Your god is weird !

Ganesh and the Repairman

A while back, when living in Washington D.C.,  a telephone repairman came to my house to install some new phone outlets.  I heard the doorbell ring,  went to the door and saw the repairman standing with tools in hand ready to help me get a new computer line.  When I opened the door he put on a huge smile and with no hesitation enthusiastically greeted me saying, “Praise Jesus, good day sir!  It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”   I courteously bit my tongue and replied flatly , “Hello. Yes, it is a fine day.  Come in. ”   I then led him to my study where I needed a new phone jack.

As we approached my study, I felt his curiosity when he noticed the strange-faced cloth hanging in front of my study’s entry.  But he politely didn’t ask.   So I pushed the cloth to the side and he awkwardly bowed his head to pass under the cloth and walked in my study.You see,  I used to live in Japan where cloth was often put decoratively in front of entryways — they are called “Noren”.   You can find them classically in old-fashioned inns (Ryokans), temples, traditional homes and in entries to public baths.  I had grown fond of them while there and kept one to remind me of  things I loved about Japan.   Here are some examples of other noren below to give you a taste.

Anyway, I digress.  I just wanted to say that I knew such a simple thing would still be a little unusual to many Americans.  But now my born-again Christian repairman was in for more of a surprise.  As came upon my desk he saw a poster of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god.  I could see the repairman pause as his eyes lit upon it.  Now I was sure he was biting his tongue.   He then spent 20 quiet minutes quietly and professionally installing my phone jack.  He didn’t praise Jesus once. He didn’t speak of God’s glorious creation.  He knew he was not on terribly familiar turf.  But when he finished, I could see him finally build the courage to asked me, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“No,” I said, “what is it?”  And pointing at the Ganesh poster he said, “Do you believe in this stuff?”

I smiled and replied, “Do you mean, ‘Do I believe an elephant-headed boy-god lives up in the sky and will grant me my wishes if I pray to him with total belief’?”

“Well, yes” he replied just a little more nervously not realizing the implication.

“Are you serious?” I smilingly reassured him, “Of course not!  I just enjoy the image.”

With this, the repairman noticeably relaxed and replied with mild reassurance, “Oh, I was just curious.”

I decided not to discuss it further with the gentleman — I could tell he was already well outside his range of comfort.  But let me tell you another story where I did not hold back discussing the obvious.

The Sikh with a Heart Attack

I was working an evening shift at an Emergency Department in rural Washington state. A man had walked into our ER waiting room clasping his chest complaining of severe indigestion.  But he was pale and sweating and the wise nursing staff quickly knew to ignore his self-diagnose and to triage him as a potential heart attack victim.   They moved him to one of the glass-walled cardiac rooms in the middle of the Emergency Department.   The staff all hustled to remove his clothing off so they could place EKG leads and get some IV lines started.
This sort of hustling activity was, of course, normal activity in an Emergency Department. The only difference tonight was that the patient was a Sikh — and in this rural part of Washington, there were not many Sikhs.But before I continue the story, allow me offer a little background info on Sikhs.Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world and third largest in India, after Hinduism and Islam. It was founded in the 1400s by Guru Nanak Dev in the Punjab of India. Sikhism advocates the pursuit of union with God through meditation on the name and message of God and through truthful living.

Baptized male Sikhs are obliged to always wear “the Five Ks” or “articles of faith”:

  1. Kesh: uncut hair and beard: to sustain higher consciousness
  2. Kangha: a small wooden hair comb:  symbol of cleanliness
  3. Kara: a steel bracelet: signifying bondage to truth and freedom from every other entanglement.
  4. Kirpan: a small dagger: which the believer is committed to use righteously defending the fine line of the Truth.  (recently causing trouble recently at airports)
  5. Kaccha: special cotton undergarment: a reminder of commitment to purity.

Finally, in addition to the 5 Ks is the Sikh’s turban  —  a crown of  their spirituality.  Also, note that special holy underwear is not unique to Sikhs.   Such sacred undergarment is found also in Judaism and Mormonism.  In all three of these traditions, the special garments are meant as a reminder to the believer of what they have chosen to value.

The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes.
— Numbers 15: 37-39 (NRSV)

Sikh Holy Undergarment

Jewish Holy Undergarment

Mormon Holy Undergarment

Mormon Holy Undergarment

Anyway, back in the glass-walled cardiac room the Sikh gentleman was now stripped down, had EKG-leads placed and was being monitored as they drew blood. The room was intentionally a glass fishbowl so that all staff could readily see if help was needed in the room at anytime. But it also meant our Sikh friend, in his non-typical attire, was there for all to see. Some ER staff started joking about his clothing. And someone finally asked, “What kind of strange religion is that which would demand such a strange way of dressing?” I broke. Having lived with Sikhs in India, having attended their temples and basically having a temperament that is easily upset by parochialism of any sort, I turned to the staff who made the pejorative comment (and who I also happened to know was Christian) and loudly ranted:

“So, his religion is weird, is it? Yet you have a god who loves the smell of burned offerings. But burned vegetables were never enough for your god, he preferred the aroma of seared animal flesh. Then your god’s tastes progressed further and he started to crave human flesh. Finally it wasn’t just any human flesh he demanded. He decided that punishing a guilty person was not good enough, he wanted to punish an innocent person. So he decided to miraculously mate with a human female and make himself a human baby (who was actually also totally a god). Then he arranged for his boy-god child to grow up and be tortured and murdered — geee, what a great Dad. Glorifying in his brilliant plan, your god then demanded that his believers celebrate this human sacrifice by pretending to drink his boy’s blood and eat his boy’s body. Finally, apparently your god has also decided that anyone who does not believe this fantastic story, who does not thank him for killing his child and who does not chat to his son in their mind, should be condemned to burn in hell for eternity.”

Well, everyone in the ER stopped joking about the Sikh gentlemen. Now they were whispering about me. I lost a lot of credibility in the ER that night — it took me almost a year to regain ‘full’ acceptance. But damn, I felt good for speaking out.

Both stories illustrate that we can not see our own beliefs clearly. We can not imagine how bizarre our beliefs look to an outsider. But the strangeness of other people’s beliefs always stand out clearly to us.

Questions: Have you ever defended another faith? Have you ever defended Christians, when fellow Atheists made fun of them wrongly?

Related Post
(1) Ganesh : How Ganesh got his head — from my Mahabharata series.


Filed under Events

21 responses to “Your god is weird !

  1. Ian

    A funny story and a moving story.

    My best mate through school was Sikh. And I enjoyed the few times I got to go to satsang with him. He was also gay, which was excruciatingly difficult for him, and led to his permanent estrangement from his father.

    I got into trouble with my wife a few weeks ago. We were talking to some family about a series of TV programs ‘Around the World in 80 faiths’ from the BBC (which was excellent). She said ‘some of the faiths were really whacky!’, and I disagreed rather too forcefully.

    I do find myself arguing for other people’s religions a fair bit. Not that they are true or anything, but just that they are no more bizarre than any others.

  2. I recall a conversation years ago when I was still a conservative Christian. A friend and I were talking about the birth of Mormonism and some of the things depicted in The Book of Mormon and he commented that it all seemed like sc-fi/fantasy. At the time I thought “Yeah! How could anyone believe that stuff?”, totally oblivious of my own bizarre beliefs.

    Loved your rant/description of Christianity.

  3. Great stories, you have expanded my horizons from thinking Ganesh is just weird to thinking he is pretty cool (in a weird sort of way). Thanks for the education.

    I watched a documentary on Mormonism last week (PBS, Frontline) and found it interesting to think about the same thing Mike references above. The beliefs are very strange, made more so because the doctrines were formulated so recently. It is much easier to see Joseph Smith’s stories as fabricated/contrived because it is practically recent history. The burden of proof for modern documents seems to be much higher than for ancient religious texts, even when the essence of the documents does not seem that much different.

    I have started to defend Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and Mormon’s right to call themselves “Christians” when before I would have thought them not real Christians. Now I just think they are Christians with funnier beliefs than some other Christians. (Sorry JW’s and Mormons — I still like you just as much as any other Christian!).

  4. geoih

    I’ve really only defended somebody else’s beliefs (typically Christians) by attacking the government schools. I think the public schools are socialist, a religion by my definition, and they exclude all other beliefs.

  5. dreadpiratescetis

    Yar! I still be liking your scrawlings. While I do not agree with the description of Christianity I see the purpose of the narrative. As tis said, one person’s theology is another’s belly laugh.

    I am called to defend not only me own faith but others here as well. We hear the Muslim call to prayer 5 times a day. Recently, while visiting a Evangelical seminary in Alexandria, a student remarked how he hates the sound. I turned port-side and let me cannons loose on his scurvy-hide! I said “It should be a reminder, dear brother, that you should be praying twice as much as your brothers and sisters in Islam. Five times when they do, for blessings on them and five times to ask for forgiveness for being hateful at your siblings.” I have received many emails from that visit and not all of them have been good.

    It be a hard business sailing unfamiliar seas. Yet in pirating, ye never know who be your mates and who be your enemies. Best to treat them all as mates until the knives come out.

  6. Ian

    You should show the start of this instructional video before asking anyone to pass through your noren:

  7. @ Ian :
    Ian, the story about disagreeing with your wife is funny. I see myself doing the same at times.
    Your Japan video was funny (I just feel sorry for all you illiterates that have to read the translations ! 😉 ). Japanese making fun of their own culture. Much of the video reminded me of the rigidity and pretend “mindfulness” that the Western followers of Zen at my local Zendo were doing. I wrote about that here. This stuff is a large reason that I left Japan. I was unable to find Japanese friends who bought into that stuff. Much in the same way that I have no fundamentalist friends either. I can handle people who do partial buy in and realize the game, but full buy-in folks are unbearable.

    @ Mike :
    Thanks. Yeah, “oblivious” is exactly right.

    @ atimetorend :
    Wow, you put that perfectly. I have done the same many times but could not have written it so well.

    @ geoih :
    At Johns Hopkins once, everyone in my class was making fun of the Kansas decision about teaching Evolution — back around 1999. I raised my hand and said, “Don’t get me wrong, I am a flaming evolutionist, but I think the people of Kansas should have the right to teach their children what they desire. I, like you, hold that value of freedom higher than the need for “correct thought”. I think that is part of what you are saying. No?

    @ dreadpiratescetis :
    You deserve to be made to walk the plank for supporting the prayers of those hell bound. It shows the lack of true navigation skills you universalist landlubbers hold. I can see why you have taken refuge among law-detesting pirates rather in the good company of the kind evangelicals kinfolk.

  8. dreadpiratescetis

    How can ye navigate the world if yer maps are not universalist ones? 🙂

  9. defend defend defend. seems that’s all i’m doing these days.. myself, my friends of all religious leanings.

    hard to defend some religions, mormons and JW’s are two everyone, including me, have trouble with. i surprised myself recently by actually going after a dude who is all about this “Thelema” philosophy/religion thing. just really bad philosophy/theology coupled with an awful hermanutic.

  10. universalist maps! haha! good point!

  11. I have defended Christians. I used to hang out with a group of atheists who were younger, immature, and had never been Christians. They used to proudly repeat secular urban legends about Christians. For example, Christian who are against gay marriage are deep down inside gay and are threatened by homosexual talk.

    That’s a gross generalization, and I thought that I would’ve had to have met every homophobic Christian in order to affirm that they’re all closet gays. So I said so.

    I wasn’t an atheist then, and that particular group moved me to promise I would never be one. I quit them shortly after.

  12. Boz

    your writing style is very engaging – a real page-turner.

    This post was also very informative, thanks sabio.

    Lorena, why have you decided against accepting the atheist position because some atheists are dickheads?

    A person’s personality has nothing to do with whether atheism or theism are true.

  13. For all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I even call myself an atheist. But I know too many close-minded, religious-like, immature atheists to feel comfortable with the label. I like to believe that I am able to take the high road once in a while, that I don’t believe anything negative that’s said out there about religion without some research on my part.

    If you read what I write about the religious, you wouldn’t believe that I just wrote that. But all the stuff I write I have experienced. Nobody told me those stories.

  14. The theme of this post reminds me of this essay. Anthropology students and others might already be familiar with it….

  15. Boz

    Thanks for the response, Lorena, I’ll check out what you write on your blog.

  16. CRL

    After seeing your pics, I have much greater sympathy for the Mormons! Perhaps I will defend them, should i ever come across one. I’ll be defending Jews from the Westboro Baptist ‘Church’ on Monday.

  17. @ Will :
    Boy, those Nacirema sound like a weird tribe, glad I don’t live there.

    @ CRL:
    Good luck with those gay haters from Westboro Baptist Church.

    @ Lorena:
    I agree, “taking the high road” once in a while is a nobel thing.

    @ Luke & the Pirate:
    There should be nothing less than a Universalist Map !

  18. jomis

    Meh, Sikhs are weird, christians are weird, mormons are weird, jews are weird, muslims are weird, people who like moshi are weird…the list goes on.

    Personally I know what you mean, in that I can get pissed about hipocracy. I have a ‘muslim’ family. I dont believe in god, and think the religions are lies.
    In that sense I have no problem with someone tearing down religion and calling it out for what I think it is.
    However, I’ve more than a few times been in a situation where I’ve listened to christians start going on about muslims, and had to tell them:

    “Hay, you know what…I dislike islam, but I’m dont look down on muslims, I dislike christianity, but am not going to s$#t on you personally over it. If you were born in Pakistan you’d probably be muslim anyway, so get over yourself. As far as I’m concerned you’re all nuts, but I still love ya..”

    Meh, that usually ends it

  19. @jomis
    Yeah, after a rant like that, your friends probably draw their tasers and tear gas cannisters !
    That was good, thanks.

  20. atheistbelievers

    Nice story and rant. Congrats on your bravery. Much of ‘interfaith tolerance’ seems to be some quiet awareness that all religions are weird, so agreements to not make fun of the other belief systems. This is where atheism and scientific skepticism stand out.
    I find it odd that while Catholic dogma says everyone else is going to hell and Islamic dogma says similarly, there are these interfaith groups which ignore these dogmas in the effort to help everyone get along. It would be much simpler for everyone to get along if they would discard these dogmas and leave these religions. Then we could all be honest and laugh at the past, while still looking for moral lessons in historical myths, from Grimm’s Fairy Tales to the Bible.

  21. @ a.b.:
    I do feel that sometimes suspending the obvious admission that both groups have a core incompatible beliefs (in this case about salvation), can lead to dialogues that are valuable and eventually potentially change those stupid incompatible beliefs. That suspension can be useful. Confronting it can be useful too. So I won’t take a categorical position on how to handle it. Case by case, as they say. And in my case, mood by mood.

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