When Tolerance Is Unacceptable

When Tolerance Is Unacceptable June 17, 2014

You have two kinds of people in interfaith, says my friend Jack. Some people join up because they want to prove to everyone else that their religion is valid. The rest of us are interfaith junkies; we really love the whole scene, however quirky it may at times seem. I do take seriously my role in the first category because somebody has to stand up for Paganism. Whether I like it or not, people will judge me based on the only satanic-panic speaker they heard one time, so I might as well put my big foot in the door (instead of its usual place in my mouth) and prop it open to let in some daylight. I’m also proudly in the second category – I love this stuff. I have such interesting friends, visit the coolest religious gatherings, have fantastic discussions with my interfaith buddies.

So I was quite taken aback this spring when I noticed one of my interfaith colleagues posting things on her Facebook wall that I considered slanderous towards Muslims. It was a lot of extreme-right conspiracy-theory stuff trashing Obama, claiming he is Muslim, etc. After trying to engage her positively with comments a few times, with no response, I gave up and started trying to figure out what to do with my disquiet.

First I showed the posts to a trusted interfaith friend and asked her if I was overreacting and how she would advise me to broach the subject. As a community leader she felt strongly enough about what I shared to go to the person herself and suggest that she consider the public impression she was making. I went to a group meeting last week expecting to be able to speak with the person, but she was a no-show. For now I’m sitting on the matter. But it raised important questions for me.

I work very hard to be open to the ideas and opinions of those who are different from me. Among my dear friends are pacifists and gun-toting NRA members, social justice activists and others who don’t like to rock the boat, women who are proudly pro-choice and women who consider themselves pro-life defenders of the unborn. Each has something to offer me, something from which I can learn. But where does my acceptance cross over into tolerating hate?

For several weeks I struggled with whether it is pompous of me to insist that my way is correct and someone else’s not allowed. Since I really don’t think that the Facebook poster will be inclined to change her views I wondered how strongly I should push back or call her out. In my younger years I would have charged ahead in my righteous indignation with no hesitation. But I’ve learned to pick my battles – was this one to fight?

Yet I kept coming back to the thought of my Muslim friends, how much love they show me (a Pagan!), and how would I feel if – in my shoes – they simply avoided the issue? I finally called two of my closest Muslim girlfriends and had wonderful, frank conversations with each. They both thanked me for being honest with them and said that they like to know when someone is particularly vehement in their opposition to Muslims, so that they can be extra-sensitive around that person. No talk of justice or recriminations, just concern for other humans.

Why am I sharing this story? Because Jack is always pointing out that interfaith folks are all too often afraid of having the “real” conversations, that is, we are scared to talk about our differences. In my case, I have no trouble insisting on how I am different, to the people who like to insist that we really are all the same, “worshiping the same god by a different name.” But how far do I go in accepting the ways that they are different from me? When does their difference become intolerable for me? I’m not sure of the answers on this one. What do you think?

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