FDR Memorial

FDR Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial - click on the image for larger view

Monday, August 18, 2008

Acceptance, Diversity and Friendship

The natural course of the human mind is certainly from credulity to skepticism.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Caspar Wistar (June 21, 1807), quoted from Encarta Book of Quotations (1999)

The moon is full. Crickets sing to me as I listen to the gentle rain. This is my temple, my sacred space. Here I connect (or reconnect) with all life. I hear the Earth breathe. I feel the energy of the trees around me. I am renewed, inspired and healed. For me this is a spiritual, even a religious, moment.

As an animist (yes a non-theist), a Unitarian and a Pagan I have become quite comfortable over the years with my religious knowings being eclectic. Here in the beautiful Pioneer Valley surrounded by a loving and supportive community my paganism is mostly accepted by my friends of all religious backgrounds, my family, the parents of the students I teach and the people I work with. I'm very open about my beliefs and very accepting of those of others. It's nice to be accepted.

You might think this acceptance comes from my being lucky enough to live in an accepting community. I used to think so too. The problem is some of us are fine with respecting each others religious and/or spiritual paths but we are not good at accepting that some people just don't need, choose not to have or simply aren't interested in this work at all. We also sometimes like someone so much we become un-accepting of their differences because it's something we aren't sharing together. My example of this is my Quaker friends who sometimes treat us as if we'd be better friends if we were

My partner and very best friend is a very grounded, caring, community focused, eco-conscious individual. He is a utilitarian and a humanist and an ATHEIST. People are constantly assuming this means he has anger towards religion or he hasn't been "found" yet. Our friends are trying to constantly adopt him into some spiritual path by saying things like "Well you're really a Quaker and don't know it yet?" or "Your a social pagan, right?" He's not. He is exactly what he says he is: an atheist, a humanist and a utilitarian. He respects our right to our own religious ideas but he has no need for them himself, no curiosities about what if. It simply isn't his path at all.

I do understand that it is a complement when our friends who are Friends(in the Quaker sense) wish we were Quakers too. It is a way of saying "Hey we really like you and wish for more common experiences and time with you". I even understand when for social reasons a group adopts the atheist. It is a way of trying to be inclusive. It's not though. It's not the same as saying "Hey we like you for you, as is, and still want to have a connection with you".

So tonight as I sit and bask in the glow of the moon my mind wonders to this topic of acceptance, diversity and definition. What is it about atheism that is so hard to accept. Why is it that we can be tolerant and accept that we find connection in different ways and yet we are so confused, or threatened by the idea that for some connection is about something other than spirituality. Why is it when someones belief are very different we try hard to be tolerant but when their belief systems are close to our own we feel the need to nudge them the last few inches to our particular side. I don't have a clear answer. Over the years I've been guilty of this kind of thinking and behavior myself. As a community it feels like something we should think more about.

Recently at a dinner party my new friend T made a comment to me that "people are more than what they do". This was in reference to the fact that at these social gatherings people's first question is always "So what type of work do you do?" as if we are all easily defined, labeled and boxed by our profession or lack there of. Her comment was very wise. People are also more than their labels and more than their religious or lack of religious ideas. Whether someone is a Pagan, a Christian, a Muslim or an Atheist, a doctor, a lawyer, a stay at home mom or unemployed.... once we label them and begin to make assumptions about what that means we deny ourselves the opportunity to truly explore who someone is, what they think and what their relationship to us is or might be.

So what can
I do? I'm going to work harder to look deep into people's eyes. To really listen when they speak. To try and see them for who they are and not who I'd like them to be. To learn from our differences. To be solid in my own path without needing them to walk beside me. My hope (and guess) is that they are probably more interesting and complex than my assumptions would be anyway. I'm going to find connection in the fact that we are all connected by many different things. Some are connected by faith, others circumstance, family bonds, shared interest. The ability to share and disagree and accept is a true gift of friendship. It's sometimes really hard to do.

1 comment:

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Ouch! I resemble this post.

I know I'm one of the guilty parties, in terms of having seen your husband (and my good friend) as a "social Pagan." The thing is, I remember the brief period where he flirted with naming himself non-theist Pagan, and that felt very right to me, given how much my own Pagan path has been enriched by knowing him and watching him walk his path with integrity over the years. (If only those who call themselves by that name were as consistent advocates for the Earth!)

And I remember when and why he dropped the name, due at least at first to narrow mindedness on the part of some who not only called themselves Pagan, but who felt entitled to define the term for others. And that felt so wrong to me.

It's hard for me to accept the loss, to Paganism, of such a good and wise man moving away from it.

But I need to recognize that the loss is only of a label--that the man it does not describe (and maybe never accurately did) had gone on growing and changing, and that that's good, even if it does mean I don't get to brag about belonging to the same "club" he does. His insights are real, and I do them a disservice by living in wishes and the past.

It's true. You're right. It's just hard getting old, and letting go of illusions, even when the real thing, so much better and deeper,is right in front of my eyes.

Thanks for a gentle and kindly reminder.