Etiquette for interfaith discussions, by Thalassa

Editor’s note:  In light of the conflagration ignited by last week’s post, a few words seem in order. 

The fact that the piece had such reverberations throughout the Pagan community seems a sign that HP has grown, enough that we now have readers extending far beyond the naturalist community.  Thus, we naturalists cannot speak as if only speaking to each other anymore (if we ever could).  In point of fact, M. J.’s post was originally posted to an email list comprised only of naturalists.  But by bringing it to the HP blog, the audience changed and the piece changed along with it.  As editor, I take responsibility for publishing the piece, indeed for encouraging M. J. to publish it, as well as for the choice of image.

Recently Star Foster organized a Live Pagan Hangout on active tolerance, in which many good things were said.  Crystal Blanton‘s comments stood out most to me: “We spend so much time defining our path that we can get lost in other people’s paths.”  She also said: “We need to be able to speak up about the expectation of respect for one another, and when we do it – and here’s the key – we need to be sure we’re also doing it with respect.”

To help move in the right direction, Thalassa has graciously let us repost her pointers on interfaith sensitivity, originally published at Musings of a Kitchen Witch.  Numbers 8, 9, and 10 seem most apropos at the moment. – B. T. Newberg

Respect bumber sticker

With much help from (and much thanks to) the folks at the Pagan Forum and CafeMom’s Religious Debate section for their constructive ideas, I’ve been working on list of behaviors and attitudes to reduce conflict over religious beliefs between individuals.  Think of this as Miss Manners putting the smackdown on multi-faith and interfaith discussions and debates!

Thalassa’s Etiquette Guidelines for Interfaith Discussion

  1. If someone asks about your religious beliefs, share (respectfully and with compassion). If they don’t ask, don’t assume that sharing will be welcome and go out of your way to do so.
  2. If you feel compelled to ask someone else as a way to spark a discussion about their beliefs, back off if they aren’t interested.
  3. Make sure the setting is appropriate for the discussion so neither party will feel uncomfortable.
  4. Don’t act like your truth is everyone’s truth–it isn’t, because if it were, there wouldn’t be a conversation on the matter. When expressing your beliefs, use I-statements to express your personal beliefs.
  5. Refrain from using absolute or exclusive language, but don’t assume that absolute or exclusive statements are made with negative intent.
  6. If you are in a mutual discussion of beliefs, don’t use your theological opinion as a tool for condemnation or insult.
  7. Realize that the people who vocally use their beliefs about religion as an excuse to be a jerk are louder than those that don’t, if you want to be a good ambassador for your faith, act your ideals, and even share them, but don’t preach them.
  8. Language is imprecise–different religions and denominations have differing terminology; understand the limits of your religious literacy and ask for clarification if you are unsure of one’s meaning.
  9. Disagreement is not an automatic insult or attack. Try to refrain from taking offense to comments that may be well-intended, but poorly phrased.
  10. Courteously and constructively correct misinformation. Do not get drawn into an argument (as opposed to a debate). Be polite, even when the other person is not.
  11. If things start going badly, be the adult and back off. When this happens, don’t wait for the other person – do it first. If you are a person that has to have the last word, remember that walking away with dignity while the other person brays like an ass is its own last word.

About the author

Thalassa:  I’m a (occasionally) doting wife, damn proud momma of two adorable children, veteran of the United States Navy, part-time steampunk hausfrau, a beach addict from middle America, Civil War reenactor and Victorian natural history aficionado, a canoeing fanatic, Unitarian Universalist and pantheistic Pagan,and a kitchen witch and devotee of various aquatic deities.

5 Comments on “Etiquette for interfaith discussions, by Thalassa

  1. Thalassa’s suggestion that “Language is imprecise” bring out one of a powerful concept. When asking ‘what does a term or idea mean’ there is emotional and experience behind that term or idea. Words and beliefs are not always easy to draw out.

  2. It would also help considerably if we could bring the hypersensitivity down several notches. Pagans are very used to having to be on the defensive almost constantly, and I think we’re so used to being derided that we see attacks where none were intended, even within our own communities.

    We also need to cut people in different sections of the blogosphere some slack to talk to their own communities about issues that are important to them–it wouldn’t make sense for someone from one of the other religious channels to go after the folks on the atheist channel for discussing why people have a need to have religion in general, for instance. If they said something nasty or untrue about a specific religion, that would need to be challenged, but we do need to understand that even though these blogs are public, people writing in a forum about topic X are primarily talking to other people who are interested in topic X.

  3. When I wrote this a while back, it was in response to a number of issues that had been raised in the religious debate section of Cafe Mom and that had been discussed on Pagan Forum which is a forum I am one of the moderators on, in conjunction with issues with religion that the hubby and I had encountered both in the military and as civilians at work and off duty. For the most part, it was for handling interpersonal issues of religion between people of different faiths, starting with when its appropriate to discuss religion or not. While I think that many of the later guidelines (from #4 on) apply in other formats and discussions, I think that perhaps some situational etiquette–particularly when it comes to online discussions might be useful as well.

    There are a few ideas that *usually* do well for us on the forum I help moderate/admin–one is the “don’t piss on the carpet” rule. Basically, when you come to someone else’s internet home, don’t be a jerk. You are in *their* home, if you disagree, do so respectfully…but remember where you are, and the audience that it is addressed to (and I see someone has this in in comment already!). Another rule that we have is “debate the idea, not the person”…which should be fairly obvious for what it means. I’m sure that there are other ideas for interfaith netiquette, and I’m thinking it might be a good update…sort of a version 2.0 of sorts…

    Anyhow, I wanted to say thanks for sharing this! I meant to drop in and post sooner, but we had a busy extended weekend and I took an unplanned internet vacation.

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