Should I stay or Should I go?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why people convert from one faith to another. Conversion…migration…diaspora, for the purpose of this post they are basically the same thing. Why do people migrate from one place to another? Why do people convert from one belief system to another?
The only universal constant is change but the reason for that change isn’t constant for the world or for people. People tend to want or need change because their needs aren’t being met. New house, new car, new wife or husband etc.
People migrate countries for the same reason. Something about where they currently live isn’t meeting their needs or desires. Making the choice as to where to move isn’t an easy one but I believe migrants move to a place where they believe the thing they lack most can be fulfilled. Could be work, safety, better education or freedom to practice your faith unobstructed.
I included the term diaspora, mass migration of a particular population of persons either voluntary or involuntary. History records many diasporas but in this case I’m speaking of the current diaspora from Christianity. In this particular case the numbers of Christians converting to other faiths or to no faith at all. It’s bad enough that the Catholic Church considers it a crisis. I’ve run that crisis statement through my head for a long time and I’ve always wondered…If what you preach and teach is the truth then why are so many people leaving the faith? It’s a conundrum really. But the real question: if people are leaving, where are they going and why?
I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for myself. I fell in love with a faith that sees God in all living things, doesn’t see color, gender or origin. One that believes in defending the defenseless, feeding the hungry, and taking care of the destitute. A belief that says we all pray to the same God so why disparage. I read about Guru’s that are willing to martyr themselves in defense of other faiths, build houses of worship for people of other faiths so they have a place to pray.
I grew up in a faith that will tell you there is only one way to believe, that men are somehow the dominant gender, and humans were given dominion over the earth. We were taught animals don’t have souls…apparently they’ve never looked into my dogs eyes. After Sikhi found me I could no longer live in a faith that confused me and that I couldn’t accept even some of the most basic tenets. My most basic spiritual needs weren’t being met. So I migrated…converted. I have been changed.
Sikhi moved to the west as a result of a diaspora of people from the Punjab region of India because of mistreatment by the Indian Government and an attack on one of Sikhs most sacred sites, the Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) and the Akahl Takht in 1984. This isn’t a history lesson so I won’t drone on. The Sikhs required change because they wanted a safe place to practice their faith and no longer be persecuted…change.
When Sikhi moved to the west another change occurred as a result of a yogi that came to the US in the late 60’s. A group of Americans who were desperately looking for some level of peace were attracted to his teachings and the Kundalini Yoga he practiced. A result of that was a pretty drastic shift from what I refer to as traditional Sikhi…change…convert
I often wonder if traditional Sikhs understood that their diaspora would eventually attract western converts. I tend to believe that answer is no. One of the reasons I say that is I have read stories from converts in the US and have found a common experience. When a westerner enters a traditional Gurdwara the reception is anything but warm, at least in the beginning. A group of people who moved to create a better life find it difficult to help facilitate the spiritual change that western converts so desire. I’m not being critical,I’m just making an observation.
There are some fairly huge cultural differences between Punjabi’s and Americans. I can only imagine how hard it is to hold on to your identity when you move to a place that has almost nothing in common with where you left. I’ll bet it’s even stranger when people who culturally have nothing in common with you want to enter the one place where your culture is still in tact. The one thing I know is that Sikhi is not cultural although there are cultural aspects only as a result of where the faith was born.
For Sikhi to thrive in the west it will have to change. Not the beliefs, not the core tenets of the faith, not even Rehat. The change has to be from within the traditional Sikh community, to see Sikhi as a faith without Punjabi cultural influence. To accept with open arms western converts, help nurture their conversion, education, and understanding.
Change is inevitable, converts will come to the doors of the Gurdwara looking for a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment. These are the changes that will help Sikhi thrive in the west.
Change is happening within the traditional Sikh community, very slowly but it is happening. The younger generation of traditional Sikhs are reaching out, I have experienced this myself recently and am truly appreciative. Toronto Singhs Camp reached out at a very low point for me and let me know I was welcome. Change is inevitable and I hope in my lifetime that Sikh converts are as common and welcome in the traditional Sikh community as Punjabi Sikhs are.