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27 January 2009 @ 02:59 pm
Religious Tolerance - Freedom of Religious Expression  
Because of the religious pluralism in the United States and especially in large metropolitan areas where the door-to-door diversity is often the greatest, tolerance often manifests as silence. Don't proselytize to me and I won't push my beliefs on you. In the Pacific Northwest cities, it is a social faux pas to loudly proclaim your religious beliefs at anyone who will listen. As Chad Gollier-Sojourner, a Seattle-based spoken word performer once stated (paraphrased), "In Seattle, it is easier to come out as being gay than being Christian."

Given that context, it was three years ago when I walked into a small deli in the Green Lake district of Seattle. I was with my conservative Jewish (now ex) boyfriend, and I was then, as I am now, a philosophically-Taoist religious-Atheist. We ordered our food and while we waited for it, we read a sign on the counter.

"Beginning (start date), we will close on Sundays to observe the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Our initial reactions were to sneer at this overtly religious proclamation because we'd been engaging in the silent social contract of a cultural faux pas. He felt that the message, rather than pro-Christian, had an anti-Semitic ring to it, implications of anti-evolution, pro-choice, and other political ramifications. "Well, we don't have to come back," I said diplomatically. I didn't think it was anti-Semitic, but I found the clear "We are Christians" statement of a business to be pretty tacky and alienating, especially in Seattle where we are known for our skepticism of organized religion ("The Church of Skepticism: Seattle's One True Faith Gets Mobilized" by Sean Nelson, The Stranger, June 2007).

As I walked out the door with our food, I saw an article about the restaurant. This deli was owned by Chinese expatriates and all at once my heart and eyes just completely filled up with patriotic love of our Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religious expression. Here were a people from a country known for its persecution and criminalization of religious activities. A country where Taoist monasteries were destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s. Now that we'd welcomed these Chinese immigrants into our country and made them citizens, like us, they had the freedom to say We! Are! Christians! triumphantly. And here I was judging them harshly for it.

I felt ashamed of myself for thinking it tacky and alienating.

This was a celebration of our First Amendment.

I love living in a country where I can say I am an Atheist, and you can say I am a Pagan and he can say I am a Christian and she can say I am a Jew and you can say I am a Muslim and they can say We Are Not Sure, and anyone who persecutes us for it is punishable by law. How lucky are we. How cool is that.

I don't disagree that the social faux pas of associating a business with a religion has its merit in a pluralistic society, but neither do I feel a business should receive a universal boycott on the expression of a religion alone. While sometimes a religion does imply a person's political leanings, I made a promise to myself that day that I would not make that presumption. If a business is supporting politics that I do not agree with, then I will heartily boycott them. But expressing a religious belief? Welcome to our glorious pluralistic America :)

Silence isn't religious tolerance, I learned that day. We don't get to exercise tolerance until we've listened to what people have to say.
Prince of Happinesspoh on January 27th, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)
It is also to run their business as they see fit (within legal means). They're not doing anything illegal, so yeah...while I could go "gggrrraugh..." it happens. Their business is their business.
Kburgunder on January 28th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
*nod* Exactly.
Prince of Happinesspoh on January 28th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC)
Yup! And if it's something that I'm not into, I don't go. Domino's Pizza funds anti-abortion organizations, don't go. I'm not too heavily against one business putting religion "out there." Shit, I'd be screwed for places to go to in Little Saigon (Buddhist shrines everywhere).
Douglaschiaspod on January 27th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
"I don't disagree that the social faux pas of associating a business with a religion"

So ... how do you feel about businesses that identify as gay-friendly? or ones that keep political stickers pro-this or anti-that all over the place?
Kburgunder on January 27th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
I think it's awesome actually, because it allows me to easily put my money where my mouth is, and for people who disagree with me to not support the businesses that I do. It also raises awareness of things like the ubiquity of queers and queer allies, pro-whatever and anti-whatever within a community. In the case of Kansas, it made me realize I wasn't home, I was a minority voice. In the case of Seattle, it made me realize I was home, I'd find my community.

I prefer that transparency infinitely over businesses who stay mum and quietly donate large sums of money to organizations I strongly agree or disagree with. I would be very sad to see a "gays not welcome" or "whites not welcome" or whatever sticker on a business, but also glad to spend my money elsewhere and that they were at least honest and open about what the money their business receives then supports.
Douglaschiaspod on January 28th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
So why is it a faux pas for a business to identify with religion? Politics (liberal or conservative), the mores of being gay-friendly, religion that's Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu - these are all just deeply held beliefs. All have their bad apples - though I think people remember the bad apples of The Other Guys more easily than the bad apples in their own camps. And all have their good sides, too.

There are Christians out there who feel like they're being marginalized. People who hold conservative (little c) beliefs who feel that things are going to hell in a handbasket way too fast. People all over the Midwest who feel marginalized because all the attention goes to the "liberal" metropoleis on the coasts. And they probably consider it a social faux pas to announce one's orientation ... I believe the phrase is "loud and proud"? ;)

I don't think any of it is a social faux pas. I've said before, I prefer people who aren't abashed or covert about their beliefs. I dislike people who want to get in my face and try to force acceptance of those beliefs, mind you - but that's more a personal space issue and less a social one.

I do have a problem with belief systems that feel the need to denigrate the opposition; I've never understood the need to tear someone else down rather than build yourself up. That applies to judgemental Christians who obviously haven't been paying attention in Sunday school, people who use the term "breeder" to describe me or my wife, and jackasses who think the color of one's skin or the strength of someone's accent is enough to judge them on intelligence and ability. But just saying "We're closed on Sunday, 'cause dude, it's the Sabbath" - that's building themselves up, showing the strength and dedication of their convictions that they'd be willing to go a full day without business.

Me, I don't frequent stores that are closed on Sunday simply because, hell, it's inconvenient to me (and life's all about me, dammit). And as long as a store has what I want in it, I don't care if they fly a rainbow flag, have a crucifix on every vertical surface, or a sign proudly proclaiming "we donate all proceeds to Greenpeace, you dolphin-killing freak" - I'll shop there. 'cause it's all about me. And I like stuff and things.
Kburgunder on January 28th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
faux pas n. a social blunder

I didn't say a business being gay-friendly isn't a social faux pas. It is an enormous social faux pas in many places. Like Kansas. Whereas a business identifying as Jewish or Christian in Kansas, at least in the suburbs of Kansas City, was not considered a social faux pas. But it so is in Seattle, even if it's just via the expression of discomfort at someone else's religious "loud and proud". In my experience, discomfort is the primary outward mode of expression that defines a social faux pas.

My Midwest upbringing was that Politics, Religion and What You Do In Your Bedroom are Private and it was a huge social faux pas to discuss them in "mixed" company (i.e. with people who aren't already established to agree with you).

One of the things that fascinated me while I was in Amsterdam was that they have so very few laws prohibiting you from doing things, but a ton of social faux pas essentially nudging people, mostly through peer pressure and scowls from strangers, to behave in a certain way. It is not illegal to smoke marijuana in public, but it is extremely impolite and an active faux pas to light up a joint next to a family eating dinner without getting their express permission to do so.

I agree that none of these things should be a social blunder, that a truly pluralistic society is loud and proud throughout, but they haven't bloody damn made me Queen yet. Hmph.
Mistress Vermilion: diversityms_vermilion on January 27th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
It is incredibly important to recognize the difference between these two statements:

1. I believe xxx. Part of my practice of xxx is this thing I am going to do.

2. You should believe xxx because it is the one true way to think and you're going to suffer for all of eternity if you don't think like me.

The first is not prosletizing. It is a statement of adherence to a belief system. Hearing one person say they hold a particular religious belief system is not in any way an attack on people who hold another one (including irreligious philosophies).

The second is a whole different kettle of fish ("fish" being used coincidentally). Some of this requires more delving into intent, but there's little reason to get offended by someone else's statement of religious belief, regardless of which particular religion it is.
Douglaschiaspod on January 28th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
I love you.
Mistress Vermilion: diversityms_vermilion on January 28th, 2009 12:13 am (UTC)
It was my accidental use of fish, wasn't it?
Douglaschiaspod on January 28th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
I honestly can't deny that had an influence.
Kburgunder on January 28th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
I love your icon!
Kburgunder on January 28th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
p.s. What is the symbol in the bottom left corner? I don't think I recognize it.
Mistress Vermilion: diversityms_vermilion on January 28th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC)
This is driving me batty because I can't remember what it is. I do know that it was a specific religion that I added to the more common symbols that I already had. I've out esoterrorized myself. I will figure it out, but haven't yet.
Mistress Vermilion: diversityms_vermilion on January 28th, 2009 01:15 am (UTC)
It's one of the symbols of Satanism, which is what I was thinking earlier, but I couldn't find my proof at first and didn't want to mis-attribute it.
A second Satanic symbol appears above the Nine Satanic Statements in LaVey's book: The Satanic Bible, page 25. It is an infinity sign (a figure 8 on its side). A shortened Lorraine Cross is placed on top. [A Lorraine cross is a Roman '†' cross, with a second, longer cross piece added below the main cross piece.] This is an ancient symbol which alchemists -- many of whom were Satanists -- used to represent brimstone. 2 Brimstone is the element sulfur, and was long associated with Satan by the Christian church. LaVey might have adopted a brimstone symbol as a humorous gesture to poke fun at Christianity.

from here
Kburgunder on January 28th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
Huh, that makes me want to go do some research and be a bit of a twit. I believe most Alchemists were Taoists actually. I'm just not sure at what point in the Taoist time line they emerged.
Kburgunder on January 28th, 2009 01:23 am (UTC)
Mistress Vermilion: diversityms_vermilion on January 28th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
I made it and you're welcome to steal it if you want.

(I hope you don't mind me posting a reply in your LJ even though I'm not on your FL. Normally I don't do that.)
Kburgunder on January 28th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
Of course not! I'm always happy to have your voice here, love.

I take forever adding people to my FL because I'm a very prolific, intimate blogger and very self-conscious about both my content and sheer volume of ineloquence. ;> It's almost never a lack of interest in the people who friend me, but rather a combination of laziness and taking my time defining my comfort level with people.
Kriskfrye on January 28th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)
Discrimination against Christian groups was a big problem when I was in college. Although the Christian group was extremely small and polite and practically invisible, they were pretty much constantly mocked by a student body that prided itself on being open minded. It was an irony that escaped a lot of people.

Being able to listen to people without reflexively tuning out their message because of preconceptions is a constant struggle for all of us. (Of course, that could be shorted to: Being able to listen is a constant struggle.)
Kburgunder on January 28th, 2009 12:31 am (UTC)
AMEN! (non-ironically) You just said that so much better or so much more eloquently than I did. :)
Cantakerous troubadoursonder on January 28th, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)
Your heresy....

Will be rewarded.
vaxhacker on January 28th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this, I agree completely, and always appreciate seeing this mentality in action. And I agree it's really hard most of the time to see it in our own thoughts and actions.

This came up once, for example, in a slightly different form (but I think still illustrates the same issue) in my scout leader training (we were off at a multi-day camp training thing for leaders). At one meeting, someone brought up a concern about people praying at meals in the way their religion dictated, and asked if maybe we shouldn't tell people they had to remove any specific references to their deity of choice and so forth, and just use the most generic language so nobody could be offended. I groaned, because I always hate the idea that the way to be a "tolerant and diverse" society is to basically remove or hide anything that might hint at our diversity. We can be tolerant only if we try to pretend we're all just the same? What? People will be offended if they notice we come from different walks of life, share different traditions or beliefs?

Anyway, as I was bracing inwardly for the usual "Oh, yes, of course we should do that," answer, I heard the leader say, "We have people here from a wide variety of traditions, cultures, backgrounds and faiths. We'd really prefer that everyone felt free to express themselves in the manner they are accustomed to, and to feel safe simply saying and being who they each are, and that we can accept each other for our differences and similarities, and embrace the diversity we have here." I could have hugged the guy right there.