Last week I was lucky enough to be at Pennsic; an event for members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). And while this event is very much a part of the SCA, there is a significant group of pagans that attend as well. In fact, many of the classes had a religious twist to them, while others classes taught beginning forms of magic and prayers.
So you would think that with the amount of different belief systems that were represented in this 11,000 person gathering, a tolerance to other belief systems would be something that you would see a lot of. Unfortunately, this was not the case. There were many times during the week I saw instances of people using their religion to justify lack of respect for others during the week. That really bothered me.
Of the things I saw, two things stood out the most. The first happened around the campfire. I was listening to gentleman in the group I am affiliated with speak about Muslims. Unsolicited, this person started to explain that if you read the Koran you would find verses there that tell Muslims they must kill others who don’t believe the same as they do. He then doubled down and said Muslims weren’t ‘true’ to their faith if they did not believe these verses. Not wanting to get involved in a debate, I told him that I was going to agree to disagree with him, and that there were many different interpretations of the Koran. This just pushed him into a frenzy to say whatever he could to get me to believe what he does. After a few minutes, someone else changed the subject. Unfortunately, this was a man who I really looked up to, and listened to. I don’t know what he thinks of me now, but in my mind he no longer is held in the high esteem he once was.
The second issue came up during a discussion with the founder of the group. I found out about it second-hand, or else I would have gone off on the younger member myself. You see, the founder was told by this younger member that because he was Heathen, his Gods told him he didn’t need to bow to them, and thus he will not bow to bow to any other person, including this gentleman. He further said to the founder of the group that nothing the founder said or did on his behalf would be welcomed. He went further in denouncing and belittling the founder, but I think you get the point.
This really bothered me. Yes, I go by this belief as well, and yes, I don’t bow to my Gods. But I still treat them with respect, much like I treat my elders with respect. The founder of this group is very much an elder in the SCA, but also an elder that is looked up to for his teaching ability and his talents. The younger member not only didn’t treat this person with respect, but he belittled and demeaned him. And that was very hard to hear for me. And again, I lost a significant amount of respect for this young man.
In the altercation with the gentleman around the campfire, perhaps he was right on one point – perhaps the Koran does have verses in it regarding the killing of others. I have honestly not read it, do I don’t know for absolute certain. But I have read the book of Leviticus in the Christian Bible, and I know there are significant stanzas in that book that are not looked on as law today. Those include having slaves, not touching the skin of a pig, and not wearing clothing made out of two different types of fabrics. But yet, Christians pick and choose what they want to believe out of that book, so it is an easy assumption that a Muslim may consider doing the same thing, especially when they preach peace between religions (like many I know do).
The belief about Muslims being forced to kill others is damning, especially in today’s world. But I think there is a deeper, even worse problem here. This person never thought about asking another Muslim what they believe. He never asked another Muslim why they believe what they do. Instead, he felt reading their religious texts and making up his own mind without any outside influence was the best thing to do. Therefore he believed his interpretation of that text is right.
The holy texts of many religions are hundreds and hundreds of years old. They were written by man, who is not infallible, but they were inspired by God. There are many things in those texts that just don’t fit today’s society. Certainly there were reasons back then for those things, but in this day and age they just don’t make sense. Therefore trying to understand a holy text on your own without some sort of help or without someone that can answer any questions you may have is going to skew the beliefs that come out of the text in the first place.
In the second scenario I heard about, the young member is a solitary heathen, who again has read the lore and has formed his own beliefs. He does not practice with any other group, as he finds other groups ‘limiting’. And here, I agree with him in the fact that our Gods do not want us to venerate them like those in other religions do. But that doesn’t mean you don’t give them the respect they deserve. That doesn’t mean you don’t give them offerings and thanks. Perhaps if this young person would go to their local group or get online sometime he might recognize that. But instead, this was again a case of someone learning about something on their own and not asking questions. This one bothered me significantly, because this person is representing MY religion. And after hearing this happen, I had to explain to the head of the house that unlike this young member, I will be treating him with the respect he is due because of his position, as well as treating him with honor and respect because he is a fellow human being and a good man worthy of that respect.
These situations made me realize how much we really don’t know about people’s religions. We can take religious classes, we can read books on religious subjects or read the holy texts of the religions we wish to learn about all we want. However, if we don’t go to those who practice the religion on a regular basis and get their input, we will never be close to understanding the true meaning and peace that a particular religion can hold for its followers.
When someone doesn’t seek out those who wish to share their beliefs openly, it is easy to fall into many of the assumptions that are so common:
- Christians hate anyone who is involved in the LGBTQ community
- Muslims believe anyone who does not share their religion are infidels and must be put to death
- Anyone who calls themselves a son or daughter of Odin is a racist
- Witches are always Wiccan
And on and on the assumptions go.
I refuse to believe these assumptions. Are there bad groups within each religion? Of course there are. And if I find out someone believes something that belittles or exposes their hate for another, I choose not to listen to that person speak about any religion anymore. I can simply step away or shut down the conversation, and I have a right to (politely) do that. I don’t need to get into a debate with that person because they have already made up their mind. All a debate would do is to make everyone involved frustrated and angry. Some people may say the debate would be a healthy thing because there is an opportunity to change someone’s mind. But what is more likely to happen is more hate and anger being spewed regarding the opposite side. I saw a lot of that going on last week on blogs, and I refuse to help spread it.
So instead of trying to debate or change someone’s assumption about a religion, I will choose to look for those who don’t assume. I want to talk religion with those who are open to hear what others think, despite what some holy writ or text says. This is my way of not continuing to spew assumptions and judgement on others, and I think we need more of this type of thinking in this world.
Photo from Deviant Art