Home pageHome About EcclasiaEcclasia Upcoming EventsEvents About our classesClasses Articles to readArticles Local Resources & LinkssResources & Links Webrings we belong toRings Pages by our membersMember's Pages

More than Lip Service

By Gryphontamer


"I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire

I have always prided myself on being tolerant. Of course, when I wasn't a member of any non-mainstream groups, it was easy to think of myself as tolerant. I suppose, looking back, that my tolerance was more on the level of a patronizing, old-guard Southerner who thinks, "OK, the blacks can have what they like as long as it doesn't affect me."

I'm ashamed of that, these days.

Tolerance comes much more dearly when you are a part of a non-mainstream community, and I'm now a member of several of them.

Oddly enough, it was easier for me to come out about my sexuality than it was for me to come out of the broom closet. And yet, neither one was particularly difficult. I'm the kind of person who doesn't believe in hiding anything about myself. I try not to get too vocal about it, but I do have a problem with people who can't handle a pentacle pendant or a flogger keychain. And if I'm challenged, I'll come back and get in your face.

I have learned that many people have problems doing more than paying lip service to tolerance. Oh, of course, we'll tolerate that you're gay, as long as you don't bring your lover to my wedding. We'll tolerate that you're pagan, as long as you never mention the Goddess or wear a pentacle where I can see it.... That kind of tolerance. Tolerance under protest.

I have a newsflash for the people who practice tolerance under protest: That's not tolerance.

I have run into intolerance directed at myself a couple of times since coming out of the broom closet. The most painful is that of my husband. He's a devout Catholic, a member of the Knights of Columbus. Until I came out, he was a lukewarm Catholic. Now he goes to church every week, and I'm sure he's praying to save my pagan soul. It's hard for me. I know that his faith says that what he's doing is what he's supposed to be doing. But it makes me very uncomfortable because I have a big problem with one-true-wayism. I also want to teach my little girls about my faith, and I know that when they get older there will be questions that I may not be able to answer.

When I purchased a pentacle stick-on for my car (similar to the Jesus fish or the dove many Christians have on their cars) my husband was appalled. He was even more appalled when I had the audacity to put it on my car. He's worried ever since that we'll be attacked by some nut, and he's angry with me for putting our children at risk. I feel that if anyone tries anything, I'll have him or her arrested. Like it or not, I have the right to put this simple display of my faith on my vehicle.

A few days after I put the pentacle on my car, we were unloading groceries, and an older neighbor walked past with his dogs on a leash. He caught sight of the pentacle, and for the first time, I was on the receiving end of "the hate stare." I'm sure you know the look. It's the look that says "Damn you, you're a threat to my way of life, you're not wanted here, go away, sit in the back of the bus." For a few days, I was nervous that I might wake up with a cross burning on my lawn, or my car vandalized.

I mentioned this to a friend who I thought I had come out to. Turns out I hadn't. She said, "Well, you can hardly expect a different reaction -- that's a Satanic symbol." I got pretty exasperated trying to explain that no, it isn't a Satanic symbol. That friend and I haven't spoken much since (and ironically, she's Jewish....)

Being "out" isn't easy. As a mother of two small children, I know that I'm taking a risk by wearing my pentacle and having one on my car. But I also know that I have to set an example for my kids, and let them know that just because you have an opinion that isn't popular doesn't mean that you should have to hide it.

How does all this relate to tolerance? I was just getting to that.

I believe that the only way that people will learn to tolerate something is if they are exposed to it. By hiding in the broom closet, I was not helping others learn tolerance. I've had to learn quite a bit of it myself, for people like my husband, my neighbor, and my friend, who just do not or cannot understand that I am not evil. I have had to learn tolerance for many other points of view. I don't have the One True Way. And when I'm confronted with someone who thinks he or she does, I have to remind myself, sometimes forcibly, that they don't, either -- they may just be misinformed or in ignorance of other points of view.

I think tolerance can be taken too far. If you sacrifice your own peace, your own faith, just so that you won't bother others, I think that's going too far. If you hide your faith, just to keep from rocking the boat, that's your choice, but personally, I'm a boat-rocker.

I've shown this essay to several people whose opinion I trust, and the main comment I hear is "You're soapboxing. You sound adversarial." I know I do. And I've worked hard to tone that down (see how well I succeeded?). But to some extent, I think perhaps we should be a tad adversarial when it comes to tolerance. Passivity is just not my thing.

I'm not saying that Pagans or Witches should "witness for their faith", as some Christians do. At least, not in the sense that we should go around proselytizing. But I am saying that when we see intolerance, we should at least try to correct the misconceptions others have about our faith, and yes, "witness" for it by our actions and our deeds. Otherwise, how are we ever going to get to the point where most people tolerate us?

I realize I sound adversarial. And perhaps I am. But then again, I've never been good at tolerating intolerance.


Navbar graphics courtesy of:

This page last updated August 10, 2004