Hate, Tolerance, Acceptance – three words that are difficult to talk about; three words that need to be talked about.  They are intimately connected to each other, creating a path that many people walk while creating barriers that others can never get over.  When I decided to take the position of Chaplain at Syracuse University I knew that I would encounter all three of these emotions.  That is what they are – emotions. Emotions embedded in action. 

I knew there would be those who would hate that Pagans are allowed to be on campus, hate that Pagans are given equal recognition as their religion, hate that Pagans are not forced back underground, hate that we are allowed to practice spirituality in our own way with our own deities.  They would rather that we not exist or be forced to their truth regarding god.

I knew there would be those that would speak of tolerance.  They “would not care” what we did as long as we didn’t bother them.  If Pagans want to practice their beliefs on campus it would be okay, we would just be oddities for everyone else to write papers about.  We would be the “unfamiliar” religion that the anthropology students want to observer and the journalism students want to film.  I wonder how many of them would consider it rude or odd if the religion that they practice were treated as primitive, practiced by “natives” that had only been recently discovered by “enlightened” individuals?

I knew there would be a few that would accept Pagans with open arms.  They will look at the beauty of a diverse community of spirituality.  They will understand that while we approach our relationship with deity differently that we all seek the same thing –enlightenment of the soul and connection with spirit. They will smile and possibly join in when invited to participate in the rituals of others regardless of how different that may be from their own.  Secure in their spiritual growth, they have no need to reinforce their beliefs through the eradication of other faith traditions; rather they rejoice that so many can find their path to deity in its many diverse forms.

It is a long road to travel from hate to acceptance but it is one that we must walk.  It is only by travelling it ourselves can we show others the way.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be resistance. There will be people who have no desire to move out of their bigotry, holding onto it as long as possible.  Their hatred is familiar, like an old friend and they see no need to give it up.  It has served them well. I feel for them.  How much do they miss by not allowing themselves new ideas and attitudes?  They miss out on the diversity of this world and all that it has to offer.  They don’t understand that giving up their hatred doesn’t mean giving up their faith; in fact they may find that opening their minds would enhance it.

For those that tolerate I would have them consider this:  who wants to be tolerated?  No one.  Tolerate is a terrible word and yet one we are taught to strive for. The very word speaks of a hierarchy of power.  It implies that one group is superior to another, tolerating a group because it has to. Tolerance doesn’t remove prejudice, but it can create a space for dialog.  Dialog leads to education, and education is the key to moving out of hatred, through tolerance and into acceptance. This is where we want to be.

Dialog and education bring with it the ability to understand others.  When we understand what people and their practices are about we often find that our preconceived notions were wrong. Our hate was born out of fear – fear of the unknown.  If we open our hearts and our minds to new ideas and thoughts it is very likely we will find that our fear disappears and we can move into acceptance of others. 

I suppose that would be my goal for all of us regardless of our faith.  Recognize the fear that causes hate, try to be tolerant in order to begin to understand, and in the end embrace others for what we have in common rather than concentrate only on our differences.

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