By Julia A. Maher, LCSW
“We have to respect others and we have to understand and not discriminate on the basis of faith. … When you mix politics and religion, you get the worst of everything.”One of the values that makes the United States such a beacon of hope to those living outside our borders is our commitment to religious freedom. In fact, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees our right to the “free exercise” of whatever religion (or lack thereof) we choose. Although anyone residing in the United States is protected by this right, our religious freedom is not always respected or even tolerated.
--Zainab Al-Suwaij, co-founder of The American Islamic Congress
Religious tolerance--the idea of which would seem to be embedded in the text of the First Amendment--is an ideal that we continue to have to strive for. In today’s fractured political environment, candidates are often identified by their faith and not necessarily their experience. As we saw in our last election cycle, there are divisions--even within faith traditions--as to what is “right” and what is “wrong.” When people’s beliefs are challenged in a way that is not respectful, it can become hard to listen to an opposing view.
The first step towards religious tolerance is to remove the idea of “the other.” At times, we can be afraid or suspicious of someone who is not like us--whether it is their religious faith, the color of their skin, or the person that they love. And when you think about it, this “othering” creates many of the obstacles we face as we try to be tolerant. If we can think of our differences as qualities that make us unique (and not “the other”), then we will have demonstrated respect and civility.
The second step toward religious tolerance is to remember those “red flag” words that Sheana described in a previous post. Avoid using always, never, and should (with the exception of “I will always love you”). We can be certain of some things; however the vast majority of our experience here on earth is not that assured. For example, we may decide to have oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow morning--although we told a friend we always have cereal.
And finally, remember that saying, “walk a mile in their shoes”? Try it! Every human being here on earth has challenges that we may know nothing about. When someone wants to talk to you about how their religious faith is the “real” one, suspend your “other” thinking and give them a listen. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Julia is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She works with individuals and families and is fluent in Spanish.