The other day I heard back from an enthusiastic reader of historical fiction whom I had asked to review The Infidel’s Garden. After taking a closer look at my material (blog, trailer, prologue etc.) she explained that, as a devout Christian, she didn’t feel comfortable reading my story.
More than anything I was saddened by her reluctance. As The Infidel’s Garden is about love overcoming religious differences, I felt someone with a spiritual perspective might have appreciated the overarching message of the story.
Our relationship to the divine is something deeply personal, but it got me thinking: why do the deeply religious often close their minds to the teachings of other faiths?
And, while I believe it’s important to respect others who have a different point of view, at what point do God and common sense part company?
Australia (my home country) is at present deciding whether to make gay marriage legal. On top of this, an impassioned debate has erupted as to whether people of faith should be able to practice religious freedom by refusing to provide products and services to those they regard as breaking divine law. In other words they wish to use their beliefs to discriminate.
We all know the ugly outcomes of any kind of discrimination, be it religious, racial, gender-based or economic. All we need do is open a history book or today’s newspaper.
Yes, I know what the Qu’ran and Bible say on the topic of physical love between members of the same sex. But let’s face it – holy books – when literally interpreted – say many things we find offensive or downright stupid today: like women are worth less than men. Slavery is OK. The world is flat and the centre of the universe.
At its very best, religion instills compassion and cooperation; its rituals give people comfort and, through its beliefs in the transcendent, engender lives with meaning and purpose. I’m guessing, although I’m not an anthropologist or theologian, that religion came along to make us smarter not dumber, and kinder not crueler.
Unfortunately some people use faith as an excuse to not only discriminate but oppress. In this excerpt from The Infidel’s Garden Marjit, already offended by many of Christianity’s practices, places herself at risk as she challenges some of the mandates of her own Muslim faith.
“But I was baptised a Christian,” I point out.
Faizan sighs. “A tragedy and mistake for which we have excused you.” Again, he shakes his head and gives me a worried look. “You are family, Soheila. These men are foreigners. Members of an inferior religion,” he repeats.
He inhales, his eyes as tired as an old sheep. “If we refuse to honour the words of our prophet, our whole way of life will vanish,” he says sadly. He gives me a hurt look that makes my heart bend. “Is that what you wish? To betray your tribe and family? Destroy our way of life?”
I glance back at Rutger and Pieter who understand none of this and watch in uneasy silence. “I wish for our way of life to be enhanced through tolerance and understanding,” I reply in Spanish so Pieter and Rutger can understand.
“They are idol worshippers!” says Atiq in our village dialect. “Heretics who they think they can buy Allah’s grace!”
Trying to ignore that raving fool, I turn to Faizan. “If I were a man, I could marry a Christian,” I protest in Spanish.
“Man is superior to woman! And Islam is superior to Christianity!” says Atiq.
Over millions of years, humans have evolved into beings able to communicate and control our environments more masterfully than any other creature on the planet. Evolution has endowed us with hairlessness, bipedalism and longer fingers for playing musical instruments and pressing delete buttons. And, as our brains become larger and more capable of abstract thought, does it make sense that ideas or memes should follow the same trajectory as genes?
As we evolve towards what we hope will be a higher state of existence, are some religious doctrines as redundant as tails, walking on all fours or swinging from trees?
It’s an issue I’ve explored in The Infidel’s Garden. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.
If we devoutly follow the mandates of ancient religious texts, (which are often deeply metaphorical and all tangled up with the social laws of the time), are we ignoring cultural evolution, turning back the clocks, and regressing into a state of mental primate-hood?