Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Kipling has an extraordinary ability to make India come to life for the reader. He mentions the smells, the colors, the noise, the customs, and the landscapes. The part that contrasts most vividly from current American life is the amalgam of religions and, more materially, how respect for a religious observer increases proportionally to the level of strangeness the faith requires.

In the United States, religious observance is the norm. Most people affiliate with a religion, even if only in a vague, non-practicing way. The accepted religious affiliation is "christian" in a Catholic/Protestant denomination. The farther a person strays from this connection, the more he is looked on with suspicion. Mormon--weird, but generally harmless. 7th Day--annoying but tolerable. Quaker--antiquated, but nice.

At that point, the only other options are fringe religions (Scientologists), or romanticized religions (Buddhism). Atheism or agnosticism is acceptable as long as you are white, rich, and educated. Muslim is outside the bounds of acceptability. Jewishness comes in and out of vogue. Usually out.

But the primary thing to remember, if you are in the United States and want to maintain a generally acceptable profile, is to always avoid the taint of true, avid, heart and soul religious belief and observance. For heaven's sake--white Americans can't handle emotion and even more they can't handle behaviour that is based on fervent belief of something they don't believe. Religious devotion is great--religious strangeness is not.

The difference in Kim couldn't be more plain. First, Kim served the lama without the least interest in Buddhism. A strange old man comes by looking for a river that will purify him and Kim immediately assumes the lama is the holiest man he'd ever met. Moreover, Kim reverences the lama for his religiosity despite his own lack of the same. Every time the lama is introduced to people they believe his sincerity and respect his status as a holy man. They lack the incredulity that our current society would display on meeting a similar person.

In fact, the exact opposite of American religious preferences exist in Kim's India. Where we embrace the norm, the Indians distrusted the run-of-the-mill religious people as avaricious. In the United States those who worship in an extreme way are considered unbalanced and most likely prone to violence and/or other gross sins. At the very least, they are considered ignorant. In Kim's India, the more extreme a person is in his religious observance the more respect he garnered from those around him.

In reading Kim, I found the acceptance of all religious visions/quests/searches as holy and important rather refreshing. Truly, a man's religious journey is far more important than any other facet of his life and should be celebrated and supported. I find I prefer a society that reverences spirituality in all its manifestations. That might be because I'm Mormon and therefore borderline nutty. Hmm.

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