Amritsar, the President and the Scouts

October 23, 2010 — Leave a comment

Just occasionally I think we verge on being incredibly stupid.

The US press tells us President Obama will not now be visiting the Hari Mandir, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, on his trip to India in early November. The reason being the President does not want to add fuel to the 18% (August 2010 Pew Survey) of Americans who believe he is a Muslim – up from 11% in March 2009.

How would a black US President, with the middle name of Hussein, inflame this 18% of US citizens by visiting a temple? Because they associate anything in India to be Muslim. Ironic really as Islam is a minority faith in that country, Hinduism being the majority. Christianity and Sikhism come way down the list in size percentage. A little research, that does not involve a favourite television station, might find that Hari Mandir has little to do with Islam or Hinduism.

Instead it is the visible seat of learning and acceptance of Sikhism. A faith in itself that does not the deny the existence of truth in other religions. It is faith based on ethnicity rather than proselytizing, and is concerned more with community and an ethical life that brings honour to the Khalsa – the ‘beloved’ five whose moral dedication could not be faulted, and who were chosen originally by the tenth Guru Gobind Singh. There has been, since Gobind Singh, no individual leader for the Sikhs, but rather a community – Guru Panth, and a book – Guru Granth, based on the writings of the ten original gurus.

Hari Mandir is built to support the belief that all are equal. Everyone steps down to enter into the temple, symbolising no one person is superior to another. Entrances on all four sides symbolise all faiths are welcome.

But like any community there are still rules, predominantly of respect, and one of them is to cover ones head upon entering this sacred and beautiful place. Another is remove ones shoes.

It is the former that the ‘politically correct’ are saying will persuade those on the bench, as well as to confirm to those who already believe, that their President’s religion is Islam. One wonders why in this country of religious freedom this should matter.

The US Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, says no final decisions have been made and that we pick where we’re going to go on trips on what we hope to accomplish.

I would say to those planning the trip that as a positive way to forward that concept – hoping to accomplish the belief that the US is a free religious society – the President should most certainly view the magnificent building and setting of the Golden Temple. As an added benefit it may also help the American public at large realise that to be a Muslim is not to be a radical or a Sikh, rather like to be a Southern Baptist is not to be a radical or a Methodist.

Another example of silliness in the extreme was seen in the press this week.

Two young boys were enrolled in a Cub Scout pack in Charlotte, North Carolina and attended a couple of meetings. Their parents volunteered to serve as leaders and were initially received with enthusiasm. That is until their application forms were seen. They had the temerity to be honest when asked their religious persuasion (whose business is it anyway I ask?) and they answered, Church of the Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.

You might not accept the LDS principles which disavow the core belief of Christianity, the Trinity, believing instead the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three individuals striving for a common goal.

We might think there are a few things off kilter with another’s religion but that does not, on the whole, immediately red flag a person as being unsuitable to lead a children’s group anymore than wearing a head covering announces an Islamic terrorist. But to disallow parental involvement in the Scouts due to religion is surely wrong.

Lord Baden-Powell, in his farewell letter to the Scouting Movement he founded said, ….I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence……………But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best….

He didn’t say which God, and since the early days of the Scouting Movement it has been decreed open to all, irrespective of race, caste, colour or creed.

Maybe the Carolina Presbyterians need to reread the tenets of the Scouts, and maybe we should all just stop worrying about the President’s, or our neighbour’s, religious persuasion and just try getting along together regardless of whether we worship at a different altar, or wear a head covering.

Head covering, not face covering, but that’s a whole other story.

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