Revelations: India more open to belief in God
It's good to be back on this side of the Atlantic. For the past five weeks, I've been exploring the southern region of India with a Rotary Group Study Exchange team of four professional women.
(Some of you may have been following the journey in my Land of the Gods blog on our website).
Each member of our team represented a unique vocation. We traveled through the state of Kerala and made presentations on our lives and careers in Texas.
India, to my benefit, sort of bent more freely to my vocation of religion reporting.
The land is ripe with religious diversity and belief in God is rampant.
Kerala streets are flooded with colorful Hindu temples and statues of supreme deities and revered disciples of the faith. Ancient Catholic and Orthodox churches dating back to the era of Jesus Christ share the roads with Muslim temples. All throughout the day, songs and prayers and benedictions of faith echo across city skylines in languages unfamiliar to my American ears.
Most days, I felt like I was on religion reporting overload.
I had questions about religion just about every moment of the day. I dreamt of interviews with church leaders and awoke each morning reflecting on the previous days.
Perhaps India wasn't as vocationally stimulating for other members of my team, but I'm sure they, too, were enriched by the religious immersion.
I promised myself when I returned to the United States, I would share a few important lessons I think Americans can and should learn from India on religious matters.
First, in India, it's acceptable to believe in God.
Academics and royals, government and civic leaders, students and businessmen, the rich and the poor, the elite and lower classes, all believe in God.
They may not all believe in the same God, but they are people of faith, and they're proud of their spiritual lives.
It's as much a part of their identity as their job title or Indian patriotism.
By contrast, anyone who claims a faith in the United States knows the subject of God and religion often spurs conversations of Darwin, evolution, creation theories, the conflict of faith and science, and the necessity of separation between church and state.
In many circles, especially environments of academia and science, religion and the religious are deemed unnecessary and unintellectual.
Not so, in India.
Spirituality, there is an important aspect of family and work and education. And it's perfectly normal to unite your faith ideas in various areas of daily life.
That brings me to my second point.
God and religion, theology and history, are a major part of education in India.
Whether children are attending a government or private school, with a secular or religiously-influenced curriculum, students are educated in world religions.
Muslims and Hindus, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, therefore, grow up with a solid understanding of their neighbor's faith.
They live together; they study together; they dialogue together.
They pray separately.
Indians are experts on each other's faith and their own. I could ask a Hindu about Catholicism or an Orthodox about Islam and each would have an intellectual response to offer.
Because they spend much of their lives learning about each other, the fear of the foreign (in regard to their religiously different neighbor) is removed.
Christians don't walk around concerned they'll be converted by a Muslim, for example.
In the United States, the conversation of religion (or the removal of religion) in public schools is often heated and disrespectful.
I've always been of the opinion that removing discussions of God from schools is unnecessary because a fundamental majority of American society assign themselves a faith identity.
For that reason, I will always fight for the right to speak openly about faith and God, (even if it isn't my God) because I would never want my religious rights stripped in a public forum.
In India, the public forum is as appropriate as any other place to discuss the supernatural.
India, it seems, opened my eyes to a grand, new way of appreciating and celebrating spiritual life.
I will always be thankful for that.
Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss.