Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hello, may I convert you?

Religious Conversion

Out of the blue I got a call from my former coworker Maria.  Ever since she saw the Buddha statues in my office, and probably since she saw on Facebook that I listed my religion as "Buddhist", she's been trying to convert me back to Christianity.  I say "back" because I grew up as a Christian, but I spent a long time without a religion and then converted to Buddhism in 2007.  When I say "converted" I really mean that I started reading about Buddhism and found that Buddhist beliefs fit in with the beliefs I already held.  No one convinced me or even encouraged me to become a Buddhist.

I hadn't talked to Maria for about a month, so I assumed she was just calling to say hello.  I told her that I was staying with and taking care of DD, who recently had heart bypass surgery.  DD's wife is one of Maria's coworkers, although I know that Maria dislikes the fact that they're gay.  Almost immediately Maria asked when I could come to her church.  I explained that since I changed jobs, attending that church was now very inconvenient because it's not near my home or my office.  That's when Maria suggested that you don't get into heaven for good works.

Maria may be referring to the following:
"And we are saved by grace in faith, not because of works, lest any man boast."  (Eph 2:8-9 New International Version)
But I guess if you have Maria's beliefs, helping a gay friend is not even a "good work".  I'm really irritated by her assertions that good works don't count for anything.  Maria is the type of person who believes that the poor person, who does nothing but good works to help others, goes to hell if he doesn't believe in Jesus, while the serial killer, who repents and believes, goes to heaven.

What about the idea that God is graceful?
"I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." (Isa 43:25, New International Version).
Grace is defined by Merriam-Webster as "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification". Unmerited means undeserving, unearned or not entitled to. But Christians and Christianity, although they believe in a graceful God, they want to place all these conditions upon the love and mercy and grace of God. Many of them believe that you have to "earn" your place in heaven. Interesting, given that by very definition, the love and mercy of God does not have to be earned because He is "graceful".

It really bothers me that some people use religion as an excuse to spread hate, and they feel justified about it.  I firmly believe in freedom of religion, but I do not believe that gives people a license to hate.  I believe that we should stay focused on compassion and dignity for all people.  Most importantly, we should work on decreasing suffering, rather than increasing it.  One of the problems I see in Maria's behavior is that she feels it's right to dislike certain people.  She also feels that she can do "bad things" without consequences, as long as she repents.  I agree that people should repent for their wrongs, but I don't believe repenting gives people a free pass either.  I'd love to ask Maria whether repenting serial killers go to heaven, just to see what she would say.