A dear friend was telling me the other day about a bumper sticker that had symbols of some of the world’s religions and writing that said “coexist.” What a shame that as we approach the start of the Easter/Passover season, in which many of the world’s believers participate, people are far from accepting the right of others to worship as they see fit without judgment or condemnation. Why is it that many people feel that their religion is the one true way to believe in and connect to God?
I can only speculate from my perspective as psychotherapist and Yoruba/Lucumi priest. Here are some random guesses.
- This attitude is a hedge against feeling inferior or less than. If someone follows the “superior” faith, then that means that they are superior and everyone else is beneath them.
- It is a means of wielding control or having power over others. In other words, only the truly enlightened are capable of ruling, decision-making, or governing. This entitles them to natural resources, land, livestock, workers and so on.
- It satisfies a sense of entitlement—to more wealth, power, prestige, position, material things, and opportunity. In reality, a sense of entitlement is just a defense against feeling shame, unworthiness, and powerlessness.
- It is a way of fighting fear—of annihilation, conquest, enslavement.
- It represents an urgent demand for respect and reverence. However, in reality, one cannot demand respect; it must be earned. And reverence should be reserved for the divine.
- It justifies conquest and oppression of others—nations, individuals, a particular gender (in most cases, women).
- It serves as a substitute for good parenting and can be used to threaten children with punishment on a divine level if they don’t behave.
- It is a statement that people feel threatened by anyone who is different than themselves. Perhaps that goes back to instinct—the hardwired flight or fight response.
So what can we as individuals do to combat this worldwide pathologic response of religious fundamentalists who are ironically supposed to have a love of God and God’s children?
- For one, we can be aware of our own biases and judgments. This can be a challenge, especially in extremist situations, such as in some parts of the world where women are treated so badly. We can try to all be New Yorkers as described on a New York City subway poster: NYC: where we accept your personal beliefs; where we are judgmental about your shoes. (That’s a joke.)
- We can challenge others who claim religious moral superiority when we are in their company, pointing out the weaknesses of their positions (of course, only if it is safe to do so).
- We can support individuals, groups, and others who promote tolerance and acceptance of religious differences (and other differences).
- By the same token, we can boycott, whenever possible, those who/that promote intolerance. This statement is ironic in view of a recent news item I heard about the Christian right wanting people to boycott Starbucks, which was supporting acceptance of choice in relationships. (Asking New Yorkers to boycott Starbucks is totally unrealistic, I might add.) Probably goes for other parts of the country as well.
I’m sure my readers will have something to say about what I have written in this article. Please feel free to offer your own list of examples of reasons why it is so hard for many to coexist and what solutions are possible.
And if you’re a practitioner, have a joyful Easter-Passover holiday.
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