Freedom of religion, and freedom of choosing religion [or choosing none], is one of the most valued freedoms for any human being.
The Russian Empire of the past was a country where the Orthodox Church was an official, State religion. It was not allowed to change religion and, more than that, people were punished severely for attempts to do so. Leaving the Holy Orthodoxy could lead to punishment, penalties, exile from the country, confiscation of all possessions, and even imprisonment.
I remember learning about the Soviet Union - my home country – by reading our Constitution and there was one very important thing: - a citizen is free to belong to ANY religion, or belong to none.
This is a treasured freedom of living in a secular state.
This is a guarantee that some monotheist fanatics will not stone you because of “denouncing G-d” or however they word it, if you decide to part ways with your previous monotheistic religion. This is a guarantee that people of all religions are equal before State.
Halloween is this week. The kids will be dressing up as ghouls and goblins, witches and monsters. The world will be on a sugar high for the next week or so. Mainstream America will be watching all the scary movies they can find and treating the paranormal as freakish.
During a car ride with my mother, I was making conversation with her when she said she didn't like this time of year. I said why not - thinking Fall is my favorite time of year and I adore the weather, the colors, the season. She came out with "all the talk about witches and other bad things." My immediate response in my head was - hey wait a minute.
Since my last 9-part article here on my experiences at Pagan Spirit Gathering, I've had a big change in my life. I can't talk about most of that - sorry. What I can say is I've gained some deeper insight on the Samhain resolution I made last year about being less judgmental. I will remind folks, I say less judgy, because we're all human, but just trying to honestly walk in someone's shoes is hard for so many people to do. And I say that with the inclusion of the Pagan community.
There are notable Pagans who have spent time with me in person, people of whom I've at least made an attempt to let them get to know me and of course vice versa, at the very least on some base level of agreement, who harshly judge me. These are people who won't give me the time of day. People who, on one hand shout to the hilltops we need to be accepting of everyone, who won't even acknowledge my presence unless they are forced to. And even then, they do so grudgingly and while being back-handedly polite. Does it hurt my feelings? At this point in my life, not really. In fact, I developed a mechanism to cope with not being able to be everyone's friend/acquaintance back when I was a kid. Allow me to explain:
Several years ago I was facilitating a spiritual discussion group at the Yellow Springs Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.I was serving that congregation as their religious education director and one of the duties I took upon myself was leading this discussion group before we gathered for the weekly service.There was a wonderful gentleman named Chuck who would often attend our discussions and sometimes attend the main service depending on the topic.One Sunday morning after about a half hour of group discussion Chuck spoke up and addressed the small group of about eight or so at the spiritual discussion group with, “You folks talk about being opened minded and affirming of others yet in the course of this discussion you’ve insulted me several times.I’m a Christian.I’m a Fundamentalist.I teach at a Baptist university, and I regularly attend a Baptist Church.And I’m a Republican.Some of you have used these terms like they’re swear words.”After he spoke his mind there was a lot of back peddling.Chuck attended these discussion groups because he valued the discussions and he attended the main service when he was able because he valued some of the topics presented.On those occasions when I was able to preach at the fellowship he would often attend to hear me speak.He was and is a good man.He wasn’t the “enemy,” but he was someone who sought to understand others and dialogue for mutual understanding and respect.
But Chuck presented an important dilemma for Unitarian Universalism and also a dilemma that is pertinent to the Pagan community.How can we advocate tolerance, acceptance and understanding while simultaneously causing alienation and marginalization?
For this months shadow card, we find ourselves working with the Hierophant, being represented by the Teaching card from the Snowland Tarot.
In this particular card, we see an owl standing before an open book resting on a tree stump.His audience of forest animals seems attentive as he shares his wisdom while the snow gently falls around them.
Pagans are human too. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this. The latest kerfuffle in the wider Pagan community leaves me surprised and yet not surprised all at the same time. I like to think that Pagans, as a group, are better than this but obviously we are not.