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Change your religion? I don’t think so.

Jesus and the rich young ruler by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889 | Wikipedia/Public Domain

Take a good look at yourself.

Here is a question we should all answer about ourselves: How much of me was chosen by me? Or: How much of this person was designed by the owner?

In public places, I see some interesting hair colors and styles, and tattoos. I’m not a big fan of tattoos because people change as they grow older, and a tattoo will endure long after the idea changes, or he breaks up with that girlfriend. Hair grows, and it turns grey. I am reminded when I look in the mirror. Our grandchildren can laugh at the crazy things we did with our hair, if they see the pictures.

We like to think that we choose to be who we are and what we do, and most important, we choose what we believe. So, how much of you is you, and how much was imposed on you by family and other people in your life?

I had a text message from a young man that I know well, and he was worried about something that doesn’t bother most of us. He was worried about Egypt. I’m sure he has never been there, so I asked more. Somewhere, he learned that the number of Coptic people in Egypt was declining. The Copts identify as Christians similar to the Orthodox churches, and it is very old in history.

There are also Protestant and Catholic groups in Egypt. Copts are now a small minority in Egypt, where most people identify as Muslim. The religious language of the Copts is the ancient Egyptian language and the common language in Egypt is Arabic. My friend believes that Ancient Egypt will disappear in our modern world, when the Copts disappear.

He is probably right.

In Egypt, a person might change their religion. They might convert to Islam, but conversions to Christianity would be very offensive to the majority. It’s a one-way conversion street. A Christian in Egypt was born into a Christian family and decided to stay.

READ: Mohammed Hegazy

Islam and Christianity are both triumphalist religions; one of the basic beliefs is that their faith will conquer the whole world. That makes turning away from the triumphant “truth” very offensive. Apostasy or conversion-away sends a message to millions of believers that someone has discovered that they are wrong, and has rejected them. That could turn violent.

Humans like to see everyone around them believing what they believe. A critical mass reinforces our confidence.

Conservative Muslims fiercely resist conversion away from, or leaving their religion. Apostasy is forbidden, and there is a debate about whether apostates should be killed. That is an open question and many people think they should be killed. In many countries, citizenship includes the religion of the birth family, and that can only be changed with a court order. It’s like a legal name change.

Changing your religion is really a human issue, and in India there are new laws to restrict conversion. Most of the controversy is about preventing Hindus from converting to Islam, often through marriage. Muslim men are accused of forcing their wives to adopt their religion:

READ: Muslim men are being arrested in India under an anti-conversion law based on the ‘love jihad’ conspiracy theory

In the country just east of India, Myanmar [Burma], the Buddhist majority is accused of persecuting Muslims:

In history, Buddhism started in India and later spread from a dynamic center in Afghanistan. Today, it has since been replaced by Hinduism and Islam, in those places. In Russia, Christians who are not Orthodox can only talk about their religion inside a church building. In Communist countries like North Korea and Cuba, all competing ideas are restricted, and religious conversion can be punished severely.

Those of us who live in liberal western countries might miss the point, but the world is in a state of religious cold war. Probably most people in the world cannot choose who they want to be. We are told what we will believe. Most humans cannot look into a mirror and see the person that they chose to be.

When I understand that, I can better understand the story about a man named Jesus. That teacher told people to follow him: “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting in the tax collector’s booth. He said to him, “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9)

It’s easy to miss the point that people were called to stop what they were doing and choose something new. What they should become included what they should no longer be.

Those people were given a choice; they could stop something and start something new. As a result, they could be a person designed by themselves. Matthew walked away from his job.

As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, his brother, throwing a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. Immediately He called them. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed Him. (Mark 1: 16 to 20)

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