I had a conversation over lunch today that made me rather uncomfortable. I can see why religion and politics are banned at my grandmother’s house. I was talking with the math teacher here about religion. He began by saying that he was considering becoming a Buddhist monk. A few minutes later it came up that he doesn’t really consider himself to be Buddhist. That would be too limiting. And from there we got into the quicksand that is “all religions are basically the same.” I said that they weren’t. In fact, some religions preach a compassion that makes men cautious about treading upon insects, and other religions practice burning babies alive, and at least one called for cutting out the hearts of several thousand men during the course of a single holy day. He repeated his premise, and I asked how he could account for such enormous differences in conduct, and repeated the facts (which admittedly stand in stronger contrast between, say Carthaginians and Buddhists than between Christianity and other modern beliefs. Which I hold to be at least partially due to the historical accident that most modern beliefs – the the extent that they *are* modern, and including Islam, have been heavily influenced by Christianity (though not always in a positive way). I’m out of my depth when it comes to Eastern religions.
It was at that point that I became rather uneasy. A teacher’s aid who was sitting next to me was irritated: “is this all they teach you at your church? How many people killed who and when? It *would* probably have been better if I knew, off the top of my head, the doctrines on such things as heaven, hell, death, salvation, God, Man, and all kinds of other things as espoused by different religions. But I haven’t, or at least can’t produce it at speed and with certainty, so I’ll have to live with actions. And I would submit that even excesses show a direction that was present in the religion itself – even at the core of it. If the Spaniards did wrong in killing heretics (and they did), they did wrong in a way that has something to do with Christianity – which really does teach that it’s better to have a millstone hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to be left to lead others astray. Only most Christians take that much more metaphorically. I can’t very well imagine a new age zen person doing such a thing no matter how far he took his religious zealotry. But why am I not permitted to make distinctions between the actions of people of different faiths, and what those actions say about what’s important to people of that religion? Why on earth should we assume that every personal philosophy holds killing as the greatest imaginable evil, over heresy, or blasphemy, or oppression, or infidelity, or any number of other evils? History seems to suggest that they manifestly do not.