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This blog is all about all the things that make me up. I am a Mother, I am a Pagan Witch, I am a Wife, I am a homemaker, I am a student, I am Spiritual, I am a Teacher, I am Liberal Hippie, I am a Voter, and I am extremely opinionated! Plan to see it all! If you don't like what you see, feel free to leave! However, chances are, if you stick around, you'll find more to love than hate!

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why Religious Tolerance...

Religious Tolerance continues to be a hot button topic with people weighing in heavily on both sides. However, to me, it's a very basic, very simple concept. Here in the US we literally live side by side with people from ALL cultures, faiths, beliefs systems and backgrounds, and if we plan to live a long happy life we will need to learn to function with and around them. While there is nothing wrong with holding tight to your own beliefs or practices, it's not a bad idea to learn to understand and tolerate those of others around you. How better to understand your neighbors than to understand where they are coming from?

Now, religious tolerance has it's opposition. I've seen many groups and people screaming about how different religious groups can not allow tolerance because it violates their own beliefs. In fact, I have never found a faith that teaches to hate those outside. Instead they mostly caution about fraternization and association. It is important to remember though that unless you plan to move to a Theocratic Country - like Iran - you are at least on some level, going to have to learn to associate with people from other faiths on a regular basis. You don't have to date them or even have them over for dinner, and no one is asking you to worship with them. But learning, at least the basics, of their faiths will allow you to understand why they do things or where they stand on certain issues which can help you to better navigate your relationship, however casual it may be, with them.

Many times we tend to just assume what someones faith is. And it's generally not something that comes up in conversation at the grocery counter. But the fact is, even the smallest towns have a plethora of beliefs and cultures all mish-mashed together. For example, I live in a very small town. Between our town and the next there are about 5000 people or so. It's a nice little community with about 35 churches and even a Christian church that was founded right here in town (and still has it's headquarters here). But the truth is that while the average person would tell you this is a "Christian town" or that "everyone around here is Christian" the simple truth is - it's not and they aren't... Yes, to be fair, most around here do fall in to one type or another of the Christian faith, but there are also Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Wiccans, Shintos, and yes, even Atheists here as well.

It always shocks people when they find out I'm not Christian. And I've heard the "but you seem like such a nice girl" about a million times in my life here. But the fact is, I'm not alone. What is also fact, and very unfortunate, is that while most people assume I'm Christian, when they DO learn the truth they don't ask questions or do anything to better educate themselves on what I do believe or how I live. They simply fall back on sermons they've been hearing all their lives about the "Evil Pagans." The fact that I was the same person they knew before they found out about my beliefs doesn't matter, and the relationship usually ends with them slowly backing away and refusing to speak with me again. Generally, I just say, "Oh, well, their loss." But it has in fact cost me business and has caused quite a bit of drama in the past.

I've also heard some really crazy ideas and stories about the Hindu family that runs the local 7/11. And about the Shinto family that owns the Chinese place. And don't get me started about the rumors surrounding the Muslims...  I do my best to ignore or even correct these stories where I can, but the fact is, I can't do it alone and most people don't know they aren't truthful stories and they don't want to know any differently either.  Of course not everyone is like this, but most fall in to one of two categories - those who realize there are other people who believe differently and who think those outside their faith are wrong, or those who refuse to admit that other faiths even exist around here. And while there ARE those who understand and accept without question, they are few and far between.

I wish I could say I think my town is odd, but I don't believe that way at all. Thanks to the internet I have made friends all over the US and all over the world. And I've heard similar stories of rejection and unwillingness to accept other paths from all corners of the world. It's not something that's isolated to my town, or even to my country.

Thankfully, for the most part, people just don't bring it up though. They may believe they are better than you or that there is something wrong with you, but most of the time, they don't say it to your face. I suppose, this is a blessing in some ways. While it would be great for people to have the chance to counter some of those misconceptions and myths about other faiths, it also tends to help keep the peace on a local and global level. Unfortunately, people tend not to keep their mouths quite so shut when they are with their friends or family... This, like I said above, can cost people friends and money. And THIS is why it's so important to stress religious tolerance!

For myself, I don't EVER expect to be living in a society where I am a part of the majority. Nor do I expect people to become Pagan or practice Witchcraft simply because that's what and who I am. But I would like people to learn the basics. I would like people to understand that "NO, I'm not going to kill your cat." And "Yes, I do have morals." And "No, witches don't have orgies" - or at least not any more than Non-Witches do...  I don't EVER expect people to change their own faiths or practices. But a basic understanding of who I am and what I believe doesn't just benefit ME, it also benefits society as a whole. How? Well, because I'm not the only Pagan on the planet, y'all! And chances are, you're going to live next to, be in a meeting with, wait on, patronize or even preach to another one quite soon after I walk away!

Learning the basics of other faiths and accepting that their beliefs are just as real to them as yours are to you and learning to tolerate them and the differences between you is not just a benefit for them, but for you as well. It allows you to be a better shop owner, PTA member, Library Volunteer, waitress, neighbor or even a better family member! It means that you have the ability to understand WHY that "Muslim girl" covers her hair or WHY your Jewish co-worker doesn't work after dark on Fridays... It will help you understand why you see your Pagan neighbor out in the back yard dancing in the moonlight or why the Taoist Chinese girl from down the street is getting married in red and not white. ALL of which helps you by allowing you to better relate to their needs and by allowing them to better relate to yours.

Any time the question of WHY religious tolerance is important comes up I usually ask people one thing - Would YOU want to live in a society where no one understood your beliefs or accepted that they were valid? I have NEVER had anyone say Yes! And really, that's the point. YOU wouldn't want to live in a society where everyone around you honestly didn't and absolutely refused to understand you, so why would you want others to?

Religious tolerance is NOT about changing YOUR beliefs! I can't say that enough. NO ONE is asking you to change what YOU believe! We're simply asking you to take the time to understand that our beliefs could be different, but they deserve the same respect as yours. So take the time, and the next time you meet someone who thinks or believes differently, ASK them something and be open enough to learn what they are telling you. Accept that they aren't going to change how they believe and that they are the same people they were before you found out they weren't like you. Just like you, they want to be understood! They want to be accepted! And they don't want to have to hide who they are or lie just to be treated with the respect and tolerance that you would want for yourself!

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