It’s not easy being non-Christian in Chilliwack if the story of Richard Ajabu is any indication. His story got me thinking about holy texts, lessons of tolerance and free stuff.
My initial reaction to the story about the distribution of Bibles in the Chilliwack school district was exactly the same as Ajabu’s, the source of the story. He’s the parent who objected to Gideon’s International, an evangelical Christian organization, giving free Bibles to Grade 5 students with parental permission. “Imagine how Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and children of other religions feel knowing that [School District 33] gives preferential access to Christian marketing?” he’s quoted as saying in our sister paper the Chilliwack Times.
Good question, though he forgot to include agnostics and atheists among those who might feel excluded by the Gideon book donation.
I’m wary of proselytizing religions hell bent on converting so-called non-believers to their faith. Faith should be a private matter. If a religion intrigues or attracts me, I’d rather go knocking on its door rather have than its followers knocking on mine… invariably when I’m in ratty pajamas trying to do my Saturday house cleaning or over dinner when I’m trying to catch up on everyone’s day.
There is a part of me, however, that likes free stuff. And who doesn’t like to learn about other people past and present, history, truth (whose truth?) and how one person can have such a completely different interpretation of a religious text than someone else? The Bible has been the source of inspiration for many writers and artists over the centuries, and has often provided the foundation for their work. To know the Bible, of which I only know a smattering, is to better understand classic works of literature as folks with English degrees like to tell me. Knowing the Bible well also helps fight back against those who like to quote scripture (“The Bible clearly says…”) for narrow-minded purposes. I like one this from Matthew 6:1: “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them.”
So Gideon, fire me over a Bible (send it to 1574 West Sixth Ave. Vancouver, B.C. V6J 1R2 c/o Fiona Hughes). My mini silver-coloured Bible, which I diligently read nightly when I was about 10 for fear I’d perish in the fires of hell and have to forever listen to the screams of tormented souls if I didn’t, is falling apart.
I also have a Koran, which I found in my parents house a few years ago. Before slipping it into my suitcase, which I have normally done with books I didn’t think they’d miss, I asked if I could have it. It was given to my father from one of his good friends who is Muslim. Or so the story goes. My father is not around anymore to confirm or deny the details of the provenance of the book. Sadly, however, this version of the Koran is so densely written that my feeble brain can barely grasp one paragraph. But I like to take a stab at it every few months when I have a moment alone at home. If someone can suggest an easier-to-read Koran, please contact me.
Speaking of free religious tomes, when a co-worker’s Catholic mother became a Canadian citizen in the 1970s, the Government of Canada offered her the choice between the Bible or the Torah at the Calgary citizenship ceremony. She chose the Torah. (She already had a Bible.) My parents were ripped off. They were offered no such parting gift when they also became citizens in the 1970s.
What this really boils down to is fairness. If the gift-giving Gideons can donate Bibles, then all faiths should be able to donate their holy texts and sutras to balance the Christian marketing that is allowed in the Chilliwack school district (and wherever else these donations occur in Canada). Let’s make it a lesson in world religions for those Grade 5 pupils.
But we can’t stop there. If we’ve agreed to allow holy texts into public school classrooms then so must works that question these faiths be permitted. The works of atheists Kai Nielsen, Daniel C. Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens spring to mind.
If the Bible is allowed, then so must all others. Shouldn’t teaching critical thinking to our children be a top priority? Somehow I doubt the Chilliwack school district will go for it: “Hey kids, here’s Gideon’s Bible and Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Happy reading and don’t forget to talk to your parents if you have any questions.”
As for Mr. Ajabu—who a letter writer to the Chilliwack Times said should go back to his own country and practice his religion there on the assumption he was from elsewhere because of his surname—keep fighting the good fight.