I’m a Pagan, a “witch,” a believer in old religions. My theological truths hold more spiritual meanings than most organized monotheistic faiths give credit. This path was laid out for me from the beginning. Even as a child I felt it.
I didn’t quite understand it until I was teenager, but I have been practicing the art of self-awareness for about eighteen years now. When I say “self-awareness” I mean finding my peace within the universe. I mean knowing who I am and what I believe. Upholding those beliefs and allowing them to direct me to where I need to be is a huge part of who I am.
My life has held many abnormalities. This stemmed from my parents’ odd connection to their beliefs. My father’s religious philosophy was, “I don’t bother God and doesn’t bother me.”
It fit. His demons were put off on me and sparked my own.
My mom on the other hand prayed daily. Though she wasn’t a devout church goer she was raised in an Irish Catholic household and felt a deep connection to that life. My grandmother (her mom), shaped my view of religion.
She didn’t allow people to demean each other. Long before I was born and after, she refused to allow people to use racial slurs around her or judge anyone else no matter what they did. She believed that abortion should be allowed for rape victims, victims of molestation, and that anyone who “sinned” didn’t need her forgiveness because she condemned no one.
I realized how different many Christians were when I found my true faith and openly celebrated it. Some people expressed concern; others were downright ignorant and biased. There were a couple disheartening incidents where I left a party or gathering to protect myself, but on the whole I met more people who asked questions than closed-minded Neanderthals. For every bigot there were a hundred more people who listened and educated themselves, or even confessed the same beliefs.
Those were the people I equated to religion and faith. I refused to allow the few fools to taint my view of an entire group of people.
During the past couple of decades I have opened myself up to ridicule and scorn because I refuse to hide. In that time things have shifted. Throughout the past few years especially, the tides have pulled back to reveal a growing population of Atheists.
Like myself, they have met with their share of Christian ridicule. They have had to be vocal about their view of things because everyone assumes they’re Christian or have some religious belief. If they have any, science is their religion. Politics is their savior.
I get on well with Atheists. They don’t seem to mind a silly Wiccanish chick who loves animals and nature. Not for the most part.
Maybe this is because my beliefs don’t preach conversion. The foundation for most of monotheism is conversion. “You must believe what I believe because my way is God’s way and God’s way is the only way.”
This is where things get frustrating. When someone refuses to acknowledge another’s reasoning for their specific beliefs or to respect their freedom to hold their ideals, they are crossing a line that treads on personal freedom. That leads to division, conflict, and sometimes, extremism. The internet age has given voice to a diverse rainbow of ideologies, but it has also given extremists a place to find each other and work together.
Instead of worrying about tyrannical governments manipulating religion to utilize it for power, control, and genocide (as our ancestors did), we have to look out for terrorists who disregard civility, law, and personal choice. Yes, some elected officials allow their beliefs to influence their policies but the collective votes for them and the collective is the main voice of any society whether we approve or not. That is exactly why freedom from religion exists. We can always vote out uber-religious bigots or wait for term limits.
We have choices.
Instead of being forced to hate myself for being a “sinner,” I can be my own savior. I can trust all of my Gods. I can believe in an afterlife and still be friends with people who know they won’t exist after death.
I also choose to converse with Christians and enjoying intelligent discourse with them. My Muslim friends are mostly online, but hail from all over the globe. Not one has been connected to violence or criminal activity. I married a man of Jewish heritage whose great-grandfather survived a concentration camp. We joke about my grandfather, the young man who went to war to fight the Nazis and save the old man who was his great-grandfather.
My husband and I are raising our family with Pagan ideals, emphasizing the trusty old Golden Rule. I even wrote a children’s book with that title that compares the “golden rule” philosophies from different religions, beliefs, and even Atheism.
My mother raised me to find my own faith. She always gave me a choice. My childhood was not very stable, but it held love.
That love is what drives me to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I don’t care where I am or who I meet, I strive to smile and say hi to everyone. I write to reach out and connect with others. I try new things and go to new places looking for adventure. It often finds me in the shape of new friends with different backgrounds.
What I see in the “real world” is very different from what I witness online. Maybe that’s because in-person interactions are more personal. There is a necessity for mutual respect or at least pleasantries in-person because one can witness the effects of their words and actions directly.
Through the tech wall it’s all solitary. It’s all about our needs, our wants, and our reactions. Going online panders to our selfish desires and lights up the brain’s pleasure centers even when we find upsetting posts, comments, or engage in nasty arguments.
My approach to social media and the internet is to treat them like being in public. It is difficult to live up to my own expectations at times. Especially when I see constant posts from people tearing down one or all religions because it strikes me as uneducated, inconsiderate, rude, and downright bigoted. I have to restrain my impulses. Jumping into an online fight without thinking is never wise.
What baffles me most is that the majority of attacks I have witnessed are against Christians.
Some people sit back and smirk. They cynically talk about Karma and all of Christianity’s atrocities. I understand some of the sentiment, but I also find it cruel and dangerous. If we judged any group of people based on the worst actions of a few members we would constantly be at war.
Demeaning anyone ─ any group of people ─ is never right. I recently made a joke on a friend’s timeline when she posted one of the many articles claiming that Atheists raise more ethical children than religious families. Instead of pointing out the subjectivity of the topic (and lack of consistent data) I mentioned that one cannot properly measure that. An angry internet stranger felt compelled to comment with a tirade of venomous remarks, assuming that I was a Christian.
She proved my point without trying.
When most people attack religion, they mean Christianity. If I bring up Islamophobia or anti-Semitism most people calm down. If I mention Hindus, Buddhists, and Pagans they downright stop.
In this instance, I mentioned that two wrongs don’t make a right, a truth that many people seem to forget (myself included at times), and was “schooled” about how attacking individuals isn’t wrong if their people have caused anyone pain.
It was at that point that I realized I was speaking with an Atheist extremist and backed away slowly. Every religion, sexuality, gender, race; every group of people has its extremists. They usually consider themselves vindicated by intense emotion based on some negative experiences they’ve had with their opposition, instead of logic and reasoning.
But no despite that, Religion is not a bad word.
Neither is Atheism.
We cannot base our entire opinion of other belief-systems, cultures, races, genders, etc. on extremists. That is a destructive mentality that creates terrorists on all sides. The less we work to understand those who are different from us, the less progress we make.
I find myself constantly working to remain balanced. It is difficult. Everyone is pushing for everyone else to join their cause, think like them, and vote how they prefer. I thought that was the kind of societal pressure we were trying to escape.
My entire belief system is based on my personal connection with the Gods, nature, and the universe. It’s not my place to tell others what to believe. I have no right to hate anyone different than myself. Hate is something I wish to avoid entirely.
Love is the only bridge that will connect everyone.
My brand of Paganism is all about connection. It is not for everyone, but it is for me.
I feel caught in a battle. I stand watching people argue issues that are important, yes, but very personal. Personal choice is the epitome of freedom. As long as someone else’s choices do not directly harm someone else’s physical health and well-being, they are warranted.
Faith, ideologies, and lifestyles vary. I fear we are forgetting that in our quest for the perfect society.