Now Is The Time To Act
An essay by Alison Nolan
Every day, humans struggle with what is right and wrong. This problem has spawned
an intolerant society. People will not put aside their differences and
realize that we are all working towards a common goal, one of peace and
love. It does not matter what your beliefs are, only that you accept the
fact that there are others out there that are different than you. Because
of this lack of knowledge and acceptance, Twin Cities residents, like the
rest of the world, are intolerant of those who practice different religions
than their own. To combat this, schools should add religious tolerance
classes to their curriculums; thus making it so that everyone can learn and
apply tolerance at a young age.
Before we can look at examples of religious intolerance and suggest a
solution, we must first understand how religious intolerance is defined.
According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, religion is defined as a "set or
system of religious beliefs" (Page 285). The same source defines tolerance as a "lack of opposition for beliefs or practices differing from one's own," and
a, "capacity for enduring" (Page 348). By putting these two definitions together,
we now have a definition for religious tolerance. Religious tolerance is a
capacity for enduring a set or system of beliefs that are different from
your own. Accordingly, religious intolerance would be just the opposite, the
incapacity for enduring a set or system of beliefs that are different from
Religious intolerance, unfortunately, has been a great part of our history.
We have seen it in the later Roman Empire, during the uprising of
Christianity. Christian preachers convinced others that Paganism was evil,
telling them lies so that they would be drawn into the church. One such
example, quoted from Theodore of Mopsuestia’s address to baptismal
candidates, "Service of Satan is everything dealing with paganism,...the
purifications, the washings, the knots, the hanging of yeast, the
observances of the body, the fluttering of the voice of birds and any
similar thing. ...They called this glamour [i.e., Satan’s], the theatre,
the circus, the race-course, the contest of athletes, the water-organs and
the dances, which the Devil introduced into this world under the pretext of
amusement, and through which he leads the souls of men to perdition." (Laistner
7) This example shows that the church used lies to make people shun
Paganism and embrace the growing religion of Christianity. Eventually these
lies turned into truth among those who shared a belief in Christian values.
Another event that has plagued our history was the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler
came into power because the economy was in a recession. However, Hitler
blamed the Jews for this recession. He then felt it was his duty to kill all
the "unwanteds." Six million Jews were killed because of this. Anti-Semitism
dominated Germany throughout this time period (Siegel).
In the Twin Cities, intolerance is becoming more prevalent. When the Dalai Lama
came to town last April, many people, both Buddhists and non-Buddhists, came
together to be enlightened by this great leader. Everyone except
Representative Arlon Lindner, from Minnesota's Legislature. He sent an
e-mail to his colleagues suggesting that, "Minnesota's welcome mat should
not be out for the Buddhist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner" (Haga 1).
He also stated that the Dalai Lama is a leader of a "cult" and that his
views were "incompatible with Christian principles." (Haga 1). The Dalai
Lama's views are not incompatible with Christian values; in fact they are
much the same. Both Christianity and Buddhism teach values of love and
peace. I doubt that Arlon Lindner could tell you the basic principles of
Buddhism. Why did he make these remarks? His lack of knowledge makes him
assume what he wants, he has his own set of truths, and this ignorance is
what leads to intolerance.
After the attacks on September eleventh, a few Muslims received the brunt of the
blame. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Nationwide, the Council
on American-Islamic relations . . . reported that a few Muslims wearing
traditional Islamic clothing had complained of harassment in the hours after
Tuesday's attacks" (Sternberg 1). Wissam Balsche, president of the
Students Association, reported that "People were staring, shaking their
heads, giving bad looks nothing serious, but we don't want people to rush
to the wrong conclusion" (Sternberg 1). Another example of this intolerance
was from a student at the University of Minnesota who claimed that a man
called her a "terrorist" while she was riding a city bus (Schmickle 1).
Hamdy El-Sawaf, who is the executive director of the Islamic Center of
Minnesota, said that, "Any terrorist attack is totally against Islam and our
beliefs. God help us. I can only pray to God to save this nation, to shower
his mercy and tranquility on it" (Sternberg 2). Unfortunately, because of a
lack of knowledge, people began to harass those who were not responsible,
but shared a likeness to those who were.
My last example is a personal story. As a Celtic Pagan, those who do not
understand my religion have also harassed me. Hollywood has turned my
religion into something evil and wrong, oftentimes convincing others that
Pagans worship Satan and other evil demons. According to those who hold
these misconceptions of my religion I deliberately hurt others, take drugs,
fly on a broom, kill animals, drink blood, summon demons, worship the devil,
cast love spells to make people fall religiously in love with me, and my
favorite, eat babies (Ravenwolf 13-16). All of these things are
misconceptions that were stirred up by people who do not know anything about
our actual beliefs.
Fortunately, I have only had one bad experience with intolerance, unlike
others who experience it every day. My sister's friend wanted to come over
to my house one day. However, when her mother dropped her off, she stopped
in my driveway and would not let her daughter out of the car. She did not
want her daughter around me because of the bumper stickers on my car.
Sporting slogans like, "My Other Car Is A Broom", or, "Witches Parking: All
Others Will Be Toad." Because of her mother's misconceptions, my sister's
friend was no longer allowed to come over to our house while I was there. It
took a lot of convincing on my sister’s part for her to even be allowed at
our house at all. Every time my sister's friend wanted to come over after
that, I would have to move my car to the end of the block, wait there till
her mother left, and then I could come home. This intolerance is also bred
from a lack of knowledge, or more appropriately, a lack of correct
knowledge. I am now proud to say that the next time I am confronted with
this situation that I will refuse to move my car, and will talk with the
girl's mother, if she is willing.
This problem is prevalent, but what do we do about it? Ideas for combating
intolerance could include distributing pamphlets and flyers or even holding
community education classes available to all members of society. Education
is definitely what we need to solve this problem, but only distributing
pamphlets will not convey all of the correct information, and the knowledge
will not reach everyone. It is because of this that I propose that all high
schools should have to add a religious tolerance class to their curriculum.
Religion is already taught at some high schools, both public and private,
but they only spend about three weeks teaching students about the worlds
five largest religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and
Judaism. These religions are very important to understand, but how much can
you learn in three weeks, and what about the smaller minority religions that
are highly misunderstood? These religions need to be taught, or they will
continue to be misunderstood and continue to breed more intolerance. In the
religious curriculum, it should be taught as a belief system, or theory, not
as truth. No one should have beliefs forced upon him or her, but it is
essential that everyone at least learn the basics of most religions. (I say
most because there are so many religions that you could not possibly cover
every one). If classes like these were taught in high schools, students
would grow up with a sense of tolerance, and would teach their own kids to
be tolerant. This would help to eliminate intolerance.
Although this would benefit many people, I have to admit that there are
those who will refuse this, and those are most often the people who are
guilty of intolerance. For those who refuse knowledge there is nothing that
we can do but hope that they might at least listen to the ideas of others.
They must accept that these ideas exist, even if they do not believe that
they are true. When this happens, we will have begun our first steps towards
tolerance, a better country, and a better world.
I will also be devoting my life to seeing that tolerance becomes an every day
occurrence. I have decided that with a double major in Theatre and Religion
and a minor in Writing I will create my own educational theatre. The
productions in this theatre will be composed of shows with educational plot
lines. Not only will they include stories of religious tolerance, but of
things like sexual assault, HIV/AIDS, and other issues that plague our
society. Through this I feel that I will be doing my part in the education
of our society.
Until we accept others, a tolerant society will never exist. Therefore,
it is absolutely crucial that we push for the education of our youth. They
are the ones who will make these changes, and they are the ones who will
listen. If we do not, then our society will continue in this circle of
violence and hatred.
Now is the time to act.
Copyright © 2002 by the author
Latest update: 2002-JAN-15
Author: Alison Nolan