Last month, I wrote about a Hindu chaplain who would become the first member of a non-Abrahamic religion to open the U.S. Senate in prayer. A day later, on July 12, Chaplain Rajan Zed attempted to lead the prayer when a group of protesters started yelling from the Senate gallery. “This is an abomination,” can be heard on the video before police arrested the self-described Christian patriots and removed them from the Senate. Zed was able to say his prayer.
Within a couple of days, newspapers and television broadcasts around the world were describing the incident, with some editorializing against the hypocrisy of religious pluralism in America. At the same time, the Christian Right went on the offensive, publishing stories like the one clipped below, which describes the experience of a former Navy chaplain who was also in the gallery for the prayer.
“Would you believe that the security office immediately escorted them out and hauled them off to jail because they prayed in Jesus’ name, out loud, when this other man was praying a Hindu prayer out loud?” he shares. “He was praying a prayer of idolatry, violating the First Commandment [which says] ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” he continues. “In contrast, these Christian people, they stood up and they just prayed in Jesus’ name.”
Klingenschmitt says the Hindu chaplain finished his prayer after the two were escorted from the gallery. He offers this assessment: “[A]pparently one kind of prayer is permitted and even honored on the floor of the Senate; the other kind of prayer is seen as disruptive.”
My perspective on this issue is obvious: I support both the presence and the prayer of the Hindu chaplain, and the arrest of the protesters who purposely disrupted Senate proceedings. Truth is, they broke the law, and the laws of this country protect freedom of religion. If a friend or family member wanted to engage me in a conversation about this issue, I’d gladly talk to them about it and explain how I feel.
So perhaps I was being a little naïve this morning when I took a gander at several well-respected Web forums, including On Faith, which is a project of washingtonpost.com and Newsweek, to see if there was any enlightening discussion on the topic. While there was some civil discourse at the beginning, including a post-counterpost on whether or not Hinduism and other non-theistic religions are “exotic,” discussion rapidly descended into the same crap and murk that makes the Internet such an unruly place to discuss anything more serious than Pamela Anderson.
Rather than debating the merits of either side’s argument (true religious pluralism vs. “one nation, under God”), people with different agendas immediately starting flaming one another about the history of Hinduism and pre-Colonial India. In one post, I learned that my status as a non-Christian gay man is apparently the cause of global warming, while another tangent attacked Muslims and claimed Saddam Hussein played a direct role in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
It’s so frustrating that we (and I use “we” in very broad terms) can’t ever seem to have a real public discussion of issues without things becoming so darned divided. And I know I am equally guilty: there have been a few times when I’ve gotten heated while discussing something that I’m passionate about.
Why is it so hard to reach middle ground on issues like religion and culture? Why can’t people simply coexist?