Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who Has the Right to Judge Another’s Religion?

I’ve been spending a lot of time keeping up with things I’m interested in like Haiti earthquake relief, New Orleans Hurricane Katrina relief (yes, it’s still going on) and others. I have friends in both of these places, so it’s a bit personal for me.

The news media is often silent, misinformed or disrespectful. The stories on Vodou are rare indeed, even though many people practice it. When they are published, naming the religion without capitol letters is not just disrespectful, but shows how uneducated some journalists and editors are. To make things worse, they sometimes are inconsistent with whatever standards they’re following. I have a hard time believing the AP stylebooks says to capitalize the name of a religion 25% of the time in your article, but not the other 75%. I understand the spelling is a difficult point without universal consensus. Some people of the faith like it spelled Vodou, while others have variations on how they spell it (Voodou, Vodun, Vodoun), but almost everyone who follows this religion does not call it Voodoo. Voodoo has generally been relegated to Hollywood mythology.

I can’t tell you how sick it makes me feel that people are being denied food by faith-based charities because their religion isn’t yours. Doesn’t seem very charitable. Further, people stoning priests and priestesses surely isn’t an act of compassion. And they have the gall to say that Vodou is evil. Some people need to look in the mirror.

It hurts me that many faith-based adoption agencies in Haiti practically demand that you raise any child you adopt as Christian. That in and of itself goes so far, but also to demand that the children sever all links with any family left behind along with their religion and cultural heritage is appalling. I don’t know what the arrested and freed Americans were after by opening an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, but I hope they weren’t going to follow this practice. These practices should be stopped.

While reading a lot of the comments on the stories on Haiti, people have been so judgmental on Vodou that it borders on hatred. How can people be so judgmental on someone else’s religion? The righteousness and indignation is more than I’ve ever experienced. Blog posts,  news articles, Facebook forums and Twitter feeds are all targets. Many people being attacked are just trying to help. They come from all faiths and religious backgrounds.

It’s not just any particular religion being attacked. The religious divides seem to be growing wider. Even people within the same faith are claiming others are not being true to their own religion. Who has the right to say another’s religion isn’t valid? Who can say your beliefs aren’t valid? What is laughable is that some of these religions don’t even have a centralized authority or structure.

Reading Newsweek’s article: History in the Remaking lately, I see religion may be more ancient than we all realized. (Read the comments, they’re fun.) Maybe religious intolerance is just as old; perhaps it began shortly thereafter. I realize it’s very difficult not to let your own opinions and feeling take over. It’s hard to respect others – but please try. Show a little compassion people. I believe most religions still support this.


  1. It often seems to me that some people try to bend their religions to justify their beliefs, though, and this is where such intolerances develop. And then their actions follow dogmatic practices as opposed to the values that historically were core to the religion. I realize this sounds vague, so I'll give an example: Christians (and often the Evangelical branches) who won't allow homosexuals to be part of their community, or as you say, not distributing aid to people in need. How does this follow "Love thy neighbor as thyself"? I don't see anything about separating people into different classes, which leads to persecution. And wasn't Jesus placed on the cross precisely because of this?

    Perhaps this makes me judgmental... I think the question lies in how one acts on these judgments.

  2. I don't know who said it but I see it every day: "there's not much Christ in that Christian."

  3. Thank for this post, Urban. It's been very hard to witness these recent attacks in Haiti. It helps to know how many other people are truly saddened and outraged.
    It also makes me angry on behalf of all the good-intentioned, pluralistic Christians out there. I know every time Hindus do something stupid and violent in the name of Hinduism, I want to crawl under a rock...or throw one at them. *sigh*