Giving out Jesus
videos at schools
Recently our community was inundated with the dissemination of the Jesus video by mail and through distribution by students in the public schools. We must acknowledge that the participants meant well, though they may not recognize the further implications of their actions. The offering of the video by students could be defined as a student-inspired action and therefore legal.
From the Buddhist point of view, however, the question remains whether it was ethical or appropriate, since it appears that the students were enabled or exploited in their effort by adults who had agendas of their own and provided the resources. Therefore, we must ask whether it was a totally student-inspired event with the good of the school itself as the focus.
Our United States is distinctive by defining religious freedom to include propagation of one's faith freely. There are numerous countries that define religious freedom as believing what you want as long as you keep it to yourself, totally private and personal. All public displays or actions are prohibited. Communist China is a case in point in its long-standing restrictions on the Christian Church and persecution of the Falun Gong movement.
While in the United States we have the right to share our faith with others freely in the public domain, it is generally understood that such propagation should respect the rights of others and maintain the integrity of our public institutions. In Buddhism this is seen as reciprocity resulting from our interdependence in maintaining the welfare of all our people.
The motto on the seal of our nation is "E pluribus unum," meaning from many (peoples and faiths), one (nation). A Pure Realm Buddhist Scripture relates that in the ideal spiritual world, or Pure Realm, there are trees with leaves of varied colors which make beautiful music together in the breeze. The world of nature is marked by its diversity, working in harmony.
The distribution of the video and the method by which it was carried out compromise the integrity and function of our schools. Having established this precedent, others movements may claim the same privilege to organize students to disseminate their ideology. This can result in making the schools a field for disseminating propaganda.
Such efforts, if not carefully considered, may encourage and increase religious conflict within the community and among students, if competing groups employ students as a means of promoting their views, and claim their effort is student-inspired. Our schools thereby may become a field for proselytizing, which detracts from their educational function.
While it is proper to share one's beliefs, consideration for others in the process is important. Our institutions, and certainly our schools, serve all of us. All major religious traditions subscribe to the Golden Rule that we should not do to others what we don't wish done to ourselves. If we keep in mind the reciprocity necessary for social harmony and that religious faith spreads more by example and spirit, we can achieve the same goal while avoiding religiously divisive efforts.
Alfred Bloom is a retired minister with the Honpa Hongwanji Mission and a University of Hawaii professor emeritus.