Guests In The House Of The Lord

Yeah, this is another “wearing my agnosticism on my sleeve” posting. What ya gonna do about it?

Over the years, I’ve had numerous occasions to attend religious services in a variety of houses of worship. And while there is no single set of rules for “non-members” that covers all faiths, I’ve discovered a general set of principles that have tided me well in these trips:

1) Be respectful. You might not believe what they do, but they do. And this is their house, not yours. You have no right to be there; your presence is a privilege that can be revoked.

2) Don’t make a spectacle of yourself.
Try to blend in and be inconspicuous. Stand, sit, kneel, bow your head when everyone else does.

3) Do not participate in the defining rites, rituals, and practices of the faith that are reserved strictly for the faithful. Each faith has its own way of proclaiming its faith, of the devout demonstrating together their unity in belief and purpose. Stay out of that; they tend to see it as a privilege and declaration of membership, and don’t want it taken as a lark by outsiders.

A few years ago, The Anchoress wrote a superb piece contrasting just how much respect for religion President George W. Bush had versus President Clinton, by showing both men attending a Catholic Mass. Clinton had participated fully in a Mass, even to the point of accepting the Host — a symbolic act that one fully submits to the Catholic Church and all its beliefs and doctrines. Conversely, when President and Laura Bush attended a Mass, they approached the celebrant with their arms crossed their chests — rejecting the Host, but seeking his blessing nonetheless. And they received it.

Neither men are Catholic. But only Bush cared enough to find out the proper way for a non-Catholic to participate in the Mass, and carried out his end of the obligation. The crossing of the arms says “I am not one of you, I am not qualified to receive the Host from you, but I respect you and your beliefs and would seek your blessing.” It’s not a gesture of defiance, a declaration of superiority, but an acknowledgment of difference — and respect, because the non-Catholic is still wishing the blessing of the Catholic.

I was reminded of The Anchoress’ piece when I saw this story about the Obama family. It seems that they attended St. John’s Episcopal Church yesterday, and participated fully — even taking Communion from the priest.

Which is something non-Episcopals should not do.

I don’t blame the priest here. It would be a hell of a tough thing for him to do — to refuse Communion to the President of the United States and his family.

I also have a hard time blaming Obama here. I’ve come to the conclusion that he really doesn’t care much about religion, and was most likely unaware that he was violating Church doctrine on who should and should not receive communion.

But I do blame him for his not caring enough to find out the rules for “outsiders” before attending. It shows a great deal of disrespect for the priest, the Church, and religion in general in only seeing it as a performance — you show up, play your part, and get credit for appearing.

Conversely, there are times that it’s the house of worship that breaks the rules. For example, the mosque in suburban Boston. A group of elementary schoolers visited it, supposedly to see its architecture and get a little taste of Islamic culture.

Instead, they were brought in at prayer time, given a friendly, proselytizing, seriously revisionist “history” of Islam, then were divided by sex, and the males were “invited” to take part in the prayers and proclamations of faith.

The gross improprieties of this are legion. Public school children taken to a house of worship for attempted recruiting. Going to a house of worship under false pretenses. Attempted recruiting by lying. Hiding the details from the parents.

This case would be tailor-made for the ACLU, who always has a hard-on for cases involving the separation of church and state. But the ACLU seems to only see threats of this coming from Christians, so they’ll probably pass on this one.

There will always be encounters like this — when believers brush up against those outside their faith. In most places, this is a recipe for conflict. In America, we have developed an unwritten protocol that allows us all to generally get along, by demanding that both sides show at least a modicum of respect.

President George W. Bush gets that.

President Bill Clinton doesn’t.

President Barack Obama doesn’t.

And that mega-mosque in Boston certainly doesn’t.

“Intolerance” is one of the major causes of religious-inspired conflict. “Ignorance” and “arrogance,” however, play their roles, too.

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