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