As something of a self identified Buddhist in the Bible Belt (of all places), I have felt (potentially unrealistically) a sense of isolation and separation from a genuine sangha or even a community of lay Buddhists. With only a single professor in the religion department at my college significantly trained in Buddhist thought, it was equally difficult to find education in the religion. Although on a separate note, one would observe that any beliefs in Buddhist tenets that I have are incidental to what is a more modern synthesis of other philosophical/religious systems, such as Discordianism (parody religion that it is) as well as Satanism (the Laveyan variety), so my claims of being in a minority religious group are problematic. If I was more of a full-fledged Buddhist, then my claims would have a stronger backing. But even without a significant personal connection to the issues spoken about in the article above, I feel I can relate to them with the education I’ve gotten through the religious studies department.
With Jews and Muslims being the two larger groups that possess difficulties, the issue that appears the most important is education on Abrahamic religions and correcting misinformation about them. If this is done, then the problem will still exist, but on the level of the individual and community confronting the difficulties of a more Christian biased culture and rolling with the punches so to speak. There are, if you will, two conflicting positions with a middle ground that has been posited. The first extreme is an isolation approach, where one views one’s culture and religious community as possessing of a particular solidarity that enables one to become separate and unique from the culture. This is especially problematic because it lines up with a more fringe element that is apparent with psychological cults, such as those in Texas that were in the news less than a year ago. The other extreme is an assimilation approach, where one suggests that one should submit to the dominant culture and let the truly unique parts of one’s faith and culture stand out as they will. This is troubling in that it doesn’t allow for individualization in the form of clear distinctions that exist between what are still common worldviews, such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Even with such Eastern faiths as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and others, the common ground can be discovered with time.
The middle ground position is how this begins. One accepts that demographically, Christians will be the majority in America, but also notes that America possesses a value of tolerance and acceptance of diversity with no disrespect meant to the majority but no favoritism granted either. As one that was raised Christian but has basically become an apostate (going for purely social reasons, conformity being still valued as a way to keep relationships between more traditional family members at least tolerable), it’s not as if I can’t understand how one feels with non Christians who don’t celebrate the majority holidays. Though honestly, with Jews in particular, the Christian community rarely seems to care. With the Muslim Ramadan, there is less familiarity, so Christians are more potentially hostile towards the faith that has been presented in a less than flattering light since 9/11. With this in mind, a Muslim in America possesses an ideal state to educate people about Islam and try to be a good example for how Islam can be in agreement with American ideals and values, however exotic and foreign it may appear to be, not unlike when one is Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, or Taoist for other “Eastern” faith examples. The overall goal is not complete assimilation to the exclusion of any standing out as someone who is indeed not Christian, but is not opposed to the values of religious tolerance and freedom, nor is it complete isolationism, leading to dangerous ideologies such as Zionism or Islamic Dominionism among others. Instead, there is an attempt to meet in the middle and both accept differences and embrace commonalities that exist between the varying faiths we hold. That is certainly my hope for the future where my children and my friends and family’s children will inherit. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.