put a religion, only that “We are stewards of the Earth.”  He wrote me, saying while I had a good profile, it was a shame that I would be going to hell.  I seethed but stayed silent.  I knew I would never change his opinion, so why waste his time?  Not responding is one of the best ways to stop a conversation.

On this same Website, religion seems to keep appearing as a topic.  I was teaching English to a Russian woman from southwest  Russia, near the Caspian Sea.  One Saturday, I asked her what she was doing that day.  The answer was “Not much. I’m Muslim.”   She quickly followed with, “does that bother you?”

It didn’t….until later.  I am reading the Qu’ran, and I have found many Muslims on this language site who have taught me a great deal about their religion.  Unfortunately, this woman then said, “I hope you will convert.”  That bothered me, because I don’t ask people if they will convert to my way of thinking about religion.  I said, that I couldn’t believe in Allah, although I liked many other aspects of Islam.  She replied, “You’re wrong,”  two of the most charged words in the English language, almost guaranteed to make somebody angry.  I just said, “Whoa…..stop this right now.  This is your opinion and not mine.”  She did.  I wrote her later, and told her that a lot of Americans would have immediately ended the conversation permanently.  Little did I know I would be one of them.  I mentioned in my letter that 9/11 was devastating to how many Americans felt about Islam, to which she countered: “The US government caused 9/11 for oil.”

That was the final straw.  I had not brought up religion.  She had.  And in the space of 18 hours had managed to want me converted, said I was wrong, and espoused a conspiracy theory.  I told her that if she did not admit the possibility of being wrong, she would not hear from me again.  I got back, “You just don’t want to hear the truth.”

And so ended my teaching experience with her.

All religions offer solace to their believers.  The most beautiful writing from three of the world’s great religions is at the top of the page.  Those who live their faith are fine people.  Those of us who believe how we live our life defines us as human beings can also be fine people.

I have noted throughout history that was once God’s will is now understandable. People used to die from infected hangnails, or mild gunshot wounds, like President Garfield.  Now, we can treat these problems.  Rheumatic Fever and death from diphtheria or acute lymhoblastic leukemia were “God’s will,”  until the advent of penicillin and chemotherapy. Hemoptysis from bronchiectasis was God’s will until we discovered it was M. aviae complex, and treatable with triple therapy.  Untreatable cleft palates were God’s will, until plastic surgery.  We don’t see these problems much any more.

I believe in good science, which self corrects and moves forward, each generation standing on the shoulders of the previous generation and looking further.  I also believe there is a great deal that is unknown and to date inexplicable, There are many ways people deal with the unknown.  I am curious about it and want to know why.  Others use faith.  If I liked their way better, I would take it.  I don’t.  And I don’t ask them to take my way.  It is impolite, it is not going to happen, and it will make them angry.

To the legislator who honored Christian Veterans, I have these comments:  Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Wikkans, Atheists, Agnostics and others like me make up this country and have served honorably.  Honor those who serve.  Keep religion out of the discussion.

Faith, or lack of, is deeply personal.  Honor others’ views, unless or until they cross a line that you find you cannot tolerate.  Then walk away, sadly and quietly.


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