The snow has melted, and I’m hoping spring is here to stay. This time of rebirth, for nature and also for the human spirit, is important to many religions.
For my Jewish friends, Passover is near. Holi, the Hindu spring festival, is just around the corner. Christians soon will celebrate Easter, and Buddhists will honor Buddha’s birthday. Meanwhile, this week’s spring equinox will inspire other faiths — as well as some folks who don’t profess any official faith.
That makes spring a good time to celebrate religious diversity. To me, religious diversity is a wonderful thing. No religion has all the answers — though some like to pretend they do. But when different religions quit arguing long enough to listen to one another, we all learn wonderful things.
Our nation was founded on religious diversity — sort of. The Founding Fathers weren’t all that good at it, though. People in Europe were still going to war over whether one was Lutheran, Reformed Church or Catholic, when the Pilgrims landed here.
The Pilgrims did not believe in religious freedom. Ask Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, both of whom they tried for heresy.
But no one could enforce orthodoxy in the wilds of New England. Neither could Anglicans in Maryland or the Dutch Reformed in New York. People determined to practice the religion of their choice just went where the authorities couldn’t touch them.
Some of the Constitution’s framers would have been happy to make their own church the law of the land. But different churches controlled different areas. Congregationalists used taxpayer dollars to fund their churches in Massachusetts. But Episcopalians ran Virginia and Maryland, Quakers ran Pennsylvania and so on.
So the framers kept the federal government out of religion precisely because there was no dominant tradition. But it took a long time for state governments to loosen up.
In fact, the last state to “disestablish” its state-supported church was Massachusetts — in 1833.
In those early days, Jews were rampantly discriminated against, along with Catholics. So were Universalists, now part of my own religious tradition. Our Founding Fathers couldn’t have dreamed of the worldwide religious diversity we have in the United States today.
But again I think our present-day diversity is wonderful. I’ve attended Native American rituals and Jewish bat mitzvahs. I’ve attended Hindu religious services. I studied Korean Zen Buddhism, and I’ve attended Tibetan Buddhist teachings right here in Columbus. (Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are different in roughly the same way Presbyterians are different from Episcopalians among Christian traditions.)
The thing is, each time I observe a different religion’s take on things, I learn something new. And useful. I get a broader picture of human reverence and beauty.
I also get a stronger sense of how connected people are on the inside. There is an infinite variety of ways to honor our highest ideals and yearnings.
Religion and who we love are about the most personal choices we can make. When we’re at our best, personal history, conscience and passion go into both. Government — be it federal, state, or local government — shouldn’t look over people’s shoulders and tell us what to think and feel.
It’s tempting to want everyone else to believe what I do. But if we fall into that trap — anytime we try to make someone else believe what we do — I think it’s a sign our own faith isn’t strong enough. In religion, we all need to talk less and listen more.
The Rev. Dennis McCarty is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Columbus. His opinions are his own, and members of his church may or may not agree with them. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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