Before You Read:
I wrote this post as an outlet for my frustration. This is long-winded vent, and I understand that it will be considered offensive to different types of people. If you're not interested in reading pretty strong criticism of Christianity, then don't read this post. I'm not going to apologize for my words.
✫ ✫ ✫
I'm a person who thinks about religious tolerance quite a lot. I consider the difficulties in finding balance between too much and too little tolerance (and am especially interested in the former). I'm also interested in finding out what tolerance really is, and how it differs from acceptance and also encouragement.
Religious tolerance and coexistence are widely desired and cultivated values within Paganism. There is a universal ideal of acceptance for all faiths or "paths" that many Pagans hold to be a foundational trait of one who is open-minded. The sentiment appears in several forms, such as, "All paths are valid and/or leading to the same goal," - "There is no one true way, and all ways deserve respect," - "There is an interfaith connectedness between all people," - "All is one," - and so on. I'm sure every Pagan has heard, and most believe, in practicing these values of acceptance. But when is a person too tolerant, too accepting, too open-minded? I imagine many people believe that there isn't such thing as too much acceptance and tolerance, but I disagree with that completely.
|-Arthur Hays Sulzberger|
When I was still a practicing Wiccan, I was wholly tolerant. I accepted all religions and spiritualities and believed they were all leading to a common place of love for all people. If I witnessed someone's religion being criticized (usually online), I went to their defense, even becoming personally angry on behalf of people I thought were being targeted. This was regardless of their beliefs, and is something I did specifically when Christians were under attack. I was a member of a small, online Wiccan community, sort of like Facebook, and while a member of that site, I wrote blogs constantly about defending Christianity against those Pagans who openly criticize it. I look back at that time in my life (probably 19-21 years old), and I can't even believe my memories of myself.
I was completely blind -- blind to the prejudice, bigotry, and injustices being done by the people I was spending so much time defending. I was completely tolerant of intolerance, keeping my mind so open that my brain fell out in chunks, squashed on the floor. I ignored all the bad experiences both myself and my peers had, insisting that we can't judge all people for the bad actions of some. When I fell away from Wicca, and moved to the Bible Belt in 2010, I began to really solidify a change in how I define and exhibit tolerance, and this change has made me stronger and more confident than I ever was when I was trying to unconditionally love everyone.
I have to be honest now about the real focus of this
My house is visited almost weekly by all different churches, leaving pamphlets, knocking on my door, trying to spread the "good news." I went to a new dermatologist a few weeks ago, and within 20 minutes of entering the exam room, I was already being given flyers for a Christian class for college students (I'm never going back to that doctor again). I've been prayed to loudly on my own property by members of a group called the Christ Ambassadors -- one of them even grabbed the nose chain I was wearing, violating my personal space entirely. The rudeness with which these people treat others is really astonishing; it's happened to myself and I've seen it happen to others. And all of that is nothing compared to what is happening elsewhere in the world. I see church leaders protesting a Summer Solstice festival in Florida, pastors encouraging the murder and torture of children accused of witchcraft in Nigeria. Not to mention the Catholic sex abuse scandal, and now that the religion in general is starting to be more openly criticized, Christians are complaining about becoming a hated minority due to their anti-homosexual rhetoric and behavior. And while many say that these are fringe groups, that they don't represent rank-and-file Christians, nothing could be further from the truth, because those rank-and-file individuals hardly do anything to oppose the speech and actions of their leaders, especially publicly. They don't hold them accountable, and yet act offended when those of us on the outside affiliate them with the negative image that their hierarchy displays. Being tolerant of intolerance only perpetuates hatred.
That's why I can no longer defend Christianity, to others or to myself. There are some amazing Christians I've met, people I consider to be good friends (a couple are members of my family), but I no longer believe that most Christians are like them. They are the exception, and I wish that wasn't true, but it is. I barely need two hands to count the Christians I've met who don't proselytize or try to convert me and others. Those few Christians realize how offensive and divisive behavior like that is. They realize how behavior like that does not show love for fellow humans, only a desire to dominate and change them. A long rant like this wouldn't be necessary if all, or even most Christians were like the few that have taken the time to let me get to know them without the expectation that I'll join them on Sundays. They've even invited me to speak about Pagan topics in order that they can learn more. They answer my questions in an honest and straightforward way, and remain welcoming without being pushy or expressing concern for my soul. It's incredibly refreshing to know them, especially while living in an area where a church van will park in my front yard and three people will stand on my porch trying to convince me to go to their church. And, as I've found out, adding my address to their mailing list without my consent.
Why should I be accepting of people like that? I think one of the fundamental practices of acceptance is "to live and let live." I only give out cards to my Pagan church to people who specifically inquire about Paganism. I don't go around town knocking on people's doors trying to convince them to attend Spirit of the Earth, and then fight them when they say no. While I would love to see the population of practicing Pagans grow, I'm not aware of any Pagans who are trying to actively cause that growth. The majority of the Christians in the United States do not live and let live, they do not practice tolerance and acceptance. It's not enough for them to just not attend the Summer Solstice festival in Florida, they have to do everything in their power to shut it down completely. It's not enough for them to send their children to private Christian schools, they also want the secular public to pay for a religious education with which they disagree. It's not enough for them to just be welcoming to the people who approach their churches on their own, instead they have to invade the private lives of their neighbors and attempt to scare them into attending.
So why should they be treated with respect and acceptance that they don't deserve? And why should we Pagans be trying so hard to remain accepting? We don't owe them anything. I tolerate their door-to-door "invitations" with politeness, but I no longer lie to them to spare their feelings at the expense of my own. I am tolerant of their existence, but I do not knowingly support or encourage their practice -- and simultaneously, I would never do anything to impede it, as long it was not interfering with my own way of life. That is what it means, to me, to live and let live, to be tolerant. It might make me harsh or a bitch, but I know my open mind is protected by a skull kept tightly closed.
It is possible (and really not very difficult) to hold strong religious convictions without needing them to be validated by millions worldwide, without having to constantly gather more and more followers to give your own beliefs weight. Pagans are living like this everyday. Regardless of religion, all people believe their personal practices or paths are the best -- we wouldn't be following them if they weren't -- and we should be strong and passionate enough that we don't need anyone else to believe our paths are the best along with us. We should have a confidence and self esteem that allows us to handle disagreement and be able to walk away from it, unoffended and without losing a step. And though I am biased, I see that most Pagans can do this, and we can do it politely and without being offensive ourselves. I'm often inspired by the way I see other Pagans dealing with highly offensive encounters with Christians. For example, another blogger posted this video recently (and I encourage any reader to watch it in entirety):
I'm trying to become better at this everyday. I started out so accepting that I would let anyone walk all over me and still try to defend and respect them. I know better now -- I'm no longer intimidated or angered by the offensive Christians I encounter in my daily life, and I also can tolerate them without being accepting or supportive. The type of encounters you experience living in the Bible Belt require a lot of patience, and sometimes it takes a rant like this to vent the frustration that results from such encounters. Compassion and understanding are important virtues, but they should not be extended unconditionally. It's important to speak out against what you believe is detrimental or wrong, and I'm glad that I've overcome my own fear of doing so. I hope more Pagans, and more rank-and-file Christians who are unhappy with how their religion is being portrayed, will do the same.
To those few exceptional Christians I've met: thank you for being confident enough in yourselves that my own confidence does not threaten you. To the Christians who can't be the same, get off my porch, stop flooding my mailbox, and kindly stay out of my life.