The Cure for Bigotry is Travel

I’m just now beginning to unwrap a few of the insights that I gathered from a three week vacation to the Far East. As you know, Liz and I spent five days in Hong Kong and then two weeks on an Asian cruise that visited various ports of call in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore. It was truly the trip of a lifetime.

This trip was the first time for either of us to visit this particular part of the world. It was certainly an eye opening experience for us. As Mark Twain once wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

For the most part Americans have a fairly limited understanding of cultures beyond our boarders. We make big assumptions that may or may not be grounded in truth or fact. It turns out that Asian cultures are way more diverse than I ever thought. It was common to see evidence of multiple religious traditions on display as you walked the streets of every country we visited. Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Muslims, and Christians, all lived and worked beside each other. This brings a whole new dimension to the basic Christian understanding of loving your neighbor as yourself.

Our last stop was in Singapore. This small city-state nation has figured out the secret to making room for a multitude of religious traditions. Everyone celebrates and honors everyone else’s religious holidays. Christians take part in celebrating Chinese New Year. Muslims observed the Hindu celebrations and parades with appropriate respect. Hindus made room to respectfully embrace the basic traditions of Islam. You can freely wear the unique clothing of your religious tradition that easily identifies who you are without any fear of suffering or retribution.

I know there are those here in the US who believe, “It is my way or the highway”. I know there are those who believe in an artificial purity of belief as a prerequisite for belonging. For me it was refreshing to see “freedom of religion” a founding principle of the United States, being practiced with such grace and purpose. There are so many things that we do well here in America. Yet there are certain lessons in life that we can take away from other cultures in foreign lands.

Fr. Mark +