Honour in Speech: Speaking about Other Religions

It’s that time of year again. The time of year for ‘zombie Jesus’ jokes, entirely inaccurate memes about Ishtar, and dismissive comments about Christian cultural dominance. Even the relatively inoffensive Facebook posts that speak about Christianity and other Abrahamic religions in ‘we’re better than them’ terms, always seem to turn up annually during this season.

This year, it is an atheist who is teaching me most about honourable speech about other religions. SJ, my long-suffering, spiritually-curious atheist spouse, is shifting religious festivals so quickly that they’re practically becoming a chaos magician. And every single word out of their mouth about every one of these religions, including ones they’re not observing this year (like my own), is deeply honourable. I hear a lot of complaints about how atheists talk about our religious traditions – but I’ve not heard nearly so much respectful, honourable speech towards other religions from Pagans. I haven’t heard it from myself.

I understand why some Pagans react negatively to Christianity, and need to blow off steam. Gods know, I know what it’s like to grow up in an environment where your religion condemns you, constrains you, and even directs spiritual and emotional abuse at you. Yet, none of that gives me the right to condemn a whole religion. The only people responsible for that were the specific people in the specific churches I grew up in.

It helps that I also had wonderful, deeply spiritual experiences in Christian contexts, later on in my spiritual journey – to the extent that I haven’t *entirely* moved on from Christianity, and will probably always have some associations with it. (You could call that karma, if you like. I call it holding myself to my confirmation promises.) I’m aware that not everyone has had those experiences, and not everyone will be understand why I continue to find Christianity such a foundational, beautiful spiritual path, despite all its potential and actual issues. That’s OK… as long as others respect that I have a different perspective from them.

But whether we have good or bad experiences of religions, and whether we have any experiences of them at all, I personally feel that honour in speaking of them is important. I’m not convinced by the argument that they treated us badly first. If a few outliers did, they don’t speak for the whole religion. And even if every member of a religion you’ve ever encountered has treated us badly, does it mean we should retaliate with the same?

But I mostly think how tragic it is when we fail to learn from the great spiritual wealth that other religions have to offer us. SJ and I had a big argument recently about whether the major religions of the world have more in common, or more differences. But in the end, that debate doesn’t matter. What we can learn from each other, through both our similarities and differences – that’s what excites me. That’s why I still go to Christian events (under certain circumstances), even when my Pagan friends make cracks about how I’m going to be seen as a Christian again. It’s why I do interfaith work, even when my fellow interfaith activists and I confuse each other. And it’s why I stand up and demand that others respect Paganism – including colleagues and friends who clearly don’t understand where I’m coming from – and who don’t have to, but who I do expect to respect my position anyway. (I wear a pentacle at university sometimes – even though that is not my own symbol – in order to stand in solidarity with other Pagans.)

We all deserve to have our sacred truths spoken of respectfully. Every single one of us. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains, Mormons, those who are ‘spiritual but not religious’, those who follow New Age traditions, Pagans, reconstructionist polytheists… All of us.

That doesn’t mean that those traditions are beyond criticism. I have no problem with satire, and I don’t personally believe we have any need for blasphemy laws. (Though I have Opinions on the failure of the European Court of Human Rights to protect people’s rights to manifest their religions. A secular society doesn’t need be a repressive society. Though that’s a bigger debate for another time.)

But it does mean, to me, that I am personally responsible for being mindful of what I say about other religions, how I say it, and what effect I can have on others in the process. I want to be known for honourable speech about the faiths of others. I’d like it if Paganism could be known for that… but I’m only responsible for myself. And I can only do my best.

SJ’s latest post, on Pesach/Passover, talks a bit about the magic behind some of its rituals. You might like it.

13 thoughts on “Honour in Speech: Speaking about Other Religions

  1. Reblogged this on Dreams from the North and commented:
    Thought I would reblog this as a follow up to my post published earlier today. We must always be mindful of others, and as I said before, if for some unknown reason you cannot do it as a pagan or a Christian or whatever faith you are, do it because you’re a good person and you are treating as you would rather be treated.

  2. I went on a short rant about this on my personal Facebook page. Because for the last week it’s been from all sides. It starts in October or November every year, hearing up for the annual “winter holiday war” and, thankfully, mostly finishes off after Easter.

  3. I saw a meme on FB about Ishtar being the real origin behind Easter. Facepalm wasn’t strong enough!

  4. Thank you for this; your post makes me think of the proverb that “Character is what you’re doing when nobody’s watching.”

    Also, thanks for following my blog! Cheers!

  5. I haven’t actually seen much on my FB or blogs I follow about the Easter edition of Christians stole XYZ – actually saw more debunking it, and more nonsense around St Patrick’s Day (which I was too busy celebrating to worry about!) I find if you actually immerse yourself in a particular culture, there is less religious division than Pagans think there is (and often the division that does exist is more political than theological!)

    • Not sure I entirely follow you, sorry. Do you mean that if I immersed myself more fully in Christianity I would see less division there, or in Paganism, or…? Sorry, this may be my Asperger’s refusing to translate properly!

      • No sorry, I wasn’t very clear. I just meant more generally “if one” or “a person” not you, specifically. What I mean is, as I’ve studied & learned more about a specific culture- like Ireland for ex, I find the divisions between Paganism & Christianity are rather artificial ones that outsiders tend to force into it. It’s more of an organic evolution that blurs together within the culture. Let’s just say I’m developing more understanding of why you find American “Celtic” Pagans irritating at times ;) And to Style704 below, I’m not saying people *aren’t* posting that nonsense, because they are, I just haven’t seen it as much on my own social media.

      • Ah, I see where you’re coming from now! Yes, I agree. The divide is socially constructed. We define as ‘Pagans’ or ‘Christians’ in ways that often aren’t very relevant to the practices we’re doing or the gods we’re worshipping. Sadly, though, people become very attached to those labels, and then feel the need to create in-group/out-group politics. When I read a ‘Celtic’ Pagan writing about how the resurrection doesn’t interest him as a polytheist, I think: why are you writing about what you don’t care about, instead of what you DO? :P

    • I disagree. I have experienced the divide from both sides, and I have definitely observed it to be a thing. I think that because one person doesn’t notice it as much doesn’t make it go away, and I found the post to be quite timely, as I’m seeing quite a bit of the “Christians stole from pagans” nonsense this week.

  6. Pingback: Maxim Monday: Have respect for suppliants (Ικετας αιδου) | (formerly) Musings of a Kitchen Witch

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