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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

The Privilege of Faith

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

The Privilege of Faith

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can of worms
Slate legal writer Dahlia Lithwick writes this week on why it's unconstitutional to simply vote to worship a particular religion at town hall meetings. So the argument goes that if a majority of a population has a particular belief system, then the democratic system should allow them to vote to observe that belief system in the form of, for example, prayers to a Christian god before a meeting commences. The few non-Christian "sensitive types" should not be able to overrule the will of the majority.

Lithwick sums up well the legal and logical problems with this. Being a non-Christian sensitive type myself, I decided to take a look at the comments as well. I don't know why I do this to myself. They always make me angry to see Christians commenting from their place of privilege to explain to those of us who actually belong to a religious minority why religious minorities should not be upset by the imposition of the majority.

I was raised in an arreligious family. Not irreligious--I was never taught to be an atheist or to reject a belief in a god or gods. Religion simply wasn't mentioned in my family. Living in the United States, of course, it occasionally edged in on my life--I attended my cousins' confirmations and used to read religious pamphlets over my grandmother's house--but it was always the practice of others, never my own. Like anyone, I asked the usual questions about the meaning of life and death. I found my answers in nature, in observing the world around me. I was never given those answers in the form of religion. I still ask those questions today. Whenever I walk in the forest or work in my garden or write a story or poem, I am asking those questions and with slow, careful work, discovering answers and deeper questions.

Thirty years later, I identify as an agnostic who practices a type of Druidry, a form of nature spirituality. It is probably safe to say that, aside from Bobby, another person of my belief system does not exist within 100 miles of me, even in liberal Maryland. (There are other agnostics and other people who practice Druidry but likely not the rather uncommon combination of the two.) I think that qualifies me as a religious minority.

So it galls me to hear Christians, from their comfortable place as a religious majority powerful enough to influence the laws of a supposedly free nation, tell me that the injection of their beliefs into public life shouldn't matter to me. That if they pray before government meetings, that does me no harm. That they would gladly tolerate religious speech from other religions, were that religion in the majority.

That my objection to their religious speech in public makes me intolerant. That they are persecuted because I ask not to hear their prayers--or anyone's, for that matter--when I am conducting civic business.

I would ask these people to live one year as an actual religious minority before they speak of this. It is easy, when symbols condoning their faith pervade private and public spaces and when laws are shaped to fit the value system of their faith, to claim that none should mind a quick little prayer before a board meeting. Or that they would not protest the exercise of another faith. (Yet, clearly, they do protest the exercise of agnosticism: of choosing to state neither belief nor unbelief in a higher power.) From that place of privilege, Christians cannot know what it is to live as a religious minority.

I would say to Christians who think that the rest of us should "tolerate" their religion in a government that's supposed to belong to all of us ...

When nearly half of U.S. citizens polled have no problem admitting that they think "you people" are unfit to serve as President solely because of your beliefs, then you can comment on how a religious minority should feel. Poll after poll shows that most U.S. citizens would accept a woman, a Jew, a Mormon, even a gay person or a Muslim, as President, but these same people would not accept an atheist. (Since agnostics tend to get lumped in with atheists, I doubt the numbers for my particular belief system would be much more favorable.) We are in a sad place when almost half of our fellow citizens are comfortable revealing that level of bigotry against a particular group.

When inquiries about how you practice a religion not your own become a litmus test for public office, then you can comment on how a religious minority should feel. Whenever I observe the scrutiny paid to the (Christian) church a presidential candidate attends, or the hand-wringing that surrounds which (Christian) church a new president will attend in DC; whenever I hear candidates or representatives speak about their beliefs from a default Christian perspective, it reminds me that, were I so inclined to serve as an elected representative, that this would in all likelihood be unavailable to me because of my beliefs. I imagine that when I answered the question of, "What church do you attend?" with, "Well, I observed Lughnasagh in my living room this year because a thunderstorm prevented the use of my preferred maple grove," my constituents would not be favorably impressed.

When people who identify as both tolerant and progressive do not protest--or even notice--the above litmus tests, then you can comment on how a religious minority should feel.

When you fear revealing your beliefs, even to people close to you, because you worry that they will think less of you or abandon contact with you altogether, then you can comment on how a religious minority should feel. Christians should think of the number of times they casually mention going to church or other words that identify their faith; imagine if every time you spoke of these things so important to you, you worried that you were losing a friendship, or losing the respect of someone you cared about. When you have to carefully consider your relationship with a person before allowing casual mention of your beliefs into conversation. Or when you worry that your beliefs--or lack of Christian belief--will close doors to you in your professional life. I think it is telling that even as I type this post, I wonder if I should post it. I can count on one hand the number of people on my flist who knew my spiritual beliefs before I posted this. I wonder how many of you are surprised? Unpleasantly so?

When words that describe you are tossed off casually as insults or to describe all manner of monstrous behavior, then you can comment on how a religious minority should feel. The term heathen describes me. It is also used to describe murderers and child molesters, by the same contingent of people who proudly identify as progressive and tolerant. The term godless describes me too. It is frequently appended as a modifier to add extra oompf to the above-mentioned folks' disdain for murderers and perverts.

Godless heathen ...

What comes to mind when you hear that?

What I wish Christians who make these kinds of ignorant comments would realize: Marginalization and, eventually, oppression of a minority group needn't come through legislation or any outright declaration of that group's inferiority. Many of the 48% who can't imagine a qualified atheist as a suitable presidential candidate probably can't remember ever being taught that atheists were bad people. Most of them probably have friends or loved ones who are atheist, agnostic, or otherwise not Christian, even if they don't realize it. But when we start putting a minority group in the place of the Other, when we start making it obvious who doesn't stand or kneel for a religious observance or who excuses themselves from a prayer before a town hall meeting, when we call attention to that detail above all others, then a person who was formerly a neighbor, even a friend, becomes identified by their difference and pressed to the periphery of the community, excluded. Be that person on the periphery and tell me it doesn't matter.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • It has taken me many years to be openly Pagan, although I have been so all of my life. I still am well aware that I could be called upon to die for the difference in my faith from the mainstream religion. The last witchcraft laws were repealed in Britain just a little less than 60 years ago and many other nations will not tolerate pagans, or at least those who do not believe in the prevailing religious belief, at all. Am I willing to die for my beliefs, if necessary yes. And I would do it for the freedom of someone else to practice their faith. What I won't do willingly is die for the sake of mainstream religion imposing their beliefs and viewpoints on others who do not walk their road.

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • I did not know you were Pagan, but it doesn't surprise me. :)

      Part of me that is still very young and naive blinks hard at the possibility of having to die for one's beliefs, in the 21st century, in the US of A. But the part of me that has consciously chosen a different path these last years from most of our fellow citizens knows the truth when you say, "I still am well aware that I could be called upon to die for the difference in my faith from the mainstream religion." This is the same uncomfortable truth as an openly gay friend of mine who wants my father-in-law (a firearms instructor) to teach him how to shoot a gun because he believes that his life will one day be in danger from Christian zealots. Bobby and I practice our beliefs privately; we share what we have and what we know about working with the earth for the benefit of all who choose to accept it, but I've no doubt that there may come a day when we are threatened for our lack of belief in Christianity.
  • Ah yes, the fatalistic feeling of "I shouldn't look at the comments because i know it'll be bad, but i can't help it".... I'm guilty of doing that too.

    This entire post is completely spot on, unfortunately. I don't even know what else i could add.
    • But I'm kind of glad that I did, in retrospect, because of the thoughtful discussion now going on here and on DW. :) I feel much less crazy and much less alone right now than I did after reading many of those comments.
  • Almost 80 percent of the population here are nominally Christian, many of them combining Christianity with traditional African religion. Despite that, the practice is to have a minute's quiet contemplation before a session of Parliament or a public meeting or such. That way, one can pray to God or Allah or the ancestors, or calculate how many minutes till the lunch break. To my mind, that's how it should be done, ezpecially when I compare it to the 'bad old days' when the Christian God was invoked relentlessly at such times.

    I wondered if you were a Druid. No reason, just instinct.
    • I wondered if you were a Druid. No reason, just instinct.

      I find it interesting how many have commented here that they either suspected or are totally unsurprised. :)

      When I was student teaching--and my home county is very conservative, which translates to very Christian--the school where I taught had a moment of silence every morning. I liked that. I knew the motive was to allow students who wanted to pray in school to do so, but it also allowed me the chance for a moment of meditation, reflection, and peace before the inevitable hullabaloo of my day began. I don't think we have enough moments of silence in life, so I'm with you, and I wish more organizations over here would adopt this as an alternative that allows for prayer while respecting the beliefs of all.
  • Yeah... What's kind of funny to me is that back when I was Christian, I kept hearing about how Christians are the (persecuted!) minority, and what a tremendous struggle it is, having to put up with all the godlessness around us and getting looked at funny or even mocked for "being true to ourselves." But somehow it was still very easy for some of the very same people saying that to bring up that "America is a Christian country!" when they wanted religious minorities to shut up.

    I know, lots of Christians aren't like that. But I was, and good gravy was it a lesson for me when I started making friends with people who weren't privileged like I was, and again when I decided I was an atheist myself. In my experience, it was one thing to be a Christian hearing about some shock rock star saying horrible things about God or to see a silly stereotype of Bible-thumpers on TV, and another to be an atheist hearing the President of the United States and other major political figures tripping over themselves to make sure people know they're Christian or otherwise faithful to religion as though it's proof of some positive aspect of a person's character.

    (Sorry about all the edits)

    Edited at 2011-08-07 04:36 am (UTC)
    • I really don't understand how Christians convince themselves that they are a persecuted minority, but then, I realize that comes from being a lifelong outsider of that faith. After all, white people and men convince themselves that they're persecuted too. I know, as a white middle class person myself and enjoying all of the privileges of that position, it was hard for me to learn and understand that racism or classism didn't come from hurt feelings--like when one of my Black students made the offhand remark that all white people look the same--but from power ... like when the place I've attained in life in part because of my economic advantages and, yes, skin color allow me to wield an enormous amount of power over the fate of my Black students. I suppose it's extra hard for many Christians to see how their power differs them from other groups that might make hurtful comments because of a long history of glorifying their misery and depicting themselves as martyrs. When their faith holds the power and the wealth, it's hard to argue oneself miserable or a martyr on account of that faith, but I guess old habits are hard to break and, if I'm not mistaken, some sects demand sacrifice from their adherents.

      Your comment, bringing the perspectives of both worlds, is so interesting to me. Thank you (and no worries on the edits! ;)
  • As a Christian I know that I have privileges of my faith. When I was very young it was not uncommon to have the Gideons come into the schools and pass out little Bibles to all the fifth graders, and to hold Bible-verse memory quizzes in the classroom. By that time, the Courts had decided that the officials of the school could not lead prayers, and so the school invited outsiders to come do it instead.

    I know I'm privileged when it is the holidays I observe that are officially recognized: Christmas, Easter.

    But I happen to agree that opening a public meeting with the prayers of a specific faith is unfair.

    To the degree that religion has impinged on culture, I think it not unreasonable to recognize that it has historical significance beyond those who believe. But to expect non-believers to *participate* is unconstitutional.

    You are right that "believing" seems to be a prerequisite for political office; sadly I am cynical enough to fear that most of those who proclaim such belief are less than sincere.

    I think that being a "majority" is actually harmful to Christianity-- it's lead to a lot of false assumptions. There are places in the world where Christians truly *are* a persecuted minority-- persecuted physically and legally-- in ways they never would be here. I think that some Christians I know in this country who *think* they are persecuted because someone makes a joke about God need to take a look and see what REAL persecution is.

    But separation of church and state is the law of this land. I happen to think that's a GOOD thing. And so did many of the Christians who helped to make that a part of the law.

    After all, hypothetically speaking, how would a Christian feel if they moved to a community that had a majority of Druids, who insisted on holding a Druidic ritual before a town meeting? (Not like that would happen, but it's the principal of the thing.)

    • Thanks for your comment, Barb. I do confess that I sometimes feel intense anger against Christians, whose power in this country has hurt my family and people I care about in very palpable ways, and I have to smack myself alongside the head and remind myself that I practice peace. ;) Incidents like when I was in the teacher's computer room the other day and a TA came in and started complaining about having to attend the wedding of a woman she knew was bisexual, and another teacher reminded her that "As Christians, it is not our place to judge; we just have to love," or comments like yours help me to keep my perspective, so I thank you for it. :)

      I know I'm privileged when it is the holidays I observe that are officially recognized

      As an agnostic, I practiced these holidays in secular form (and still do, although I'm constantly trying to get Easter off my calendar, I have to confess!) and never really realized my privilege. When I started practicing Druidry--and we observe eight seasonal holidays to mark the changing seasons and the cycle of the sun--I realized how challenging it can be to observe holidays not on the calendar. Bobby and I generally enjoy a supper of local foods, have our seasonal observance, and then take the evening off from technology and enjoy music or read poems and stories. When I was student teaching, it was difficult, since I generally needed the whole evening on the computer to plan for the next day. And even though my mentor would have worked with me, I felt bad asking.

      Not like that would happen, but it's the principal of the thing.

      I think more to the point for Christians--which those who support the easing of the separation of church and state tend to overlook--is that Christians have been historically good at persecuting other Christians. Those who get to determine the "correct" form of worship or belief likely won't do so in a way that correlates with the system practiced by those who think that life would be so much better in a so-called Christian nation. They may find themselves at the head of the line for persecution in such an eventuality, even ahead of heathens like me. ;) They may also find themselves wishing for that Druidic ritual, as the form of Druidry I practice doesn't mandate belief in any particular deity/deities and welcomes Christians, non-theists, Pagans, Jews, Mormons ... anyone, equally. ;)
  • That you're an agnostic druid does not surprise me in the least.
  • My position is simple--all religious references out of government.

    I actually think Karl Marx stated my position on it most succinctly, even a bit poetically:

    "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

    Sigmund Freud explained it rather well:

    "The idea of God was not a lie but a device of the unconscious which needed to be decoded by psychology. A personal god was nothing more than an exalted father-figure: desire for such a deity sprang from infantile yearnings for a powerful, protective father, for justice and fairness and for life to go on forever. God is simply a projection of these desires, feared and worshipped by human beings out of an abiding sense of helplessness. Religion belonged to the infancy of the human race; it had been a necessary stage in the transition from childhood to maturity. It had promoted ethical values which were essential to society. Now that humanity had come of age, however, it should be left behind."

    I believe in people, compassion, generosity, a whole number of different types of love, decency and simple kindness, making an effort not to cause harm to anyone else and altruism when faced with human suffering. I don't know why one needs gods for any of that?

    I respect other people's right to believe in whatever manner of gods and religions that they wish and insist that they respect my right to believe that they are delusional. The world would be a far lovelier place with much less religion and more respect.

    I was raised in a very religious Irish Catholic family, although left liberal and extremely tolerate on most social and political questions, and educated in Catholic schools through grammar school and then again for my first two years at the University level. It took me until I was about 21 years old or so to leave religion completely behind me.

    Edited at 2011-08-07 05:04 am (UTC)
    • I believe in people, compassion, generosity, a whole number of different types of love, decency and simple kindness, making an effort not to cause harm to anyone else and altruism when faced with human suffering. I don't know why one needs gods for any of that?

      I agree, and I've always had a hard time understanding why this is thought to be inferior than arriving (supposedly) to the same point because a book or pastor told me to do so. I try to make all of the actions in my life motivated first by kindness and the desire to achieve peace--being human, I fuck that up occasionally ;)--and my decision to make my life's work what it is has come from ... well, a lifetime of contemplation. Of a thorough conviction that I have to live my life a certain way in order to be at peace with myself. I fail to see how that is in any way inferior to behaving in the same way because I am told to do so. I do wonder if that isn't part of the reason that so many so-called Christians do so poorly at following the teachings of Jesus: because they don't actually believe and haven't actually committed their lives to the pursuit of forgiveness, kindness, acceptance, &c &c ... I don't believe that evolution has favored humankind with those virtues as defaults but quite the opposite: We still behave toward each other as though we need to beat each other over the head for an extra mouthful of woolly mammoth drumstick. So choosing the opposite path out of obedience rather than conviction, to me, seems doomed to fail.

      But what do I know, godless heathen that I am? ;)
  • I was raised Anglican, and never saw the subtle discrimination against those who weren't at the time. I never saw my own prejudices in the matter at all. Then I grew up and converted to Buddhism (which can be either atheist or agnostic - I've been both) and raised my kids in that faith. Let me tell you: the second-hand education I got on the intolerance and prejudices of Christians was downright painful.

    As a rule, I don't discuss being Buddhist with very many people nowadays, after spending nearly ten years as an active denizen of an interfaith discussion/debate forum in the days before the Internet. It isn't that I don't want to - I genuinely enjoy a reasonable and even lively exchange of ideas and/or compare & contrast discussion - it's that too many folks have no idea what it means to be a part of a religious minority. Too many have no conception whatsoever how it feels to have that majority lord it over the minority in both subtle and blatant ways. Too many have absolutely no idea how violated it can make one feel to be told, repeatedly and sometimes quite crudely, how WRONG believing otherwise is, how STUPID it is. And way too many have no idea how disenfranchising it is to admit to NOT being Christian when it comes to public life.

    And only those who are in the minority themselves will understand the horror a parent like me feels when their child comes home from school crying and saying, "Mom, So-and-so told me that Buddhists are cannibals. Is that true?" I kid you not - I got that. Or, "Mom, I asked who was Moses, and they told me that because I was Buddhist, I wasn't worth answering."

    My children, as you can well imagine, are now vehemently - and often belligerently - anti-Christian, and all because of their treatment at the hands of so-called "Christian" children. And when I hear of Christians claiming to feel persecuted in America, it makes me literally sick to my stomach.
    • I'm sad to say that I didn't even feel a tickle of disbelief in the cannibals comment. It does not surprise me that many U.S. Christians are so ignorant and unafraid of admitting that, and that is sad. I admittedly feel unease in admitting that I practice Druidry because I know most people will immediately associate it will Devil worship and think I'm sacrificing goats in my backyard when, in reality, our seasonal ceremonies are little more than a form of thanksgiving and reflection on the changing seasons.

      It would be an interesting experience for many Christians, I suspect, to enter a room full of those of us who occupy the minority and have themselves prejudged by the worst misconceptions about their faith and treated based on those misconceptions. (And, sadly, for many them, the "misconceptions"--such as that they are intolerant ignoramuses--actually are not, as the cannibal comment made to your children proves.) Normally, I do not wish discomfort on others, but I think this country would become a much kinder place if they truly understood what it is to be misunderstood in that way.

      My children, as you can well imagine, are now vehemently - and often belligerently - anti-Christian, and all because of their treatment at the hands of so-called "Christian" children.

      That does not surprise me. I have a very dear friend who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family and has been a Christian for over 50 years, although not a fundamentalist. He's also gay, and he recently abandoned Christianity when he realized that so many who supposedly shared his beliefs wanted him treated as a second-class citizen, "corrected," or even killed. He told me that he began to question whether his understanding of what it means to be Christian--to be kind, forgiving, tolerant &c--was the correct interpretation, when so many others seemed to believe exactly the opposite. He's now one of the most vocally anti-Christian people I know. It makes me sad because, in this case, hate has bred hate, and it didn't need to be that way, if respect, tolerance, and kindness had guided the way people treated him and others with whom they share the world.
  • (Yes, my icon is unseasonal. But, hey, if it helps us all think of cooler weather . . . )

    (And apologies in advance, this comment may well get cutting.)

    Godless heathen ...

    What comes to mind when you hear that?

    Honestly? A particular type of elderly white Southern church lady, probably Methodist. Yes, I know that's a stereotype. On the other hand, I can't think of anyone else I know who actually uses the phrase non-ironically.

    Do you remember back in 2000, when Joe Lieberman was running for Vice-President? For one brief, shining, glorious moment, the country was faced with the real possibility that the guy a heartbeat away from the Presidency would be an Orthodox Jew. And it had a quiet little conniption fit, telling stories about how Lieberman walks on Shabbat, and oh dear, what would he do if there was a national emergency on a Saturday, and wasn't he exotic and a load of other crap. Th only good thing about this was that the Trib published his wife Hadassah's goulash recipe, which I cut out and saved, and it is a very good goulash recipe indeed.

    Of course, those were the halcyon days before Lieberman looked around the campaign trail, realized that people outside New England were less enamored of a liberal Jew than people in Connecticut were, and promptly reinvented himself as a warhawk wanna-be Baptist, which led Mom Pony to start cursing him in some truly inventive ways.

    The thing that always bugs me is people who use the term "Judeo-Christian" when what they really mean is "Christian-Christian." It always seems like, on the one hand, a patronizing attempt to include the Jews in whatever weird political stuff the Christian Right is cooking up, and, on the other hand, an unconscious attempt to erase the distinct identity of Judaism by sort of blending it in so that it's really just another Christian denomination, right? I mean, they even go to Jewish church on Saturdays! Um, no. Judaism is its own separate and complete religion, thankyouverymuch.

    when I answered the question of, "What church do you attend?"

    Considering the shit that my aunt got into as a teenager with a potential employer for answering that question with "a synagogue," I might just be tempted to answer with "the church of Our Lady of That's None Of Your Fucking Business." Which is why I will never be elected President, though I'll be old enough in less than a month, whee!
    • I hope you know by now that lengthy or passionate (or both!) comments never warrant apology here. ;)

      what would he do if there was a national emergency on a Saturday

      From my outsider's perspective, I'd rather have an Orthodox Jew exercising a religious observance on a Saturday than a born-again Christian using Biblical prophecy to govern foreign policy every day of the week. But what do I know, godless heathen that I am? ;)

      I can't recall the term godless heathen bandied about in a non-ironic way, but I do hear the term heathen quite often used to describe all manner of unsavory sorts. A former coworker of mine at the WAU used to call two other coworkers that she disliked The Heathens. And my TA will sometimes say our students behave like heathens. She's not talking about when one asked me to bring him a bouquet of black-eyed Susans from my garden or when they share their food and money with others who have none. ;) I won't say the use of that term in that way is even hurtful to me, but it is annoying, mostly because it comes from a place of total ignorance about what the term heathen actually means.

      "the church of Our Lady of That's None Of Your Fucking Business"

      Same here. Aside from Bobby and me, I know one other non-Christian at the school where I teach. I wonder which would scare some of my more devout coworkers more, the agnostic part or the druid part? And probably most have no notion what either part actually means ...
  • I didn't know the Druid bit, but it doesn't surprise me.

    Poll after poll shows that most U.S. citizens would accept a woman, a Jew, a Mormon, even a gay person or a Muslim, as President, but these same people would not accept an atheist.

    I'm skeptical about this. Given how one of the tactics used to undermine Obama's suitability as president was claiming he was a Muslim, I think a great many people who answered "Yes, I would accept a gay, Muslim, etc. as president" erm...lied.

    I'm not religious, though I grew up Lutheran (I think this may have been brought up in previous discussions XD). I don't really know what to call exactly what I am now... Theist-leaning agnostic? With a smattering of apatheism?

    But even when I still identified as a Lutheran, I would have agreed that it is inappropriate to have a Christian prayer (or anything other religious rite) before a council meeting/what-have-you.

    I agree with Dreamflower though, that many of those proclaiming Belief are insincere -- or maybe they truly believe themselves and their words and actions to be Christian, when in fact they are anything but.
    • Those numbers surprised me as well, but I think the poll was conducted in 1999. Probably most of the respondents didn't then know what Islam even was. ;)

      I don't really know what to call exactly what I am now... Theist-leaning agnostic? With a smattering of apatheism?

      This was me for many years. I would call myself a spiritual agnostic, in that I liked to think on spiritual questions but did not think that, as a human being, I could ever discover Truth-with-a-capital-T. I preferred to take my cues from nature as to how the world works, which is how I've come to narrow down the label I affix to myself to agnostic Druid. ;)
  • I am a religious minority. I am still coming to terms with what that means, both personally and in the larger world. I cannot celebrate in my preferred manner-- the only holiday I celebrate, for personal reasons, is the Winter Solstice-- because I live at home. I cannot stop celebrating Christmas, even though I feel uncomfortable with even a secular version, for the same reason. I, too, am one of the “sensitive” people.

    I am an agnostic-leaning Deist. I believe in God. When people (face-to-face, not online) talk about God, they assume that because I believe in God, I believe in their God. I don’t-- their God is the Christian God, which includes belief in the divinity of Jesus/the Trinity. It's why I feel uncomfortable with so-called non-denominational prayer, because it's assumed that the speaker's god is everyone's god (and the unspoken everyone's god is the mainstream Protestant version).

    I have had people mischaracterize my faith (it's often taught as a "dead" belief system, mentioned solely because of Thomas Jefferson), or claim that adherants were Christian because they thought Jesus' teachings were good. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that Deist is a broad category of beliefs, and one Deist cannot speak for all.

    Are there people I will never tell I'm not a Christian? Yes, but it's only one person: my grandmother. She's turning ninety, in a nursing home, and it would break her heart. Everyone else, I'm open with. If it'll cost me friends or other things, so be it. I'm not going to hide. (I'd like to say that's 100% true, but even though I'd like to think I'd speak up in a large group of people, I'm not sure I have the courage to.)

    It's a risk, especially given I live in a state where a well-known creationism musueum is about an hour's drive away, and state funds (in the form of tax rebates) will help the building of a Biblically-based theme park-- supposedly for "economic development" reasons.

    And to all those Christians crying persecution: a couple of years ago, my dad had a fellow teacher in the city borrow an ROTC uniform from him. Why? Because his nineteen-year-old student was pregnant and needed a larger uniform. The reason she was nineteen and still in high school? She and her husband had recently fled from Iraq because they were Christian. That is Christian persecution, not being unable to pray in a government arena. I firmly believe that many Christians do not realize America is not a theocracy, and of those who do, a fair amount want it to be.

    When you cannot feel comfortable practising your faith in your own home, come talk to me about persecution. When people tell you "they'll pray for you" because they found out you're no longer Christian, come talk to me about persecution. When you're afraid to tell someone you respect and like, "Please don't wish me 'Merry Christmas'" even though said person is an atheist, come talk to me about persecution.

    I remember talking a bit about this last December with you, and I'd said I was going to work on a post about my own beliefs. I never posted it, partly of fear. (But mostly because I never managed to properly say things. I've been poking at it off-and-on, and will be posting it come December.)

    I have so much to say about this topic, but I'm afraid I'm going to degenerate into incoherancy. Basically: I agree.
    • I remember that conversation we had as well. :) I was thinking about it when I posted this, as you were one of the handful of my flist to whom I'd talked about the full extent of my spiritual beliefs prior to this.

      The difficulty is compounded by the fact that Deist is a broad category of beliefs, and one Deist cannot speak for all.

      The same complication exists in Druidry, as the one term can describe completely different belief systems. And within the organization I belong to, personal belief (or lack of belief) is always respected and key, so even within this one organization, "Druids" are also Christians, Pagans, Jews, Mormons ... or non-theists, like me. :)

      I'm not going to hide.

      I admire you for this. This was my first time posting about some of these things. I was nervous. I woke up this morning thinking, "Crap, I actually did post that LJ/DW entry! (which took a few days to write, giving me plenty of time to think of the wisdom of it) and probably have all manner of hairy comments in my email right now!" I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of people willing to share their experiences and say, "Me too," as far as being part of a religious/spiritual minority ... like you. :)

      One of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life came when I was still with the Warrant Unit, working out of the Baltimore office. Because it was a larger office, we had office-wide holiday celebrations. We had a Thanksgiving feast that year, and I went down to participate since, not surprisingly, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I didn't then identify as an agnostic druid but, rather, as a spiritual agnostic: someone open to spiritual thought and experiences but who ultimately did not believe that she could know Truth. As far as I know, I was the only non-Christian in a large office. Anyway, I arrived at the feast just in time for the prayer. I had no problem with the prayer; if people wanted to exercise their private beliefs, I would not stop them. But they literally grabbed and dragged me into the circle with them and held me by the hands while they prayed. They did not know that I was an agnostic; they assumed that I was a Christian and did not know how they violated my trust that day and made me feel unwelcome at my workplace. I could not look at many of them the same again, and I was so relieved when I went back to the Jessup office, even though it meant I was completely alone for most of the day. I was also angry at myself for not being more forceful in extricating myself, for letting myself be held there because it felt rude and disrespectful to interrupt their exercise of faith in order to exert my own, although they had not shown me the same consideration.

      I firmly believe that many Christians do not realize America is not a theocracy, and of those who do, a fair amount want it to be.

      And like I noted to Dreamflower, many who want this country to be a Christian theocracy don't really know what they're wishing for. Christians have shown themselves again and again to be excellent at persecuting other Christians, so I've no doubt that if they were to receive the fullest extent of their wishes, then they'd be lined up right alongside me and the rest of us in the religious minority because, in all likelihood, the flavor of Christianity that became law would not be the flavor they practice.
    • (no subject) - dreamflower02 - Expand
    • (no subject) - indy1776 - Expand
  • I think most people in the UK would, if they were to tick a box on a form tick Church of England, but these days the UK is not a very religious country, I feel. Or perhaps it is becoming a more spiritual country, with people identifying as believing in something, but not really bothered about what. I run across a fair few pagans and people who call themselves heathens on various sites. I have seen that more and more in the last five or six years. I don't think here it matters much professionally what religion you are if any, I'm not sure it matters in Parliment, I am pretty sure it does not actually.

    When I was young with had hymns and prayers in Assembly at school, now some schools won't do nativity plays because it offends non Christians, and window displays are general 'festive' ones. I hope that there is more tolerance for all faiths or lack of. As a non Church-goer who does have a belief, albeit one that encompasses a lot of pagan views, I would feel very uncomfortable in the US, as I am used to the 'yeah, whatever,' attitude, and have friends (and family) who lean to paganism, Wicca, and church, with a touch of Zen Buddhism :) We all get on fine.
    • We've also seen a shift to "seasonal" from "overtly religious" in terms of holiday displays and the like, i.e. greenery in December instead of nativity displays. The difference seems to be that, over here, the conservative contingent is constantly bleating about a "war on Christmas" and doing things like berating store clerks who wish their customers "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." I always think that they must be very insecure in their beliefs if they need to see them represented everywhere in order to remember exactly what they believe in! :)

      My RL friend/family group is also a rather motley mix of various religious/spiritual beliefs. We also get on fine because, at the core, we believe in the same thing--kindness, acceptance, respect--even if we call it by different names.
  • This discussion caused me to look in a different direction based on US history. So I dredged up a copy of the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence. What I found was a 99.9% lack of ANY references to religion in either document except for what I call "Manner of speech". Last paragraph in the Constitution reads "in the year of Our Lord," and in the Declaration there was use of 'our sacred honor'.

    From history lessons back in the 60's we were taught that we fought for independence for many reasons. One was the right to practice our religious beliefs without persecution. However, where the issue under discussion runs into a wall of discrimination is from that group known as Organized Religion, which has for centuries oppressed, brain washed and harassed believers and unbelievers alike. The phrase "Religion is the opiate of the people" is all too true. Te assorted churches of organized religions have, for centuries, mashed their followers into little automatons and programmed them to respond to certain rituals, beliefs and thought patterns. Early on that was easy. Lack of education and joy in seeing gaudy, rich, ceremonial creations that they could participate in gave people a path to follow that promised them wonderful things if only they followed the churches rules. Frankly, this is true of the organized non-christian religions as well. There is great comfort for the majority of humanity to know that if they don't do X and always do Y they'll go to Heaven where everything will be all better.
    Somewhere in the last hundred years - mostly due to education - Organized religion has taken a gut punch and a lot of people are starting to ask questions. This is a good thing. It's also probably why all of a sudden we've had the great debate over prayer in school or in meetings and separating Church and State. Technically Church and State have always been separate but the traditions of a heavily 'christian' community in the early years of the US have followed along and are now perceived as having blended church and state. All of a sudden someone says "Hey, I don't wanna pray before homeroom" and the battle begins.
    The organized religions, Christian or not, WANT desperately to regain control. They'll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. And thus we have a group of - for lack of a better term - VARIETAL BELIEVERS - who are really in a quandary about how things are going to affect them.

    What am I? I don't know that I am anything specific. I don't practice any "organized religion", I don't go to any specific church and I generally find the term agnostic to be the least disturbing to folks when they ask what religion I am. I love that question - "What religion are you?". WOW - if I'm a religion does that make me a deity? Tricksy language - gotta love it. I'm inclined to believe there's 'something' out there that has an affect on us but whether it's a supreme being, Mother Nature or the Fates - I have no clue. Do I have a church - no. The outdoors is my church and the powers that be are everywhere in all sorts of form and function. I tend to prefer that things stay as simple as possible. Hammurabis code, the Yasa, the 10 commandments - all quite simple and easy enough to form a code for life with anyone. However, until the minority groups join together and beat the stuffing out of the Organized Religions I suspect there will be some sort of on going discrimination or persecution for a very long time. As long as we have organized religion we'll have war, persecution, hatred, enslavement and a few other nasty side effects. All very, very sad. My money is on Mother Nature and the next great climactic upheaval.... perhaps if anyone human survives things might be better in the next evolution.
    As for my favorite Felagundish Druid - I don't ever want to see you change - I like you just the way you are. You're welcome in my woods anytime.
    • What I found was a 99.9% lack of ANY references to religion in either document

      Funny how that is. ;)

      Somewhere in the last hundred years - mostly due to education - Organized religion has taken a gut punch ....
      The organized religions, Christian or not, WANT desperately to regain control.

      Which is why I think that it's not coincidental that the politicians most closely aligned with Organized Religion are always the first wanting to eviscerate education budgets ... or, in the case of Bush 2, water down education to a series of standardized tests. So instead of learning to write and debate and think and being judged competent in English based on that, my students take standardized tests where they fill out bubble sheets on whether they can identify modifiers or prepositions. Very little higher-level thinking is involved. When my students first started with me, they rebelled against the idea that classwork could involve more than just worksheets, that it might involve research or discussion or watching a movie together. School is less than an experience to teach kids how to think and learn than it is a series of hoops to jump through to demonstrate factual knowledge. To me, that seems very dangerous because it leaves people open to those who would have them believe things like an earthquake being caused by the fact that a state legalized same-sex marriage. It teaches them that there are easy, authoritative answers to everything (that one can pick from a list of multiple choices!) rather than deep questions that they, as people, will spend their lives trying to answer.

      But then, I am a radical, I suppose. ;) I'll keep teaching my students to think nonetheless.

      My money is on Mother Nature and the next great climactic upheaval....

      I saw an interesting bumpersticker at the farmer's market the other week: Mother Nature Bats Last. How true! And how scary for the majority of people who have no clue how to begin to take care of themselves when it's just them and Mother Nature.

      Although generally a pie-eyed optimist, I do have an uncharacteristically negative view of humankind in general. It seems to me that we've evolved to begrudge our neighbor every extra bite of woolly mammoth drumstick ... or income or whatever other symbolic representation of what we need to survive. It seems to me that religious teachings make this worse, not better. Yes, they preach charity, but they also preach obedience, i.e., let's keep the masses quiet and passive and unquestioning while those in power rummage through their pockets and blame the poor person next door for why they're then starving.

      As for my favorite Felagundish Druid - I don't ever want to see you change - I like you just the way you are. You're welcome in my woods anytime.

      :D :D :D

      I don't plan on changing ... evolving maybe. I hope to eventually outgrow my almost-30-year-old brain. ;)
  • Dawn, I'm quite shocked at what you're all writing. Argentina has a supposedly Catholic majority but mostly the attitude is "whatever", if you want to go to church you do, or don't, nobody would imagine praying before the opening of any kind of public assembly and the separation of church and state is taken for granted. People of all religious (or not religious) backgrounds look up to the priests who live in shanty towns and risk their neck because they work against drug dealers and a rabbi has just been elected as head legislator for the Buenos Aires city council by an ample majority (he goes everywhere with the little thing on his head -don't know the word for it- so there's no confusion). Probably the provinces are a little more conservative but religion is very seldom an issue. We have a *lot* of problems here (*big* lot) but religious bigotry is not one of them and I find it very upsetting and frightening to think that in a country that is usually seen as far more advanced, people I care for feel so mistreated.
    An entertaining story from our recent political past: in 2003, a short time after the country had fallen to pieces, as the new president was about to take office the top priest of the Catholic church, the top rabbi, and the top iman conducted a joint ceremony to bless the symbols of office. And some soil had been put into one of the things so that the earth spirit would also be present.
    • We have a *lot* of problems here (*big* lot) but religious bigotry is not one of them and I find it very upsetting and frightening to think that in a country that is usually seen as far more advanced, people I care for feel so mistreated.

      Things are ... complicated here. Nominally, we have freedom of religion. That is guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution that forbids the government from favoring one religion over the other. However, that freedom is constantly under attack from those who, despite the Establishment Clause, believe that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation (even though some of the founders weren't even Christian) or those who would change the country into a Christian nation.

      Culturally, things are much more complicated. I remember when I was taking social psychology as an undergrad, we had to conduct social psych research on an issue. One young woman in my class looked at implicit pressures to practice Christianity. She was a transfer student from a university in Kansas, which lies in the heart of the region we call the Bible Belt. She wasn't a Christian. When she started at the school, she was invited right away to a prayer group and politely declined, on account that she wasn't Christian. She was ostracized by her peers after that and eventually transferred to UMBC.

      I worry quite a bit about the government legitimization of beliefs not my own. But in reality, the cultural pressures are far worse in the moment. Because I am white, middle class, and kind, it is assumed that I am Christian. It becomes awkward or difficult at times to correct people or to remind people that their Christian beliefs don't make them better people automatically. I worry that I will lose the regard of people I care about when they find out what I believe, and while I agree with Indy that such people were not friends to begin with, it is still a situation that I don't think would occur if we didn't have such a strong fundamentalist Christian influence on all aspects of everyday life.

      I always find it interesting when friends and family outside the U.S. find their countries more progressive and tolerant than the U.S., despite the fact that the U.S. supposedly doesn't have an official religion, and many other countries do. Having an iman at a State ceremony? A "Pagan" symbol? (Quotes only because most people would interpret it as such, even though it would be a fitting symbol of my belief, and I am not a Pagan.) Good gravy. What an outcry that would cause!
    • (no subject) - naltariel - Expand
    • (no subject) - naltariel - Expand
  • I worry that I will lose the regard of people I care about when they find out what I believe

    I feel this way intensely. Sadly, it has been shown to be the case even with people who I considered open-minded and empathetic. I don't really want to talk about my own beliefs, but I'm sorry you're feeling isolated by yours.
    • Thanks, Viv. I don't even know if isolated is the word I'd use ... I have my husband, after all, and I am fortunate to have truly open-minded friends and family, for the most part. It's more just frustrating, to hear outsiders try to claim an experience they've never had but that I have had. And bungle it totally, to the point of offensiveness.
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