Which day or days do you think are holidays—in the literal sense of holy days?
My own answer to the question has been settled for a number of years, and has served me well. I'll say more about that in the concluding paragraph.
Two books nicely epitomize two contrasting ways of answering the question. The first is Yann Martel's 2001 novel, Life of Pi, which I reviewed on Monday. The other is a book mentioned recently in a local newspaper; I'll identify it later. For now, consider the following passage from Life of Pi:
"What is your son doing going to temple?" asked the priest.I find this passage hilarious—even without Ravi's joke. It's probably my favorite passage in the whole book. Having three pompous clerics vie for the supremacy of each one's set of religious pretenses demonstrates the irrelevance of all three. Pi of course may—or may not—see something underneath the pretense, in the same way that some clerically religious people—despite their church membership—put little stock in dogma and focus on what's important. In Pi's case, even at the end of the book, it isn't clear to me what his religious extravagance is about.
"Your son was seen in church crossing himself," said the imam.
"Your son has gone Muslim," said the pandit.
Yes, it was all forcefully brought to the attention of my bemused parents. You see, they didn't know. They didn't know that I was a practising Hindu, Christian, and Muslim....
My parents looked puzzled to have their way gently blocked by three broadly smiling religious strangers....
After the "Hellos" and the "Good days," there was an awkward silence. The priest broke it when he said, with pride in his voice, "Piscine is a good Christian boy. I hope to see him join our choir soon."
My parents, the pandit, and the imam looked surprised.
"You must be mistaken. He's a good Muslim boy. He comes without fail to Friday prayer, and his knowledge of the Holy Qur'an is coming along nicely." So said the imam.
My parents, the priest, and the pandit looked incredulous.
The pandit spoke. "You're both wrong. He's a good Hindu boy. I see him all the time at the temple coming for darshan and performing puja."
My parents, the imam, and the priest looked astounded.
"There is no mistake," said the priest. "I know this boy. He is Piscine Molitor Patel and he's a Christian."
"I know him too, and I tell you he's a Muslim," asserted the imam.
"Nonsense!" cried the pandit. "Piscine was born a Hindu, lives a Hindu, and will die a Hindu!"
The three wise men stared at each other, breathless and disbelieving.
Lord, avert their eyes from me, I whispered in my soul.
All eyes fell upon me.
"Piscine, can this be true?" asked the imam earnestly. "Hindus and Christians are idolaters. They have many gods."
"And Muslims have many wives," responded the pandit.
The priest looked askance at both of them. "Piscine," he nearly whispered, "there is salvation only in Jesus."
"Balderdash! Christians know nothing about religion," said the pandit.
"They strayed long ago from God's path," said the imam.
"Where's God in your religion?" snapped the priest. "You don't have a single miracle to show for it. What kind of religion is that, without miracles?"
"It isn't a circus with dead people jumping out of tombs all the time, that's what! We Muslims stick to the essential miracle of existence. Birds flying, rain falling, crops growing—these are miracles enough for us."
"Feathers and rain are all very nice, but we like to know that God is truly with us."
"Is that so? Well, a whole lot of good it God to be with you—you tried to kill him! You hanged him to a cross with great big nails. Is that a civilized way to treat a prophet? The prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—brought us the word of God without any undignified nonsense and died at a ripe old age."
"The word of God? To that illiterate merchant of yours in the middle of the desert? Those were drooling epileptic fits brought on by the swaying of his camel, not divine revelation. That, or the sun frying his brains!"
"If the Prophet—p.b.u.h.—were alive, he would have choice words for you," replied the imam, with narrowed eyes.
"Well, he's not! Christ is alive, while your old 'p.b.u.h.' is dead, dead, dead!"
Ravi [my older brother] had a field day of it when he found out.
"So, Swami Jesus, will you go on the hajj this year?" he said, bringing the palms of his hands together in front of his face in a reverent namaskar. "Does Mecca beckon?" He crossed himself. "Or will it be to Rome for your coronation as the next Pope Pius?" He drew in the air a Greek letter, making clear the spelling of his mockery. "Have you time yet to get the end of your pecker cut off and become a Jew? At the rate you're going, if you to to temple on Thursday, mosque on Friday, synagogue on Saturday, and church on Sunday, you only need to convert to three more religions to be on holiday for the rest of your life."... [pp. 64-67, 70]
The second book, whose title alone answers the question about which days are holy, is magician Penn Jillette's Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday. I haven't read the book, but its title is similar to what I might call a book of my own on this subject; if any day is holy, every day is.
Atheism, besides recommending itself by rejecting the absurdities and pretenses of religion, has the additional huge benefit of restoring sanity to the way we account days. On my view—and apparently on Mr. Jillette's—every day is holy in the sense that it is our reality, and we undervalue it to our spiritual detriment—"at our soul's peril," you might say, if you're comfortable with that sort of talk.
That is my Credo, I suppose, in a nutshell—What I Believe about Life. While I don't think of it as a religious credo in the narrow, theistic sense, I acknowledge that in a wider sense—one that might neutrally be termed "spiritual"—it is religious. It takes life seriously, it acknowledges that I will no longer exist when the atoms of my body stop being me, it accepts that we are all in this together and we won't pass this way again.
My Credo has enabled me to love and respect all sentient beings, to take pleasure in simple things like everyday chores, to play at my work, to find beauty in ordinary things, to want what I have, to joy in gratitude.
Copyright © 2013 by Morris Dean