I drive a Mazda, but I still know what a Mercedes Benz looks like. I have had Beetles, a Kombi, a Renault, a Toyota and a Golf as well. I realize they are all cars, and I at least have an idea of what makes each of them different from the other, and about the thing that makes them go. I also know that cars make traveling from one place easier and better. It doesn't mean I have to hate the other makes, or refuse to drive in whatever car my neighbor drives.
What I'm trying to put across in my own rather quizzical way, is religion. Yes, that. You may wonder what cars have to do with religion - but let me clear it up for you: I have been finding out the hard way how ignorant some people are about religions other than their own. Let's take Christianity as a prime example. Almost everyone in South Africa knows what Christianity is about, more or less - even non-Christians. Hindus know what is under the hood of Christianity, Pagans know how many gears it has, and Muslims even how many cylinders and how many liters. How can they not, living in a country where we are still bombarded with "Christian" messaging in media, entertainment and culture every single day? But answer any average Christian who asks you what your religion is with "I'm a Pagan" or "I'm a Wiccan", and they will astonish you with their ignorance.
And then follows the Great Explanation. And then while explaining it, I am made to feel like a missionary, trying to prove the worth of my beliefs and experiences, as if I am like them, trying to convince them to believe with me. I'm not. I have my own opinions about things religious, and have no desire to convince John and Jane Smith to toss away their crutches to follow me into the forest.
In my experience, Christians are not encouraged to know details of other faiths and religions. They are indoctrinated from an early age to believe that Jews only believe Christianity half-way, Muslims are long-lost cousins who missed the boat, and anyone else who isn't a Christian, is somehow "trapped" in some form of satanism, albeit some milder than others.
They have no idea about the significance of Pagan symbology, and condemn all Pagan signs as being "signs of satanic worship". They rip into Paganism and Pagan holy days and festivals without even being aware that their ENTIRE religion is built upon a foundation of Pagan traditions, holy days, rituals, symbology and imagery.
For those who doubt this, please read this related article on the matter.
Most Christians have no cooking clue about Paganism and what are and aren't Pagan beliefs. They spread the ignorance by contending that Pagans are "satanists", that they "sacrifice" cats in the neighborhood, and that the old lady living alone in the village is a witch and is to blame for last week's crop failure, or so-and-so's illness, or Jane's failure to bear children. The teach intolerance in that some still adhere to the intolerant views that led to the Holy Inquisition, referred to by Wiccans as "the Burning Times". Incidentally, a LOT of people were murdered by Christianity in those days, not just those accused of being witches or devil worshipers, but many others - including members of the Pink Community. And all this cruelty and death and suffering for wealth, power, control and to stamp out diversity, individuality and freedom.
I have to say that looking at this institutionalized blind ignorance, where believers are discouraged from learning about other faiths, or questioning their own, the criticism leveled at non-Christians comes across as arrogant. Well, that's just my opinion - but holding up a book written and edited by people ver the last 2000 years ago and arguing that this is all you need to know and worry about - and that - all that other stuff outside is of the devil - is just plain stupid. Not nearly as stupid as people who willingly fall for it, and encourage others to as well.
Despite the multitude of lemmings who will follow, and even lead their race to the edge of the abyss, who will joyfully roll boulders into the way of other people, point fingers at them, and even persecute - there are still a great number of Christians who are tolerant of other people's beliefs, views and of their right to live alongside them in peace and equality. One has to appreciate these non-judgmental folks for it, even if we question how they somehow did not succumb to the anti-diversity and restrictive doctrine of all Christian denominations (and even the Catholic ones).
What I find interesting, is that since I entered the Pagan and Wiccan communities, I have encountered many, many who tell of their experiences among Christians, and oddly enough most of them grew up as Christians, as I did - but who turned their backs on the religion because of all the intolerance, cruelty and oppressive nature of the beast.
I found an article today about the persecution of LGBTI people in history, and much of it is clearly shown to be grounded firmly in Christian practice and doctrine. It's a very interesting read on the history of European Christian persecution of gay and transgender people - as well as the detestable oppression brought by missionary Christians wherever they spread to, in the name of so-called "Christian civilization". Disagree with me? Well, just ask the Maya - oh wait, you can't - they're all dead. Convenient.
If we look at the mentality of certain religious leaders in the Christian community today, not much has really changed in the past 500 years, has it? Just the world around it has.
Some will claim that all religions in SA are now equal, post 1996. Is that so? While Pagans might not be legally persecuted anymore, many people simply accused of being witches (whether they are or not) are murdered each year in South Africa's rural areas each year. Just a month ago, a Christian fundamentalist cashier at a Cape Town supermarket had a religious experience and ran screaming when she saw a pentacle necklace on a customer - and the story made international news. Jewelry stores throughout the country do not know what an ankh or a pentacle is, let alone stock them - yet they all have loads of crosses, crucifixes and stars of David in stock. Shopping centers prevent Pagan and esoteric stores from renting space in their buildings. Fanatics picket and harass Pagan shops, and intimidate the staff and owners - and sometimes customers browsing in few tiny under-stocked esoteric book sections in larger book stores. Some towns only have Christian schools, or schools where the religion is worked into the curriculum - what of the Pagan children who live there? Why does the government census not include Paganism/Wicca under the religious section? Why does the spell-checker on my PC not recognize the word Wiccan?
What gives some people the arrogance to think they have the right point fingers at me, demonize me as a transgender woman, as a lesbian, as an agnostic, or as a Wiccan, and to intimidate me and to force me to abandon my opinions, and my beliefs in favor of theirs? And how dare they interpret my resistance to their efforts as "persecution" of their religion?
As I have stated so many times before, I do not criticize or condemn the beliefs of others, or their right to believe whatever they choose, or to live their lives however they choose, provided they do no harm to others - but I most certainly oppose people who will work towards the detriment and destruction of other people because of their beliefs.
Consequently, I stand against the spiritual warfare committed against individuality, human rights and freedoms, liberty, equality and democracy - regardless of where those attacks come, be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Shinto, or Pagan - or anywhere else.
Everybody is human, and therefore everybody needs human rights and equality. If there is no equality, then someone is on top of the wheel, and someone at the bottom - and wheels are known to turn.
I should think everyone would prefer being equal.