Opinion

Commentary: When truth in history books collides with religious zeal

Last Friday morning I turned on the car radio and quickly checked a few stations — National Public Radio, a sports program and the most listened-to local conservative talk show.

I was about to click back to NPR when I was captivated by a caller to the conservative station. In that instant between dial flipping, I heard the caller "correct" WBAP host Mark Davis, who apparently had offended the listener by implying or saying outright that Buddhism was older than Christianity.

"Where is this coming from?" I wondered.

The agitated caller continued to insist — as the host attempted to interrupt — there was absolutely no religion older than Christianity.

By now, I'm shaking my head and saying to myself, "Surely he doesn't believe this."

To his credit, Davis delicately tried to explain that Buddhism dates to between the 6th and 4th century B.C., as in before Christ, so obviously it was a religion that preceded Christianity.

As I turned into my downtown garage, the last words I heard were from the caller who passionately explained that the Creator was a "Christian God" from the very beginning of the world and, thus, Christianity has been in existence since creation. Therefore, absolutely no other religion is older.

"Wow," I thought as I headed into my office, still puzzled about what in heaven could have brought on such an intense discussion.

Turning on the computer and the television almost simultaneously, I realized that disgraced golfer Tiger Woods had mentioned his Buddhist faith during his long-awaited apology for marital transgressions.

I admit that I thought: "Poor Tiger. It was bad enough that he admitted to being an adulterer, but the one sin many people would never forgive him for was believing in any religion besides Christianity."

I often wonder what makes religious people, especially Christians, so arrogant and, frankly, so bigoted.

Being Christian, I understand the teachings of the Bible and I've come to know that even within the faith, depending on one's denomination, there are still those ready to proclaim your place in hell.

That's just the way it is with some folks: If you don't believe what I believe, Christian or not, hell is definitely reserved for you.

What is difficult to accept are those who find it impossible to respect other people's beliefs. One does not have to agree with the religious teachings of others in order to respect them or their faith.

Besides, as I've said many times before, most of the world's great religions teach that you serve God by serving humanity. Certainly many of the principles of Buddhism -- seeking wisdom, respecting others and leading a moral life -- are found in many different faiths, whether that religion is based on a belief in a Godhead or not.

But too often we become like feuding children, bragging about whose God is the biggest, boldest, oldest; whose religious teachings are divine; whose faith will get them to heaven.

Surely God can't be pleased with that kind of childish bickering.

It would be less troubling if the radio caller were alone in his thoughts or was among a very few who felt that way. The truth is there are many, many more who express the same view and, in their zeal to extol their own religion, debase the beliefs of others.

We live in a nation that incorporated freedom of religion as a founding principle. People in this country have the right to believe in anything or nothing.

If human beings have a set of values, regardless where they come from, that instructs them in the decent treatment of others, then we ought to applaud that without trying to find fault in their religion.

It might do us all good to study (and perhaps practice) a little Buddhism from time to time. It might make us a little stronger, wiser and morally fit.

And Christians have no reason to be concerned because it is hundreds of years older than our religion.

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