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One Nation, Under Vishnu

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    One Nation, Under Vishnu

    One Nation, Under Vishnu
    In the most religiously diverse country in the world, why should God get the only plug?

    By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist Friday, June 28, 2002

    To hell with the separation of church and state. Forget the Pledge of Allegiance and "under God" and all this bipartisan puling about prayer in schools. Maybe we've had it wrong all along.

    Let's try this instead: Maybe there should be no such separation at the school level. Maybe God and Vishnu and Kali and Astarte and Dionysus and Allah and Zarathushtra and Lao-Tzu have not only a vital place in the educational system, but also a fervent need to be heard and felt and imbibed, just like cafeteria Coke and meatloaf and badly written textbooks and nonexistent sex-ed and the capitals of all 50 states.

    Maybe barring religious practice from our national places of learning is just about as ignorant and small-minded and spiritually degenerative as, say, bombing another country over oil or land or power or ego. Let's just say.

    Ah, but maybe you agree with Dubya that America is Christian country and its "rights were derived from God." Maybe you think the current, adorably hypocritical separation of church and state, with its sanctimonious mentions of a patriarchal Christian God everywhere, is the righteous path, the common wisdom, the properly loving sentiment expressed by many a fervent patriot as we drop our bombs and thump our Bibles and let God sort 'em out.

    You would be wrong.

    Because America is also the most religiously diverse country in the world. America is teeming with saris and yarmulkes and monk's robes and funky prayer beads and glorious ornate temples of every shape and size. There are more Muslims in the U.S. now, for example, than there are Jews or Episcopalians. America, spiritually speaking, is not what most people think it is.

    A quick look inside any apartment building in any major city outside of, say, Vermont or maybe Montana reveals a veritable kaleidoscope of faith and divinity: Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jew, Atheist, Wiccan, Pagan, Sikh, Atheist and Buddhist, living side by side and borrowing cups of sugar or sticks of Nag Champa from each other, stealing each other's newspaper and bootlegging each other's cable TV. It's a beautiful thing, really.

    But nowhere is religious funk and spiritual diversity more prevalent and visible than in the classroom, which since the mid-'60s has seen an explosion of immigrant cultures and beliefs, a dazzling and unprecedented intermixing of faiths and backgrounds and languages and deities and kids with names that give your tongue a workout.

    And hence it would seem to require negligible rationale or subtlety of mind to see that "under God" is really rather inane and exclusionary and insulting to a vast and increasing chunk of the soon-to-be-voting populace.

    Alas, Conservatives still believe little Johnny should be kneeling in school and praising Jesus (and no one else) for the glory that is his math quiz every day, whereas Liberals believe he should keep that sort of thing in the church or risk warping his little mind.

    Meanwhile little Daniel and Sunjat and Tenzin and Amir and Uma Das Gupta and Moonstarr and Ling Tso sit idly by, rolling their eyes and sighing sadly and wondering why there's so much intolerance and misunderstanding in the Land of the Free.

    So maybe there should be prayer in schools. A lot of prayer. Say a half hour a day, every religion allowed its rituals and practices, quirks and screams and chants and head-bobbings and blood sacrifices to the great Lord Zorkon.

    Immediately followed by a class on religious appreciation and diversity, with each kid talking about his/her beliefs and traditions and occasionally uptight dogmas and beautiful similarities and why the hell they have to wear that funny thing on their head and can't eat bananas on Tuesdays.

    Maybe every major religion gets one week during the school year where the kid and the kid's family and their rabbi or priest or guru or teacher come in and share stories and teach everyone their traditions, and everyone eats that culture's food and recites that faith's prayers and everyone learns to tie a turban and decorate a robe and dances and laughs and learns.

    It's what famed author and Harvard professor Diana Eck, in her book "New Religious America: How a 'Christian Country' Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation," termed "religious pluralism" -- more than mere tolerance and acceptance of other's religious beliefs, an active and dynamic engagement in the public sphere, classrooms and workplaces and fetish dungeons, an ongoing dialogue, a spiritual exchange.

    It's messy and complicated and imperfect; we are trained to be suspicious, we resist change, we fear the unknown and erect walls and barriers of all kinds to keep foreigners and strange people out. Anxiety is our cultural modus ope*****, and many spiritually uptight believers -- Christians in particular -- are loath to allow their kids to be "tainted" by exposure to other beliefs.

    But this is the only way it will ever work. People of all religions must intermix and communicate and share ideas and find common ground, and there is no one better to take us there than children, as yet untainted by their parent's prejudices, their government's ideologies.

    Lack of such integration and communication means cultural stasis, social breakdown, prejudice, ignorance, hatred, violence, zealotry, terrorism, war, increased and inexplicable proliferation of the Bush clan. Not necessarily in that order.

    It means situations like the Middle East, full of checkpoints and barriers and razor wire and children being trained in hate, without ever learning the viewpoint of the other side.

    It means we continue like we are right now, segregating ourselves and living in relative ignorance of who lives down the hall, looking over our shoulder suspiciously at the guy in the silk gown or the woman in the head wrap, wondering what crazy thing they're always chanting about.

    So yes. Dump the inane "under God" provision of the Pledge. And maybe replace it with "One nation, under whatever noble and/or beautiful belief system you want, or maybe nothing at all, or maybe a little of this and that, just don't be a freak about it, because this is America and we're nothing if not about religious freedom, even though that may be difficult to believe right now, but just bear with us, indivisible...."

    Sure it's a little verbose. But it sure beats the religious status quo.