Adam Snider

Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Where Does Tolerance End?

In Religion on November 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Author’s Note: This is only a half-formed thought, at present. I am writing this largely as a way to help myself explore these thoughts; I actually hope to come to a bit more of a solid understanding of my personal thoughts on this and then present something similar as a sermon at my church in the future.

Where does religious tolerance end? At what point does someone cross the line where I can no longer respect their beliefs?

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot in recent months.

As a Unitarian, I am supposed to respect the religious beliefs and values of others. The 3rd and 4th principles of my faith talk about this, stating that Unitarian Universalists are to affirm and promote:

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth […]; and
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Now, that first one, technically, ends with “[…] in our congregations,” but I think it is fair to extend it beyond just UU congregations. We should at least try to accept all people and to encourage all people to grow spiritually (in whatever way they find meaningful).

But, at what point can I say, “No. I will not respect your beliefs.” At what point can I draw that line?

I believe that the line must be drawn in the sand at some point. I cannot simply say that, as a liberal religious person, I accept any and all beliefs. I do not. I cannot.

If you believe in a personal god who will answer prayers, fine. I don’t, but I won’t disparage your beliefs. This is not the sort of thing that I’m referring to when I talk about drawing a line.

I’m talking about beliefs and values which are hateful. When someone uses religion as an excuse for committing acts of terror, I will draw the line. When someone uses religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBTQ people, I will draw the line. When someone uses religion as an excuse to eliminate democracy, to commit murder, or to otherwise commit acts of evil, I will draw the line.

These lines are easy to draw. And, I don’t feel that they are outside of the realm of that 4th prinicple that I mentioned above, affirmation and promotion of  “A free and responsible (emphasis added) search for truth and meaning.” Using faith and religion as a justification for evil acts means that you are no longer being responsible in your search, and so I am comfortable drawing these lines.

But what about more subtle lines?

What about the church whose members say that homosexuality is a sin but that they hate the sin, not the sinner? Do I have to respect and accept the beliefs of these people? If they are not actively harming anyone with their beliefs, do I have to accept them? Am I violating the principles of my faith if I do not accept them?

Technically, these people are not hurting anyone—not directly or intentionally, at least. But they are being discriminatory. They are claiming that something as inherent to a person’s identity as their sexuality is somehow wrong unless it matches a specific definition of heterosexuality (and, most likely, not any sort of queer heterosexuality).

It would be one thing if they were simply being exclusionary. By just about any definition, all groups are exclusionary to some extent or another. Even Unitarians are exclusionary. We would not accept into our fold, for example, the people I described earlier—the people who use religion as an excuse to promote hatred and evil.

And, in practice, we are likely just as exclusionary as most other religions, though we may not be willing to admit it (or even consciously aware of it).

So, I would be OK with beliefs which are exclusionary. That is the nature of most religions. I am not OK with beliefs that are discriminatory. And so I find it hard not to drawn a line in front of even that more “tame” form of religious homophobia—the hate the sin not the sinner variety.

But this, I guess, is where things fall apart for me. I’m drawing this line, but is doing so the “right” thing to do? Does doing so violate the principles by which I try to live my life?

I’m not sure.

And, because I often find myself on the side of religion in debates about ethics and morality, on the side of the religious person, saying that religion is not inherently evil or immoral but that human nature causes many of us to interpret it in a way that justifies our actions, I don’t necessarily know where to draw the line.

What if I draw the lines to rigidly and too close. Do I end up vilifying religion? Do I end up boxing myself into a situation where I end up saying that my faith is the only true faith?

More thoughts on this to come…please leave any comments that you may have…

Meditation as Therapy

In Spiritual Practices on November 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm

I have taken to meditating, lately, as a spiritual discipline. I find the quieting of the mind and body to be a valuable experience.

It opens me up to the possibility of spiritual experiences—whatever those may be—and I find it to be rather therapeutic. It centres me and calms me before or after a hectic day. It reduces my stress levels and I find that I am more able to “not sweat the small stuff” when I’ve made a point of meditating that day or the day prior.

Recently, I have thought about the possibility of sharing this valuable and therapeutic practice with others, as a meditation guide/teacher.

I’m obviously not really experienced enough to do this in any meaningful way, and certainly not in a way that I could turn into a business (hey, a guy’s got to eat, right?). So I have been looking for ways to gain more formal training and experience in this realm.

There are a few ways that I could probably approach this. The first would simply be to attend various classes and retreats. Learn by doing and build my own knowledge base as a result.

The second way, which would be more conducive to setting up some sort of therapeutic practice, would be to pursue a graduate degree in Counselling and then add some meditation and spiritual training on the side. This way, I would have the skills to be a true, professional counsellor, while also having the added bonus of being able to bring a holistic element to my practice, in the form of guided meditations.

With this second option, I’d also have the option of pursuing the degree from a distance, while maintaining my current job (and, in fact, my current employer would pay for a portion of my education).

The third option that I have seen is to pursue a Holistic Health Practitioner diploma from MacEwan University.

When I first discovered this third option, over the weekend, it seemed intriguing and like a great opportunity. However, upon closer inspection, it seems to be filled with a lot of pseudo-science that I just can’t get behind. I cannot take seriously a 3-term course about the therapeutic value of “flower essences.”

I try not to be judgmental about people’s spiritual beliefs, but when you start claiming that your mystic/spiritual beliefs are science, well, I find it very hard to respect that. And I can’t imagine throwing my time and money at something that I could only take half-seriously, in order to gain a designation that would allow me to be “qualified” to do the type of work that I’m considering.

What, then, does one do? It’s either option one or two, I suppose.

Either way, I’ll need to figure out where and how to get the training to develop and use guided meditations as a therapeutic tool. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find anything about this online. All of my Google searches turn up results about yoga classes. Either that, or they turn up a lot of wooey New Age stuff that claims to be science when it is, in fact, little more than a pseudo-science.

Where, then, do I begin to look for these resources? How, then, do I begin to find the teachers/courses that I would need in order to gain the sort of knowledge that I’m seeking?

If you have any information to help me along this path, I would really appreciate it.

Churches as Families

In Church Community on November 15, 2010 at 11:37 am

Churches are families that we choose to join. That, from what I’m told, was a big part of the sermon that my friend Kat gave a few weeks ago.

I wasn’t able to hear the sermon because I was teaching Sunday school that day.

Even though I wasn’t able to hear the sermon (which was apparently incredibly good), the idea of the church community is something that has been resonating with me over the past little while.

In a world where people are more mobile than ever—where young adults often move across the country (or even across the world) for work—biological families are arguably less relevant. This isn’t to say that they aren’t important, but phoning your mom for advice about raising your kids isn’t the same as having someone in your community who can help you do that raising.

Churches, generally, are multi-generational. There are, of course, those churches which try to be “cool” and have rock bands and whatever. These appeal only to a very specific demographic.

That model serves a niche, but it is very much outside of the type of multi-generational community that I’m going to be referring to throughout the rest of this post.

Other People’s Children

Let’s talk about kids. I like kids. Even when they’re acting like horrible little monsters, I tend to like them. (In fact, I am likely to blame the parents for being “bad parents,” which is probably not fair most of the time.)

Having said that, I do not have kids. None of my friends have kids*. Until I started attending UCE, I basically had no regular interaction with children.

Until I started having regular interactions with kids, this wasn’t something that I missed. Rather, I didn’t realize that I was missing out on something by not having these interactions.

But, interactions with children are important. They remind us of the importance of play. They give us hope for the future. And, sometimes, they teach us how to argue with people who have no sense of logic or rationality (or, at least, not one that makes sense to anyone other than them).

By attending church on a regular basis, I have developed an extended family of other people’s children. They tell me fart jokes. They turn into angry wolves who try to claw out my heart. They torture their siblings while their parents plead with them to “just leave your brother alone and he’ll stop screaming!”

I get all or most of the benefits of having kids, without actually having kids. It’s a pretty sweet deal, really. All of the good and very little of the bad. Plus, hopefully, those kids gain something from their interactions with me, as well (it takes a village, they say, and I’m a part of that village).

Adopt a Grandmother

My biological grandparents have never lived in the same province as me, let alone the same city.

We visited them occasionally and they occasionally visited us. But, for reasons both geographical and financial, phone calls and letters were the main way that I interacted with my grandparents.

I now only have one grandparent. The rest have all died. My grandfather lives in Quebec, so I rarely see him. About the only time that I’m likely to see him these days is if someone is getting married.

Because of this, I’ve also found value in forming relationships with some of the more elderly people at my church. I won’t name names, to avoid offending the aged, but I’d say that I have adopted (or been adopted by) at least one or two surrogate grandparents.

Because I was/am unable to have deep relationships with my biological grandparents, I really value these new relationships. I don’t think I truly realized this until Sunday, but there is something very valuable about these relationships. And it’s not just the value that comes from having a friend or relative who can share their decades of life experience with you.

That is valuable and appreciated, of course, but it’s not exactly what I’m referring to. There is something deeper, that I can’t quite put into words. A sense of connectedness, I suppose, and maybe even a sense of family, but those words don’t really accurately describe it either.

Whatever it is—this feeling that I can’t  put into words—I was missing it without realizing it in the same way that I was missing something by not having regular interactions with children. And now I’ve found and cherish it.

Surrogate Parents

I can’t really speak to this point, as my parents are both alive and living in the same city as me. I have a generally positive and healthy relationship with my parents and we see each other on a fairly regular basis.

But, many people are not in this situation. I imagine, much as I have developed a sort of extended family of the younger and older generations (as well as developing strong friendships among those of my own generation within the church), that those who do not have their parents in their life can find surrogate parents in a church community.

This is outside the realm of my experience, so I won’t go into it. But, if you’ve adopted surrogate parents as a result of your church community (or another multi-generational community), please share your story in the comments.

And, of course, any other thoughts that you’d like to share in the comments would be most welcome.

* This is technically not true, actually; but those friends who do have kids are friends that I have made through the church.