Deliver Us: In Search of the Traveler’s True Religion

I’ve had a number of conversations with Couchsurfers over the years to gauge their personal beliefs and political opinions. For some reason, I always tend to think of travelers, by and large, as liberal free thinkers.

This is hardly the case for everyone, but what is it about Christianity and other western religions that keeps me thinking it’s impossible for an educated, well-traveled individual to believe in them? My cousin, who I consider to be a reasonable man, is a priest. Even one of my friends on Matador is a self-proclaimed Christian. So why do I continue to believe that travelers will automatically tend to follow eastern religions, or none at all?

What I am? Who knows. I traveled the world, discovered the spiritual side of running, lived on a Buddhist monastery, and hiked a pilgrimage in Japan.

Judgment
Judgment, Los Angeles © hoveringdog

Am I Buddhist? Not really. I certainly find aspects of the philosophy appealing, and I have meditated on a regular basis, but I don’t agree with much of the ritual in the Theravada tradition.

Atheist? Too strong a word. Richard Dawkins and others of a similar mind show far too much certainty about the most uncertain part of our existence.

Christian? Mormon? Muslim? Don’t make me laugh. My parents were devout Presbyterians and raised me as such, but it seemed that with each passing year of my childhood, another hole appeared in my faith. As my eyes were opened to the realities of the world, religion seemed to grow more absurd. Like western religions rewarded ignorance; the more you were willing to overlook inconsistencies in the Bible, the stronger your faith was said to become. Like faith itself was giving up your humanity, your intelligence.

So am I typical of you readers out there … ? You travelers, travel writers, those comfortable enough to at least listen to a discussion on faith rather that blindly yelling opinion in an attempt to “save” others? You tell me.

A Virgin Traveler’s Perspective

Let’s look at this argument from the perspective of a virgin traveler. Someone who, if raised in the US, is most likely Christian, but not a fundamentalist. He’s 18, never left home, on a last summer trip before entering university. Very common. All his life he’s attended church with his parents as a matter of habit, never questioning it nor really going along with it. Life, as far as religion is concerned, just is. Some believe one way, others believe another way. Who’s to say which is better?

For the first time in this young man’s existence, he’s exposed to life outside his country. Maybe he goes to Thailand, where it appears the quality of life may be lower by some standards, but the state religion is focused on the power of the mind, on questioning beliefs, rather than blindly following them. Leaving a part of the universe open to mystery and interpretation. Having everything so quantifiable, as Dawkins suggests, really takes the poetry out of life. So I suppose no western religion truly fits that criteria. Just try to find something in the Bible comparable to the Buddha’s teachings ”¦ impossible. Buddhism and most eastern religions utilize the oldest tool available for study: the mind, and how best to reach its potential.

What Is the Answer?

So Buddhism is the ultimate answer? Hardly. But it certainly seems to work for Asian countries and impressionable young minds looking to travel abroad. Even Hinduism suggests the awesome power of the human mind versus the ultimate fate of a “soul”. The pursuit of such questions is inherently more valuable than the answers. Maybe there really is a human soul, something we will into existence by consciousness alone; maybe there is a kind of “God”, who snapped her fingers to create the universe; maybe this is all a dream in the mind of a really fat kid and once he wakes up, we’ll no longer exist, and he’ll have a craving for ice cream.

Barack Obama on Religion & Politics (I)
Prayer © Belgian Sun Flower

Many have argued that no reasonable person can honestly hold racist opinions once engaged in conversation by a member of the ethnicity they were indoctrinated to hate, because stereotypes and blind hatred can’t hold a candle to the truth.

And the truth is amazingly simple: nothing is as it seems. I believe the same case could be made for religious beliefs; no reasonable person, whether raised to be Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, can maintain their faith in the face of the facts of the world:

  • Killing unbelievers doesn’t assure you a wonderful afterlife. It should ensure a speedy end to this life.
  • Even if you hold tight to your faith, you must realize others are just as convinced by a different set of beliefs: how can they believe something so different from what you know to be true? Maybe neither of you is right.
  • No western religion encourages you to find the faith best suited to your beliefs. They do, however, promise you will burn in eternal damnation for questioning doctrine.

And what of seasoned travelers? As their world views expand, so too do their beliefs? What do you think?

About The Author

Turner Wright enjoys the finer things in life, which include: writing travel articles, eating too much, and running until his veins pump battery acid. He is a simple boy from Austin, Texas, but will soon be bouncing around three continents. Check out his blog, Once A Traveler.

34 Responses

  1. Turner

    I should clarify one point: there are many similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, but not insofar as reaching the potential of awareness, just in terms of behavior.

    Reply
  2. Conclusion?

    I’m a believer in Jesus Christ…not hating on your article…just wanting to know get a better picture of your point?

    CS Lewis was well-traveled, educated, atheist and went on to love Jesus and the Gospel. Josh McDowell, a professor, went out to disprove Christianity and in the process like Lewis, came to love Jesus Christ. (wrote Evidence for Christianity discussing his journey)

    Honest question…you have traveled all over, researched and dabbled in Budhism, discovered the ‘spiritual side’ of running, pilgramage in Japan…have you ever put forth that much effort into researching the life and teachings of Christ? Not what your parents said. Not what you heard some Christian say…youve experienced ‘eastern religions’ with no preconcieved notions going in. Have you done the same with Christianity? A skeptic myself, my research has led me to a stronger faith and more confidence in the Bible than ever before. And again, I am not bashing what you wrote, just conversation…one traveler to another. The people in your picture show you might be stereotyping Christians the same way you hate that some people stereotype races, gender, etc. (and i hate that as well)

    Reply
  3. eric

    Thank you for this well-constructed and very constructive piece. I only wish more people were as thoughtful and that I were able to put my thought together this nicely.

    Reply
  4. Cornelius Aesop

    Wow, bold post human. If this was on a non travel site I’m sure it would get a lot of different reactions than within the travel community which seems to be more open to challenging ones perceptions and beliefs, where truths are held only for a moment and the stories of dreams and aspirations last months or years.

    I don’t know enough about all the religions of the world, but I know one thing I believe in the power of poo- fling not unless you are willing to be flung upon.

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  5. Turner

    @Conclusion?

    In fact, I have (though good point, I should have mentioned it). In fact, it was studying the Bible and attending church services so many times that caused me to wonder why so many followed blindly… and MANY do.

    I respect that comment, but you’re one of the few devout Christians with whom I think I’d be able to have a civilized conversation. So many (my father included) just deny, deny, deny anything that might contradict their belief in Jesus and the “one true God”. Christianity rewards ignorance, simple as that. It encourages its followers not to think too much, rather to just ignore your intellect and turn it over to God for safekeeping. Buddhism, Hinduism, and a few others do the opposite by clearly indicating “followers” should search for the beliefs that best suit them. Fundamentalist Christians will usually just tell you you’re going to hell if you don’t shut up and believe.

    Reply
  6. Conclusion?

    Well, good to hear you have explored Christianity in depth as well.

    “Christianity rewards ignorance, simple as that.”

    I feel this statement may reflect your experience with certain Christians….or ones with ‘God HATES homosexuals’ signs, who forget verses discussing adultery, jealousy, etc….But not genuine Believers.

    also, you don’t get on people good side and set up for healthy debate with statements like that, the ignorance one. (may be why some of your reactions with Christians may be hostile…not condoning a christians behavior, just saying…we are human. Admitted sinners who get angry like everyone else)Also, a statement like that sounds like an absolute argument an extreme Fundamentalist would make. “All people who dont believe in Jesus are ignorant. Simple as that.”

    B/C you must admit their are many brilliant people who have studied Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin and Greek texts and come from all sorts of backgrounds that are anything but ignorant and full-heartedly support and love Jesus and the Bible.

    If the doctrine of Christianity to you is full of contradictions or falsities (is that a word? if not oh well) What offers absolute answers in your eyes? I guess when I ask ‘conclusion?’ in my first post, you dismiss Christianity b/c you see holes in it, but you also admit to holes in Budhism when you say it hardly suffices….does your blog point out there is no meaning? And that no one really has it right, or you can never know? Or eastern religions are they way to go? But do the holes in those make you abandon those?

    ‘No western religion encourages you to find the faith best suited to your beliefs. They do, however, promise you will burn in eternal damnation for questioning doctrine’

    Just from a rationale standpoint….I would rather follow something claiming to be divine (Jesus and the Bible). And in my research very historically accurate (one example the Dead Sea Scrolls)…than my own conjecture on what is right. what is holy. what is ‘spirituality’….you call it ignorance (which i feel is a little bit abrasive and not very ‘inclusive’ which is what many people with similar viewpoints as yours point out they are) but I would call it arrogance thinking I should pick and choose what suits me or the religion of ‘ME’ and my way.

    But at least I have come to a belief . I feel that a scary thing to do is admit, ‘well, a lot of things are divine, or there is a God…but im not really sure…’

    Also, the Lord welcomes questions….Matt.26:39, Jesus said, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

    Anyways, I am rambling….sorry if it is not very cohesive. Im sure you have good points back in your beliefs, feel free to post back or email me…or call it a day… b/c i just spent to much time when i should have been working! haha

    Grace and Peace! Have a great weekend.

    Lastly, aside from debate and points, my relationship with Christ is the testimony i rely on. I understand arguments from all corners of the earth have valid points in a broken world. Basically I am saying i understand your views. But the change in my life from my personal relationship in Christ is where I find much of my confidence.

    Reply
  7. Turner

    @Conclusion?

    I really don’t think that’s a hostile statement… ummm… it’s really true.

    Without realizing it, you’ve demonstrated what I think people should be doing rather than latching on to the tenets of Christianity or even Buddhism: question everything. Say “I don’t know!” at times. That’s not scary – THAT IS HUMAN. It’s an ongoing quest for the truth, the meaning of everything, one we may never reach for the span of human existence, but the meaning is in the struggle to understand. Tossing aside that struggle to accept an easy answer like “Jesus was the son, God is the father” cheapens us all. A child could understand the “truth” of the bible, but we have to grow up sometime.

    As I mentioned in the article, I don’t think all Christians are stupid, but I am amazed at this big gaping hole of reasoning when it comes to religion. The bible is interlaced with myth, historical fiction, and, based on the old testament, a lot of sketchy behavior. This isn’t necessarily bad in itself, but people fight and die for these beliefs. To me, that is scarier than saying “I don’t know.”

    Reply
  8. JJ

    Good chat man. Obviously I disagree. I dont see gaping holes in reasoning and I don’t see Jesus as an easy answer. One that many Christians come to through years of search and analysis of the Bible. In the spiritually advanced and open-minded ‘East’, that search can end you up in prison.

    I have to add when you say gaping wholes in reasoning…i must point out some gaping holes in your reasoning. Not in a rude way, you’ve said mine is…so I would just like to point out….Im a Christian and I can maintain my faith with your facts of the world.

    “Even if you hold tight to your faith, you must realize others are just as convinced by a different set of beliefs: how can they believe something so different from what you know to be true? Maybe neither of you is right.”

    A radical Muslim believes with all his heart the Sept. 11 attacks where justified, and cutting off Nicolas Berg’s head is as well. Another Muslim believes with all his heart that is wrong, and these things are not justified. Someone here is right. And someone is definetly wrong, even though they both have STRONG different set of beliefs.

    If you think a pen is blue…and I think a pen is red….you are not close-minded when you tell me it is blue. Someone is right or wrong. Even if we both feel whole-heartedly in our conviction of the color of the pen.

    My point is, there is nothing wrong or ignorant with me coming to a conclusion on Christianity. And that it cant be right. B/C you say it is? Aren’t you being just like a close-minded fundamentalist telling me my way cant be true, there are too many holes. and then stating your view as the, or at least a more correct way?

    ‘Killing unbelievers doesn’t assure you a wonderful afterlife. It should ensure a speedy end to this life.’

    I completely agree.

    “No western religion encourages you to find the faith best suited to your beliefs. They do, however, promise you will burn in eternal damnation for questioning doctrine.”

    In my search in the depravity of mankind, sin in all cultures, the guilt associated throughout mankind, mans innate desire for sacrifice (Aztecs, Jews, Indians, Romans) the western religion of Christianity best suits my beliefs and what I have found. That Jesus is my sacrifice. That I am a sinner and He died for me.

    Also, if everybody just obtained a faith best suited to their beliefs where would that end? One could argue that is what Charles Manson did. (No, I am not saying the world would turn into Charles Mansons) But I am sorry if I see more sense in historical holy scriptures, than i do in picking and choosing, mixing and seeking my own ‘spiritual nirvana’…I have experienced a spiritual side of jogging, and I have experienced the love of Christ. I’ll take Christ.

    Anyways man, no disrespect, just good convo. I probably won’t post back but I’ll check it out if you write something…just cause im sure we could both go on for days and both feel very strongly on the issue. hope all is well and you have a good weekend.

    grace and peace.

    As a seeker man, you might find this interesting. ‘Evidence for Christianity’ by Josh McDowell…I am not saying you will agree, or it will change your views, etc. etc….just as someone who likes to challenge himself and different beliefs you might really enjoy it. Im a skeptic, Josh McDowell was a skeptic, CS Lewis was a skeptic, the author of Luke was a skeptic/historian of sorts…I respect your opinions more than I do someone just completely blowing it off, or completely acting like life is void of meaning like Dawkins.

    Reply
  9. JJ

    I will be in Ethiopia in a few months…maybe one day our paths would cross…I would more than glady buy you a beer. Jesus’ first miracle was water into wine…and wine throughout the Bible is in reference to joy/celebration. Jesus kept the party going is alls Im saying. haha…. Not all Christians are fire and brimstone Pat Robertsons.

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  10. Sockpuppet

    Love your little article! I was raised with no thoughts at all on religion. When I became suddenly single, I started going to church and progressed into fundamentalism. Studied all the time and could quote scripture for any situation. I believed in a really big, loving, can-do god. It was all so wonderful! Really! When it started getting crazy-wacky, after about 15 years of it, I pulled back to try to examine things with an open mind because I no longer “knew” the answers.

    Once I opened my mind to other possibilities and outlooks, I discovered the Bible is basically only a book on the same level as perhaps Greek mythology, full of exaggerations, contradictions, and downright mistakes. If my giant GOD could not protect HIS OWN WORD any better than that, then there’s something wrong. Without the Bible there is no Christianity. Then there’s the fact that no amount of prayer coming from hundreds of true believers, perhaps for a dying, suffering child even, will make any difference at all. Large studies done show no difference in those prayed for and not prayed for statistically.

    My big god was a fraud. I can’t believe in a lesser god that can and won’t help his own people that he loves so much or that he can’t (he’s god after all). The bible says to ask in prayer, believing, and he will do it. Not.

    Traveling (only to Mexico so far) has really shown me that being so sheltered in the US really closes your mind to any point of view but the one in your circle of influence. That goes for a lot of subjects, religion, politics, green issues, you name it! There’s a whole wonderful world out there with all kinds of wonderful (and not so wonderful) ideas and possibilities! So much world, so little time!

    Reply
  11. Turner

    @JJ

    “In the spiritually advanced and open-minded ‘East’, that search can end you up in prison.” I guess you’re referring to the Middle East? If not, tell me where. That search certainly end you up in prison in most parts of Asia. Actually, just clarify what you mean by that statement, because I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    You use good reasoning, but ultimately, you’re saying there must be a right answer and a wrong answer. Nothing is so cut-and-dry when it comes to figuring out the mysteries of our own existence.

    If Christianity is what best suits your beliefs, I say go for it, and fare thee well! My main gripe there, especially when it comes to raising children, is it doesn’t really give you an option growing up. Parental influence aside, no one tells you “figure out what you believe”. Rather, they’d be more inclined to say “this is what you should believe”.

    “Not all Christians are fire and brimstone Pat Robertsons.” Absolutely right, but what scares me even more are the “fire and brimstone” Christians who have so much influence over people – whether in news, politics, or entertainment.

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  12. Patrick

    Funny, I was thinking about just this subject this week. Both my parents were tour guides, and I spent weeks (months) our of school traveling the world with them…and my “belief” matches yours perfectly.

    The religion I can relate to the most is Buddhism as well, but just like you, I don’t fully agree with all Buddhist teachings.

    I believe in science and I’m ok with not knowing everything…I just try to keep an open mind.

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  13. Gimble

    I find that my travels have strengthened my faith rather diminished it. Meeting as many wonderful people as I have has opened my eyes to that of God in everyone. I think you are confusing parts of American culture with Christianity. Have you talked with non-American Christians? Many of them approach their spirituality from a very different frame of reference. Americans in general tend to be closed minded about anything that is not the norm in their own community and they have a tendency to roll their pride in their own culture/patriotism/religious beliefs together which means that challenging one aspect of any of those translates to challenging their entire belief structure about everything.

    Also keep in mind that the “crazies” get more airtime in American media, because the media follows sensational stories. Most American Christians don’t share the belief set of the “fire and brimstone” Christians, mentality, or lack of awareness.

    There is a strong tradition of theological debate in Christianity, but it is no longer taught in many churches, particularly independent churches that have sprung up in response to a charismatic leader rather than those that require their pastors to have a degree in theology from an accredited university. This change towards the independent churches has much more to do with the promise of an easy path (one that does not require years of study and contemplation, but instead simple following of rules) that appeals our modern culture.

    “No western religion encourages you to find the faith best suited to your beliefs. They do, however, promise you will burn in eternal damnation for questioning doctrine.”

    This is false. Quakers and Unitarians are both all about finding your own path and neither promises eternal damnation for anything. All Protestant traditions came out of questioning the Catholic churches take on doctrine. Baptists strongly believe that each person is responsible for reading the Bible and determining for themselves what it means. Their turn towards a hierarchical structure and expectations of unified belief is very recent.

    While I applaud you for opening the dialogue on this issue, and laying your own biases on the table at the beginning, you seem very ignorant about Western religious history and distinction between religious belief and cultural practices.

    The rise of a cultural sub group in the US that is focused on browbeating everyone into professing the same beliefs is worrisome but it isn’t unique to the US or Western culture or this period of history. Hopefully it will be marginalized before causing damage, but either way this too shall pass.

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  14. jj

    I am referring to China when I talk about owning a Bible, discussing Christ, etc. can end you up in prison or punished in many cases. Studies by Human Rights groups, and Religious Freedom groups more than back up this claim. (as in unbisased Christian studies)

    Again, I respect your views and opinions….but if you are holding firm to those b/c of your ‘facts of the world’, I think another look would show they don’t discredit Christianity in any way.

    I think Gimble made a lot of good points…and your opinions seem to reflect the American in general. Im sure a stereotype you have had to overcome in your travels. You are not what people thought you would be. In my guess, they were impressed with your hospitality and that you were nothing like they thought an American would be. (this is a point I would urge is the same for Christians. The Christians I met in Nicaragua were the most amazing people I have ever met, they truly reflected Christ to me)

    “You use good reasoning, but ultimately, you’re saying there must be a right answer and a wrong answer. Nothing is so cut-and-dry when it comes to figuring out the mysteries of our own existence.”

    I dont see why. And I guess this is where our opinions come to a complete respectful standstill…b/c each person has funadmentally different thoughts on whether you can come to a conclusion or not. But I feel the Universe screams preciseness. Screams amazingly perfect and exact answers. Mathematics. Physics. The distance the earth is from the sun, perfect. The orbit and rotation of the earth, perfect. Its not hard for me to believe in an exact God. That there is an exact answer in Jesus. (that is just one small reason why i feel there can be a cut and dry answer.)

    Your view on the upbrining of children and being told what to do…….Every Christian whether raised in the Church or not….has plenty of moments when they question. I have. I am a skeptic at heart. I dont believe news, gossip, etc…unless I can do some of my own research. I was raised in a Christian home and it wasn’t till college did Jesus become real to me. My point is, you, me, Gimble, a devout muslim, everyone at one point or another asks…Why do I believe, what I believe? No matter how they were raised.

    A Budhist or Taoist or anyone raised in an ‘eastern mindset’ has there own biases that are put on them intentional or not, even if they are told to ‘seek what suits your beliefs.’ You don’t think they have some pre-concieved notions on spirituality when they reach 20? This concept is not exclusive to a Christian home.

    Alright, I guess I’ll officially leave you alone..haha…hope all your upcoming travels are safe ones.

    Sidenote, you’re from Austin right? You a big Bob Schneider fan by any chance? I try to see him everytime he is in Dallas.

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  15. Jessica Skelton

    Great post. You highlight a very interesting point – how expanding one’s world view can have an effect on his or her beliefs/faith/spirituality/etc. I was raised and educated as a Catholic, really not by choice, just through upbringing. As a result of having religion more or less forced down my throat, I grew quite hostile to the idea of religion (western religion in particular). As I grew older and traveled and met people from differing backgrounds, I became fascinating with most religions, finding that each of them are valid in their own rights. I do not subscribe to any religion (not sure if I ever will, in all honesty), but as I’ve become a more seasoned traveler, I am certainly not as judgmental as I once was.

    It certainly seems like these overzealous religious types tend to be people who have never explored anywhere outside the confines of their own hometowns.

    Bold and thought-provoking post. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  16. GP

    Most people who have a problem with religion are turned off by arrogant, hypocritical religious leaders. So was Jesus. He was very critical of the religious leaders of his day – called them snakes. Jesus was a radical teacher who called people to love the unlovable, to care for the poor and the marginalized, to live a life of peace and praise. But that message gets obscured when Christian leaders have some other agenda.

    I recently saw a video where the author Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire) talks about her experience living as an atheist and how she was eventually drawn to God. It is much more authentic and completely different that what you hear from the tv preachers. http://iamsecond.com/#/seconds/Anne_Rice/

    Reply
  17. Pastor Bobby Dufrane

    Why I know That There is a God and That He Loves Me

    A Personal Testimony.

    Allow me to share a story. Not too long ago doubt was creeping into my head about the Lord and then a miracle happened.

    It was 3 years ago and 100 members of my church were enroute to a bible camp in the Blueridge Mountains of Virginia. They were traveling in a chartered bus. As they sang hymns, Satan was up to his old tricks. You see, the bus driver was an atheist alcoholic socialist and that day he was filling his coffee mug with vodka. As the bus wound up through the switchbacks, the driver became progressively drunker. Then it happened. It was that day that changed this poor sinner’s life forever. Entering a particularly tight switchback, the besotted driver finally lost control of the bus and it plummeted 1500 feet down into a ravine where it exploded into a fireball incinerating the flock. The only survivor that fateful day was a young boy who was thrown from the bus by his father seconds before it hit the bottom.

    This young boy suffered severe brain damage from hitting a rock head first and will have to wear a football helmet and drool cup for the remainder of his life. But his survival proved to me that miracles do happen because God does exist and loves me. The Lord used that accident to bring me back to his flock.

    Hallelujah!

    Praise Jesus! Just open your eyes to his miracles and you will see them everywhere.

    Reply
  18. Anf

    Wise words from a couple of guys you may have heard of…

    “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. ”
    – Dalai Lama

    “I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.” – Gandhi

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  19. Gracia

    Honest question…you have traveled all over, researched and dabbled in Budhism, discovered the ’spiritual side’ of running, pilgramage in Japan…have you ever put forth that much effort into researching the life and teachings of Christ? Not what your parents said. Not what you heard some Christian say…youve experienced ‘eastern religions’ with no preconcieved notions going in. Have you done the same with Christianity? A skeptic myself, my research has led me to a stronger faith and more confidence in the Bible than ever before. And again, I am not bashing what you wrote, just conversation…one traveler to another. The people in your picture show you might be stereotyping Christians the same way you hate that some people stereotype races, gender, etc. (and i hate that as well)

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  20. Jane

    I’m as conservative Christian as they come, and yet I consider myself very open minded and travel savvy. I see Christ in all corners of my travels and love meeting new people and hearing about their religions and beliefs. I find that many self described liberal Americans are sadly, the closed minded ones – when it comes to Christians.

    This article sounds like you have questions and issues with Christianity and you are searching for answers. I think it’s a stretch to link it all to a travel topic, but then again, religion is a world -wide commonality. I hope you find your answers, and I hope you come to know that there are open- minded and close- minded people in all areas of life.

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  21. drzeus

    from my experience traveling i’d agree that most fellow travelers tend towards eastern mysticism.
    i think the world can be divided into two groups of people: those who believe that “the ultimate” is communicable/knowable/relatable/can be fit into a box/manifests itself in a specific way….and those who don’t ascribe permanent labels to the mystery of existence.
    generally, the travelers i’ve met have been soul-searching and/or seeking to be opened up by the vastness and craziness of the world; the point is to be amazed by phenomena never thought of. anything that expands the world-view is golden.
    i think not subscribing to any particular religious beliefs suits the traveling life well and buddhist/hindu/taoist/etc ways of thinking provide a person with a framework to see the amazingness of other ways of thinking. if someone really wants to adhere to buddhist dogma about the way to live their life, fine; they’ll eventually have to give up that desire in order to live it.
    i’ve only ever met one man i percieved to be a true christian. he had the power of christ quietly (but obviously) flowing through his veins, a subtle halo of the holy spirit’s presence being a more convincing testimant than any amount of quoted bible verses or soapboxes on the virtues of christianity.
    beyond him, i’ve rarely met a vagabond whose spiritual/religious inclinations could be neatly labeled. the vast majority didn’t hold to a truth that was condemned to play itself out through particular details.
    in my experience travelers tend to surround themselves with a smorgasbord of religious inclinations, like a “spiritual sampler” refined over time.
    “love thy neighbor”
    “do no harm”
    “praise jah”
    “go with the flow”
    “etc”

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  22. Elaine

    “No western religion encourages you to find the faith best suited to your beliefs. They do, however, promise you will burn in eternal damnation for questioning doctrine.”

    Quick correction: I can’t speak for other religions but I know Mormons aren’t like that.

    1. I’ve /never/ been rebuked for asking questions (though there was this one time I said something that some stupid guy disagreed with and he kicked me out of my class, but we all agreed he was wrong anyway and eventually they asked him to stop teaching, BUT other than that situation, nada. Mormons love questions.).

    My teachers often suggest that we attend other churches, but I admit they haven’t encouraged us to convert to whatever religion suits us. My parents have been pretty open as well about me attending other religion’s meetings and reading up on them. If I converted to another religion they said would be sad, but would accept it—but that acceptance varies greatly from family to family.

    And I haven’t heard much dissing of other religions except for the odd “other religions believe this which doesn’t make sense because…” and I don’t think that really counts (and *sigh* there was the stupid guy again who hates Jews, but it’s really socially inappropriate to rag on other religions in Mormonism).

    2.We don’t believe in hell (well, we do, but you have to jump a lot of hoops to get there**).

    And on topic I think that those who’s worldviews expand at the very least become more accepting of others beliefs and give their current religious stance a once-over.

    **We call it outer darkness. Essentially, you have to have a full knowledge of Mormonism (Which involves you meeting God and him showing you the universe and you understanding everything and a lot of other stuff) and then you have to deny the existence of the Holy Ghost while knowing for absolute certainty that you are lying and have no doubts whatsoever that Holy Ghost exists. You can deny that God exists, insult Jesus in any way you please, but it’s the Holy Ghost that’ll getcha eternal torment. Also, we believe in several levels of heaven, of which murderers and rapists go to the lowest level of, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

    Reply
  23. Heather

    Really interesting article and discussion going on here. I became a Christian when I was 16 and faith is a huge part of my decision making and life vision, although I don’t write about it often in the travel community since it seems like many people equate being a Christian with being uneducated and close-minded. Unfortunately, much of the American “church” is more a system of traditions than a place where God’s spirit is alive, changing people’s lives and spurring people to social justice and love.

    I heard one pastor compare the American church to McDonald’s – it’s lost its glory and is no longer attractive to the culture because it is seen as boring and even bad for you. I completely agree that much of the American church is stagnant and dead and more legalistic (and political…don’t let me get started on that topic…) than spiritual.

    It’s interesting, while a travel writer could easily pitch and publish a story about a Buddhist experience, “enlightenment” or spiritual running, I’ve never even considered pitching a story involving my faith. I feel like being a follower of Christ is a taboo thing in the travel writing world, and since I don’t want editors and other writers to lump me in with the “Christian right” and other negative images of Christianity prevalent in our culture, I feel like I have to stifle the spiritual side of myself in my writing.

    Reply
  24. Justin

    @Heather: I would say head to Korea or the Philippines or Ethiopia: God is alive and kicking over there!

    As much as there once was in American pundit circles a talk about Islam needing a Reformation to survive this “civilization clash,” I think the Christian church could use one itself. The only two major branches of the faith I can think of whose traditions and rituals actively tap into the mystic side of Christianity are the United Church of Christ and the Pentecostals. Of course, growing up in the South too, you have to give mad props to the AME churches for making Jesus look like he’s throwing a party in your honor every day!

    I think travelers from Western, English-speaking countries find Eastern philosophies and religions fascinating because a) they are usually in another language and cultural setting, which are a traveler’s bread and butter, and b) these religions in general are, or are based in a country that is, tolerant and lacking in evangelical zeal like Christianity.

    I think most Protestant Christians would agree that spreading the gospels and such is tenant number 2 or 3 on the list, next to belief in Jesus Christ and whatever that entails according to denomination.

    And it’s not just in the West. Korea is the most Christian nation in East Asia, the only one where it really took off, and they share the evangelical nature of the West (I can’t tell you how many ‘no thanks’ in Korean I’ve said on Saturday mornings at my front door).

    The other religions/philosophies are either welcoming of outsider contact or quietly tolerant or aloof. Shinto is a purely Japanese thing not for foreigners, Taoism welcomes converts and students of it, Buddhism is always inviting in temple stay kids. So for travelers looking for new experiences, it isn’t like sitting in on a lecture in church, because each of these religions have some sort of activity or ‘welcome in, stranger’ attitude ingrained in the practice.

    These religions sort of have a natural ingrained tourism angle, whereas Christianity and Islam are sort of like browsing a used car dealership; sure, you can take a look, just let me show you this clipboard with this fantastic deal you could get right now. Not saying it’s pushy, it just comes with more involvement than a culture enthusiast would usually undertake.

    I think that most travelers, as they get more cultures under their belt, trend towards a universalist attitude, less an atheist or Eastern one. They see the nifty in each one, but inevitably contrast them with each other and also with whatever their home faith is or was. You could almost say it’s Buddhist, in its ‘all is impermanent’ ethos, but I think what some people experience is sort of like how they view maybe going to a grocery store in each country, ‘to each his own nuts and fruit loops.’ :)

    Reply
  25. Garrett

    Mike, how dare you allow such a hot button topic!

    With a post designed to stir arguments rather than arrive at a final opinion, I do believe you’re painting a picture with a rather wide brush.

    And Turner, you do have very strong opinions about Christians, most likely as strong as those that would come back at you in retort. Just realize that you’re no more divine, no more “evolved” than someone of strong faith.

    And faith is the answer. To argue rational points with someone of faith is an inherently unsuccessful endeavor. Why? Because faith needs no proof.

    At the end of the day you believe in your athetistic faith as much as a Baptist, a Catholic, a Buddhist or whatever religion you’d like to pick out of a hat.

    Good luck my friend.

    – Garrett
    (a non-practicing Catholic married to a hot Jewish woman)

    Reply
  26. Dana

    How sad. You sound just as judgmental, presumptuous and angry at views other than your own as you make your parents sound. You have become them despite your efforts not to.

    Not all Christians are ignorant, thoughtless and out to condemn you. We were not all raised to “believe” what ever was fed to us. Don’t assume all “Christians” are the same or like your parents.

    I was raised with hate in an anti-Christian family. I was a self proclaimed atheist practicing paganism. I hated Christians and Christianity more than you do sir and I didn’t even know why. I just did.

    Thanks to the benefit of liberal or conservative mantras you hear over and over now days. I see parrots in every belief system. Even more so in the ones that claim to be enlightened and conscious.

    Intolerance seems to flow more from those that preach tolerance. Really no difference between you and your parents sir. If you really want to break free of their bonds learn to see past your unforgiveness.

    Do you really truly think all Christians are the same? Are you judging them all by your small world?

    In the midst of my atheism came a split second visit from the Messiah Himself. I can understand the scoffers. I was one. But once you are faced with the Truth, you can no longer deny. I then only began to think, to question. Only then did I begin to read the Bible and not through the eyes of some preacher. I hate that as much as you. I read it for myself.

    Karma is a biblical concept, just different terms.

    Do you really want to be free? Read your own post and see if you can step outside of yourself and see it from another’s perspective. Have you really become any more enlightened than your parents?

    I hate religion as do you but I love Jesus the Messiah who’s Hebrew Name is Yehshua.
    Blessings to you and I hope that you find true growth, true freedom outside of parroting the mantras of yet another “religion”

    Dana

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  27. Andy

    Hi.

    I’ve done a fair bit of travelling, mostly by thumb or the good ol’ greyhound. With a wife and child it’s hard to save up enough cash to get across the pond, but Canada is big enough that you can travel all your life and not see it all!

    I think Jesus Christ is the greatest person to walk to the earth. Lots of people know about ‘The Church’ or ‘Christianity’ but not a lot of people really dig Jesus the man. Who else takes the time to hang out with prostitutes and thieves and not only that but to offer them hope and some answers on how to live a proper life?

    I can see people levelling criticism at the ‘Church’ or some pontiff of a religion but to throw mud at a man who was stuck up on 2 big sticks with a couple of nails and his last words included forgiveness for his oppressors and killers? To the man who asks his disciple to care for his mother? To say that the guy who heals the unclean and dines with the sinner and not the ‘saint/pharisee’ is somehow a tyrannical Hitler? Who else raises mankind to that level? What other man dies for people that hate his guts, not for pay, not for glory, not for ‘social justice’. Just does it because He obeys his Gods will for him. What eastern religion has the Son of God standing on the sidelines encouraging you to be the most upright, honest, selfless person you can be?

    Reply
  28. Malola

    Hello…
    Awesome topic and good way to address it…
    I notice there are some people who seem to be affected byt that… Well, not really “affected” (I can’t think of a better word rigth now)…
    Anyway… I guess we all can make our opinions…
    In any case, I do agree with you in one point and I always try to keep it mind when I’m listening to what religious people say regarding their believes: My atheims is as important as to me as their religion is to them… :D
    May I ask where in Japan you did pilmigrage??
    I wanted to do Kumano kodou… The whole travel seems amazing and I’d be cool to spot a monk or something.

    Reply
  29. Vinayak upadhyay

    In narrate my understanding down to some points

    1.Even in buddhist religion there are practises that actully makes a buddhist family to send their one child to the monestry so whole his life .. i am not questioning particularly buddhist religion or any other religion what i am saying is every religion has their own sets of difficulties that the followers has to follow blindly…

    2. In terms of travellers not tourist and particularly from western countries where family is not a major source of economic, and career development in case of grown up travellers above 20 this is just different if i could have food to eat, place to work,and make money myself. dont care about my parents or dont have that much desire of getting married would i ever realize what is going to give me any important things in life?

    3.As your blogs says.. the truth is different…may be we are still looking and there is nothing right or nothing wrong..

    Reply
  30. Amber

    awesome article! Can’t wait to come back and read all the comments and make my own! :)

    Reply

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