Acceptance and tolerance  

Posted by Laya in

When I was in high school, every Monday in the school year was always special. There was a program after the flag ceremony, hosted by a different class each week, revolving about different themes. The program mostly consisted of a solo by the class singer, a short play that we referred to as the playlet, a talk by the class adviser on the theme, a dance number and a couple of choral performances by the whole class.

In our second year, our class was assigned the theme "Love of God." Our class adviser was faced with the challenge of interpreting the theme when her class was made up of students from more than ten different churches, including Roman Catholics and Muslims. As a result, she taught us two songs, which have stayed with at least one of her students up to today, over fifteen years later. They were "One God," which I later found to be a Streisand song, and "Up With People."

One God

Millions of stars placed in the skies by one God
Millions of men lift up their hearts to one God
So many people calling to Him by many different names
One Father, loving each the same.

Many the ways all of us pray to one God
Many the paths winding their ways to one God,
Walk with me brother, there are no strangers
After His work is done
For your God and my God are one.

Yes, brother, for your God and my God are one.

Up With People

Up, up with people,
you meet them wherever you go.
Up, up with people
they're the best kind of folks we know.
If more people were for
people and people everywhere
There'd be a lot less people to worry about
and a lot more people who care...

It happened just this morning
I was walking down the street
a newsboy and a postman
and a policeman I did meet
There in every window and at every single door
I recognized people I'd never noticed before...

People from the southland
and people from the north
Like a mighty army I saw them coming forth
Twas a great reunion, be afitting of a king
Then I realized people are more important than things...

Inside everybody,
there's some bad and there's some good
but don't let anybody start attacking peoplehood
love them as they are and fight for them to be
the great men and great women that God wants them to be...

Looking back on it, I see what a good thing my teacher had done. With just two songs, she taught her students, adolescents growing up in a small town in Mindanao, the value of acceptance and tolerance. Our small public school had students from many indigenous groups and churches going to it... Roman Catholic, Muslim, Baptist, Iglesia ni Cristo, Seventh Day Adventist, Methodist, Aglipayan, UCCP, to name a few. Picking any religious song, any song on faith, from the hymnbooks of any of the big churches would have been sure to provoke mutiny on one side or another. She taught us, instead, that "so many people call to him by many different names," but He is "one father, loving each the same." She taught us to love people "as they are and fight for them to be the great men and great women that God wants them to be."

In such diverse groups, it is easy for people to take sides and call one another names just because others are "not our sort of people." It is easy to denigrate others for being "poor," "ignorant," "illiterate," and "uncivilized," just because they are not of our culture, easy to insult and curse others because we feel that we are better than they are, that we are more entitled than they are. Yet, I hope that on my home island, people are also beginning to realize that we are all brothers under the skin, although we are segregated by religion and tribe. In some areas, harmony is actually possible, as long as people practise tolerance and acceptance, and as long as others don't come in and remind them that they should be banding together against one another. In my home town, that harmony has been achieved, and I hope that not even the escalating violence in the rest of the island will not disturb that accord.

I hope, too, that the students of 2nd Year Anthurium 1992-1993 will never forget the two songs that our class adviser taught us.

I'm not very religious anymore... I discovered that in my case the belief that all men are brothers is mostly incompatible with a creed that requires evangelization of others. I had arguments with more than one friend over the issue; one of them who belongs to another church tried to persuade me to attend her bible study group. I refused, on the ground that I do not even attend my own church's bible study groups. The argument escalated to the point where she called me "ungodly" and a "sinner" because I do not study the bible as much as she does. At that time I had been reading Robert A. Heinlein's Revolt in 2100, and I pulled out my copy and quoted Zeb in If This Goes On--- "My religious faith is a private matter between me and my God... what my religious beliefs are you will have to judge by my actions for you are not invited to question me about them. I decline to explain or to justify them to you... nor to anyone. I believe that everyone... should be generous to the poor... I believe he should lay down his life for his brothers, should it be required of him. But I don't propose to prove any of these things, for they are beyond proof, nor do I demand that you believe as I do." The effect of that grand speech was that my friend, who also happened to be one of my roommates in the college dorm, ignored me for a whole semester. But at least I was free of someone preaching to me.

Years later, I had another argument with a friend who belongs to a church whose members consider themselves "chosen ones." A debate over being "chosen," which was the premise she made for inviting me to attend their church, led to her likening her church to the Israelites. I had asked why, if there was a chosen people, did God create the diverse peoples of the world. Was he not supposed to be a fair and just God? Why would he show favoritism? There was only one people that God would save, she argued. All others were doomed. That was the way of the world. In which case, I told her, I did not want any part of her God, for he was not good. And either way, I told her, if the Israelites were the chosen ones, she was not an Israelite but a Filipino, so she wouldn't be saved either. She didn't speak for me for half a year.

Right now, I steer shy of religion. I'm not knocking any churches... if others find comfort in their beliefs, then that is their concern. I just believe in live and let live.

This entry was posted at Monday, July 06, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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