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Author Topic: Explaining one's religion politely  (Read 2430 times)

Snowdrop

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Explaining one's religion politely
« on: October 30, 2012, 08:12:00 pm »
(Or, in other words, help!)  

A lot of the discussion I've seen about people of various pagan religions/paths and how open they are about their religion seems to center on either when it is appropriate to be secretive or on how much openness constitutes being flashy and obnoxious.  (Hubcap pentacles, etc. . . . )  

What I'm wondering is: how do you (in a polite, socially acceptable, non-evangelizing way) explain what your religion is to people who may know very little about pagan religions?  (Or may be gravely misinformed about them.)  

My specific context for needing help with this: I'm a member of a book group which I was invited to by a really fantastic person.  Because I'm kind of ditzy at times, it wasn't until later that I realized that every other person in the group is a very enthusiastic (I think Evangelical?) Christian.  The religious aspect is hard to ignore because what we're reading has a theological theme.  

I think the reading is fascinating and the people are really wonderful, but . . . I find it really awkward to be in a situation where everyone else assumes that I have very different religious beliefs than I do.  I'm not sure how I should respond if we ever get onto the topic of my own beliefs, which, given the nature of the discussions, we probably will.  

I want to be honest without creating friction, and when it comes to religion that can often be so difficult to do.  Thoughts?

Shine

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2012, 08:40:09 pm »
Quote from: Snowdrop;78855
What I'm wondering is: how do you (in a polite, socially acceptable, non-evangelizing way) explain what your religion is to people who may know very little about pagan religions?  (Or may be gravely misinformed about them.)  

--snip--

I want to be honest without creating friction, and when it comes to religion that can often be so difficult to do.  Thoughts?

 
You have to be very careful about who you explain your religion to. There are some people out there who just cannot accept the fact that someone has a different belief. There are others who can't respect the fact that someone has a different belief. Lack of acceptance or respect creates friction whether you intend it to or not.

How do you think these people would react? If you think they'd react badly, you're probably better off either lying or excusing yourself from the group. Otherwise, the best thing to do would be to let the topic come up naturally.

Then your best bet would probably be to explain one or two small, but important things, about your religion. For example, when I explain my religion to someone, I say I'm a solar cultist who worships ancient Egyptian gods, and that I believe that the sun is the supreme being. Anyone who's curious is free to ask more questions.
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Snowdrop

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2012, 09:04:18 pm »
Quote from: Shine;78864
You have to be very careful about who you explain your religion to. There are some people out there who just cannot accept the fact that someone has a different belief. There are others who can't respect the fact that someone has a different belief. Lack of acceptance or respect creates friction whether you intend it to or not.

How do you think these people would react?


My impression is that they would at the very least be polite.  They're all extremely nice people.  But I'm struggling with how to get around the fact that I think a lot of people who were raised (as I think all of them were) in a strongly Christian environment tend to be . . . kind of sheltered, I guess, with regard to other religions.  I don't think I phrased that well, but I can't think of a way to make it better.  (I think what I'm trying to get at is the unconscious assumption that Christianity is all religion.  It's not an innate hostility toward other religions, but more of a tendency to forget that they exist.)

Basically, it's not so much that I'm afraid that they'll be disrespectful; I'm afraid that I'll startle them and they'll be more nonplussed than anything else.

Shine

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2012, 09:31:42 pm »
Quote from: Snowdrop;78870
My impression is that they would at the very least be polite.  They're all extremely nice people.  But I'm struggling with how to get around the fact that I think a lot of people who were raised (as I think all of them were) in a strongly Christian environment tend to be . . . kind of sheltered, I guess, with regard to other religions.  I don't think I phrased that well, but I can't think of a way to make it better.  (I think what I'm trying to get at is the unconscious assumption that Christianity is all religion.  It's not an innate hostility toward other religions, but more of a tendency to forget that they exist.)

Basically, it's not so much that I'm afraid that they'll be disrespectful; I'm afraid that I'll startle them and they'll be more nonplussed than anything else.

 
Polite doesn't mean you won't get pushed out of the group, though, just to warn you. A pagan in a group of Christians (or in any other faith group, for that matter,) can work so long as he or she fits in with the group's spiritual dynamics overall. If you don't fit in, then there's a chance it won't work no matter how well you all get along.

One thing you might try if or when the subject of your religion turns to you is to fib a bit, if that's not beyond your conscience.  

For example, I've been in situations where I've said, "well, hm, I believe in a god, but I wonder if there are other gods in the world. What do you think?" Sometimes I've gotten a series of confused, but not unpleasant, reactions that told me I could be more honest ("I don't just believe in a god, but I think I believe in many." I hold off on more certain statements and talking about goddesses unless it seems wise to proceed.) Other times I've gotten hostility, which means I dial back ("Yeah, I can't imagine that idea is right. My imagination gets away with me too much." *laughs*) Living in a super-conservative Christian area makes such fibbing necessary.

That approach will depend on your conscience. Some people can't bear to fib--or outright lie--about their beliefs like that, which is understandable.
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mlr52

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #4 on: October 30, 2012, 09:46:39 pm »
Quote from: Snowdrop;78855
(Or, in other words, help!)  

What I'm wondering is: how do you (in a polite, socially acceptable, non-evangelizing way) explain what your religion is to people who may know very little about pagan religions?  (Or may be gravely misinformed about them.)  



The first question raised is can you explain to yourself, in the time it takes for a elevator ride what you believe? That should be the basis of your answer, anything longer will confuse people.
 
Beyond that do not give more information unless it is asked for.

Bear in mind why is it being asked, if it is a true request for information, discussion, or ammunition to be used against you.
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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #5 on: October 30, 2012, 10:45:36 pm »
Quote from: Snowdrop;78855
I want to be honest without creating friction, and when it comes to religion that can often be so difficult to do.  Thoughts?

Depending on the people, this may not be easy to do. If there are any fundie type Christians in the group, it probably will go poorly no matter how you say it. Otherwise, it is hard to guess how well it would be received.
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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2012, 11:04:11 pm »
Quote from: Snowdrop;78855
What I'm wondering is: how do you (in a polite, socially acceptable, non-evangelizing way) explain what your religion is to people who may know very little about pagan religions?  (Or may be gravely misinformed about them.)

 
Generally speaking, I don't.

In your situation, if something comes up where someone is actively talking as if I shared their personal religious take on things, I would possibly comment that that isn't universal to all religions.  If they followed up on that, I would note that it is not the case in mine, and possibly discuss what is the case on that subject in my own context.  I wouldn't go into anything not related to the actual subject at hand unless someone specifically asked, and I would always link it back and somewhat limited to the shared context of the discussion.

If someone wanted to talk more than that, I'd probably say something like "I think that sort of discussion is best saved for after book group" or whatever.
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Jenett

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2012, 09:22:43 am »
Quote from: Snowdrop;78855

I want to be honest without creating friction, and when it comes to religion that can often be so difficult to do.  Thoughts?


There's lots of other  good advice here, but another thing to consider might be - are these people (or some subsection of them) people you might want to become closer friends with? (Of the kind where religion would be an occasional topic?) Because if so, bringing it up yourself, in a controlled context, can be a lot easier than having it come out without planning.

Are there one or two people in the group you're closer with? Could you consider going out for coffee with them before/after a book group (or giving one of them a ride, or something - anything that gives you 20 minutes of conversational time one on one.) And then, if you wanted, you could frame it as "I really love the book group, but I've realised that I think I have a different religious perspective than most people there, and I'm trying to figure out how to handle that in a way that lets us keep having great conversations about the books."

And then do your basic pocket summary (the 4-5 sentence version) and see where conversation goes from there.
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Snowdrop

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2012, 05:47:14 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;78933
There's lots of other  good advice here, but another thing to consider might be - are these people (or some subsection of them) people you might want to become closer friends with? (Of the kind where religion would be an occasional topic?) Because if so, bringing it up yourself, in a controlled context, can be a lot easier than having it come out without planning.


I don't think I phrased my original question entirely right, but you've hit the nail on the head.  If it were a more formal situation (like work or whatever), the issue would be a lot easier to ignore; it's okay by me if my coworkers have incorrect assumptions about my religion.  (Or anything else in my life, for that matter.)  But there is at least one person here that I genuinely want to be friends with.  And really, if religion is going to be an impassable issue between us, I'd rather know sooner than later.

Zoness

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2012, 03:17:43 am »
Quote from: Snowdrop;78855


Not this exact situation but I can relate very much to being in a fundie group where I'd prefer acceptance because of my girlfriend. I don't really have better advice but I'd just echo the sentiment of other posts: walk a careful line.

Personally, my conscious doesn't let me lie full on about my religious beliefs. Worst case scenario I say "I'm not really sure" or something incredibly neutral that doesn't encourage debate about the topic. I learned the hard way that you want to avoid things like "I'm not sure, but I have no reason to believe X is right". If you do that you are provoking debate about a potentially sensitive topic.

If you are not interested in explaining your religion to everyone in the group and just a few trusted sources, then keeping things as neutral and ambiguous as possible may work in your favor. You aren't being direct, but you aren't misrepresenting yourself too much. Good luck in all of this!

BunnyMaz

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2012, 11:23:02 pm »
Quote from: Snowdrop;78855


What I'm wondering is: how do you (in a polite, socially acceptable, non-evangelizing way) explain what your religion is to people who may know very little about pagan religions?  (Or may be gravely misinformed about them.)  

My specific context for needing help with this: I'm a member of a book group which I was invited to by a really fantastic person.  Because I'm kind of ditzy at times, it wasn't until later that I realized that every other person in the group is a very enthusiastic (I think Evangelical?) Christian.

 
How you explain it depends a lot on the people you're explaining it to, I think.  

The MIL thinks I am a "white witch" - a term which is actually pretty much meaningless in the context of my specific path, but was something she understood - "Bunny's a white witch, like my daughter".

I told my mum I was a Pagan, but didn't think to go into more detail and, as a result, have to correct her EVERY SINGLE TIME she introduces me as "my daughter, the Wiccan", because to her the two words mean the same thing lol!

In my old job, it was known I was a Pagan, and when a supervisor asked (in a purely conversational, curious-about-this-novel-thing way) about it, I told her that I believe in Odin and the Norse pantheon, but didn't go any further than that.

There are some people who I have only ever told "I'm not a Christian", or "I don't believe the same as you", coupled with "I'm very happy with my faith".

If people do ask questions and you don't feel comfortable answering them, I find it helpful to say that I consider my faith a private thing - I've told people in the past that evangelising is frowned upon in my faith and that, for that reason, I won't discuss it.  Others I've just said "Oh, that's quite a private thing for me.".  There are people I know who have no idea what I believe, and may well assume I'm just a very private Christian.

This book club - how gossipy are they?  Is there one member you socialise with absent the others, who you could come out to under the right context, and who could be trusted to then divulge - in an inoffensive manner - to the others?  And would the rest of the group then have the basic manners to not push you on it?

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Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2012, 04:43:35 am »
Quote from: BunnyMaz;79248
How you explain it depends a lot on the people you're explaining it to, I think.  

The MIL thinks I am a "white witch" - a term which is actually pretty much meaningless in the context of my specific path, but was something she understood - "Bunny's a white witch, like my daughter".

I told my mum I was a Pagan, but didn't think to go into more detail and, as a result, have to correct her EVERY SINGLE TIME she introduces me as "my daughter, the Wiccan", because to her the two words mean the same thing lol!

Funny - this is exactly how each of my parents think of my spirituality. My mum likes the idea that I'm 'like a white witch' - she's not into religion and finds any explanations beyond that a bit too complicated! My dad is a shamanic practitioner and really should be able to remember what I am, but he always asks "How's the Wicca?" and I say "Druidry, Dad. Druidry."

I have people I explain my beliefs to, and people I don't. I still have church-y friends who think I'm 'a bit New Age' which is fine by me. Then I have some more fundamentalist friends from college who I'm just never going to tell.

But mostly, it's pretty safe to tell people here in the UK. A lot of my colleagues know that I'm Pagan (mostly no more detail than that), and think its either cute or weird. I try to work people out a bit before I talk about it, though.
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BunnyMaz

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2012, 09:13:34 am »
Quote from: Sophia Catherine;79277
Funny - this is exactly how each of my parents think of my spirituality. My mum likes the idea that I'm 'like a white witch' - she's not into religion and finds any explanations beyond that a bit too complicated! My dad is a shamanic practitioner and really should be able to remember what I am, but he always asks "How's the Wicca?" and I say "Druidry, Dad. Druidry."

I have people I explain my beliefs to, and people I don't. I still have church-y friends who think I'm 'a bit New Age' which is fine by me. Then I have some more fundamentalist friends from college who I'm just never going to tell.

But mostly, it's pretty safe to tell people here in the UK. A lot of my colleagues know that I'm Pagan (mostly no more detail than that), and think its either cute or weird. I try to work people out a bit before I talk about it, though.

Ha!  Why do I get the feeling your dad is being a massive tease? :D  My grandad would probably do that, although his generation in my family are so not-fussed about religion I don't think I've ever had a conversation with them about it.  I don't even know what he believes.

Oh aye, we're pretty safe here in the UK.  I think the fact that my last workplace knew and I felt totally fine answering questions from supervisors is a real privilege - there are areas of the world where I'd NEVER do that.

It's funny, for what is technically a theocracy, with an official state religion and everything, we're a pretty laid back country religion-wise.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2012, 09:14:56 am by BunnyMaz »

randomheathen

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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #13 on: November 02, 2012, 11:16:15 am »
Quote from: BunnyMaz;79286

It's funny, for what is technically a theocracy, with an official state religion and everything, we're a pretty laid back country religion-wise.

 
That's because all the crazy religious people jumped the pond back in the colonial era. Two Great Awakenings later they're even more crazy, and now we're stuck with them.

As for explaining my religion, when it comes up, I avoid words that people will be familiar with and might have bad connotations. "Paganism" makes some people automatically think "devil-worship." If I start with words like "Asatru," "Orthopraxic," and "Polytheistic," I can generally keep the train of thought on the correct set of tracks. I count it a victory if the first comparison people think of is Hinduism rather than Wicca.
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Re: Explaining one's religion politely
« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2012, 12:14:14 pm »
Quote from: randomheathen;79298
I count it a victory if the first comparison people think of is Hinduism rather than Wicca.

 
That's a metaphor I use a lot too. (Which once had a "friend" try to introduce me as "Ellen, the white Hindu!" Ahahaha I love the south. :P) I find it's also good to draw comparisons with Hinduism to explain how practices, beliefs, rituals, and and deities might be completely different among Pagans, but they might all still be considered "Pagan", for good or for bad. Hinduism has this too; you have ancient Vedic practices right next to the Dalit (former Untouchable caste) veneration of a "new" goddess of learning English.

Tons and tons of variation in belief and practice and vocabulary. For some reasons (some good, some not so good) everything is still united together under the term "Hinduism" in the West.

The big difference is that at least all the different "Hinduisms" out there have the shared experience of living in India. I think modern Pagans have the shared experience of calling themselves Pagan. :P
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