Some days I think interfaith work is worth it. Some days I think actual progress toward mutual understanding happens. Sometimes real common ground is discovered. Funny enough, I most often get that feeling when speaking to progressive Muslims. Not something I ever expected, but there are days when I think I can sit and talk to Muslim women easier than I can people of any other faith group. It’s really very cool.
But more often as the years pass I simply find myself disenchanted with interfaith dialogue. I find that when I speak in an interfaith discussion people don’t listen. I spent today trying to impress three things on a person of another faith: my name, that I did not author the post I linked to, and that I don’t appreciate a private conversation being published. So far the person still has not addressed me by my name correctly, much less properly addressed the other two points I have been trying to make. That is because they are not actually listening to me.
Perhaps I wouldn’t care so much if it involved actual interfaith dialogue. Instead it was “look what this silly, simple Pagan with the ridiculous name said in a casual private conversation, and see how superior I am.” There was no invitation to engage on the issue in a serious public manner. There was no requesting permission to quote me. There wasn’t even an effort made to correctly identify me. It was “interfaith for the lulz” and I was an unimportant casualty. I was the punch line, not another person of faith.
I find it difficult to give people respect who don’t offer it in return. I find it difficult to deal with people who feel they are owed respect while I must earn it because I am of a different faith. I find myself more and more not having faith in interfaith dialogue. I find myself unwilling to tolerate people who think I should educate them about my beliefs, when I have taken pains to study theirs. I find myself more and more not willing to be the only one putting anything on the table.
I know interfaith work can be positive. I have experienced it, albeit on rare occasions. Those moments where you find yourself recognizing the spiritual joy you feel in another person’s faith. It is a marvelous thing, and it makes me smile to remember those moments. But they are so few, and so far between. Are they really worth the work?
Some days I think the answer is no. You can only take being unheard, ridiculed and marginalized so much before it breaks your spirit. Some days I think the answer is yes. The bridges you build and connections you forge are so precious simply because they are rare, and built on hard work.
Today I think no. Today I think I’d much rather isolate myself in the company of my co-religionists, traditions and gods and let the world crumble away on its own. Today I think no, but that feeling will pass. I will engage in interfaith dialogue once more, even if it wears on my spirit.
On days like this, I freely admit to a bit of escapism. I think about disengaging, and pursuing other paths and exotic dreams. Being a baker in Brazil or retail clerk in Vermont. Anything other than engaging with religion. And when I daydream like this, I listen to this song. Like many sad songs, it’s good for what ails you.
*The blog that I’m referencing has completely revised the post, and even apologized in a non-apology sort of way, although they still don’t seem to be able to grasp my name. So I’m not linking. It’s not worth giving them traffic.