osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

What Religious Tolerance Means To Me

OK, I gotta bunch of work to do. But a quick flip through f'list shows that a bunch of folks decided to make yesterday "religious tolerance day." Aside from the conjunction of Rosh Hashanna and Eid Al Fitr, the recent rather embarrassing (to me, as an American) spat of open Islamophobia makes this appropriate.

Curiously, however, most of the folks on my f'list talking about "religious tolerance" are people who themselves profess not to be particularly religious, but have an idea of what they they think other people ought to tolerate. Which is fine. We all have opinions, and we all have to live together (that is what politics is about at its highest level). However, as a religious person, I will describe what religious tolerance means for me.

Some months back, I happened to run into a Jewish friend who has been living with his same sex partner for many years. I know and love them both. My friend informed me that he and partner now planned to get married, it being officially legal in DC. He asked if I would stand as a witness. "Ummm....." I replied. "That raises a very complicated question."
"Yes," he said. "We thought it might."

By which we both knew I was politely saying "sorry, no can do."

Some time later, I heard again from my friend. "I knew you couldn't attend from our conversation, so we didn't invite you." He told me. "But you should know we are having a party for our friends, to celebrate this and other life milestones. Will you come?"

"Yes. Very gladly. Thank you." I said.

This is religious tolerance. My friends understand what my religion requires of me, do not take it as a personal insult, and love me anyway.

These are not my only friends who have shown this level of tolerance. Some years ago, when museinred, who I think of as my sister, was getting married to Steve (he is Jewish, she is not) said to me "we would love it if you came, but we understand if you can't." So I waited outside and only came in when the ceremony was done and the celebration begun. When my best friend from college got married in a traditional Hindu ceremony, she understood when I said I couldn't come and we have remained as close as ever.

In my life, I have had many friends who are tolerant of my religious practices, even when it impeded on their convenience or tread on their own principles. I have friends who keep a special set of pots and pans to be used only for kosher food. My Pennsic household that we camp with takes enormously good care of us and accommodates our needs. This includes the friends who rushed out in the rain on Saturday this past year to put my tent back up because I had no option but to let it collapse in the rain.

On the flip side, I have lost family and friends over the years when my religious requirements conflicted with what they thought I ought to be willing to do. Because, in their opinion, if I really loved them I would chuck my religious rules over the side in preference to their wants, needs and desires.

True tolerance includes respect, not merely demands. I do not care one whit if your religion believes I am going to Hell, or if you think I am delusional and praying to some non-existent entity. Society generally has a right to impose rules for our common behavior and should, I believe, try to accommodate people's religious belief. But no one may command the beliefs of another, nor should they try.

Perhaps it is merely enough to hope for that people will learn to play together in the little sandbox that is our world without killing each other. But I am still grateful for those friends who recognize that my beliefs are an intrinsic part of me and love me anyway -- even when they not only do not share those beliefs, but actively disagree with them.

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