Your Life Story Would Be More Interesting if It Conformed to My Expectations

There’s a Hindu blogger on Patheos who goes by the name Ambaa.

Interestingly enough, she’s white.

It took me by surprise. I guess its kind of like Mexican Jews: I’m sure they exist, but good luck finding one.

So, why is she Hindu?

I am unusual in that I come to Hinduism as a natural step from my own upbringing and not because I learned about it from someone I was trying to build a life with.

Again: Interesting! A lot of people change religions (for reasons I still don’t quite get) for the people they marry.

Not Ambaa. She did it for other reasons (which I’m sure we’ll all have fun debating later…).

It turns out Ambaa also wrote a book in which she answers questions like “Can we explore and connect to a religion that is not traditionally followed by our ancestors?” and “What does Hinduism look like through non-Indian eyes?”

And this was one of the comments someone left her on Amazon:

… the hell?!

I normally don’t care about what trolls have to say, but this seemed like a sincere comment made by a complete jackass. Maybe I’m just sensitive to it because I’ve also worked hard on books (and certain blog posts) only to have one idiotic comment frustrate me. Maybe it’s because I’ve had Christians tell me I’m an atheist for reasons that had nothing to do with logic or reason and everything to do with “hating God,” wanting to rebel, going through a tragedy, or all sorts of other things that had nothing to do with it.

(Not to mention the commenter is just flat-out wrong. I’m *way* more interested in hearing about why Ambaa converted since it wasn’t out of religious/cultural necessity.)

Anyway, you can read Ambaa’s reaction to all this here. Kudos to her for coming to Hinduism on her own terms and not somebody else’s.

(Even if she is about 330,000,000 gods away from being right.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I have seen friends and relatives convert to a spouse’s religion when they got married. To me it always comes across as a statement of how little they really believe in their own religion in the first place.

    • Blasphemous_Kansan

      Walter Sobchak: So what are you saying? When you get divorced you turn in your library card? You get a new license? You stop being Jewish?

      • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

        Get divorce: eat bacon

        • Pepe

          I wonder if that would work as a reason, in the divorce court.

          • Conuly

            Incompatible differences?

            • Pepe

              Yeah! I mean, I sometimes REALLY wanna eat bacon.

      • The Dude

        It’s all a part of your sick Cynthia thing, man. Taking care of her f*cking dog. Going to her f*cking synagogue. You’re living in the f*cking past.

        • Ambaa

          lol. LOVE that movie

      • Ambaa

        I’m a little embarrassed to say that I like Sex and the City, but one of my favorite moments is when one of the characters converts to Judaism because she falls in love with a Jewish man. But then they break up and she doesn’t stop being Jewish. She keeps going to the temple and participating in the community.

  • ortcutt

    The problem is that for many religions, your religious status is considered to be a matter of ancestry rather than choice. Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and many of the other world religions fall into this mode of thinking. In the modern liberal world, we adhere to a liberal volitional model of religion. Everyone’s religion is a matter of what religion he/she chooses. This is sometimes wrongly described as a “Protestant” conception of religion, as if it’s Western Protestant cultural imperialism to claim that all people have the the right to choose their religion. What you see in that comment is the cultural clash of an ancestral, ascribed-status conception of religion meeting a liberal, volitional conception of religion.

  • Lagerbaer

    Yeah, this is very interesting indeed. And the fact that we all find this interesting is very telling: In the overwhelming majority of cases, a person’s religion is determined either by the religion of their parents or the religion of a spouse.

    Furthermore, in the majority of cases that do deviate from the above two, the change in religion still occurs in the person’s own culture, such as a European converting from Catholicism to Protestantism.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I’ll bet she was born with a birth mark on her forehead, and became Hindu in order to make use of it.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I’ll bet she was born with a birth mark on her forehead, and became Hindu in order to make use of it.

    • Ambaa

      That would have been very convienient!

  • Em

    I actually work with a Mexican Jew, for what it’s worth. People are surprising. :)

    • Revyloution

      Wasn’t Jesus a Mexican Jew?

  • eric

    Even if she is about 330,000,000 gods away from being right

    Well, one of the nice things about gods is that being 330,000,000 away from correct is no different from being 1 away from correct. I guess one could say they have no metaphysical weight or length. :)

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    Ummm… Hemant, there are quite a few Mexican Jews. Enough to have several flavours: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, reform, conservative, etc. just go to Mexico City.

    I will now stop ruining the joke.

    • Artor

      One of my closest friends comes from a long line of Mexican Jews. His ancestor fled the Inquisition from Spain and ended up in Mexico City 400 years ago.

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    Interesting, though. I was under the impression that you couldn’t convert to Hinduism, only be born to it. That’s why we have Hari Krishnas: white people who want to be Hindu. Hmmm, live and learn. I shall read more about it.

    • C Peterson

      There is no monolithic “Hinduism”. It is a religious tradition made up of thousands of cults, all of which view things differently. Some of those cults might never consider a person Hindu unless they were born into it; others consider anybody a Hindu who broadly (or narrowly) accepts their beliefs. There is generally no formal conversion process. So bottom line: you’re probably a Hindu if you say you are a Hindu, and most other Hindus would probably see you as such.

      • C Peterson

        I should add, this is very like Christianity. You convert to Christianity quite simply: by calling yourself a Christian. And it doesn’t much matter what you believe. Converting to a specific sect of Christianity could be quite different, however. Some sects will welcome you as a member when you walk in the door; others will require assorted rites-of-passage and ritual.

      • Keith Collyer

        there are even some Hindu thinkers who would say that any god is simply another manifestation of Brahman, so all theistic believers are actually Hindus, even if they do not know it

    • Ambaa

      Believe me, that is something that I face a lot. So I do have several blog posts planned on the subject of whether or not someone really can become Hindu when not born Hindu.

      • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

        Thanks, I shall check them out.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Mexico has a large Jewish population, second only to Argentina. The area in Mexico City known as Polanco has several synagogues and if you walk out on the street at sundown on Friday, you feel as if you are in Borough Park, Brooklyn or in Jersualem. Yes, there are Mexican Jews.

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      There are even movies about them! Check out My Mexican Shivah.

    • Santiago

      Novia Que Te Vea is a wonderful book by Rosa Nissan dealing with the expectations set on a young Sefardic Mexican woman by her community. Lovely bildungsroman. There is a movie adaptation (I think it is translated as Like A Bride).

      I really enjoyed them when I red/saw them years ago and highly recommend them.

  • Mommiest

    Amazon let you indicate whether or not a review is helpful. I just went there to click “no.” So far, 0 out of 21 people find that stupid review helpful. We can do better: lets make it 0 out of 100.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    This blog post would have been more interesting had it been about UFO mating habits, or free-energy sasquatch propulsion.

    • Gavin Millar

      I think this comment applies to just about every single blog post ever.

  • Ambaa

    Thanks for having my back! :D

    • alnguyen

      Get over yourself. Someone gives you a bad review so you put it up as a target so your friends can hurl abuse at it and make you feel better. You’re so spiritual. Lame.

      • Ambaa

        That wasn’t my intention, so I’m sorry if that’s what it became. I found the comment interesting and it brought up a topic that I hadn’t thought much about before. And yeah, of course I was hurt that someone would dismiss my writing entirely and bash my hard work based on whether I was married or not. That seemed unnecessarily harsh. As does your comment. We’re all human, trying to figure things out. I’m certainly not perfect. As I try to make sense of the world and what happens around me, I discuss it with others. That’s what my blog is.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NUICQWQFPE7NCZWAHW7RN7QY6M RalphG

    Funny, while I was in college I seriously thought about converting to Hinduism. I loved the stories, the celebrations. I even used to watch the Ramayana every Saturday morning on a UHF station. It helped that I lived in Queens which I think may have the largest population of Hindus in the US. What drove me away? The ethnicity thing, I couldn’t overcome the fact that I felt that I was the only non-Indian practicing the religion. After being the only brown person at my high school and in a lot of social settings, I guess this was too much for me.

    • Ambaa

      It took me about a year of forcing myself into situations where I was the only non-Indian before that feeling of being not wanted went away for me. I doubt that anyone was purposefully making me feel that way, but it really is overwhelming. I could have made it easier on myself and joined Hare Krishna where there are lots of non-Indians, but I’m not a vaishnava, I’m an advaitan.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    The comment left by Cornelius seems rather sexist, but I could see a legitimate reason for a reader to be more interested in the experiences of someone who converted for a spouse. With a spouse, there’s a clear reason for the change, something that the reader might be able to identify with. The reader could imagine himself or herself in the author’s position. In contrast, the mindset of someone who decides (out of the blue) to convert to a strange and unknown religion is much more foreign. The reader might perceive that person as wacky, extreme, and/or unrelatable.

    • Ambaa

      Although if the person leaving the review really did read the book, my decision wasn’t out of the blue at all and I think it’s very well explained! I could see them starting to read it, though, giving up because it wasn’t what they thought it would be, but I don’t know why he’d feel the need to leave me a very bad review for it!

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        Oh, I’m sure that reviewer’s comment was rooted in sexism. I was just expounding on the idea more generally. Some readers might perceive people who convert to a religion entirely outside their culture, when there’s no reason to do so, as being unrelatable. To them, it would appear “out of the blue” because there’s nothing cultural or social that explains the conversion.

        Such readers would have a hard time understanding the mindset of the author and might not want to read the book since the author’s experiences come across as “off the wall” to them. That’s not to say that the book wouldn’t be educational; it’s just that they might have little interest in reading about someone they can’t understand or relate to.

        • Ambaa

          I can see what you mean! :)

  • alnguyen

    What’s the problem? The guy essentially said he prefers stories about cross cultural relationships over Ambaa’s story. So what? That’s his preference. You’re the jackass for being intolerant of other people’s preferences.


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