The Religion of Nature -  Two Happy Left Feet
 
I recently heard someone say, “Culture is like the water fish swim in.You don’t realize how important it is until you’re out of it.” That has certainly held true for me in the short time that I have been living in Guatemala. The culture here is rich and many of the people are open and willing to share their homes and traditions with an interested visitor, so my experience has been enriching. However, there remain gaps in our understanding and communication because culture and cultural differences go far deeper than we are able to see. Therefore, they are often difficult to identify and even more difficult to understand let alone resolve. Perhaps for this reason, we end up using shortcuts, which too often take the form of force. This force is particularly evident where religion is involved.

I don’t claim to be an expert on religion, my own or anyone else’s.What I know is only my personal experience and the experiences that people of my own faith and others have chosen to share with me.
 I believe that religion is an innate and important part of our humanity and I don’t wish to criticize its existence. However, along with being an enormous asset and source of strength, religion can also be one of our most caustic weapons. With time and fervor religion and dogma begin to take on a life of their own, almost as independent and tangible as that if their creators.

Like all species, religion evolves within an ecosystem.
 It strikes a balance with the culture, resources, and needs in its environment.Scarce or important resources are sacred. A code of conduct reflects the needs and expectations of the culture and guides the interactions of the community. Stories and lessons of cultural identity are passed on to successive generations.

But what happens when we take this species out of the cultural context in which it developed?
 If done with knowledge and consciousness, it could adapt and add to the diversity of the area where it is introduced. However, when done with force, it could easily follow in the path of the cane toad in Australia or the zebra mussel in the lakes of Minnesota and become and invasive species that causes a grave imbalance and loss of important resources and heritage. Scarce water or plants that were previously sacred and treated with respect become part of a domain to be dominated and used with little discretion. Respect for elders and traditional wisdom is replaced by a value for the youth and physical ability, and causes upheaval and discontinuity within families.

Of course, the results depend on the disposition and cultural awareness of the people introducing a religion to a new area.
 As I said, it can be an informative and diversifying experience for everyone involved, but only if done with awareness, tolerance, and a desire from both sides to gain understanding.

Ivan Gutierrez
4/4/2010 17:16:47

Well, my dear. This is a very interesting poem. I really love it. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

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    Ever since I was little I have enjoyed playing with words.  I recently went through some of my old journals (which I have been keeping since my freshman year of high school) and dug up some of my favorites.  Some of them I revised a little, and some I left as is.  Not all of the sentiments still ring true, but it is an interesting experience for me to reread and share them.  It's a little like opening an old letter from someone you haven't talked to in ages.  I am still writing plenty and I'm sure that there will be more poems and essays about my current experiences here soon.  Buen provecho!

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