Sunday, July 13, 2008

Diversity, tolerance, and heads in the sand...

Originally published on Chattanooga-Pagans Yahoo! Group, December 7, 2007:

In my opinion, our culture is missing a big opportunity. We've gotten heavily focused on handling diverstity by trying to pretend it doesn't exist. I've heard people at work, mostly atheists, agnostics, and pagans (rarely Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.), say that religion should be a private matter and people have no business bringing it into the workplace. While there are always those who take things to inappropriate extremes, in general I can't see how this can be true. If our spiritual paths, our religions, are central to our lives, part of our daily walk, how can we leave them at home? How can we effectively bring our whole selves to the task at hand when we have to leave part of ourselves on a shelf somewhere? Perhaps a better focus would be to focus on the inappropriate behavior of some individuals. If a co-worker shares his or her faith with me in an appropriate way - meaning they don't interfere with my work or my personal time or refuse to stop when I tell them to - I'm not harmed in any way. If I believe the person is crossing the line, I have the responsibility to say so, directly to them, respectfully but clearly. If they don't respect my wishes at that point, I've got a gripe. But the gripe is with that behavior, not with the fact that the person displays their religion at work. The same with prayer; if a group of people share a prayer in my presence, so what? Prayer is a highly personal thing. Maybe I can use that time to say a prayer of my own, or even join in theirs.

I have heard the phrase, "Freedom of religion is absolute." I don't know exactly what the originator of the phrase was thinking, but I know what that means to me. I am the person absolutely and finally responsible for my own spiritual walk and my relationship to Diety. No one can take that responsibility from me. No one can take away my right to exercise that responsibility as I believe appropriate. They can make it difficult by attempting to control my outward behavior, even to the point of killing me if I don't comply. But I always have the right to continue if doing so is more important to me than the consequences of my actions. Martyrs of every walk ever walked have proven this over and over. No matter what everyone around me is doing, I have all the power of choice at my command. It's a lot harder for me to become offended by the actions of those around me when I think of it this way. It also forces me to look at my feelings about my choices. If I feel uncomfortable about the choice I make (to leave a room when a devotional is disturbing to me, for instance), whose fault is it? It was my choice; I guess I'll have to shoulder the blame for how I feel about it.

It's time we all revisited the idea of cultural and religious diversity. We make a big fuss about "tolerance," but we're not tolerating something if we have to pretend it doesn't exist.

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