Saturday, October 27, 2007

Off the beaten tract.

I have a very active canine daughter, just a baby, whose favourite thing in the entire world is to run as long and as fast as possible. Each day we head up to the local dog park where she gets to hang out with her friends, and I get to talk to people I've come to think of as my friends, even though I have no idea what their names are, beyond some association with their dogs'. (Like "Casey's Mom", for example.)

We usually go at the same time every day, as do most people, so we usually see the same people each time. But one day earlier this week. I had the day off, and my puppy began insisting that we head out to the park, about two hours earlier than we normally do. So I gave in.

It was empty when we first got there, but before long an older lady came along with her dachshund. We set the dogs loose in the smaller, grassy enclosure and sat down on the bench together, chitchatting like dogmoms do. After about ten minutes or so, though, It Happened: She pulled from her pocket a small pamphlet and gently asked, "I was wondering if I might offer you this small tract."

I froze for a second or two, terrified of doing the wrong thing. (I am, after all, the woman who, as a teen, was haunted by an elderly Jehovah's Witness for three months because I didn't want to hurt his feelings.) But then I was surprised to hear myself saying, "I have my own faith. Thank you. I appreciate it. But I have my own faith."

Things were invariably awkward for a few minutes, as I felt guilty for having rejected her, and she was unsure how to continue our nice little chat, when I decided to take a chance and follow a hunch. I asked her what church she attended. My hunch was right -- it turned out we knew people in common, including the maid of honour at my wedding -- and we began chatting away again.

I read enough pagan lists and newsgroups to know that there are a lot of militant pagans out there, people who really resent the ones they call "fundies" and spend time dreaming up hurtful responses for situations like the one I found myself in at the dog park. These are the same people, incidentally, who will immediately spout "Harm none" as quickly as "hello".

Not every pagan is like that, but "there's one in every crowd". Crowds, after a while, often develop "group thinking", and I think this might be one reason I prefer to follow my path alone. It allows me to think, and to feel, for myself.

The way I see it is this: if pagans expect the right to practice their faith free of any persecution, criticism, et cetera, then they have to be willing to extend the same courtesies and rights to other faiths. Fundamental Christians evangelize as part of their faith. They believe that they are helping their fellow man by bringing them to Jesus, and that ultimately they are saving them from eternal torture. Do they deserve to be verbally slapped in the face, or worse, for practicing their faith? Are they hurting the people they offer tracts to? No. They might be invading some personal space for a moment or two, but they aren't hurting anyone.

I know that there are some "fundies" out there who do actively seek to persecute and otherwise hurt pagans, or other people of varying beliefs, and these aren't the people I'm talking about. (Like I said, there's one in every crowd.) I'm talking about nice people like the dog park lady who are just trying to help out people they meet. To be honest, I'm not sure where the conversation would have gone had I whipped out the pentacle I wear under my shirt and instigated a confrontation, but such behaviour isn't really necessary -- not for me, anyway. There's enough religious strife in this world.

I just want to hang out with people and their dogs.

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