I’m on a plane flying to Chicago on my way back home from the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Next to me is a young Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia in the US on a work visa.
She will have to go home soon, and was not looking forward to it. In America she dressed modestly but without head covering or veil. Back home she will have to wear the burka covering herself from head to toe. Here she can travel where she wants, when she wants, and how she wants. In Saudi Arabia she can do only what a man allows. In the U.S. she drives a small car, in Saudi Arabia she isn’t allowed to drive at all. She didn’t see what any of this had to do with Islam.
She has earned a degree in business administration and could make a nice living in the United States, but the only way she can stay she told me is if she married an American and this was unlikely.
I feel badly for this bright, dynamic, young Muslim women who is soon to step back into the Middle Ages against her will. I was tempted to ask the steward to get on the loud speaker and see if there are any single men on board willing to marry a Muslim woman who desperately wants to be free. But tempted is as far as I got.
• • •
Flying from Chicago to Nashville, the man next to me starts up a conversation and seems genuinely curious about the Parliament of the World’s Religions. “What was the overarching message?” he asked.
“Basically: be kind to one another.”
“And you needed a whole conference for that?”
“Well, there are so many ways to express it: different religions, different cultures…”
“Sure, but if they are all saying the same thing, why make a big deal about the differences? I mean chocolate ice cream is chocolate ice cream whether you get it from Ben and Jerry’s or Baskin Robbins. There must have been some other reason for getting together.”
“This was an opportunity for people to meet and share their differences…”
“What differences? They all believe in kindness.”
“OK, but they don’t all get along, there are tensions between, say, Muslims and Buddhists, or Palestinians and Israelis, or …”
“How can that be? Kindness is kindness. What you are really telling me is that they all believe in kindness until they don’t. They all believe in kindness until kindness doesn’t get them what they want and then they believe in something else like oppression, exploitation, violence and war. And then when they get what they want they can go back to believing in kindness again.”
“That’s pretty jaded.”
“What people say is largely bullshit. Look at what they do instead. Your God says love one another and you say you will just as soon as you rape and murder these folks over here. Or maybe your God says rape and murder these people over here even if you don’t want to, though of course you do want to otherwise you would find yourself another God. People do what they want to get what they want and what they want is power, and they invent a God who will excuse whatever it is they need to do to get the power they want. Every God says love your neighbor, but only after you own their ass.”
This provided me with the perfect moment to plug my new book: Games People Play which deals with why we all proclaim and then ignore the Golden Rule. Sadly the pilot came on the loud speaker to tell us to prepare for landing. Anyway I appreciated the antidote to Kumbayah still ringing in my ears.