Being a unique and many-branched path that runs its course separated from mainstream faiths, Paganism is often faced with judgemental comments and condescending questions. And many of us who identify as Pagan have gone out of our way to study holy books and learn scriptures simply to combat those set out to 'educate and save' us. By doing so we feel protected and comfortable being open about our beliefs.
But what happens when the hostility is at a very personal level? For the most part, it's rather easy for me to dismiss the belittling opinions of strangers and acquaintances. After all, I know within my heart that my spirituality is pure and I am wholly fulfilled by this well-worn path that I have chosen. What works for them does not work for me and visa versa.
My eldest just graduated from preschool and is still learning the concept that it is better to honorably admit to wrong-doing rather than to hide behind dishonesty. So recently when he got a bit rough wrestling with his two and a half year old brother, said relative intervened. And when my son fibbed about his naughty actions, this care giver warned that "God is always watching."
Oh no she didn't!
This relative knows very well my beliefs. She knows that I do not believe in some vengeful God who is keeping tallies on the sinful things that we do in life. And she knows that I don't want my children raised with such God-fearing lessons. She knows all of this and yet she has never respected it. For the past decade I have come to dismiss her demeaning comments about my "weird" religion -- [she is, after all, the sort who interjects her tactless opinion about anyone and anything where and when she can].
This time, however, was different. I can't express how hurt and how angry I felt. I knew she didn't fully approve of my faith and never missed a moment to mock me because of it, but deep down I guess I thought [or maybe hoped] that because she loved me, she would offer me respect when, as they say, 'push came to shove'.
Curious to know how I handled it? Well, I very clearly told her that my son was not to be reprimanded with lessons about a Being that would send him to some fiery afterlife if he did wrong. I called her out on knowing fully well that I'd be upset were she to do such a thing and also reminded her that as his mother it was my right to raise him on the spiritual path of my choosing [until he reached an age where he could experience faith in his own way]. I ended by telling her bluntly not to scold him in such a way again.
She replied with "it's better than your Pagan stuff" as she stomped out of the room.
So tell me friends, how am I to handle someone's direct intolerance when I can't simply remove them from my life? How do I share a respectful conversation with someone who would intentionally disregard my beliefs and defy how I wish to raise my sons? I'm at a loss and I'm afraid that my long hours of studying the differences and similarities of various religions can in no way help to ease the situation.
* Sigh *
Pagan Dad posted recently about children facing their own intolerance and shared the following advice: "We, as parents, cannot change the world or the prejudiced people in it, but we can help to strengthen our children. To teach them that the opinions of others matter very little in the grand scheme of things."
His words reminded me that I just have to trust in the guidance I give to my sons. I have to believe that the compassion and tolerance I give to not only them but the world around them will trump the whispered threats of one or two close-minded individuals they may encounter on their paths.