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Now Is The Time To Act

An essay by Alison Nolan

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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 your own.

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 Arab 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

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