imgcol,32904,enDuring my mother’s last year she called to tell me she was worried about my eternal soul. I’m not sure what triggered her concern, but she was concerned. She didn’t want me to miss the family reunion in Heaven.

It is hard to have a frank conversation with your mother under any circumstances. If the subject is religion and you are from the South the difficulty increases significantly. Personal faith, along with race, defines most everything below the Mason Dixon Line.

I had no intention of telling my mother anything that might bother her. She wasn’t healthy enough to have to worry about my spiritual well being. At the same time I didn’t want to lie to the person who delivered me into the world.

I tried to be vague and hoped she would find something else to worry about. That didn’t help. I finally promised to read some material she sent and get back to her. That always worked in staff meetings in the corporate world. Our uneasy truce lasted until she passed away.

She has been gone for fifteen months and it still bothers me I didn’t have the guts to inform her she had no right to decide my values. She wanted me to adjust my beliefs to mirror hers. That sounds easy to anyone who doesn’t have to do the changing.

My mother’s religious conviction remained constant her entire life. She never went to seminary school, never studied any other faith, and never questioned whether her particular belief was the one true path. A lot of folks feel the same way. You’d think that a society that takes a month to buy the right car would at least dig a little deeper when eternal life is on the line.

Whether we are talking about religion, politics, or lifestyle, people stubbornly cling to beliefs that can be shot down by a trip to the internet or a smidgen of history. Our personal guidelines are a mixture of DNA, upbringing, education, and life experiences. We temper them with faith. Strong faith.

That is fine; people should believe what they want with all their heart. Lack of conviction isn’t involved when a personal course is mapped out. The problem arises when we force those beliefs on other people.

Each of us inhabits a tiny spot in the universe and stays a very short time on the planet. One would think this alone forces all of us to respect the opinions, beliefs, and habits of others. One would be wrong.

Communities across the South are littered with broken families because someone married the wrong demographic, saw the political world differently, or was honest about their sexuality. Parents become hurt, children are banished, and healing never happens. In nearly every case, someone is unwilling to accept that an alternate reality exists and there is more than one right answer.

In the end most of the stuff we disagree on doesn’t matter that much. We obliterate the feelings of those close to us and fight over things we can’t change because being right has become more important than living. Fear has replaced love as the guiding principle. How we look to others is considered more important than how we are inside.

Can’t we lighten up a little?

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Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.