*For the privacy of all involved–and in an attempt to not throw mud, so to speak–I am going to do my best to keep the names of the specific groups involved out of this post and either give the groups code names or speak generally.*
(This post may ramble a little)
Though I am no longer a student at my university, I am still welcome to participate in certain groups who welcome faculty/staff/grad student involvement. As such, I was helping out with this group this past weekend–we’ll just label them Interfaith Group. During the event I was at, the president mentioned a thread on Facebook on a specific group’s wall–we’ll call them Non-Religious Group–in which one of the Interfaith members was completely lambasted for inviting any atheists and agnostics to come to the interfaith group meetings. Out of curiosity, I went and checked it out and I was sickened by what I found. She held out an open invitation, no strings attached, no expectations, simply a warm hand of welcome in the spirit of learning and sharing with others, and some of these “people” not only completely shot her down, but proceeded to rip into religion in general and Paganism in particular.
Now, I have nothing against atheists or agnostics or non-Pagans. My own sister is an atheist. Most of the ones I know are very nice people, and while we have differing beliefs and opinions, they usually don’t tell me I’m “seeking attention” or “rebelling” or whatever else because I’m Pagan or spiritual at all. The level of ignorance and rudeness I saw in that one thread alone makes me wonder how different some atheists/agnostics/non-religious are from the religious orders they profess to despise—because honestly, at least in that thread, I saw very little difference between these particular people and some evangelical/conservative religious right-wingers. Yes, there were some members of the group who stood up for the Interfaith poster and called out their own for the bad behavior and completely closed-mindedness of the posts, but the fact that this behavior happened at all is both saddening and sickening to me.
The first post in response to the invitation: “I’m punching any self-claimed ‘Pagans’.”
Someone had the nerve to say that this statement was clearly a joke. Yes, because violence against minority religions is clearly something to joke about, when Pagans and minority religions of every type have faced, may face, or will face violent opposition because of their religion/spirituality at some point in their lives. I know someone in my community who was nearly pushed onto the Metro tracks simply for wearing a pentacle around her neck. Yeah, keep joking about punching a Pagan, it goes over so well.
Third post, from the same poster: “All the pagans I’ve ever met are attention-starved white girls and they bother me. Being a pagan is just a way to be different and seek attention.”
On the other hand, I do like what the Interfaith girl posted after some of the responses had come in: “[Name omitted], thank you for providing an excellent example of the ignorance and stereotyping that Interfaith is working against. I will grant any [group name omitted] I meet in the future the courtesy of assuming they are not represented by you.”
One of the group members who had the balls to (rightly so) call out her fellow members: “There’s a lot of douchebaggery in this thread. Can we try not to act like Reddit atheists for a little bit? This is for an ad for the [Interfaith Group]. We need to act like adults. We need to understand that there are real people who are Pagans and Buddhists, many of whom are good people. Perhaps we might think they’re incorrect, but they can still be good people. Show a little respect. This entire thread is embarrassing. I also think that since someone from the [Interfaith Group] has seen this embarrassing display of ignorance, rudeness, privilege, and all around nastiness, one or both of our leaders should apologize to [name omitted]. This is NOT how we should be representing our community. This is disgraceful.”
It made me rather upset to see people who supposedly aspire to a higher way of thinking act like their brains were the size of a penny and criticize other people for their choices and their lives when all that happened was someone attempted to include them in a dialogue. For shame.
As much as this makes me sad and sick, I also recognize that the person who initially caused all the trouble with the inflammatory “punch Pagans” remark likely only wanted some attention and said what he did in order to garner some attention and start some trouble. In addition, this person certainly cannot be taken as a representative sample of all atheists/agnostics/non-religious–although I think most of us have met a number of people like this. He definitely is not the only one, nor is it the first time that I, and probably many of you, have heard such remarks.
The challenge, in my mind, is to not rise to the criticism/jab/whatever. This only validates the argument for that person, such as saying Pagans are immature, and then being faced with a Pagan objecting to the charge and saying “No, I’m not!” For example, when I worked on campus, there was one customer who used to come by every so often. At one point, he saw my pentacle around my neck and started asking me all kinds of questions, some of which were offensive and ignorant. At one point he called me an “evil jinn in human form”–though I think he may have been half joking (I’m really not sure). I still run into him on occasion, and as long as he doesn’t say something that I find grossly incorrect or offensive, I’m polite and let it slide. The man is ignorant, but that gives me no right to be rude, and although some of the things he says can be strange or potentially offensive, rising to the challenge would only give him fuel. I have to tell him, politely, to go away, and if politeness doesn’t work, I get more forceful, but I try to never rise to criticism and give stereotypes more fuel. That’s my personal method of handling the situation–I’m sure others would have simply told him off or done something different, but that’s how I chose to handle it.
The other challenge is to not get bent out of shape or hugely offended. People like this say these kinds of things in order to get a reaction, and by denying them the reaction, you deny their argument and shut them down pretty effectively. Yes, this can be difficult to do, especially when you are upset by whatever was said. But you also have to remember that it’s your choice to be offended. You can laugh it off, or ignore it, or let it go, but to make a big deal out of something is your choice. Right now, it’s my choice to blog about this offensive remark and what happened between these two groups, which I chose to do because I found it upsetting and felt I needed to get the upset out of my system as well as raise the issue in the community of my readers. That’s my choice. Am I hugely bent out of shape? Not really. Am I a little upset? Yes, I am, because this person was cruel to a person I know and made sweeping generalizations about my spiritual path that are incorrect and did so in a public forum. But ultimately, I chose to allow myself to be upset about it–I can choose to let it go and let it be. It’s the same for most situations.
I think my main point of this is, although there are people out there who are ignorant and offensive and attention-seekers (like the poster above), and we are all certainly tired of hearing such things, there are some ways to deal with these kinds of situations–from ignoring the person, to surprising them with kindness, to being as rude and offensive as they in turn. My personal method of dealing with such things is to recognize whether I should be upset and how upset I want to allow myself to be, and to be polite until the situation warrants rudeness.
Sorry if that rambled a bit. I’m curious to hear what other people think of this topic. Maybe not this specific instance, since you’re all getting it second-hand, but if you’ve dealt with similar things, feel free to share.