discomfort (2006-51)

Sacred Choices

Without them, swearing isn’t worth a cussed thing

by Steve Dupree

One of my favorite biker t-shirts in my collection has for years been the one that says, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.”   Please don’t let that be true here.

Many things in life are personal. Not personal in that you don’t want anyone else to know about them, but personal in that it can be hugely meaningful to you but meaningless to others. Pain is one of those things, and the less physical the pain, the more personal it is. You may well find an empath or two who can actually understand your physical pain, but once you move into the realm of emotional and/or psychological pain, you are pretty much on your own. Others may feel sorry for you but they have no clue what is really happening inside your head.

Joy is personal. There are things that can and will make you happy that mean diddly squat to me. I have seen birders gush over what looked to me like an ordinary bird (if in fact anything in all of creation/evolution can be considered ordinary). I have been ecstatic over a motorcycle or some other machine that others found mundane, if they noticed it at all.

Love is personal. While great poets may have you convinced that they have conveyed to you some aspect of their love for someone or something, the hows and whys of the loves of individuals who are not us will forever remain hidden to us. There are many other things that are personal, but I’ll not attempt to describe them all; I haven’t the space or inclination. There is one thing though, one thing that it seems to me you would understand is personal without me telling you. For many—me, for instance—it would seem to be the most personal of things so its obviousness should eliminate the necessity of its telling.  Yet here I am.

Religion is really, seriously, intensely personal. It can’t help but be. Religion is the relationship between an individual and God, however (s)he chooses to perceive Her. As a matter of fact, we can expand this conceptually and say that that which one finds sacred is an aspect of the personal nature of religion, because it is the religion that determines what is sacred. In the case of certain organized and formalized religions, those who subscribe to those religions may agree to hold a given object or concept sacred. For example, most any self-professed Christian you asked would likely claim that the Bible is a sacred book. However, it turns out that those who do not profess Christianity may not hold the Bible to be sacred. In turn, many of those self-professed Christians will not find the religious works of other organized religions sacred.

That would all be mildly interesting and unworthy of note were it not for the discussion that is apparently actually taking place around America. People are actually discussing whether or not an adherent of one religion should be allowed to use the book that is sacred in his sect or whether he should be forced to use a book that is sacred to others when eliciting a promise to fulfill an office. I am completely, totally, and thoroughly amazed. (I would be speechless but that just ain’t my thang.) 

People, this is personal. You might as well threaten him with causing me pain if he doesn’t do what he says as to have him swear an oath on somebody else’s sacred object. Surely you see that? If this was only about the ceremony; if no one expected the words to be heeded; if all you were concerned with was how it would look and sound on television; it might sorta kinda make sense to force an object on him that others found sacred. But that isn’t what happens here, or at least I hope it isn’t.

When the first congressperson of the Muslim faith is sworn into office, I want it to be a revelatory moment. I want him to see his choice of sacred tomes and to feel the weight of that which he is vowing. I want him to feel a responsibility to his office and to people of faith throughout the nation. I want him to feel the eyes of a billion plus members of his chosen religion on him, and I want him to be loathe to violate the oath that they saw him swear on their chosen sacred text. It has to be the object that is sacred to him that is used or that moment might well mean nothing.

The Bible is not sacred to all Americans. Many of us are of some other religion, some other culture. Many of us claim no religion at all. This is how our nation was designed. Our Constitution grants us freedom of religion and freedom from religion. That document and its companion in the founding of our nation, the Declaration of Independence—those are the documents that should be sacred to all Americans. I can assure you that they are sacred to me, but I won’t try to tell you why.

It’s personal.