This I Believe

Cathy - Clarkston, Georgia
Entered on October 7, 2007

While speaking with my friend, Marc, the other night I mentioned a series of talks on Islam that a local church was sponsoring. I thought he might be interested. I was wrong.

“And what did you learn about Islam today?” he asked.

I knew whatever I said would be something he already knows. I hesitated just long enough for him to prove me right.

“Islam believes in the oneness of God and that a Muslim is one who has surrendered himself to God. There are commonalities with and a respect for Christianity and Judaism.”

He carried on, naming far more than the smattering of facts I’d gleaned from the day’s conversation among Muslims and Presbyterians and nonbelievers and permanently confused people like me.

He didn’t need to go, didn’t want to spend time with religious people, wasn’t sure of the value of the classes.

“You know,” he confided, “it’s just this sort of religious tolerance that encourages people to believe crazy things and act on those beliefs.”

His words echoed a book I’d read that challenged my belief that dialogue is a good thing, that religious tolerance will save us. Was Marc reading it?

“Yes,” he answered, “but it’s nothing I haven’t thought of already.”

And off we dived into the muddy waters of religion. Now I don’t really care whether Jesus walked on those waters or that some kindly man with an understanding of cubits may have saved animals in a flood. I can entertain divergent opinions. But Marc is a scientist and a big fan of logic, not faith. He can best me in any argument.

Okay, I thought, but would he throw out the baby – Moses, Jesus, Vishnu, so many babies – with the bathwater? Biting my tongue against that lame cliché I realized that’s exactly what he’d do.

And that’s when I realized I believe in the bathwater. I believe in what’s left behind when you throw out the exclusions of religion, the dogma that seems to say “I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m chosen and you’re doomed.” What’s left is recognition of the wonder of life, appreciation of the absolute miracle of nature, and the suggestion that doing good is wildly important. This is murky stuff, I know. Like bathwater. But it’s all there. I just have to look closely. In what gets left behind.

I work at a small public charter school where half the kids and staff are intentionally not from around here. They’re from Iraq and Afghanistan and Liberia and Sudan and Eritrea and Croatia and Bosnia and wherever people are fighting over oil and democracy and religion and God knows what. I get confused and need charts with circles and arrows.

The kids gave a little concert the other day. There they were, a mixture of skin tones and hairstyles and hijab – Marbati, Muhammedullah, Celia, Patience, so many babies – singing “Stayed on freedom, ain’t no harm to keep me down”.

I could only pray it was true.

I believe we can’t throw these babies out. We can’t leave them behind. And we can’t let them drown in the bathwater.