Two guys are drinking in a bar. One turns to the other and says, “Hey, are you going to Saint Mary’s for Mass this Easter?”
The second guy replies, “No, I’m an Atheist.”
Says the first guy, “Well, I never heard of that one. But I guess we all worship the same God.”
Obviously, he doesn’t, and we don’t.
The urge to gloss over our differences and imagine similarities, even where none exist, is very real. I keep running across it in Pagan and Polytheist circles, although the problem — and it is a problem– obviously impacts society much more broadly.
It stems from the idea that we have to be “the same” in order to be friends or to have peace. It’s the same basic emotional impulse behind white people saying that they are “color blind.” What they mean to say, of course, is that they consider the other person, regardless of color, to be “the same” enough to be friends with. In more enlightened times and circles, we realize that a harmonious society does not begin with the erasure of differences between people. Justice cannot begin with erasure. Rather, we need to develop the maturity to embrace a world where we are not all the same, and where we can treat one another with respect anyway.
This applies to our bodies, our brains, and yes, also to our spirits.
It may *sound* nice when someone says “we’re all headed in the same direction, just on different paths,” or “we’re all taking different roads up the same mountain,” but really, it’s just another kind of erasure.
We need to consider two important ideas:
- That it is ok for us to not all have the same spiritual destination
- It’s ok for different traditions to have ideas, concepts, tech, tools and cosmologies which we don’t have enough background to understand yet.
One religion might value submission, and another might value questioning. One might believe in reason, and another in faith. It’s important to consider that these different values might exist because the religions are pointing in different directions, spiritually. And that’s ok. Not everyone who goes on vacation goes to the Bahamas. There are other good places to go. The spiritual universe is not smaller or less complex than the physical one.
Shaman sickness is not universally applicable to every tradition on the planet. It’s a big planet! Not all religions deal in polarities. Not every mystical path uses warding, circle casting, or purification. Not all Polytheisms include, or even permit, ancestor shrines in the home. Not all gods are misanthropic or violate people’s personal boundaries. Not all types of magic require casting a circle and calling the elements. Not all traditions use the same physical tools for their work. Not all magical practitioners are Pagan. And yet, I have heard the opposite of each of these statements made at one point or another over the last year.
The fact that a tradition you don’t practice doesn’t have a component that seems absolutely crucial inside of your own doesn’t mean that the other tradition is deficient, incomplete, or inferior. It obviously works just fine without that component, or it wouldn’t have adherents. It may, in fact, have tech that you don’t yet have the cultural background to understand.
Just because two things are different does not mean that one of them has to be inferior. It might be that a different tradition isn’t as good at accomplishing your tradition’s goals. But that may be because they have different goals.
Relatedly, and also importantly: there are unjust and problematic people in the world. They are of every religion. Don’t create huge categories and lump multiple traditions into them for the purpose of having someone to hate. Not all Pagans worship Satan (in fact, not even all Satanists worship Satan). Not all Heathens are racists. Jews and Muslims should not be held accountable for the actions of a small group of American Christians. Using the words “Abrahamic Religions” to disparage faiths is kind of just low-key anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Otherwise, you’d just say “Fundamentalists.”
Take the time to listen to people, refrain from reducing their tradition to the concepts extant in your own, ask questions until you understand what you are looking at. Or don’t. And then refrain from making judgment or comment.
Think more, hate less. Everything is new under the Sun, and nothing is new under the Sun… but what’s under the Sun might be much, much bigger than you at first imagine.