Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Who's Afraid of Gods?


Just how scared of Satan do you have to be to flee in the face of a nonChristian prayer?
This morning I hosted one of my bi-monthly lunches as Wisdom House at Scarritt-Bennett Center. Our theme was “transformation.” Nineteen people attended. We begin the lunch at 11:30 by asking someone to offer grace. This morning we had two women in attendance who were practitioners of Soka Gakkai Buddhism, and they offered to teach us the chant they use: nam-myhoho-renge-kyo (“I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law”).
In addition to our two Buddhists were two young Christians, one who had just graduated high school and his friend who was a college graduate. Both young men were working as servers in a local restaurant for the summer. I had a chance to talk with all four of these people before we began our luncheon, and they seemed really eager to be at Wisdom House.
When we settled down to chant, the older of the two young men said that they would listen but not chant along. No problem; you certainly don’t want to affirm something you cannot in good conscience affirm, but as soon as they heard the first word of the chant they bolted. Literally, they leaped up and ran out the door. I expected them to come back to eat, after all they had pre-paid for their lunch, but they jumped into their car and fled. I have never seen anything like this.
Someone later explained to me that the church to which they said they belonged believed that the prayers of any nonChristian were pleas to the Devil, and that even to sit through one quietly would put their souls at risk.
I have no problem with anyone running to save his soul, but from words? From another person’s heartfelt prayer of gratitude? I began my interfaith studies in my junior year of high school, and I’ve sat through lots of prayers to lots of Gods in decades since, and I never felt any fear for my soul. That may be because I don’t believe I have one (having a personal soul negates my belief that we are all manifestations of the One Soul, the One Self, Brahman, God, etc.), but still, what kind of church raises such frightened followers?  
What about you? Do you fear the prayers of others? What would you have done when these two women started to chant? What would you say to these two young men?

17 comments:

rbarenblat said...

As it happens, I ran into this very question last night, having dinner with a friend who is a Buddhist nun. She said her prayer before the meal; I said mine. It was delightful. (I wrote about it at greater length, if anyone's curious: http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2012/06/a-rabbi-and-a-nun-walk-into-a-bar.html)

Derek said...

Fearing the prayers of others would only come from fearing punishment from God. I choose not to live in fear.

Derek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
No One Special said...

How sad that someone would fear their God so much.

I shall light a candle and say a special prayer for those who live in such fear, as well as those who promulgate such a God.

joanne said...

I'm confused. If their God is THE God, what could there be to fear? Why wouldn't they feel confident to be in any situation anywhere, knowing they have the protection of their God? Maybe they have fear of their own doubts, and fear of their own unanswered questions?

BBGN said...

I am very sensitive to what is spoken out loud. I won't go so far as to block my ears, since prayer gatherings aren't concerts usually, but it's the kind of gatherings that I would be most interested in attending, where such interfaith encounters and manifestations - a moderated space - occur. Sometimes, it's like tv, subliminal.

To analyze their reaction a tad, the young Christian men were most likely schooled on the word doctrine, basically. They're prolly Evangelical Missionaries of some sort and expected your meeting to include just Jews and Muslims. From a sociopolitical standpoint, it is not surprising that they harbor ignorance toward Abrahamic faiths of The East, which indicates Western trends, as you might be aware by now.

Plus, the Buddhists were women. Young American men are not accustomed to female empowerment, much less feminine aspects of Gd.

My novice understanding of this derisive generation is that the West is at War with Women and Sodom's Angels, correct?

BBGN said...

"My great faith in the wonder worker, the Spoken Word, is no more. I have realized its inadequacy to awaken thought or even emotion. Gradually and with no small struggle against this realization, I came to see that oral propaganda is at best but a means of shaking people from their lethargy. It leaves no lasting impression. The very fact that most people attend meetings only if aroused by newspaper sensations or because they expect to be amused is proof that they really have no inner urge to learn. It is all together different with the written mode of human expression. No one, unless intensely interested in progressive ideas, will bother with serious books."
~ Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman, Preface

michele said...

Many churches unfortunately raise frightened followers. I see this quite a bit especially living in the South. A therapist friend of mine actually has seen a few people from a local church that evidently has been active in the "frightening business". I never fear the prayers of others. It is important for me to learn other cultures and ways of how they worship so I can grow as a person. After all I may find some of their beliefs similar to my own and maybe pick up a new perspective or belief otherwise. As far as the chant is concerned, I have a Cherokee background (so it has been rumored through the family). No wonder I am so comfortable with it. ;D What to say? I am not sure what I would have said in all honesty. Sometimes ingrained beliefs are so deep in some that the fear produced in those environments is often hard to break down or dissolve. :)

Barry said...

At this point, I would be unlikely to attend an interfaith event. It's all I can do to go to Jewish things - and I'm married to a rabbi. Had I been there, I don't think I would have chanted along, but would have listened quietly. I'm out of patience with fundamentalist Christianity. It's difficult to listen to their fairy tales, their racist lies about President Obama, complaints about gay marriage and denial of any kind of science or history. Then they tell me I should be a Christian. I lose my temper around them, and I'm better off avoiding that kind of situation.

Karen said...

Their fear just feeds power to that which they fear the most - the "devil". I don't believe in the devil, but it amazes me how Christians seem to give so much power to it, when their God is supposed to be the all-powerful!!

Rabbi Rami said...

Great comments, everyone. Thanks.

Changeless Chariot said...

I am reminded of the scene in Chaim Potok's The Book of Lights when a Jewish chaplain asks a fellow Jew as they watch a Japanese man in total devotion:

"Do you think our God is listening to him, John?...If He's not listening, why not? If He is listening,then -- well, what are we all about, John?"

There is One God -- holding it all.

Phil said...

What kind? Well, the kind with which we in this region are all too familiar. Alas.

But there are a few oases, and more than a few freethinking outliers even here in the Bible Belt. Check out a new site: "God-free in Tennessee"- http://godfreetn.blogspot.com/

El Sie said...

I'd rather chant than starve.

Unknown said...

I'm still confused about the whole "God is omnipotent yet Satan exists" thing.

The author of this blog is said...

Hello everyone. the serial non-sequitor strikes again, this time in response to Alice Walker's very public identification with the Gazans, who freely elected an Islamic supremacist leadership.
http://manofestoyomi.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/alice-walker-and-torquemada-tutu.html

Vickie Pruitt said...

I believe that True Christianity and every other religion is just a means to the same end. No matter how you follow and believe, you will find your peace. Some just go about it differently. I cannot believe for a second that every human before Christianity went to hell therefore there must be a common thread that all religions that promote love and inner peace have that allows mankind the same result in life and beyond. So that being said, your dinner with a friend of a different religion would have been nothing but wonderful. Im sure both of your prayers were heard by the same God