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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 7, 2011

With art by Forest Byrd


Open the door to understanding,
the clear light of natural reason is on the other side

Common to every culture is religion and most of them have landed on these shores.  Settled first by Puritans escaping religious persecution, America has long been a refuge for the weary.  Our Constitution, though, was born of the enlightenment — counting on man’s reason to sort out religion and separate it from government.

American religious make-up is now largely Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu.

Last Sunday, members of each of those faiths sat on a panel hosted by Voorheesville’s Methodist church, shepherded by parishioner Dianne Luci who hoped to introduce cultural understanding to the homogenous village.

Humans innately seek structure and community, said Jyoti Swaminathan, who represented her Hindu faith on the panel, as she remembered her young daughter returning from an after-school program years ago at the Jewish Community Center, saying that she wanted to be Jewish.  Her daughter was drawn to the ritual of the religion, said Swaminathan, who hadn’t been focusing on her faith at that point in her daughter’s life.

Starting the weekly Shabbat celebration with blessings over a Friday-night meal and lighting candles is what Stella Suib grew up with in her Jewish home.  She came back to her faith when she had children of her own, she told the group gathered at the church on Sunday.

As we listened to the panelists we were struck by how unfamiliar we were with religions widely practiced in the world, but in small numbers here.

Swaminathan introduced her religion by first clarifying that the word Hinduism is a misnomer, a Western title given to the people of India by colonials, derived from the Sindhu River.  The religion is more accurately Sanatana Dharma, which is one eternal truth with many paths that lead to it.

Several of Sunday’s panelists emphasized common themes in their religions — practicing kindness towards others and giving thanks to something larger than themselves. “What I love about Hinduism is what I love about all religion,” Swaminathan said, which is that there is a house to which we can go and submit what we have no power over.  She likened it to having a moment like Job, a pious man whose faith is tried by God.  Even after his wealth, children, and health have been taken from him, according to the Old Testament story, he does not curse God, but accepts that he lives in a world beyond his control.

While religions may share some of the same broad goals, we should not minimize the differences between us, but instead recognize and respect them as we share this uniquely plural country.

“And the Lord said, ‘Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do,’” says the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel.  When their speech was confounded, the story goes on, the people could not work together to build their tower to the heavens and were spread across the Earth.

Opening ourselves to discussion is one way to understand each other.  We commend Dianne Luci for giving us a chance to start dialogue here.

She was inspired by the Pakistani family who runs the gas station in Voorheesville.  Safder Ali is sincere about his Muslim beliefs and also describes Voorheesville as “heaven on earth.”

Now that the door has been opened a crack by Luci’s efforts, it’s up to the rest of us to pry it open further — so the clear light of natural reason can guide us all.

We may come from different cultures and even speak in different languages, but we can be at least tolerant if we listen.

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