"...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." – Galatians 5: 22-23
For your birthday, he doesn’t give you a pair of gloves, tickets to see Justin Bieber, or even an NCIS sweatshirt. No, instead of something useful, he gives you an aardvark.
A living, breathing, slobbering aardvark.
Plopping a modified traveling kennel with a big red bow on top into your hands, your friend smiles and says, “Here. This is Alfie. Take care of him. You’ll love him. He already loves you. I can tell.”
Peeking inside the cage, you see a sub-Saharan burrowing animal with a snout and tongue the length of a garden hose. He's kind of cute, but not really.
You glance from the aardvark to your friend and ask, “What am I supposed to do with this?”
Your friend hands you a three-page pamphlet entitled, “Fun with Aardvarks,” and says, “Whatever you want. By the way, he’s hungry.”
He slaps you on the back, grins and leaves. He leaves you. On your own!
What do you do?
Realize however you act is a matter of religious freedom. Yours and the aardvark’s.
"Religious freedom?!? Are you nuts?" you ask.
The answer is yes, but bear with me. I just ate a salad and am feeling analogous today.
So it's you and the aardvark left in an apartment in downtown McKeesport, PA. He's kind of a cute animal, certainly not out to cause you any problems.
You shrug and smile, thankful that your friend thought enough of you to grace you with a unique companion. Philosophically, you decide to get along with the animal, but there are obviously major hurdles to establishing a relationship. First of all, food.
On page two of the pamphlet, you find an article “Feeding the Aardvark,” where you find that the entire diet of your new roommate is ants, termites, and a form of cucumber found only in southern Africa.
Your diet consists of Hamburger Helper, mac & cheese, and a inordinate amount of multi-frosted sugar cookies decorated by a three-year-old.
What to do?
You could feed the aardvark what you eat, but he wouldn’t like it. In fact, it would probably make him sick. You think you have problems with a healthy aardvark? Try living with one experiencing gastrointestinal disorder.
You could let yourself be so disgusted with the idea of eating ants that you silently reject your friend's gift, drive it to New Mexico, and abandon it on the highway outside Carlsbad, leaving it to its own devices.
Or you could let aardvarks be aardvarks, let him consume what he does, and learn to live with him.
Your choice. Your freedom.
Here's the moral of the story: Feeding the aardvark is a dilemma we humans face every day.
A friend (God) has left us in a world of humans of every shape, size, and habit imaginable. Like it or not, some of us are "dogs," some are "cats," and some are "aardvarks." (I'm not calling people dogs, cats, and aardvarks. It's a metaphor!)
We differ by looks, lifestyles, religions, and tastes, but we are all humans. So we have to make a choice in how to live with our fellow creatures.
We could compel them to conform to our habits and beliefs with the distinct possibility that our efforts will prove counter-productive and harmful not just to the aardvark, but to ourselves as well.
We could refuse to have anything do with the aardvark, pretending he does not exist. We could simply ignore him and hope he goes away.
Or we could let aardvarks be aardvarks. After all we share the same planet. Rather than fighting about who's best or who's most deserving, we could accept our differences and learn to love the aardvark for who he is.
We could claim the first two alternatives as our religious right, but accepting either of these choices is to ignore the aardvark's rights.
This is not only unfair to the aardvark, but detrimental to us as well.
It is important to remember that to get along, even enjoy each other, we do not have to like ants and termites like the aardvark. The aardvark does not have to like Hamburger Helper or mac& cheese like we do. But maybe…just maybe…if the two of us can accept our differences, we can learn to eat African cucumbers and the aardvark can learn to eat sprinkle-encrusted sugar cookies.
This third alternative allows us to still be ourselves. It also allows the aardvark to be an aardvark. Everybody lives in harmony.
We’re happy. The aardvark is happy. Our friend is happy.
Religious freedom is a good thing when everybody is allowed to have it.