Don't Be Tolerant
Article ID: 13045
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: August 23rd. 2009
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To have tolerance*, to be tolerant, one must have “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own.” That doesn’t sound very good to me. To be tolerant of other religions means we view them as something we should have sympathy toward, something we will indulge? Could we possibly find a way to be more arrogant and elitist? I’m tired of those who ask for ‘tolerance’ of this or that, especially when it comes to religion.
There is nothing… nothing bad about being different. In fact, differences are the cornerstone of creativity. Without differences there would be no stability to anything, no capacity for it to stand up to the winds of change, and no ability to grow or advance. We shouldn’t be merely tolerant of differences; we should celebrate them! Everything in our universe is different from everything else.
Does that mean we should be tolerant and ‘endure (the) pain or hardship’?
Of course we should all have standards that guide our conduct and set the border between what is acceptable and what isn’t. We must guard against that which can harm, and work against that which degrades our world. Ideas can do these things, no doubt about it. But to rise up against ideas or activities simply because they’re different is not mere intolerance, it’s stupidity.
By actively conflicting with another’s differing ideas, we become engaged with their ideas. In other words, we give their ideas energy! If instead we take their ideas and find ways to fold them into our own, if we truly accept that they may have as much merit as our own and use them to make ours better, then everybody benefits.
Every great idea that has grown in influence has done this. Those who have employed this strategy have seen their ideas grow wings and soar; those who have battled against the ideas of others have seen their own be buried.
All too often I see a great deal of acceptance on the part of one group of Pagans for another with vastly different ideas but (at best) a begrudging tolerance for the ideas and practices of people from other faith groups. The usual ‘justification’ for this is that those other faith groups offer little to no tolerance for us and sometimes preach the demise of ours. This is kindergarten psychology: I won’t let you play with me because you don’t want me to play with you. It’s the Hatfields and McCoys, an ‘us and them’ way of thinking.
If we employ this strategy, we’ll eventually go down in flames. We’re giving energy to the very people who are trying to put us down and if we continue doing so, we’ll end up unable to grow or even maintain the advancements we’ve seen over the last half-century.
This goes beyond bashing of other religions (every time we bash another religion, we degrade our own) . Every time we fail to see the worth of another’s form of spirituality we pass up a chance to learn. I could make an argument that even those people who attempt to fire up their parishioners to destroy us are worth listening to. Though they love to quote passages from their scripture that they interpret as justification for our demise, their brand of religion nevertheless has a place in our society.
A few years ago, I was sent to a Protestant church to listen in on their preacher’s sermon. It was thought that this man was actively trying to rid the community of the local Pagan group’s presence by firing up his parishioners so they would commit vicious acts on the members and property of the Pagan group. They sent me because I wasn’t immediately identifiable to the people of that church as part of the Pagan group.
I sat in the pew and listened to the whole service and talked with some of the parishioners afterwards with an ear tuned for the worst. Although I didn’t find any direct reference to the local Pagan group, what I came away with was disturbing enough. Their way of seeing the world (and those who didn’t believe as they did) was downright frightening.
I left feeling ‘unclean’ somehow. Just that one visit was enough to give me (literally) nightmares for months to come! Now, several years later, I’ve come to see how it all worked out.
The Pagan group didn’t respond to these people as if they were a threat, even when someone decided to desecrate their outdoor circle and they (some of the townspeople who were part of the Protestant church) even tried to work politically to keep the Pagans from holding their meetings.
The leader of the Pagan group kept his group in the public’s eye, always seeking ways to let the non-Pagans know that they were not the demons the preacher in that church warned them against. Now, even the preacher recognizes that the Pagans ‘haven’t been too bad’ for the town. It may not be a resounding tribute, but it certainly isn’t the flaming militant opposition that he preached before.
I also have found a better understanding. The priest of that Pagan group was a lot smarter about the whole matter than I was. My response to the ideas and words of the Protestant church’s preacher and parishioners was a knee-jerk, fight-or-flight reaction, fueled by a biased viewpoint that was looking for problems. And, because I was looking for a threat, I found it there.
I wonder sometimes if I was sent there to learn that lesson. I had served as a representative to an interfaith council before that and had never once thought of any of the other faiths’ representatives as a threat. In fact, odd as it may seem, I actually was threatened during that time by another Pagan group because I was on the council!
Acceptance, even celebration of the differences among us is often difficult, especially if we feel threatened by those differences. Threats generate fear, and fear is the opposite of love (that’s right, hate is not love’s opposite; fear is) . When we fear, our capacity to love goes out the window. We see and hear things in a different way and our interpretations of what we experience are skewed to finding demons everywhere. And, guess what: by giving energy to our fears, we make our world into one filled with demons.
The cure... the only cure is to love those things that have made us afraid. Love and fear can’t occupy the same space. We don’t love by feeling sympathy for something or tolerating it; we love by making it a valued part of us, by accepting it.
So to hell with tolerance; be intolerant of tolerance! Recognize the value of the differences around you. Accept that they are valuable even if they promote something that could be interpreted as a threat to your own way of believing and behaving. If nothing else, they have made you more cautious and circumspect. They may even have made your way of being more energized. If you learn how to accept the differences of others you will strengthen your own spirit; not just make it more powerful, but also give it true strength.
Most people find strength through their religion. If you’re lucky, you find the religion that is truly right for you. Some religions are right for some people and not others; no religion is right for everybody. Our spirituality isn’t right for some people. If they fear us, they will see demons in us. If we fear them, we will create demons in our world as well. If they try to threaten us, love them back… if nothing else, it’ll confuse the heck out of them!
And while they’re standing around trying to figure it all out, maybe… just maybe some sort of acceptance can happen for everybody.
* Tolerance: 1: capacity to endure pain or hardship: ENDURANCE, FORTITUDE, STAMINA
2 a: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own b: the act of allowing something: TOLERATION
3: the allowable deviation from a standard; especially: the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece -- (From Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, 2003, v 3.0)
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