A couple weekends past, another tragedy occurred. Wade Michael Page did great dishonor to his military service by walking into a Sikh Temple on Sunday morning and opening fire on the worshippers. There should be a special place in Hell for people who do this. Places of worship, whether they are churches, temples, synagogues or mosques should be places of peace and safety.
As Simran Kaleka, a worshipper at the Temple on Sunday said, “They went to church not knowing that they might die today. I don’t know how sick you have to be to do that, and I don’t know if it was directed toward the Sikh culture and them having turbans and having beards, but ignorance is not going to get us anywhere.” People of any faith should feel as upset and violated as those Sikhs do.
Unfortunately, the basics and differences of religions aren’t taught in US Schools. Most cry Constitutional grounds, but at heart many parents feel that the teacher would be indoctrinating them into another faith. We have become so touchy about any religious subject being taught to our children. Not learning of others’ faiths is to our disadvantage. It breeds ignorance, hate and in extreme cases, death.
Having taken a comparative religion course, I can say without hesitation that it didn’t threaten or change my own Christian belief system. Instead it strengthened it by teaching me the origins of the tenets and practices of my own Catholic Christian faith. Understanding Judaism is very instructive about the life, practices and how incredibly brave Christ was to say and do the things that he did. Until we, as Christians, understand the actual meaning of “Messiah” and “blasphemy” to a Jew, we can’t understand how incredibly dangerous if was for Jesus to claim the name Messiah, and God as His Father.
Sikhism is a relatively new religion, only 500 years old, and it is somewhat of an amalgamation of Hinduism and Islam. It’s a pantheistic religion that is counted as the 5th largest in the world. This means that they believe that everything is part of an all encompassing God, not the personal God of Monotheists. Pantheism believes that every single thing is a part of one God and that all forms of reality are either modes of that Being or identical with it. The Sikh tenets are as follows:
1. There is only One God. He is the same God for all people of all religions.
2. The soul goes through cycles of births and deaths before it reaches the human form. The goal of our life is to lead an exemplary existence so that one may merge with God.
3. Sikhs should remember God at all times and practice living a virtuous and truthful life while maintaining a balance between their spiritual obligations and temporal obligations.
4. The true path to achieving salvation and merging with God does not require renunciation of the world or celibacy, but living the life of a householder, earning an honest living and avoiding worldly temptations and sins.
5. Sikhism condemns blind rituals such as fasting, visiting places of pilgrimage, superstitions, worship of the dead, idol worship etc.
6. Sikhism preaches that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God. It teaches the full equality of men and women. Women can participate in any religious function or perform any Sikh ceremony or lead the congregation in prayer.
The religion was founded by Guru Nanak. He grew up in a region where Hindus and Muslims were the two main religions. Critical of the rituals of those two religions, he preached instead a message of love and understanding without blind ritual, or class/race/sex structure. Successive Gurus carried forth this religion and the last set up the practices followed today, including the lack of priests, uncut hair on men (covered by the turban) and their ceremonial swords called a Kirpan. Their scripture is called the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Eternal Guru of the Sikhs. This scripture is unique in that it contains Sikh writings, but also writings of saints of other faiths whose thoughts were consistent with those of the Sikh Gurus. (all of the above was found at www.sikhs.org)
Of course, trying to encapsulate an entire religion in one paragraph is difficult, and their history hasn’t been without violence. Today, they strive to live peacefully with those around them, and are not involved in any acts of terrorism. However, due to their dress, turbans and beards, they are often mistaken for Muslims. The Sikh community has claimed that since 9/11 they have been harassed because of this. We live in a society that has had to become hyper vigilant about those who are different than the “norm” and this leads to uneducated conclusions and on that Sunday it lead to the death of 6 innocent people.
I believe that as a nation, we need to start teaching about all religions in our schools. I challenge any parent out there who is thinking that I am nuts to want to expose my children to other faiths: Why are you so afraid? If you have taught your faith to your children well enough, learning others shouldn’t scare you. As Christian Scripture says: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
Image:Panj Pyare, leading a procession at Wolverhampton; courtesy of JSingh