Pagan Rights and ResponsibilitiesIt seems that everywhere I look, I see articles and editorials about how pagans are suppressed by laws, restrictions and prejudices. It seems to some of us that all we can do is complain about being victims. My response to all this? Don't be a victim.
Until just recently, I was completely oblivious to what goes on in the world. Sure, when I was in high school, we were not allowed to wear pentagrams. I remember thinking this unfair, but I didn't want to cause trouble. I hid my pentagram in my shirt. My pagan friends on the other hand, rebelled. They did so in ways I thought were inappropriate. They came to school in shirts with giant pentagrams on their clothing or wore huge pentagram necklaces. When the school asked them to turn their shirts inside out, they refused.
Soon, it became an uncivilized battle of wills. I refused to participate, but for the first time in my life, I understood and witnessed religious intolerance. I understood what angry people felt. I forgot about it for a little while after that. That is, until I read about the Crusades. The world of human beings, which had previously seemed beautiful, just, and understanding had suddenly become black and ugly. I began to pay attention to racism and civil rights. I learned to have not only a conscience, but an opinion. Only recently did I really begin to care.
Though I am Pagan, I never truly took the Pagan's side in issues. I never really took any one else's side either. I learned that even we Pagans can be selfish and unforgiving. I never understood why minorities thought that they deserved any special privileges. Why do blacks get their own holidays, I thought. Why should I care about black history month? We cannot have a Caucasian history month. How is this fair? Why can my university fund multiple African-American groups and events in which people of other races are not welcome? Is this not racism? Is this not one of the worst kinds of racism? If they think that they are not being allowed into society, then why do they work so hard to segregate themselves from it? Why do some of them hate me so much because my ancestors (who have been dead for 300 years, by the way) kept a slave. I have nothing against them. I do not get upset that my Native American ancestors were oppressed. It is gone. It is in the past. We need to focus on the now.
It is for those same reasons that Pagans will not receive proper recognition unless we learn to gain it properly. You cannot expect to be able to sue someone who makes a Pagan joke or even expect an apology. Just take it in stride. It is our responsibility to act responsibly and not compulsively. How can we expect others to respect us if we fling lawsuits and accusations this way and that?
Take this anecdote for example: Pagan gets fired from job, boss is a Christian. Pagan goes to court and sues Christian boss for wrongful termination because they are a Pagan. Whether this is the case or not, we have to consider the implications. Sure, you get your ten thousand dollars, but now every God-fearing Christian from here to the Holy Land has something against us.
We must not be so quick to use our religion in such ways. It is only human nature to dislike something if we do not understand it. Instead of just punishing someone for thinking wrongly about us, we need to put our efforts into teaching. Punishment is not the answer. Someone who is sued by a Pagan is likely never to like them again. Neither are their families or friends and it spreads out from there. it is different if a Christian understands Paganism in full and still decides to discriminate against us. Otherwise we should be understanding to their needs and concerns as well. They are afraid of us. We do need to fight the fight, but we need to know how to fight it.
If you want someone to respect and appreciate you, you do not lash out at them, whining about how very oppressed you are. W are all responsible role models for our entire religion. Did you not, when you met your first overly-enthusiastic Christian decide that you couldn't stand any of them because you knew that if you so much as said "blessed be" or didn't lower your head to their prayers or say your "amens" like a good little sumeritan, then they would try to convert you? I would hope that at least most of us have learned that not all Christians are as Bible-thumping as that. There are good and bad peoples of any religion, including Paganism. Why should we make them think the same things about us?
What we need to focus on is making ourselves look good, not bad. No matter how religious your boss is, s/he is likely to hire you and treat you and your religion with respect if you are the most respectful and responsible employee that s/he has. Never say anything bad about anyone or anyone else's religion, no matter who they are. Even if the person you are speaking to feels the same way, word of what you said is likely to get around. Try to compliment others. If you see someone blabbing off about their beliefs, even if it bothers you, tell them how wonderful it is that they are so spiritual and have such faith in their beliefs. Make them feel as though you are proud of them, not against them.
Stop Making Yourself a Victim
People love to generalize. One irresponsible person can ruin things for the lot of us. Let's say a parent has a child who is doing terrible in school and perhaps has committed felonies and, WHOOPS!, the parent is a Pagan. Whether it is due to some fault of the parent or not does not matter. Suddenly the parent finds him/herself in court, fighting for custody of their child and losing because the prosecution found out that Dad is a Witch. Whether we like it or not, the general public has just received a message that all pagans are child-neglecting Devil worshippers. A bad record is much harder to erase than a good one.
Making ourselves look good should be our top priority if we are to gain a foothold in society. We should also concern ourselves with other's needs. It is your own responsibility to turn things around and give yourself a good reputation. You have to admit, even to the biggest Bible-thumpers, the idea of a Devil worshipper with no criminal record, ten or fifteen counts of volunteer community service and two clean, well-mannered honor roll students is more than just a little intriguing. You must come to expect the lack of intelligence from the general public and always stay 13 well-placed steps ahead of them instead of sitting in your high-chair crying boo-hoo, I'm just a poor little tread-on Pagan. Stop making yourself a victim!
It is time we wiped our sniveling noses and grew up. Life is harsh. That's the way it is. There is nothing more irresponsible than just expecting the law to protect us. You cannot rely on anyone but yourself and we need to work hard to do that. You get one chance...and you can blow it forever. Life is harsh, yes, but isn't it the best game ever?
With RIGHTS come RESPONSIBILITIES!!
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