Sunday, January 02, 2005

Choice of Religion

I saw an acquaintance of mine yesterday who I hadn't seen in awhile. Her appearance was strikingly different because her hair was completely covered with a scarf. Since I hadn't seen her in months, I figured that she had become a Muslim. I wasn't quite sure how to approach it, but I'm generally blunt, hopefully I'm gently blunt, so I noted that I'd never seen her before with a head covering. She was quite open in discussing her conversion. I was curious as to what she found in Islam that she found lacking otherwise. Its always interesting to truly listen to others, what they say and what they don't say.

One of the first things she noted was that she is a former Catholic and that she knows of many former Catholics who chose Islam. She talked a lot about the community she had found in Islam and her friends. I found it interesting that the first thing she spoke of in her draw to Islam was not anything religious but the community, but I can certainly understand why. It seems that the church fails, at times, in establishing community. I can't speak of all Catholic churches, but some of the Catholics I know have noted that their church experience is an on the clock, in and out experience where they don't know their fellow parishioners. It sounds a lot like punching the clock and I can honestly say that I don't get it. It addresses the 'love your God' part but seems a little lean on the 'love your neighbor as yourself.'

After speaking about the community ties she has in her community (sorry, I don't remember the term for community center/church, I know there is one, I just don't know what). She noted the absence of an authority structure within Islam, there is no priesthood, all seekers are on equal grounding. She spent a fair amount of time discussing the differences between the religion of Islam and the Arab culture and that its often hard to determine what practices stem from which.

She eventually talked about the religious beliefs. She likes that Islam does not lose Jesus, he is valued as a prophet and his teachings are respected. This was the reason she gave for not becoming Jewish, she was glad to keep Jesus. She said she was also more comfortable with the idea that salvation comes through faith and works and said that this was in keeping with Catholic teaching.

I found this encounter very interesting, partly because I was able to listen to her without judgment of any sort -- this is vastly different that I would have felt a year ago. I was genuinely interested to listen to her reasons without forming arguments in my mind. I no longer have any arguments to make. If she has found something in Islam that she could not find in Christianity, who could say she's wrong? Not me.

Strangely, I think that witnessing her bold choice of religion, one that requires that she learn much about a culture so unlike our own and that inspires her to learn a language that does not even have the same alphabet has affected me. Its a niggling feeling, but I'm not afraid.

7 comments:

Larry said...

Marjorie, this is great!

You said,
"It seems that the church fails, at times, in establishing community. I can't speak of all Catholic churches, but some of the Catholics I know have noted that their church experience is an on the clock, in and out experience where they don't know their fellow parishioners. It sounds a lot like punching the clock and I can honestly say that I don't get it. It addresses the 'love your God' part but seems a little lean on the 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"

This reminds me of something that happened the year I was in Washington without the family. I was staying with The Servant Community, a group home for commited C of S people. They habitually went to the Washington Cathedral on Wednesdays for communion. After I started living there they changed that habit and started celebrating it themselves.

I went to the cathedral with them one time. We got there, took our seats, had communion, left. Not a word to anyone. There were about a dozen others. It seemed like we were all ships passing in the night. I didn't think it was really communion.

And you said,
"She noted the absence of an authority structure within Islam, there is no priesthood, all seekers are on equal grounding."
Sounds like Quakers.

And you said,
"She eventually talked about the religious beliefs. She likes that Islam does not lose Jesus, he is valued as a prophet and his teachings are respected."

Wow! They might conceivably respect them more than most Christians do. In that case, I would say they are Christians.

Are you moving toward Universalism? I call myself a Christian Universalist, and I think that's biblical. Marjorie if you were nothing else, I would have to give you credit: you're an awful good listener, much better than me.

david said...

Wow! I'm getting linked to on the word niggles :0)

On God an other faith's I like Larry's saying, the only people in 'hell' are those who refuse to go to heaven.

Meredith said...

I really enjoyed this post, Marjorie. Your gift of non-judgemental listening to your acquaintance was a pure act of Friendship. We all learn so much just listening.
Thank you, M

Rachel Nicole said...

Interesting post. I have to say that I'm confused by your friend - it seems as if she was searching for a community rather than a religion. And if she didn't want to lose Jesus, why didn't she try a Protestant church? While Islam does "keep" Jesus, it denies his diety, which, in my understanding of the Bible, denies the whole concept of Him! I'd love your response to this (which I see as a dilimna) if you have the chance to sort it out. I'm also curious about what changed between this year and last; you said "a year ago" you would have responded much differently to this friend. I'm sorry to ask if it's too personal! ...Anyway, guess that's it; I stumbled across your blog and it seems very interesting! Thanks!
~ Rachel Nicole

Marjorie said...

Hi Rachel Nicole, thanks for posting. I agree, it does sound like my friend was looking for community most of all and I think she was.

I've met a lot of people who aren't sure they buy the whole Jesus as God bit. I've met these people in my church and outside of it. Last year, I would have judged them as non-Christians and would have avoided them. Now, I'm accepting that some people just have obstacles to believing that certain things in the Bible happened (like the resurrection). I have no problem believing this, but I also realize that you can't force yourself to believe something that makes no sense to you and you can't force others to believe. So, instead of judging them, I accept them and love them as they are. I would note that these people do rever Jesus and seek to follow his example.

My views were a bit more fundamentalist last year -- you believe X and you're one of us, you don't believe X and you're not one of us and I don't understand you and I'm not going to try. Strangely, I feel as if my current views are more keeping with Christ's example, even though it sort of felt more devout to expect that everyone believe what I believe.

This may not make any sense, but I feel more loving when I don't make any requirements as to what others believe, I just accept them. I feel like a true follower of Christ then. But I've only gotten to this point by becoming more fundamentalist for awhile. I don't think my way is right, but I realize that I don't know what right is anyway and I view my faith and my ability to believe as a gift.

In earlier posts, I go through a bunch of wondering and suffering over how one take a liberal view of the Bible and Christianity but still value Jesus. I think one was called My Beef With Borg.

Planet said...

Hi Marjorie,
I would recommend your friend a book called Not Without My Daughter http://www.amazon.com/Not-Without-Daughter-Betty-Mahmoody/dp/0312925883
Otherwise I think it's a great achievement to be able to listen without judging.
Best regards,
Sonya

Marjorie said...

Hi Sonya, haven't read the book, but my mom made me see the movie. This is not my friend's situation, her husband is non-Muslim and does not have family in the Middle East. I understand the concern, but I'd hate it if all Christians were judged by the acts of some. I've seen domestic violence in Christian families, too.
I'm sure the book is better than the movie, they almost always are.