Last night I watched three short documentaries on Google. One was about Jehovah Witnesses witnessing to people in Times Square, another was on skin heads, and the third told the life story of the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens who converted to Islam. The common thread for me in the three stories was the power of belief systems.
The Jehovah Witnesses were impressive in regard to their persistence in going up to strangers in order to offer their belief system. They were relentless, even though in the fifteen or so approaches shown, it didn’t really seem like anybody was particularly interested in seriously taking them up on their offer. They seemed to be sincere in their desire to offer some hope in the despair of the world. Their belief system strikes me as a bunch of hooey, but it seemed to get them going.
The skin heads were scary, as you would expect. The documentary showed a bunch of white teenage boys who were alienated from their parents and just about everything else being taken under the wing of an older man who indoctrinated them with an adoration of the worldview of the Nazis. The man, in his own way, seemed to care for these boys. There was a palpable sense of belonging amongs the dozen or so young men gathered in this man’s house. It was, of course, based on hatred towards the rest of the world. Why is it so tough for people to feel a sense of belonging without focusing on those who are excluded from the belonging?
The most appealing figure of the three videos was the former Cat Stevens. It described the spiritual quest he found himself on after he had become a superstar. Once he became so sick he nearly died, and another time he nearly drowned, and both experiences seemed to push him to deeply the ask the question, what is life really all about? He was raised Roman Catholic, and apparently explored a variety of spiritual paths, before stumbling upon Islam, which just seemed to click for him. He turned his back on the life of a pop star with all its accolades, gave most of his money to help the poor, and devoted himself to good works — not something you see many (any?) pop stars doing. When Solomon Rusdie was threatened with a death sentence by an ayatollah, he came back into the public eye when he was misquoted in a way that made him come across as though he supported the death sentence. He spent a great deal of energy to the peace and relief effort in the follow up of the Bosnian conflict. The documentary left me wanting to know more about him, for instance, how does he understand Islam’s teaching regarding women? But he was articulate and appealing. I do not understand his belief system, and can’t imagine myself ever “buying into it” the way he did, but the little I saw of him gave me the impression that Islam has provided the context in which he could express a holy desire within himself to devote his life to good purposes.
There is a great void in life that leaves we human beings lost at sea if we don’t have something in which to believe. There are so many paths, often downright contradictory, and sometimes downright sinister.
In all three videos, the beliefs the people had embraced had set them on a path that was in clear contrast to the way of the world.
For me, Jesus shows the way. Does my life stand in clear contrast to the way of the world?