All the religious kids I knew growing were taught their own families’ sacred dogma to the exclusion of everything else. The only thing anyone was taught about what other people believed were strange parodies made to sound absurd by comparison. Atheists typically aren’t like that. For example, I took my own kids to a Buddhist temple and also to a Hindu temple, and I let each of those facilities speak for themselves.
The Hindu temple was particularly fun. I remember my daughter used to have a habit of saying “Holy Jesus” whenever other people would have made an exclamation about excrement. So here she is listening to this Krsna kid explaining Diwali, how big a festival it is, and how many people are involved, etc. My little girl starts to say her typical exclamation, but stopped and corrected herself mid-sentence, so that she said “Holy ….cow” instead. What made that so funny was that she didn’t know that cows were considered sacred by the people in that temple.
The funny moment for my son was after they revealed the deity, and began chanting, “Hare krishna, Hare rama”, and so on. An hour and twenty minutes into the increasingly frenzied mantra, my then 12 year-old son asked, “How long is this song?”
Later on, we’re in a thrift store somewhere, and they happened to be selling incense by the registers. I pointed out to my kids the blue-hued figure on the package, and was overheard by the next person in the checkout line. I then found myself having to explain to a typical Texas resident who and what Krishna is -according to hundreds of millions of devotees to the oldest religion on earth. Once the other person I line realized I was talking about a non-Christian religion, she dismissed it without consideration on the excuse that, “If ain’t from Jesus, it’s of the devil”.
Now I’ve always preferred eastern religions to Abrahamic theism, especially the artwork. A decade or so ago, -when I looked a lot better than I do now- I had planned to dress up for Halloween right along with my kids, and I was going to be Lord Rama. I could still have pulled that off back then, but a month before Halloween 2001, I realized that dressing like a djinn in Texas was no longer a good idea. ‘Murricans cain’t tell one o’ dem dam foreign cults from any other. Whether they’re Bahá’í, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Hindus, or Jains, doesn’t matter; all the religions of central Asian origin are all just towel-heads of the same cloth so far as Joe-Bob is concerned. Many times throughout my youth, whenever someone mentioned any middle-eastern country, I would hear some red-neck recite his pavlovian catch-phrase, “Nuke ’em, we outta turn the whole son-of-a-bitchin’ place into a damn glass bowl”. This is the sentiment I heard repeated most often whenever that topic came up.
But it turns out that level of insular ignorance isn’t restricted to the south. Last summer we had some white-supremest shooting up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. There are too many levels of stupid to wade through to figure out what he thought a Sikh was, or why he hated them, and he’s dead now, so we’ll never know. But now we have someone else just as bad. Some woman in a New York City subway deliberately shoved an Indian Hindu Sunando Sen, in front of an on-coming train, killing him. Why? Upon arrest, she explained that she hates HIndus and Muslims because of what they did to the twin towers on 9/11.
Let’s forget for the moment the generalizations about what the Muslim religion as a whole had to do with September 11th. How did anyone ever get the idea that Hinduism had anything to do with that whatsoever? And how is it that no one in this country can tell a Muslim or a Hindu apart from a Sikh? How do these people justify their own senseless stupidity? It pains me that our paranoid reactionary religiously-bigoted society produces people of such stark hatred and bewildering inanity.