No One Right Way to Live

December 18, 2009 at 3:39 pm (Thoughts) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

So I married a Jew. It matters very little, actually, considering neither of us holds any religious beliefs dear. Her parents warned her when we were dating that the relationship will no doubt face strain since our holidays and traditions will be forever in competition, and it may confuse the kids we one day might have. But for the moment, it matters not.

My wife and I had been planning a trip to go back and visit my family for over a year. I hadn’t been back in two years and had been slightly depressed and homesick for some time. What I remember of life in the States does still exist in some form, but this trip home pushed me to the limits of defending the greatness of that life.

So my family (with the exception of my dad) is Christian. I mean, really Christian…. damn-near-fundamentalist Christian. The thing to remember is that they’re polite and don’t necessarily want to impose their view on others. Especially not the wife of mine that they’re meeting for the first time. If you don’t ask them about their faith, they likely won’t tell you about it. But they will mention the word “God” in their every day speech. As most of you I’m sure have come across with other religious types. i.e. “God will help us through our troubles.” “… but I just know that God is looking out for us and that comforts me.” “I just praise God for…” And so on and so forth.

My wife is, for lack of a better word, “afraid” of Christianity. To her it is a dreadful monster which seeks to consume the world, and should be stopped. A point of view I sympathize with, but for different reasons.

In my mind’s eye, this trip home was a chance to spend time with my family: the secular, fun-loving, talkative, intelligent side of my family. The reality of what this trip would actually be for me, and especially for my wife, hit me when we walked through the door of my dad’s house.

My mother had passed away in 2003 and my dad had since remarried. His new wife belonged to a sect of Christianity that was partially Mormon… or maybe it was a sect of Mormonism that was partially Christian – I have no idea – all I know is she identifies herself as Christian even though other Christians identify her as a Mormon; she loves Jesus, but also holds the secular side of the holidays to be dear and a necessary part of even the religious celebration, and she reads the Mormon bible occasionally. It gets confusing.

Anyway, her twisted, hybrid belief system compelled her to decorate every inch of their home with Santa and Jesus a good month and a half prior to Christmas. I don’t mean a little picture here and there. I mean decorated trees and Nativity sets in every room… EVERY room. Try going to the bathroom while staring at statues of baby Jesus, Mary, and a bunch of Bedouins posing as wise men. Or try getting intimate with your Jewish wife in a room where angels, Santa Claus, Jesus, and a few other Biblical characters look on in still-portrait creepiness. Not fun.

Fair enough that this was only one stop on our cross-country trip. But this shock was a metaphor for the entire vacation. All the comforting words I had told my wife prior to this trip – that the States wasn’t as Christian as she thought it was, and my family’s faith is a private thing that they’ll never show you or talk about – those words now feel like the worst set of lies I could have ever told her.

Not only did my family talk about Christianity, and frequently, they also appeared to be trying at times to convert my wife… who is staunchly opposed to Christianity (but has never studied religion, science, or philosophy in anyway and was therefore somewhat helpless to their style of attacks). Many times she looked like she was being cornered and I’d have to jump in and pull her out. Other times they would just try to confuse her with questions they knew she couldn’t answer, but that they could answer with “God did it”… meaning, the “Christian” God did it. (such questions as “Where do you think intelligence comes from?” and “Why else would America support Israel other than Christianity’s ties with Judaism?” I happily answered that last one with a history lesson about Cold War alliances and the need to keep the Soviets out of the Middle East, as well as prop up and support the only regional democracy).

Additionally, she got to experience seeing a church on pretty much every street corner; crosses and Nativity scenes set up outside homes, churches, and other public buildings. She experienced walking through various book stores and seeing the illustrious, 5 aisle Christian section dwarfing the one section of one aisle on European Judaism as represented through Yiddish (completing misrepresenting what Judaism really is, especially as practiced inside Israel). And had an impossible time finding food that fit her semi-Kosher, vegetarian way of eating.

When did America, the melting pot of diversity and tolerance, become the front line of Christianity’s war against everything else? And what’s worse is that it comes in ways that almost no American, even the freethinkers among us, thinks about. For example, I was relaxing in the hot springs of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, with my family and just on top of the mountain ridge overlooking the springs was a gigantic cross lit up like a runway beacon. You couldn’t miss the thing from 20 miles out!

Despite what the Christians of Colorado think, there are lots of Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians in that area. You think a Jewish synagogue could get away with hoisting up an enormous menorah on a mountaintop overlooking an entire town where all could see? Do you think a mosque could set up shop and plant a minaret with loudspeakers booming out the call to prayer over Aspen five times a day? Don’t bet on it. The Christians would be up in arms without hesitation about the infringement on their beliefs.

I asked my brother-in-law about that cross, since he lives there, and his reply was that Christians had founded this town and as a result claim a special privilege on such matters. My response: It was Christians who basically explored and founded all of America, does the same rule apply? I thought I had a good point until I realized that the same rule pretty much does apply. Every location we visited was completely doused in Christianity with reckless abandon. The mere suggestion of it being any different gets a raised eyebrow as a response from anyone you talk to as well. Why is that?!

On the one hand I already know the answer… on the other, I wish I didn’t. Why is it we let ourselves be this stupid? I am not suggesting that America is stupid because it’s Christian (though the case could probably be made). What I’m suggesting is that we Americans are so stupid as to think the whole world should live as we do. That all inhabitants of America are Christian and there is no other way for them to be.

That’s why churches are pretentious enough to build gargantuan monuments to their faith in every public space available to them, and then legally fight against the construction of such monuments to other faiths.

That is why Christian missionaries (some of my cousins included) go to all the far-off places and try to spread their way of living, by forceful conversion if necessary.

That’s why creationists fight to have their version of the story included in textbooks, despite the fact that such beliefs don’t qualify as science. “Teaching the controversy” is a valid idea, but only if the controversy is also a “scientific controversy.” When the basis of your argument is “God did it,” there is no science there. Period.

The most basic principle anyone can live by was best written by author Daniel Quinn in his novel “The Story of B.” As he simply stated, “there is no one right way to live.”

Let me repeat that in bigger, bolder font: THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO LIVE.

Once you truly grasp the majesty of such a profound, yet simple idea, it hits you that Christianity is largely at fault for being a defunct socialization tool. To teach everyone to be the same, and to believe the same thing, eliminates the diversity that makes human existence meaningful as well as destroying what made America great in the first place. While it may have been valid hundreds of years ago when people relied on family and tribe for protection and employment, in today’s society it is no longer necessary for such a purpose.

The way for us to survive now is to move forward. To understand that diversification is more meaningful and progressive than blind-folded cultism. Our society has moved so far towards the individual that only a vast ecological meltdown and economic collapse could push us back to the collectivism of a past age (… or the election of Barack Obama if you listen to FoxNews). The only problem is that our drive for individualism simultaneously made many individuals feel as if their way was the best way because it worked for them. When given the chance, people like to tell others how they themselves live and that they should try it. This is wrong!

Let me simply end by repeating to you what Daniel Quinn said so eloquently once more: There is no one right way to live. Not for anything or anyone. We must evolve beyond thinking that there is. We must understand each other not as one member of a large collective, but rather that each of us represents a species unto ourselves. We are unique and majestic in our individual selves and no one can know the temptations, experiences, emotions, and opportunities that we, as individuals, have had in our lifetimes, or those we will have in the future. To try and dictate to someone else how they should live is a dangerous idea which only breeds ignorance and violence. Who are you to tell me how I should live?

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