Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tolerance of the Intolerant: Practicing Pagan Preaching

I have just come from G+ where once again I have been defending LDS people's right to claim their own faith as valid. This is the second time I have had to do this in the past two weeks. The poster to whom I was responding wrote: 

...what the Mormons actually are in my opinion is the most offensively bad bunch of archaeologists on the planet. :) I hang out with a few people who believe they're elves and dragons, and their beliefs stillhave more support in reality than the Book of Mormon's history of pre-Columbian America. 
I figure most Mormons are decent people on a person-to-person level, but dammit, if you're gonna go messing around with the way that other people live, you had better have a MUCH sounder reason than "some 19th century con artist ASSURED us he found magic tablets in the desert, among a Native American civilization that we have plenty of good evidence was NOTHING like our holy book describes, so um, yeah, we can't let you visit your dying boyfriend in the hospital, sorry. Our magic seer stones told us you couldn't." It just... makes me want to say, "Oh, yeah? Well my MAGIC KANGAROO FRIEND said God wants me to take your wallet," because it feels just about as valid and fair. :)

In my response, I didn't address her factual errors, of which there are many, but I did talk about the issue of validity, one unprovable faith to another. I wrote:

Frankly, people from almost every religious tradition believe some odd, unprovable things and things that are flat out wrong--and are still very sure of themselves. Rick Perry, for example, believes the earth is only a few thousand years old, serpents and burning bushes can talk, humans have physically wrestled with angels (and won!), and that a virgin gave birth, among other things. And his ONLY proof? "My book says so." In my opinion, for someone to believe all that but say Mormons' beliefs are just too far out there is totally ridiculous. Either it's all ridiculous and invalid, or every faith is equally valid on its own terms. But no one, no matter how well founded their beliefs, should prescribe morality for anyone else, ever.  
Back in the founding days of the church, Mormons were very hardcore polytheists and vocal about this fact along with vehemently opposing any church's involvement in politics. In the past fifty years or so, however, there has been a decided shift toward stumping for "moral" causes, perhaps to curry favor with evangelicals or appear more right-wing mainstream. Personally, I prefer the out loud and proud polytheist pioneer, "leave us alone to pursue our weird beliefs and we'll leave you alone to pursue yours" types. But then, no one asked me in what direction the church should go, so there you have it. :)

The reason I bring this up is I am utterly galled by anyone, let alone one of my Pagan own, attacking someone else's right to believe whatever whacked out thing they want and, in the process, claiming that their odd beliefs are more valid. Don't get me wrong, LDSers are certainly guilty of this too--my mother, for example, assuming that as a Pagan I believe things like trees and rocks are God--but as a good deal of Pagans have supposedly liberated themselves from this sort of dogmatic thinking, I am nonplussed that such vitriol still exists. Isn't tolerance supposed to be one of the unifying principles within the Pagan community? 

Tolerance means tolerance and, if it hold any integrity at all, must be extended equitably, even to the intolerant. If we, as a community, only extend our tolerance to fellow Pagans and members of other minority religions, we are no better than the oppressors we claim to have spiritually and intellectually escaped. 

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Boy oh boy, it was down to the wire--I got distracted tonight making dinner for my stepson then watching Jackass 3D with him, 'cause that's just how spiritual I am ;)--but this makes day five of consecutive posting for National Blog Writing Month. Ahem--pardon me while I break my arm patting myself on the back. 


  1. This is something that really gets me too - Pagans, who supposedly are all about religious tolerance, have such a chip on their shoulder about other religions and feel free to pick them apart. I guess all that matters to our fellow Pagans is that everybody else tolerate *them*, but they don't have to return the favor.

    My guess is that when somebody goes on and on about another religion like that, they have been burned by it in some way. Maybe they grew up in it and hated being forced to go to church or something. I have no idea... but generally that kind of animosity comes from some personal experience.

    Yeah, Mormons have some pretty odd beliefs, but they're also some of the nicest Christians I have ever met. Besides, plenty of other people could say that we Pagans have rather odd beliefs, simply because they don't understand them. Right? ;)

    Maybe the correlation between the Wheel of the Year and the cycle of life and death makes sense to *me*, but somebody else might look at it and go "wha?!" Maybe I think everything in myth and religion is metaphor and symbolic of deeper mysteries, but other people are shaking their heads saying, "No, this is literal!"

    *le sigh* I'm with you. I wish that Pagans, who want so much to be accepted as they are with our out-of-the-mainstream-beliefs, would return the favor. But some of them seem to forget that it's all about treating others in the way that you wish to be treated yourself.

    "Accept me! But let me tear apart your beliefs!" isn't going to get Pagans what they want.

  2. You are so right!

    And you know, true tolerance could even be seen in the Pagan community as a magical act--extending that energy to have it flow back to you threefold. I understand that many, many Pagans came to the path by way of terrible experiences with more mainstream religions, but that is no excuse to continue the cycle of hatred. The only person that kind of venom harms is the one who spews it. Again, something at least witches should well understand through their magical practice.