by Lylah M. Alphonse
Zoroastrianism is known as “The Religion of Good Conscience,” built firmly on a foundation of good words, good thoughts, and good deeds, its followers encouraged to exercise free will and accept responsibility for their actions. A devout Zarathushti is supposed to progress toward enlightement by consciously choosing to do good. With all of the emphasis on choice and free will in our religion, I cannot understand the push to exlude those who truly want to share our faith – or worse, to reject children born to a Zarathushti parent who decided to marry outside the religion.
How were the first Zoroastrians brought into the fold? Whom did the first Zarathushtis marry? How did the faith evolve into a powerhouse in Persia? Conversion. Acceptance. Tolerance.
How are our numbers falling so rapidly now? How many Zarathushtis choose love over faith and leave the fold? How has our once-powerful community dwindled to the point where it is being considered for cult status? By clinging to the idea that purity is paramount, and that “self-preservation” is best achieved by inbreeding and isolation.
”Purity is more important than numbers,” said Khojeste Mistree, a Zoroastrian scholar in Bombay, to Boston Globe reporter Jehangir Pocha in 2004. ”Our religion is interwoven with our ethnicity [and] can only be passed on through a Zoroastrian father.” (http://www.boston.com/news/world/asia/articles/2004/09/05/shrinking_population_threatens_an_ancient_faith/)
The irony is that Zarathushtis have always been known to be socially progressive. We embrace equality between men and women. We champion entrepreneurship and education. But when it comes to growth and survival, we cling to the past, hiding behind a fear of assimilation rather than embracing the opportunity to welcome new members.
Without accepting the children of intermarriage and allowing conversion, we will indeed preserve our culture – as a chapter in the history books, not as a thriving and progressive community.
According to Chapter 36 of the Menof-i-Khrad (part of the larger Avesta texts) (http://www.avesta.org/pahlavi/mx.html#chap36), there are 30 terrible sins. The sacred text ranks them in order of severity – killing a “water beaver” is a more serious sin than worshiping outside of the religion. There are 33 “good works” that ensure entry into heaven. Marrying your “next of kin” – your first cousin – is number 12 on that list. But “liberality,” “truth,” and “thankfulness” are the top three. Being open-minded and accepting of those who truly seek to follow our faith embody the ideals of liberality, truth, and thankfullness, and can only lead to a stronger future for Zoroastrianism.
Lylah M. Alphonse is a journalist based in Boston and the Consulting Editor for FEZANA Journal. She is the author of “Triumph Over Discrimination: The Life Story of Farhang Mehr,” writes for The Boston Globe, Boston.com, Workitmom.com, and Yahoo’s Shine, and blogs at http://WriteEditRepeat.blogspot.com.