Monday, January 23, 2006

Freedom To Decide?

In one my classes, it was mentioned that this is the first time in history that we are able to learn about, read about, and/or practice any religion or set of spiritual beliefs that we want without fear of being persecuted. I really had to stop and think about this issue for a while after class as although I recognize that this is true to some extent, I don’t think it is the whole truth.

Yes, the information is available to us on many levels. We can go to the bookstore and buy a book on what ever religious/spiritual subject that we would like to learn about, but at the same time there is still a little of that fear and stigma left over that someone will be judging you because of the choice you just made. We can also gain access to much of the same information on the internet as the wealth of knowledge available on the ‘net is extraordinary. Also, this is a safe way to get the knowledge without having to go through a middleman (such as the bookseller) and having to worry that your going to get the people coming up to you saying “I’ll pray for you.” We are also able to access information in the form of teachers, some who advertise their classes or workshops as well as some who don’t. Teachers of esoteric knowledge no longer have to hide themselves even if it considered out of the “norm” or mainstream.

Even though this information is now available for general consumption, there is still an overlying stigma associated with being outside the societies “norm.” In the U.S. it is considered “normal” (in a religious sense) to be involved with the Christian religion. There are other religions that it is “okay” to be and then there are others that are definitely frowned upon by the general public which causes people to hide even if it is so-called “accepted.” (Good example – a Witch hiding his/her religion is said to be “In the broom closet.”)

If there are still people hiding their beliefs, especially out of fear of losing their job, losing custody of their kids, and for other reasons then I would argue that we still do not have the freedom of deciding our own religion or spirituality. There is still some stigma attached to pursuing alternative belief sets if we can not be free of the above adverse effects. For example, even though I am not Pagan, I have a difficult time telling people that I am exploring this subject and that I write this blog. There are only about 5 people that know that I write this blog, all of them very close friends. If there wasn’t a stigma of exploring the information available, I would probably be more open about this blog. After that statement, if you are wondering why I am writing on this subject, check out my first post.

Although we have the opportunity to access this information, we still do not have the open atmosphere that would allow for true understanding and acceptability when pursuing alternative beliefs. I am reminded of a situation regarding this issue. A few years back, I was sitting at a café with a friend of mine who was wearing a pentagram. A couple of tables over, two women were whispering and pointing at her for several minutes when one of the women stated loudly, “I’ll be praying for her when I get home.” My friend laughed, looked in their direction and said, “Thank you and I’ll pray for you, too.” The women got very offended, made a few snide remarks and left. They were offended because they didn’t think she had the right to say that she would pray for them! Why did they think that their “prayers” were so much better than hers? Why did they think that she should have to put up with their intended prayers when they refused hers? There is still a lot of intolerance in the world.

So that brings me back to the statement made in class today – do we have any religion or set of spiritual beliefs available to us today? I think we do – but only if we are willing to deal with the stigma and intolerance of others who will their beliefs on others who doesn’t believe the same as they do.


Terrence said...

I have never really thought about this although I have lived it. I believe that spiritually and belief is a personal thing but there is one belief systems that I hold closest to and occasionally attend their groups. I tend to be reluctant to give people the name of the group because the information on the web is not accurate, at least not to the group I attend. The group is often considered a UFO cult, but in reality it is not. Most people say that the group is a bunch of wakos or worse, but the people in the group are intelligent people who I am proud to call my friends.

In the end I'm forced to agree with you. We are not truly free to believe that we want. Yes we have gained the right legally but socially we are still restricted.

Red Witch said...

We are free to follow our own religion/culture, in both Canada and the United States. The law protects your right to your beliefs.

Practising your religion/culture in public is something each will have to choose for himself. There are advantages to being open, and there is a price to pay. Only you can decide if the price is worth it to you.

I blog anonymously, but I am an out-of-the-broom-closet Witch, and have been since I was very young. I don't make a big deal about it, any more than most other people of whatever religion/culture do. As a result, people tend to "forget" that they are dealing with a Witch. Or they don't know. Or they assume that my pentacle ring maybe means something else.

Whatever it is, I live a very uncomplicated life. I have rarely been attacked, and never twice by the same ignoramus.

And as for the "I'll pray for you" remarks -- a friend of mine has a retort that usually makes such people go away: "And I will leap naked over a bonfire for you!"

soleclaw said...

I wear my pentacle necklace every so often. I wore it at the bookstore a couple of months ago. Sat in the cafe, reading various magazines (mostly parenting magazings) and a man at the table next to me went "pssst." I didn't think he was talking to me, but I looked up anyway. He looked at me and said, while holding a Bible, "Are you at all interested in things of a spiritual nature?" I said yes and he said, "Would you mind letting me talk to you about what Jesus Christ and the Bible have to offer?" I said no thank you and shortly after left.
Looking back I wish I had been more clear with the man, perhaps said something like, "Just because I choose Paganism doesn't mean I'm a stranger to Christianity." But I didn't have the energy to do so. Wish I had, perhaps I could've helped one person broaden their spiritual horizon.