Sometimes it’s easy to forget that little goes unnoticed. No longer can man (or state) be an island; even the smallest acts impact others, as technology increasingly proves. This can both expand our understanding and narrow our impressions.
The information superhighway brought me a new friend. A Canadian gentleman emailed from Toronto; he stumbled across events in Idaho while reading The Times of India. A professional engineer who once lived and worked in India (among other countries), he is in the habit of reading 10 newspapers daily from around the world. So instead of accepting only one viewpoint from an Indian newspaper, he searched for “Idaho’s perspective,” and among other stories found my column in the Press. He offered no judgment, other than to politely comment that the overview of Hinduism I’d written about was well researched and accurately expressed.
In case you missed it, a man named Rajan Zed, internationally recognized for his work on religious tolerance, offered to say Hindu mantras (prayers) about peace and selflessness at the Idaho Senate, where there is a daily invocation. Mr. Zed has done this in other states and was welcomed by officials including Gov. Otter and some legislators.
However, a few very vocal senators rudely walked out during the prayer, including North Idaho’s Steve Vick, who protested, saying the U.S. is “a Christian nation” (whatever the U.S. is or isn’t, stifling speech in a public forum is generally not the American way). Vick added that Hindus worship cows (they don’t; cows are respectfully protected as a limited food source but not divine). Another who left, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, made several more inaccurate or insulting statements about Hinduism, including suggesting they are polytheists (they’re not; Hindus believe in one god, who has many aspects or roles). These senators have refused requests to publicly reconsider assumptions or apologize.
The irony here is that the religion met with such rigid reaction has no rigid set of beliefs, beyond a few basics. Hinduism is one of the most open-minded and liberal religions, without one overarching text or leader, allowing its followers – especially among different cultures and geographies – to refine whatever resonates true for the individual. (To an extent, Buddhists and Quakers do the same.)
It isn’t only Indian newspapers covering the story. Articles continue to appear across the globe, including major U.S. networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) and US News and World Report; Huffington Post and other comment-oriented websites; news organizations in Nevada, Texas, Oregon, West Virginia, and D.C.; and nations reached by the U.K.’s Daily Mail and the many countries served by the Al Jazeera Media Network – to name just a few.
Let’s face it; not many people outside the area know Idaho from Iowa. Our state’s reputation is built on stories such as this one, which tends to create a lopsided impression. While we’re still garnering attention, a pushback might balance things out. How many Idahoans see this differently from Sens. Vick and Nuxoll, have the open minds to have welcomed hearing another’s prayer and perhaps reconsidered preconceptions?
Idahoans are more diverse of thought, opinion, and background than this story may imply. There are times which merit intentional expression of that diversity. I’d like my new Canadian friend and others following the story from afar (who may not have the time to research as thoroughly as did he) to have the opportunity to know all of us, not only some of us.