Interfaith for the Lulz

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.

Third Parties, Choices, and Our Place In Paganism (and the World)
Being Negative Is Healthy; Or It’s Good To Be An Ass Sometimes
Third Parties, Choices, and Our Place In Paganism (and the World)
Pagan Americana: Murphey’s Midnight Rounders
About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Atheris

    A lot of people have a psychological need to be right. Unlike Pagans who are comfortable with the idea that their path is one of many,  most people have to think that their path is the one true path.

    I am an agnostic pantheist but my LP is a devout Catholic, so I find myself being dragged to Mass on a regular basis. The people in the parish are a very conservative, Fox News loving, “Catholicism is the one true faith” type of people. They often put on a “I’m more Catholic then thou” attitude as well as “I’m more patriotic then thou” attitude. Sometimes these people amuse me, sometimes I feel sad for them, but most of the time I just want to get the h*ll out of there as quickly as possible.

    You can’t hold  an open conversation with these type of people, so don’t try. They are incapable of understanding what you are trying to say. In other words, “It does not compute!”

  • Nicole Youngman

    I don’t think it’s an either/or issue: sometimes it’s worth it, and sometimes it’s not.  I suspect the trick is finding out *who* we can have interesting dialogues with (and as you noted, if it turns out to be some of the Muslims, that makes it even more fun and interesting!) and then having them. Folks like that guy who shall remain un-linked-to most likely aren’t among them. Sadly, some religious perspectives destroy their adherents’ ability to actually listen (or speak clearly, for that matter) and I’m not sure there’s a work-around for that.

  • kenneth

    I can tell you from long experience that outfit to which you refer has no interest in interfaith dialogue. I go there primarily to address various political/culture war issues. That said, I have no problem confronting them when they disparage pagan religion and cultures in ways which are completely rooted in ignorance and a lack of research. Many of them will make authoritative pronouncements on “what paganism is all about” based on third and fourth hand pop culture impressions or what some priest told them once. Some of them haven’t even read half a Wikipedia article on paganism, let alone ever engaged a real one. They’re actually proud of their ignorance and the judgment that flows from it. 

    I have no delusions about having a real “dialogue” with them, but I am willing to challenge their ignorance and ignorant assumptions in a public forum and let people decide for themselves. I also challenge them on the disconnect between their words and actions. This is a very common thing on conservative Christian forums.

     What I mean by this is that they love to swear up and down that we modern pagans are a joke – just hippies playing dress up, etc. You’ve heard it all. We’re such lightweight that they don’t see us as a threat, or worth even talking about, let alone get angry about. And yet, they always, always have a few hundred angry words about us. They wouldn’t belabor the topic the way they do or muster such bile over it if they weren’t just a little worried that we were for real. I sometimes think they give paganism more credit for its staying power and underlying power than some of our own people do!

  • WhiteBirch

    Bah, I totally am with you on that one today Star. Sometimes it gets to be too much when you have to point out things as obvious as “we aren’t having a conversation of equals when you won’t even admit that I sincerely hold these beliefs but instead must be a deluded Tolkien/Joss Whedon/insert insulting cliche here fan.” Anyone who can’t accept my religion as an ACTUAL RELIGION isn’t capable of having interfaith dialogue. 

    Also anyone who responds to misattribution of a quote by changing it to a “hypothetical” but leaving the quote intact is a jerk. I have a hard time avoiding things that stir me up sometimes (there’s quite a few Catholic bloggers on Patheos I read regularly because I boggle at everything they say, I’m a glutton for punishment or something) but I think that particular one is one to avoid in the future. 

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I don’t really understand the point of interfaith dialogue, most of the time.

    Mine is not a pacifist path. If I wanted that, I would (still) be Christian. I’ll go as far as tolerating others. Which, it seems, is still more than some others manage.

    I don’t need to understand the stance of others. I don’t need try and ‘build bridges’. All I need to do is tolerate their existence.

    All they need is to do the same.

    When that basic exchange breaks down, there is an issue.

  • Makarios

    I understand where you’re coming from, Star, and I know how disheartening it can be. And yet, and yet. . .we are living in a time in which fundamentalists
    of all varieties are using religion as a wedge to drive people apart. This
    tactic of fomenting dualism—of dividing the world into “us” and “them”—is being
    exploited, as it has been for centuries, in various contexts, by people who are
    hungry for power and who will do whatever it takes to get it. If people of good will
    do not take the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue—if we content
    ourselves with self-segregation and mutual condemnation—then, by default, the
    forces of division, discord, and destruction, will have the final word. And that is an outcome that I, for one, am not prepared to accept.

  • Illiezeulette

    As someone who has dedicated their life to interfaith work, I have found that the way of interfaith these days is less about dialogue and more about community service.  It is first by identifying what we have in common that can help the world be a better place that is a better grounding for discussion rather than what makes our religion different from theirs.  While these differences are hugely important, they are also less likely to be acknowledged, understood, appreciated, or accepted by people who are only familiar with their own path–and, more often than not, that path is treated as the “one true way.”  As cliche as it is, I think it is important to focus on our similarities and the practical, positive applications of living in a coexistent world. 

    Unfortunately one-true-way-ers are everywhere and care more about winning an argument than about hearing what you have to say, but it is through the more progressive members of their traditions that we can eventually reach them.  When those members take away positive interfaith experiences and stories to bring back to their own communities, the more hard-line members of those communities are more likely to listen to “one of their own” than a foreigner (in the religious sense). 

    Often times we stumble into less interfaithy type people, and while dialogue can be a good thing, lots of people are not capable of having a mature, civil discussion on the matter.  Our words fall on deaf ears.  I think it is important to curtail our words around these types of folks and keep to our own business if we are able, rather than to engage them in a discussion/debate/argument that leads nowhere.  Let the wiser members of their group enlighten them. 

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

     “…help the world be a better place…”
    Please, define this. I find that no two people can completely agree on what that actually entails.