Sunday, February 14, 2016

Comparative Religion, Holy Envy, and Mazdas.

This semester I’m taking a World Religions class. I have several goals in this class—to understand people that I’ve never met, to adopt customs that will help me be more faithful in my own religion, and to learn about God by learning how other people know Him.

My first goal, and the reason I decided to take the class, came from a show I heard on NPR a couple months ago. A reporter was talking to a young man from Jordan; she asked him what he thought the most important subject for college students to take was, to which he replied, “Comparative Religion, because if we don’t understand each other how will we ever stop killing each other?” Having grown up in a multi-generational LDS (Mormon) family and having served my mission in heavily Catholic and Evangelical Chile, I don’t know very much at all about Islam or Asian religions—religions that more than half of the people on the earth profess. I hope that, having learned more about their religions and ways of thinking, I can understand them and love them just like I do Jews, Mormons, and other Christians.

My second goal came from my professor’s opening lecture. He introduced the concept of “Holy Envy,” which is when you see something in another religion that you wish your religion had. I decided to try to get Holy Envy about everything I possibly could. So far, I’ve decided to adopt:
  • The Jewish Mezuzah. Jews place a little box on their door frames that reminds them to think of God whenever they go or come. I’m getting one.
  • Ahisma, An Indian concept (found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and especially Jainism) of not causing hisma, or harm, to anyone or anything. I think I’ve been a proponent of ahisma for as long as I can remember, but it’s cool to put a name to the concept.
  • Wu-wei, from Taoism (a Chinese religion). Wu-wei means inaction, and stems from a belief that the best way to get something to happen is to let it happen by itself without any intervention. I don’t think I’ll entirely adopt this concept, but I definitely want to become better at patiently waiting for God’s work to come forth without getting frustrated or anxious about it; also, I want to be better at letting other people change in that miraculous way that change happens, between God and them, without feeling like I have to get involved in the process.

My last goal kind of just sprang into existence one day while we were talking about Zoroastrianism, and the Zoroastrian God Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom). Zoroastrians appreciate fire as a symbol of Ahura Mazda, and the car brand Mazda was also probably named after Ahura Mazda. I was thinking about how neat it is to associate fire with God, and about how I’d love to think that the Mazda 626 I drive is named after God (isn’t that cool symbolism? God moves me, and I hardly get anywhere in life except with God’s power). So I decided to just adopt both of those things—whenever I see the gentle flicker of a candle or the roar of a bonfire I’ll think about God’s love and power, and I’ll thank Him for moving me every time I get in my car.

My beautiful Mazda Ronnie in one of my proudest moments, parallel parked with 6 inches on either side.


cindy baldwin said...

Very neat thoughts! Though I think a mezuzah might cross into cultural appropriation...

Jason said...

So, is that a bad thing? I mean it as a gesture of appreciation for a tradition that I respect and admire--could it be taken badly?

cindy baldwin said...

Yeah, some people can be really offended by that. (Google "cultural appropriation" and you'll see what I mean.) I don't know for sure about Jews and a mezuzah, but I could see somebody taking offense with that, in the same way that you or I would probably be offended were somebody to take over our sacred religious symbols (garments etc.).

Jason said...

I looked it up and did some reading. From what I can tell, cultural appropriation is a problem because a) people from the dominant culture take ideas from people of other cultures and then get all of the credit and money, or b) people from the dominant culture take ideas from other culture and then misrepresent that culture because they don't understand all of the background or history.
I think me as an LDS guy borrowing the mezuzah isn't quite a dominant culture taking from a smaller culture--I'd say Mormons and Jews are about on the same footing when it comes to culture size. We're both small-ish cultures that some people don't like, but that are generally well-respected.
As for taking religious symbols, you could have a point there. My gut feeling is that the mezuzah is to a Jewish family kind of like hanging pictures of LDS temples in their house is to an LDS family--it's something unique to the Jewish faith, and personally meaningful, but it wouldn't be offensive for someone else to do it, too, like it would be to me if someone else wore garments, or possibly to a Jew if I wore a tallit or kippah.
That said, I could be totally wrong.