I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how heathens get treated by dominant religions. In the past, there were plenty of persecutions — in some countries today, most notably Islamic, you’re likely to be persecuted if you’re not part of their religion. In true theocracies, our beliefs make our lives difficult. This is why I believe it is important to put things in perspective. If you’re a heathen like I am, where you live in a Western republic where religion is tolerated, but you don’t necessarily have the support structure to make you feel inclusive in your beliefs, it’s important to keep some perspective. Five hundred years ago, you’d be dead, and not in a pleasant way.
Dealing with REAL Theocracies
If you’ve lived your entire life in the United States, it’s easy to get riled up about how people react toward you having beliefs that don’t fit the Christian paradigm. Although one of the big principles our country was founded on was the separation of church and state, we still have to acknowledge that Christianity is the big influence in our lives. Even though we have a number of whack-jobs who insist that we should have prayer in school, creationism taught alongside evolution, and other stupid things, we haven’t the same situation that people who live in real theocracies endure.
I knew an Iranian Jew who supported the Shaw of Iran before the Ayatollah took over. He and his family had to flee for their lives. Think about it. Christians and Jews are constantly persecuted by Islamic extremists, which makes dealing with your neighbor giving you the stink eye because of your hammer pendant laughable. Okay, so you got some disapproval there. At least you don’t have to worry about the religion police breaking down your door and arresting you.
Worse for Atheists
It can even be worse, if you’re atheist. Stumbling across Life as an Atheist in an Islamic Republic is a real eye-opener. Even if you live in what may be considered a more enlightened Islamic country, you can undergo some pretty nasty abuse — and no one will say anything bad about it because you are considered wrong. Yes, yes, we hear stories of how people treat those who don’t believe in Christ in the South, but unless you get in peoples’ faces, it’s unlikely you’ll be physically abused.
Americans Don’t Like to Talk About Religion
At this point, you may be shaking your head on this, but these numbers seem to play out from my own experience: Americans don’t like to talk about religion. In fact, according to an interesting post by Atheist Republic, the Pew Research Center (which does a lot of polls) discovered that half of American adults seldom talk about religion to those outside their families. Those who do like to talk about religion are usually the ultra-religious (Oh, THERE’S a surprise — yes, that was sarcasm.) But what you might not know is that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent actually want to hear about your religion, and agree to disagree.
It Could Be Worse
For all our bitching about Christianity, and how we’ve been treated in the past, at the present, Americans have far fewer problems than we could have. Certainly there are other religions in this country that have it tougher. Namely Judaism and moderate Islamism. If the worse behavior you’ve receive has been weird looks and stink eyes, count yourself lucky. There are far worse bullying behaviors you could experience. If you’ve been suckered into having dinner at a friend’s place and they tried to convert you, well, you know where that person stands and perhaps you need better friends. Now, if you’re locked up against your will, beaten, and made to recite bible passages, then you have something. If you’ve escaped, you had better have reported it to the police. Being locked up and beaten is more than just a little on the illegal side.
Yeah, I’m not saying this country is without faults. We’ve had the Salem Witch Trials, Mountain Meadows Massacre, and extermination of Native Americans under the name of the Christian god for their lands. There have been hate crimes against different faiths. One that springs to mind is hate crimes against Jewish people, but even Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Mormons, and other Christian faiths have experienced intolerance. For a country founded on the separation of church and state, we’ve seen our share of bad behavior.
The problem isn’t usually the majority, although incidents such as 9/11 and other terrorist acts tend to heighten mistrust, and yes, people behave badly because we know that these terror groups have ties to Islam, albeit radical Islam. It’s common for those of us to look at those “not of our tribe” with suspicion. It doesn’t make the prejudice right.
Heathenism can be practiced alone, or in a group. That’s the beauty of it. I’m kind of a solitary kind of gal, so you’re not likely to see me at an Asatru or Heathen gathering. Even so, there are groups in your neighborhood. I recommend the American Asatru Association to get more involved. That way, you don’t have to go it alone.