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October 21, 2010 / Jenny Ann Fraser

Important Conversations That Could Change The World

Last week, the theatre that I work at opened its first show of the season. The show, which I enjoyed immensely, is a comedy about a young Pentecostal Missionary who attempts to convert two Catholic spinster sisters to her own faith in order to save them from the fiery pits of hell.

The after party, a long-standing opening night tradition left me feeling somewhat sad and disappointed, though not surprised.

Of course it is normal that some of the evening would be spent discussing the show. This time was rather different though, as the subject of the show was religion and some of the people who I have loved and respected for many years have a tendency to forget their usual habits of respect and inclusiveness when it comes to anyone who believes in God or practices any sort of religion.

Referring to absolutely any spiritual/religious practice or belief as “bullshit” and those who might believe in such things (read: me) as stupid, is considered to be appropriate behavior. This, despite the fact that in all of the years that we have known each other I have never experienced anything other than respect and mutual friendship outside of this one topic of discussion.

If I try to defend myself against wrong assumptions that are being made. Say for example that I am a creationist, or that I refuse to think for myself or that I believe that my way is the only right way.  I will be shut down, laughed at or ridiculed.

Sadly, this is an experience that I often have when interacting with others.

The bottom line; Freedom of speech is a myth in most secular circles. You are free, as long as you bash all religion. There is no freedom to defend yourself from the wrong assumptions and judgement of those who dislike religion. The respect I have for their beliefs is apparently not reciprocal. I do not enjoy the same right to speak my mind and be heard.

Up until now, though I have been open about my spirituality, I have chosen to tread lightly regarding my actual beliefs and practice on this blog. Although, I am a lot less open about it in my day-to-day life, where I never ever discuss it unless it comes up in a conversation that is not started by me.This is not because I don’t want to open up a dialogue. I think these are conversations that we need to have if we are to evolve enough to create a world that we can continue to survive in.

I have avoided very detailed words regarding my beliefs and practice here, because it is my hope that my writing can help others. All others, regardless of faith or a lack thereof. I know that many are completely closed to any discussion of God in any capacity and I did not want to write in a way that would exclude anyone who might enjoy or otherwise benefit from what I have to say.

However, it has occurred to me that if I do not allow myself freedom of speech on my own blog, then I am contributing to my own problem. Last week’s party made me aware of how much I ache to speak my truth, to be heard and to be treated as equal to those who would disagree just as I do for them. I think these desires describe what it is to be human.

It is not my goal to convince anyone to adopt my way of thinking. I do not practice any particular faith. Even years ago when I converted to and practised Judaism, I never believed that there could be one right religion as that very idea has been responsible for terrible violence, oppression and exclusion that I never want to contribute to.

I believe that all faiths, including Atheism can provide the potential for growing in love and peace. That is until the moment when we decide that we are right, anyone who differs is wrong, and that in being right, we are superior to those who don’t share our ideas. When we choose to think of those who believe differently than we do in derogatory terms, we begin the process of devaluing and dehumanizing them. From there, we are a few short steps away from exclusion, and then oppression, and then abuse, which leads to hatred, violence and war.

What I believe in most is that we all need to be working to end that vicious cycle.

I am not saying that anyone that I know is violent, or believes in hurting others. I’m talking about good people here.  The problem is, that ideas spread, and when we decide that it is acceptable to spread any kind of intolerance, then we have taken the first step towards violence.  We have a lot of history to back that up.

Intolerance is intolerance and it doesn’t matter where it is coming from, nor who it is directed at. It cannot lead to good.

Last month I was gifted with the opportunity to have a conversation with a man who practised the kind of faith that I don’t believe in.

This was a “ This is the only way to heaven. Everyone else is wrong. These people are forever excluded.” kind of faith.

I do not respect this type of belief nor any belief that does not recognize everyone as equal, but still, I respected him. And despite the fact that he did not respect my beliefs, he respected me.

The end result was a happy, peaceful pleasant conversation that lasted for nearly two hours and gave each of us the opportunity to better understand the other. He listened intently when I explained why I could not share his exact faith as I did to him. We discovered that we did share some common values,  and we both walked away with the hope that each had opened a tiny door for the other.

Maybe some small part of him was softened. Perhaps I managed to help him in his journey towards a more loving way of being. Perhaps not.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity in that moment, to grow in awareness so that I could let go of my need to be right and listen to another. If he is misguided, then understanding him would be my best chance of creating a spark for some positive change.

The key here is, that we must learn to challenge destructive ideas instead of attacking the person or people who believe in them. It is much easier to attack the person because it requires far more intellect to challenge an idea and we cannot apply intellect to an idea that we don’t understand.

And so, unless we are prepared to listen and discover, even when we know we don’t agree, we abdicate our potential to create positive change.

This is why I believe that we need to evolve to a place where we can have these types of civilized conversations with each other regardless of our positions if we hope to create a better world. I hope that some day soon we all begin to understand that. I can see no other way that we can work towards lasting peace.

…I am quite certain that our survival depends on it.

Up next

Part Two: In the spirit of openness and respect, allow me to introduce my God.

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26 Comments

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  1. NotAScientist / Oct 21 2010 8:27 am

    “Freedom of speech is a myth in most secular circles. You are free, as long as you bash all religion. There is no freedom to defend yourself from the wrong assumptions and judgement of those who dislike religion. The respect I have for their beliefs is apparently not reciprocal. I do not enjoy the same right to speak my mind and be heard.”

    Here I am legitimately confused. Perhaps you can help me understand.

    At first you talk about freedom of speech, and then about respect, and you seem to be conflating the two. Freedom of speech isn’t about respect, it’s about being free to say what you like without anyone being allowed to prevent you from doing so.

    Now, your friends may be rude or even inappropriate in what they are saying or how they are responding to you. And they may not agree with you or respect your beliefs. But unless they are in some way preventing you from speaking (and they may be, for all I know, but it didn’t read like they were), then they aren’t preventing your freedom of speech.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 21 2010 8:43 am

      Hello and welcome!
      Thank you for asking for that clarification.
      Yes. I have on many occasions been shut down, (and was on this particular night). I have been prevented from defending myself against their accusations, by having someone walk away from me. Laugh, and interrupt with more intolerant diatribe.
      On several occasions over the years, someone has asked me why I converted to Judaism, and as I begin to tell my story I am drowned out negative comments, rude teasing and more religion bashing. Once I was told by a third party to stop and talk about something else. This when all I was trying to do was answer a question.
      That, is what I meant by freedom of speech being a myth.

      • NotAScientist / Oct 21 2010 9:18 am

        Thanks for the clarification.

        And forgive me, but just because I’m a nitpicker:

        “I believe that all faiths, including Atheism can provide the potential for growing in love and peace.”

        While I agree with the sentiment behind this statement, technically atheism isn’t a faith.

        • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 21 2010 9:55 am

          I do realize that it isn’t technically but it is a faith in that it is a belief. A belief in no God.
          I consider it to be the same in that it is like all religion a belief that cannot be proven scientifically. Therefore, just like a belief in God we can never know for certain.
          This is why I will NEVER argue that there is a God. If I had the opportunity, I would explain why I “believe” in God, and what that means to me. But, I TOTALLY respect and understand those who don’t believe. In fact, I was as a teenager one of them, and I don’t look back on those years as misguided, or wrong in any way. I simply began as I grew to see things from another perspective and it changed me.

  2. Emily Jane / Oct 21 2010 8:41 am

    “I believe that all faiths, including Atheism can provide the potential for growing in love and peace. That is until the moment when we decide that we are right, anyone who differs is wrong, and that in being right, we are superior to those who don’t share our ideas.”

    Amen!! Having been raised in a house without any religion at all, and then seeing my mother in adulthood join a sector of Christianity called Seventh Day Adventism and watching it kind of cause the separation of my parents… religion is something that has been off my radar until the last few years. I like to think of myself as spiritual, and right now I am exploring Christianity on my own, but I have a big problem with going to church and labelling myself because so many people put on the appearances, yet bash anyone whose beliefs are different from their own. And that kind of screams of hypocrisy more than anything. This is a REALLY interesting topic… one I’m actually slightly scared of addressing on my blog…so kudos to you for tackling something so big! 🙂

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 21 2010 10:06 am

      Good Morning Emily,
      Thanks for the vote of confidence! I will admit to being a bit afraid, but these words have been spinning around in my head for years eating a hole in my stomach and it was time…
      Here is the problem as I see it.

      “I have a big problem with going to church and labelling myself because so many people put on the appearances, yet bash anyone whose beliefs are different from their own.”

      You said it brilliantly. The problem is when anyone does that. Anyone at all. When we bash each other, especially when we haven’t bothered to listen and understand each other, we create the kind of problems that religion is constantly blamed for, and yet in some ways, whether big or small, we are all guilty. I find that I am often bashed for things I don’t believe in and not allowed to defend myself.
      I must say, that over the years since my conversion to and my slow subtle falling away from Judaism, (which I still love and admire but have grave difficulty adhering to mostly due to lack of discipline), that I have found myself resistant to those labels as well. Not because they’re bad in and of themselves, but because I simply cannot limit my mind. (Not that I ever intended to even when I decided to convert.)

  3. Keith / Oct 21 2010 10:44 am

    Hello Jenny,

    I am reminded of this quote:

    “Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and Demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.”

    Chief Tecumseh (Crouching Tiger) Shawnee Nation 1768-1813

    I really think that says it all, don’t you? 🙂

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 21 2010 10:50 am

      That’s a nice one!
      Welcome, and thank you for stopping by.

  4. nrhatch / Oct 21 2010 2:36 pm

    I wrote a related post on intolerance recently:

    “Maybe, when adults learn to engage in civil conversations about opposing viewpoints (without ridiculing their “opponents” or applying judgmental labels), our children will learn by example.

    Until then . . . the world is apt to be filled with bullies.”

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/bullies-and-trolls/

    We see the world behind our eyes. Our egos are always struggling to be “right,” which means that anyone who sees the world in a different way must be “wrong.”

    It happens when discussing religion, politics, sexual preferences, and even sports!

    We must be the change we wish to see in the world. If we want a more loving and less judgmental world, we must BE more loving and less judgmental.

    That said, those who believe that religion is bullshit, and not worth discussing, should not feel pressured into having a conversation that does not interest them.

    Instead of pressing forward in the face of such resistance, change the topic to something more palatable ~ love, gratitude, tolerance, etc.

    Cheers!

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 21 2010 3:41 pm

      Thank you for that. I’m wondering if I wasn’t really as clear as I intended to be, and I am always grateful to consider where I can improve.
      I agree with you.
      I do not usually discuss these things, but my need to write about it was over the fact that I am often judged and not able to correct anyone’s false assumptions about me. Not to mention these are people who really do matter to me, and it is tremendously painful that they would treat me so disrespectfully when they don’t even know how I think. I would never pressure anyone into such a conversation. These are not conversations I would ever start unless I know for certain that they would be welcome. Such as the discussion with the man of the other faith.
      The point is exactly as you stated. Stop bullying. Listen. Learn.
      Writing this blog is one of many ways that I work to “be the change”.

      • nrhatch / Oct 21 2010 3:56 pm

        Why worry about being judged? We have as many reputations as we have acquaintances, and none is accurate.

        When we realize that our reputation with others is not worth defending (because it is fleeting and ephemeral and ALWAYS inaccurate), we free our time and attention for the more important task of becoming who we always wanted to be.

        Everyone we know has made false assumptions about who we are because they are seeing the world through THEIR eyes, not ours. If we focus of correcting their misimpressions, how will we ever have time to live our life?

        Peace!

        • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 21 2010 6:41 pm

          I’m so glad you came back!
          You are absolutely right in everything you say.
          I really do not worry about being judged in most things and one of the ways I am working to let go of this particular issue was to write this, and the next blog post.
          It really frightens me that those who are intolerant of religion are perpetrating the same mistakes that cause them to despise religion in the first place. I wrote this, to focus on that and not so much on the events that lead up to my writing it. I think that by having these discussions we might possibly make ourselves more aware of our own shortcomings. In that, it was completely successful since it helped me to become more aware of mine! 🙂
          Over the past few days, I have realized that aside from being seriously concerned about the negative effects of bigotry on the world and our future, there is something that triggered my emotions, and that was the issue of being bullied. Which is what I feel when I am faced with such blatant disrespect. (As in when I am personally attacked as opposed to having my ideas challenged.)Remnants from a childhood where I often considered suicide because of the way I was treated by other children and the frustration I had over such treatment.
          Becoming aware that that issue is still alive allows me to begin working to fix it. How cool is that?
          Thank you again, and blessings!

  5. nrhatch / Oct 21 2010 8:02 pm

    I’ll be interested to see where you go from here.

    Just remember that when someone criticizes a group to which we belong (e.g., people who play guitars) . . . it is our choice whether to take the comment personally or shrug it off.

    We are NOT the labels we wear.

  6. klruth / Oct 22 2010 1:41 am

    Hello Jenny!

    I have finally begun blogging, and I was very interested in stumbling into this post today.I too believe that Canadian society is dangerously close to losing it’s freedom of religion, and I find that to be a scary thought.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 22 2010 2:14 am

      Welcome to the blogosphere Kelly!
      I’m not sure that our actual legal rights are in danger yet. But of course, intolerance is the first step.

  7. DM / Oct 22 2010 5:15 am

    You put into words many of the thoughts I have rumbling around in my head all the time. Wow…can’t wait to read part two. glad we crossed paths vis the blog-o-sphere.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 22 2010 11:23 am

      Thanks DM!
      It’s nice to see you! I too am so grateful for you and all of the other paths I’ve crossed. This whole experience has been one massive gift that is changing my life!
      I’m a bit terrified to be writing these things, but the fear is subsiding and I know that this is an important part of my journey.

  8. mommylebron / Oct 22 2010 8:57 pm

    Ah, sweet Jenny! Eloquent as always! It’s true, religion is a hard topic to discuss without it turning controversial or judgmental. I love to read and learn about different beliefs. I find it fascinating to learn the history behind them. Who is to say really, really who is right and who is wrong? Also, I am impressed not only at how you got your point across in this post but how you defended and expanded on your thoughts in the comments without back tracking or rewording yourself! I look forward to Part 2!

  9. Andrea DeBell - britetalk / Oct 22 2010 9:37 pm

    Hi Jenny Ann!

    Thanks so much for being so open about your spiritual beliefs. I don’t know if there is a right path or a perfect path.There are different paths for different people. Our paths may change as we change and that’s good. We have to respect even the people that don’t respet our path because they are doing the best they can with the beliefs they hold.

    Thanks for this inspiring conversation. Loving blessings!

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 23 2010 12:04 am

      Hi Andrea,
      Thanks for stopping by. Of course there is no perfect path. It must be as individual as individual people.
      I realized that the answer to the question as to why I worried about being judged is complex, but the most important underlying reason for my upset was not personal.
      I did not write the post in response to being angry over judgement aimed at me personally but by the fact that this kind of intolerance is dangerous.
      I am not interested in eating myself up with the details of this situation I can assure you that I don’t, but I think it is also dangerous to let everything just roll off our backs and not speak up.
      This was a post about intolerance, not my hurt feelings. And though it was rewarding to my personal growth to see it from that point of view briefly, that was never my intention.

  10. Ollin / Oct 23 2010 2:26 pm

    Jenny,

    I can’t believe that at one point you didn’t think you were a writer. Seriously. You were MEANT to do this. You express yourself very well in words, and you touch on the “uncomfortable” subjects which means you are more than just a writer, your someone who wants to use writing as a vessel to change the world for the better. That’s my favorite kind of writer! 🙂

    As for religion… This is so interesting, because it seems to be the opposite in America these days. The SuperReligious seem to have the floor and no one can interrupt and if they do, they are immediately thrown to the side as irrelevant, immoral, drug-induced hippies. Against family, against the American way, and they also have us convinced that the founding fathers were very religious! But this was the total opposite, the founding fathers distrusted religion and that’s why they separated church and state.

    Well, anyways. To address your point. I’m sorry these people didn’t allow you to give a voice to your beliefs. I’ve never really encountered that in my life… but then again, I hardly get into religious discussions, I’ve gotten into spiritual discussions with my friends but they are all very supportive and are always fine with agreeing to disagree.

    Either way, they should have allowed you to state your case, especially after a play about religion. What I can say is that I used to be a staunch atheist not long ago. It was because I carried a lot of animosity towards god because of my sexuality and other things. I blamed him for everything wrong in my life, and I thought he or she {ill say she} was against me in all aspects.

    First of all, I realized I was not actually not believing in god. I was surprised to find that atheist has the word “god” in it from the latin “theos” and “a” meaning not, or no” Which means that even though I supposedly did not believe in Her, I still had a relationship with her. She was still there, I just chose to say “not.” {Atheists should really find another word that doesn’t have “god” in it, because it’s kinda awkard.} So I thought the whole thing was silly. It was like I was giving god the silent treatment, and it wasn’t improving our relationship.

    I knew She was there, i just didn’t want to believe it. What helped me was to start to see my faith as a Relationship. A relationship I had to heal, just like any other one. Here is where I depart from the tradition. I did yell at god and tell Her to apologize for what she did, She did and I forgave her and now we are in a much better relationship.

    I do not pray to her like other people do. I always thought it was weird to just ask God what I wanted, like he was Santa Claus. Instead I have conversations with Her. I just ask that She listen. Sometimes I ask for guidance and advice, sometimes I just share what is troubling me, sometimes I share that I don’t know what I want. Often I don’t ask her for anything in return, or for her to speak to me or give me a sign, I just ask her to listen and that is enough.

    Well anyways, thanks for opening this discussion up. We sure need to have it, seeing as we become more and more divided with religion. Oh, but what I was trying to get at with my whole religion story, is that I think these people have painful memories associated with religion, and it has nothing to do with you. You really don’t know how it was for them growing up in their religion, so maybe they didn’t have a positive experience like you may have.

    Ok, I’ve written far too much. Thanks for addressing what we are all thinking, yet again. 🙂

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 23 2010 4:08 pm

      Hello Ollin!
      Thank you so much for “writing too much”
      I love to hear anyone’s story. Now it’s my turn to “write too much.”
      And, thank you for your lovely words of encouragement. This week since writing the guest post has been so full of support for what I am trying to do that I’m wondering if I’ll ever doubt myself again. (but you know all about doubt. That sneaky little monster. :)) So thank you again for your words of encouragement.
      I was not upset that these people don’t share my beliefs. My beliefs are just that. Beliefs. I get that, and we would all have a lot less reason to argue if more of us did.
      The thing that upset me, is that I am truly frightened of what the divide between all people is going to do to our future. Being intolerant to each others’ ideas is going to kill us all if we don’t stop. By no means do we all have to agree on everything. We never have, we never will. We all wear a set of lenses created by past experience, psychological make-up our level of self-worth just to mention a few that colour the way we see the world. (Darn spell- check thinks I’ve spelled colour wrong. When will it figure out that I’m Canadian! 🙂 )
      We need to start opening ourselves up to other ideas and start having discussions if we are to have any hope of creating any positive change.
      I am categorically against any faith or belief that excludes or condemns anyone as we’ve seen the results of that far too often. The issue is, it doesn’t matter if you are religious and against those of other faiths or not religious and against those of all faiths, or whether you are against homosexuality, particular races, women men, whatever… it ALWAYS leads to violence. and everything starts with a thought.
      I think that arguing over something that cannot be proven, ie: the existence of God is downright silly. Until it becomes violent and then it is downright evil.
      I think that the rise in Fundamentalist Faith and intolerant Atheism, (because by no means are all atheists intolerant) is driving us farther apart. Again, scary.
      I am really aware of what is going on in America, and I suspect that it is not all that different here. It depends on geography, as well as the types of circles that you travel in. One difference is that our government has always (until recently thank you Mr. Prime Minister) honored the very wise separation of church and state so the super-religious do not have such a powerful voice. It is never any good when one group has more power.
      Thank you as well for your story regarding your religion. I do respect those who do not accept the idea of a God, and I totally understand it. I am always rather amazed when someone with your history is able to open themselves up to the idea of a God that is different from what they’ve been taught all of their lives. I wasn’t raised with any God, so I had no prior conditioning to overcome.
      The whole point is that it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we believe in doing what is best for everyone in the world and that is the message that we need to keep spreading around like fairy dust wherever we can.

  11. Viv / Oct 24 2010 5:05 am

    Hi Jenny,
    been away so haven’t had time to comment.
    be brave, people can be thoughtless and cruel about the beliefs of others. I do talk about my beliefs when asked but rarely volunteer anything because I hope that my life, my conduct and my words generally will be sufficient(and it seems they are).
    I find it heartbreaking that some people make up their mind at a young age and never again review their beliefs and choose to dismiss it all as you say as bullshit. I have a colleague who decided at 17 there was nothing beyond the physical and at 63, he’s never given it thought again.
    I follow a broadly Christian path, and support any faith that has love, kindness and family at its core; i usually celebrate Hannukah to be in solidarity with my Jewish friends.
    I shall look forward to your next post with great joy.
    be blessed.
    xx

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 24 2010 9:47 am

      Well Viv, That makes you a better Jew than me! 🙂
      I think that not questioning your ideas and beliefs throughout your life is dangerous. When we get to attached to our viewpoint that’s when we become rigid and intolerant.
      Welcome back and thanks for stopping by!

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