On Tolerance, Respect, and Religion

Well, school is done. I officially hold the degree of Bachelor of the Arts in Anthropology, and it is still so surreal. Graduation was spectacular, and a truly awesome (in the literal definition of the word) experience. I am finding, however, that I am wanting more and more to write again. Writing has always been a passion for me, something I’ve enjoyed  and loved, and I am looking forward to getting back to it again.

Now, it’s 2012, election year. I think anyone who knows me will agree that it’s pretty safe to say that I don’t care for politics, and tend to stay away from them. Heck, I don’t even really watch the news. Of course, America being America, and having a law on the books that church and state must be separate, religion is intrinsically bound to politicians, politics, and public opinion. We’re a contradictory country like that. Granted, this in part is due to the way that religion is used within culture as a way of shaping moral and ethical structures and paradigms, but religious beliefs play a particularly hot-button role in American politics (I’m sure it does in other countries too, but I don’t know to what extent in other places. I don’t like politics, remember?) The conservatives attack the liberals, the right attacks the left, the center plays both sides… it just is so insane. Some days, I ignore it, other days, it irritates me to no end. Days like today, however, it makes me angry and sad.

I’m pagan. No, not Wicca, just pagan. I’m what is commonly called eclectic solitaire, and what I call me. I have my own unique and personal connection to the divine, and I generally do not tend to discuss the minutiae of it with most people, and don’t plan to here, either. I’m always open to questions, however, so ask away, just be aware that I may tell you that your question is not something I’m willing to answer. Sacred is sacred for a reason. Anyhoo, one of the things I believe with a great, great, great deal of conviction is something my Dad taught me (with additional reinforcement from my Nana), and that is the right of a person to choose, and to respect that right. This doesn’t mean that I have to agree with what the person believes, or accept it as my own beliefs, or even really LIKE the beliefs, but respect can be given without those things happening. Faith is a deeply, deeply personal choice, and the relationship  each person holds with the divine, however they interpret that divine to exist, is also very personal. I don’t think there’s a WRONG way to interpret the divine. I do think there are ways of expressing it that impinge on other people’s freedom, however, which is sort of what this post is about. I believe in the ubiquitous “Golden Rule”, which is present in some form in almost all organized religions known to man: treat others they way you want to be treated, and THAT is the topic of this post.

The point of my election year note above is this: I have a lot of friends on Facebook that are politically active, and a number NOT on FB as well, all of whom are more than willing to share their political views. Anyone on FB can tell you that memes fly faster than gossip on there, ESPECIALLY politically or religiously charged ones. As a general rule, I tend to stay away from both, occasionally reposting or commenting on ones that are personally significant. Of late though, as the political race is coming down to the wire, it seems that the religious war is getting more and more intense. I see more and more links to pictures, videos, articles and all kinds of things that make salient, well-reasoned points, as well as sardonic, hateful jabs in riposte to other sardonic, hateful jabs. I am ashamed to admit that there are times where I have caught myself feeding into the latter rather than setting the example that my personal faith and beliefs demands: tolerance. You see, this goes back to that whole Golden Rule thing. My beliefs, despite living in a country that was founded with religious freedom as a precept, are still marginalized and even feared. It is something that slowly is improving, but still has a long way to come. Like so many others before me, I do not believe that acceptance will come through force, hate, violence, or anger. I feel that I need instead to give what I want so dearly to be given back in return: respect and tolerance, and that this is truly the only path that will lead to actual tolerance, peace, and respect for human diversity.

That’s really a hard thing to do at times. I’m well-educated, and am reasonably knowledgeable about the basic tenets and core beliefs of most of the major religions out there, and it’s REALLY, REALLY hard for me to not use that knowledge against people when they are twisting it into some grotesque mockery so they can use their newly-twisted religion as a cover for their own ignorance and fear. It’s so hard to be the bigger person, turn the other cheek, or take the high road, as all the sayings go, and be respectful and tolerant in the face of that kind of aggressive ignorance. I don’t always succeed. I often have to remind myself of how good it feels afterwards, when I can still look myself in the mirror without shame for my behaviour and choices, in order to continue to give the respect and tolerance that I want to be given. It’s so easy to click “Like”, or make a snarky comment on, some picture or article on FB that snidely or blatantly is making fun of, lambasting, or otherwise disrespecting the religion of someone who has treated me poorly in the past. I’m not talking about the articles that present equitably the points of views of two contrasting religions, or images that simply voice someone’s opinion in a respectful manner- I think most people reading
this know exactly what I mean.

In 2011, for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Essay Contest at UMSL, the theme was tolerance. I submitted an essay that took first place: a personal account of an incident that could have killed my children and me, all based on religious intolerance in the wake of 9/11. I’ll re-post the essay here to my blog, or email it personally, if anyone is interested in reading it.  The point, of that essay, however, was how a little bit of tolerance and respect on my part changed the outlook of one of the perpetrators of the attack. I found today, in a moment of reflection, that I have let that belief of mine slip away from its place in my core belief set of late, in the fervor and frenetic pace of political and religious propaganda that always happens near the Presidential Elections, and I am ashamed of that. I have friends who are from all walks of life, all religions and no religions, and by joining in with these hateful postings, however innocently irreverent they may seem, I am doing damage to people I love, respect, and cherish in my life, which violates another core belief of mine. For anyone I may have hurt, please know it was never my intention, and I am deeply, deeply regretful of my actions, and I offer my apologies, and ask your forgiveness. So, I am making this post, as well as public statement, because another of my beliefs is that some commitments should be made in the face of all, as well as to myself and my deities.

My promise is this: I will make all efforts to give the respect that I wish to receive, for respect is earned, and I should give what I expect to receive. I will do the same with tolerance, for the same reasons. I will not allow the weak excuse of “But they don’t give me respect and tolerance” to stop me from being what I know to be good, right, and correct: I alone determine my path, and I alone, in the end, must account and stand for my actions. I will teach my children, by example and word, to give the tolerance and respect that they wish to receive, and to guide, not indoctrinate, them in their explorations to determine what they feel to be good, right, and correct, and to teach them that they alone, in the end, must account and stand for their actions. I will not encourage, by word or deed, the disrespect or intolerance of another faith in any way, but by the same token will stand strong for my beliefs, and be willing and open to engage in intelligent, open, respectful discourse about differences in my beliefs and others, in the name of learning, teaching, and promoting tolerance amongst all. I will not stand by and allow myself, my family, or my loved ones to be damaged by other religions, as part of respect is respecting myself and the trust placed in me by people who give me their love, but I will not engage in this defense and protection by attacking, defaming, disrespecting, or promoting intolerance of another religion. I am better than that. I am better than disrespect. I am better than intolerance. I am better, and because I am better, I can make a better world for my children, and they for their children. One day, people will look back on this time in the history of the human race with the same shame that we look back now on the atrocities of the slave trade, and children will learn of this, lest it be repeated. I want to be part of the solution, part of the movement that is striving for that better future, and I am actively choosing to be part of it. It is a hard path, and easy to stray from, but I will always try to find my way back. This is my vow, my promise to myself.

I challenge anyone who reads this to make the same promise, whether they do it in public or private. I challenge you to make a better world for your children, for your nieces or nephews, for your grandchildren, for whomever it is that motivates you to be more than you are, to be better. The biggest change can start with the smallest step. Are you willing to take one now?


~ by Kelly on May 17, 2012.

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