Religion is an extremely sensitive subject. Even those that do not claim to follow a religion are usually adamant in their denials of faith. Discussions about religion with people that practice different belief systems often move from thoughtful, logical discussions to emotional and irrational arguments.
Many religious groups obviously believe their way is the only way. They attack the practices of others when they are different from their own, ignoring obvious commonalities and opportunities for dialog. Usually what those groups know and say about us and what practice is wrong (either they do not care or have information from bad sources).
I’d like to think that we as Pagans are above such things. After all, we all know it’s impossible to find two Pagans that believe and practice the same way. In fact, our path generally embraces and upholds religious pluralism because we ultimately respect individuality and the personal nature of our connection to the Divine.
But, in reality, it’s easy to get pulled into these discussions.
We want to defend ourselves and what we believe. We want to correct misconceptions about us. If we attack others in doing so, however, using the same methods we condemn, we are only adding fuel to a fire that we should be trying to put out. We aren’t going to change the perception of the people in those groups anyway – they are literally set in their ways and aren’t interested in knowing the truth about us.
Instead we must try to build bridges where we can, when we can, with those willing to listen. We must take opportunities to try and build on the commonalities between us and other groups rather than focus on the differences. We should try to correct misinformation where possible without unnecessarily attacking others.
This is obviously difficult.
Like many others on a Pagan path, I come from a winding road of self-discovery, of trial and error. I’ve collected bits and pieces of what I’ve learned that make sense to me. I’ve worked to discard those things that do not work for me and refine those that do. I’ve had mixed results.
Some of the most helpful lessons I learned came from Buddhism. I worked (and still do – it’s why it’s called a practice) on mindfulness and understanding. Why do I feel a certain way about something? Why do I react this way? As I work on myself I find that I also learn to better understand others. What drives the person I’m talking to? How could they possibly say something like that?
Buddhism teaches that the lines created from the differences between us, those things that separate us, aren’t real anyway – they are illusions we create when we identify ourselves with a particular group, and change as that group grows or shrinks: “We are people” turns into “We are Pagan” and then “We are Wiccan”.
When I talk to people about the differences in our faiths I can relate to my experiences on other paths and build an understanding of where they are coming from. I can then hopefully build upon what we have in common. When given the chance to explain some of my beliefs I have heard “we actually believe that, too” or “that actually makes sense”. Of course, not everyone is willing to have the conversation, but it’s a start.
The signpost for me is to remember that I have the opportunity to be part of the solution – to provide positive and accurate information about our community to others. One of the reasons I was excited for the opportunity to write for Pagan Pages is the site’s motto – “From Knowledge Grows Acceptance”. It is what I wanted to do here – to be part of a group that creates and spreads the good, positive information about our community.
How have you handled discussions that turned into arguments? How have people reacted when you’ve had a chance to have a reasonable discussion?