Freedom of Religion Means We Listen But We Don’t Preach

I grew up in a faith where one of our duties was to witness and spread the Word. I was never comfortable with that admonition because it seemed presumptuous to tell somebody else, “I know you already have a religion, but I want you to think about giving that up and switching over to my religion.”

My feeling is, if I ask you about your religion, feel free to tell me about it. Otherwise, don’t show up on my doorstep with a prepared sermon. Another feeling I have is that freedom of religion means that while we can learn from each other’s beliefs, none of those beliefs should be enacted into law. If they are, then one person is forcing his or her religion down the throats of those with other beliefs.

My mood is a bit sour today because in the novel I’m reading, the characters believe that mysticism is the work of the so-called devil. I guess the Christian mystics would take exception to that misguided idea. So do I. I take exception to it because I believe that while there is much I can learn from a preacher, there is also much I can learn by my own interactions with the Creator.

The polarized battle between red-state advocates and blue-state advocates has brought a lot of scripture quoting into the national debate. The people quoting scripture seem to think that freedom of religion is viable only as long as their beliefs are in control of the country.  Yet, when the same people look at other countries that don’t have separation between church and state, they complain about how outmoded it is to govern due to one interpretation of a holy book vs. another.

Eulalie, the main character in my Florida Folk Magic series, mixes fundamentalist Christian beliefs with hoodoo. This is fairly traditional. While I am sympathetic to the mix of magic and religion, Eulalie’s beliefs are not my beliefs. However, as an author, my duty is to portray her belief system as it is and not belittle it with authorial comments that stem from my beliefs. I think the author of the fundamentalist-oriented novel I’m reading now has intruded himself into the story by having his characters say that mystics are aligned with demons.

When I sat in high school and college history classes and learned about the numerous religious wars, I naively thought, thank goodness this can’t happen now. Apparently, I was wrong. There’s a lot of dueling scripture flying around as a justification for a lot of clashing beliefs and contrasting cultural approaches to the world. In fact, the world seems to be divided along religious lines with all sides believing their faith is everything and that the faith of others is nothing. Frankly, I don’t know how to combat that kind of arrogance other than to listen and try to understand.

–Malcolm

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