Civilized tolerance | VailDaily.com

Civilized tolerance

Alex Miller

Anyone looking for the height of hypocrisy need look no farther than Ramah.Ramah is a little town on the eastern Colorado plains somewhere. Hang your copy of the First Amendment on the door on the way in and see if you can gain an audience with Annette Manchego, who will explain to you why some religion is better than others.This is a great story about a group of (eek!) pagans who rented out the Ramah American Legion Hall for a festival this coming Halloween. Some folks in town, with Annette in the lead, don’t like it. The Secret Garden Coven plans to throw a benefit ball, which includes a craft show and – and here’s the thing that probably got Annette’s Christian dander up – a midnight ritual.Gasp! I guess she forgets that church masses or services are also rituals, and it’s not unusual for them to be held at midnight at special times of year. But that’s for Christians, of course, who are normal – the kind of folks who share our beliefs – unless of course you happen to be, um, non-Christian.Granted, America is a nation mostly comprised of Christians. But last I checked, there was some language in the Constitution about making no laws to favor one religion over another. Regardless of how Annette might feel about pagans, their right to practice their religion is as sacred as hers to attend church. The nutbag next door whose sect worships a garlic press is similarly protected (although he may have a harder time getting federal money for his day-care center).Recently, we’ve seen some blather in these pages directed at “God haters,” which is actually giving those on the other side of the fence (i.e., non-Christian) more credit than we deserve. To hate “God” or gods is to imply belief in something to have a feeling about, and most non-believers don’t go there. It may be that more than 90 percent of Americans believe in “God,” but that still leaves quite a few million who believe only in the natural world, that what you see is what you get, and that magical beings didn’t create this whole mess. Whether you call them “God-haters,” “Brights,” “Freethinkers” or “non-believers,” they, unlike those with god-centric religions, tend to keep their thoughts on the matter to themselves. That’s because believers don’t like non-believers; they never have and never will. Nope, it’s better for Freethinkers to keep it on the down-low, stay silent for that half-second during the Pledge of Allegiance and happily decorate Christmas trees like everyone else. Why so many Christians are so quick to judge and condemn those who don’t share their faith is one of the world’s great oddities, since they themselves began as a highly persecuted group. Such intolerance was certainly not taught by Jesus, quite the opposite, as I recall from youthful Bible study. And while I won’t go into why I think this is the case, I will say that the pagans and Wiccans I’ve met share with Freethinkers the kind of live-and-let-live mentality Christians (and Muslims) would be well-served to emulate. Nothing is gained by persecuting those who wish to peaceably pursue their own beliefs, and the fact that it takes place on such a regular basis in a country founded on freedom and equality is as deplorable as it is inexplicable.Chances are Annette over in Ramah is simply an uninformed person who’s suspicious of people and things she doesn’t know or understand. That’s human nature. Where the higher brain processes kick in, especially in a democracy, is when we temper that hard-wired fear with a little knowledge. So when someone says they don’t want their non-Christian child learning that the world was made by a magical being in six days, it’s not because they are “God-haters.” It simply means they’re not Christians, and they don’t want mythology presented as science or fact. All Christians need do to understand this is ask how they would feel if their children were told that “The Great Chief Above” (Comanche), “Quetzalcoatl” (Mexican Indian) or “Zeus” (Greek) created the world. And not just told that these are alternate creation myths, but that they are legitimate theories, along with evolution, to explain life on earth.To a Freethinker, the Book of Genesis and the Chinese creation myth about a guy who breaks out of an egg after 18,000 years are indistinguishable from one another. We don’t believe it, but we respect the right of others to. We would no more tell pagans that they can’t hold a midnight ritual than we’d suggest Catholics forgo celebrating Mass or Muslims skip Ramadan.That’s not “God hating.” It’s civilized tolerance in a complicated world.Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or amiller@vaildaily.com. This column, as with all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily. Vail, Colorado