When I was in the seventh grade, I was sitting at a table with three eighth-graders in art class. They were discussing “Passion of the Christ,” as it had just been released to theaters, and at one point they turned to me and asked if I had seen it yet.
“Uhm… no?” I responded meekly. I was a shy girl who had just returned home after six months in foster care, and a life of being homeschooled before that. At first, I was stunned that they were talking to me.
“What? Why not?!” The gorgeous popular girl at my table stared at me, aghast.
“I don’t want to…?” I replied honestly. I swear I could hear the record scratching as the entire room went silent. Looking back, I wish I’d just said that my mom took us to way better movies, that we would go a couple of weekends a month to see a movie as a family, and she just never took us to boring ones.
My teacher was helpless to quiet the class as everyone began peppering me with questions. Why didn’t I want to see it? Did I not respect our Lord and Savior? Was I Satanic? The questions only got worse when I responded that I am a Pagan. Actually, I might have said Wiccan, but in my seventh-grade mind, they were one and the same. I had a lot to learn.
“What is Pagan?”
“I believe in a god and a goddess, and it’s more about nature, I guess…” I shrugged.
“A goddess? What? There is only ONE GOD, Heather. What about Jesus? Do you believe in him? He died for your sins, you know.”
“I don’t believe in him.” I didn’t say that I had no idea what she was talking about. What do my sins have to do with anything?
The uproar after that was intense. How could I not believe in Jesus? I would be going to Hell, for sure, did that not bother me? It got to the point that I was in tears, and my art teacher let me stay in her classroom until I was calm enough to go on to my next class, bless her.
The ‘art class incident’ was the first time I was publically persecuted for my faith, but it would certainly not be the last. It took several years of silence and resentment to come to terms with the fact that I will likely always be looked down upon for my spiritual beliefs. It took even longer to stop hating the Christian faith for making me feel small and worthless. It isn’t the faith, I came to realize, simply the way people interpret that faith. My ex-husband’s family introduced me to Christian men and women who were respectful. Even if they didn’t understand my faith, they treated me with kindness and respect always, and for that, I will forever be grateful.
My father was Wiccan, and while he had his faults, he did allow me to explore religion. I was not introduced to the concept of a Christian God until I was nine or ten years old. Before that, I read and absorbed all of his books on paganism and Wicca. I would check books out from the library that discussed various mythologies. I discovered Christianity around the same time that I discovered Sumerian, Egyptian, and Norse mythologies.
As I got older and wanted to know more, I visited several different types of churches and read books on other religions. I visited a Mennonite church, a Baptist church, a non-denominational Christian church, a Catholic church, and I deemed all of those religions to be inadequate for how my mind and heart work. However, I recognize that these are very real and meaningful faiths for others, and so I do not condemn anyone who chooses one of those paths.
The problem, though, is that these children who tormented me, with the pretty popular girl leading the charge, were never afforded the freedom to explore like I was. They had no idea about other faiths, because it would have been inappropriate in the eyes of the church for them to explore that. In other cases, perhaps their parents were uneducated on the topic of other religions. Either way, I believe it is morally wrong to abstain from educating children about various beliefs and lifestyles.
Parents who do not open their children’s eyes to alternate lifestyles and faiths are creating crusading monsters. Full stop.
As I’ve said before in various posts, I believe that it is crucial that we teach our children about diverse lifestyles and belief systems. I believe that diversity breeds intelligence, understanding, and kindness, and science agrees with me.
I allow my daughters to explore all religions. They have family who are Baptist, and while I don’t wish that life for them, I don’t prohibit them from asking questions or gaining knowledge while they are still young. I have only one rule, and it’s very simple: they cannot pick a faith until they are grown. They do not have the emotional maturity to claim a faith as their own until they’re adults, in my opinion.
I will never be able to prevent them from being persecuted the way I have been my whole life, but I can make damn sure they aren’t the type of people who make others feel awful for their spirituality or lack thereof. It is our job as parents to teach our children how to be decent human beings. It is possible to firmly root yourself in religion, while at the same time preach tolerance and acceptance to others. Accepting other faiths does not dishonor your own, and I think that’s where people have it wrong.
It is the simplest thing in the world to teach and model respect for those of other lifestyles. Do that. Be the change. Guide your children by showing them we can all live peacefully together without the hate and intolerance.