Friday, 18 March 2011

“Are you religious?” she asked.

On Tuesday night at 'The Way' Martial Arts Academy of Seoul my lesson was focussed on self-defence. This month on every Tuesday evening the Taekwon-Do class is open and free for anyone who wants to join and my lessons are more geared at real-life practicality, rather than the other various aspects one could cover in Taekwon-Do. Two or three people made use of the free class this past Tuesday. One of whom considered joining the gym so I took her over to the roster posted on the bulletin board by the entrance where I discussed with her the different training options and times available.

Suddenly she interrupted me and asked: “Are you religious?” Her question coming out of the blue just did not make sense to me. I have just taught her an hour long class on how to physically harm someone – why on earth would she “suspect” me of being religious. Be that as it may, I answered truthfully.

“Yes, I am.”

“You can tell,” she said.

“You can?”

“It's in the way you talk.”

“The way I talk?!”

I just couldn't understand how she could tell that I am religious from the way I explained to her the different martial art training options available, or the different times she could train, or the different packages she could choose and how much each one costs. I mean, how does a non-religious person explain different packages and fee options for martial art classes? Obviously I didn't use profane language as I was speaking to her and neither can I imagine any professional non-religious person using foul language while talking to a prospective client either, so the way I “talk” must involve more than merely my choice of adjectives.

Of course this made me think of Peter, the disciple of Jesus who after Jesus was captured and put on trial by the Sanhedrin, was “outed” because of the way he talked (Mark 14:70).

What I further found curious about this incident was that she never asked what my religious convictions are. It seemingly didn't matter whether I'm Christian or Buddhist, Hindu or Moslem. And I'm still not sure if her observation was a compliment or a sly insult. After mentioning that she could tell that I am religious from the way I speak, she mentioned that she “used to be religious.” I couldn't tell whether she is an atheist and that she is now more mature – as some atheist tend to think of themselves – and that it therefore doesn't matter what religion I adhere to, because it is all a little beneath her and that she doesn't need any of these religious crutches that us weaklings need to have to have a fulfilled life. Or was her comment that she “used to be religious” a sentimental moment – that she had somehow lost her faith and became non-practising but still somehow believe in a higher reality, a greater power or teleological narrative. And if so, then her statement was a compliment of sorts, because she could somehow notice something of that which she had lost as something I still have. While I don't claim to be a good example, a model Christian, or even one that “believes” in the same sense that stereotypical Christians do or even generally the same stuff that mainstream Christianity stands for, I do believe in a higher reality, a greater power and yes, some kind of teleological concept. And yes, even though I really dislike the term and even the idea of “religion,” it cannot be ignored that I do have a sense of trust and a type of relationship with (my concept of) God.

Like so many others of my generation, I am quite sceptical of “religion” and prefer the slightly less tainted word “spiritual” as a descriptive of what I am. Religion and even more so the Afrikaans word godsdiens [“god-service”] is very much something I disassociate myself with primarily on the philosophical ground that God – if we take God to be perfect; i.e. all-powerful and self-sufficient – does not need our service. On the contrary it is us, being imperfect, who need God. This then being a basic difference between the typical religious person and I, but also between the militant atheist and I. There are those atheists who pities my believe that we need God. It is a sign to them of my evolutionary immaturity and that I have yet to achieve self-actualization. Furthermore, since I'm of the opinion that there is in practise nothing we could truly do for God, seeing as a perfect God is innately in need of nothing, I am at odds with the typical Christian and practically all of the religious world as well. The typical religious person believes that there are certain things that we ought to do (or not to do) towards God in order to get God's favour; for instance, we ought to worship God or, on the other hand, not do bad things – the though shalt nots. No, if God does require certain things of us, it is definitely not because God has any need of such things, but because it would be to our benefit. Not killing each other, not stealing from each other, not coveting, and the rest, has practical advantages to us. It is that simple. The reason I choose to worship God is not because I think I have to do so to get into God's good books, but because I actually believe God to be worthy of worship; i.e. praiseworthy.  

And what was supposed to be a short description of my interesting experience on Tuesday had become a little philosophical and, yes, theological exposé. So I guess it is true, one can hear from the way I talk that I am religious . . .

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