Universalism, Tolerance, Education

 coexist

A friend of mine goes to the local Unitarian Universalist Church here.  She’s one of the teachers in the teen group, and asked me if I would come in to talk to the kids about Judaism.  Now, she and the other teachers did tell me that Judaism is the one faith which they did not research very much before visiting the synagogue, and having a guest speaker, but I didn’t expect so few questions from the kids.  It really brought back for me, a general ethos of our society that if you have to ask questions, you are somehow inadequate as a person.  This may not be an actuality, but it sure seems as if it is, and it definitely seems to be more prevalent among teens.  As a quick aside, if you do not belong to a traditional religion, but you would like some kind of spiritual fellowship, they are all quite nice at these churches without you having to commit to a particular religion.

One of the kids in the class was very curious, and so, asked many questions.  I guess it could be that curiosity is just something that comes with maturity.  I remember when I was a kid, that those who were outspoken, and different-minded, were often those that were thought of as nerds or weirdos.  It is so amazing how much time changes that kind of thought for many of us!  Now, this kid is probably the type of kid who is thought of as a nerd, or a weirdo, but I am starting to thing that an attitude of curiosity shows two things: maturity (as I said above), and an individuality.  In fact, perhaps the true rebels of society aren’t the ones doing drugs, or dyeing their hair, or listening to “objectionable” music.  Perhaps the true rebels are those who will not simply be sheep, content to hang out, unquestioning.

The scientific method depends upon inquiry.  All knowledge, in fact, depends upon inquiry.  Since all knowledge depend upon inquiry, so too, does all education depend upon the willingness of people to step outside their comfort zone, and ask questions that need to be asked.  I used to ask my kids, when I picked them up from school, “what did you learn today?”  Increasingly, I am trying to change to asking, “what questions did you ask today?”  They are still kids, so there isn’t very much dialogue in such cases, but I am hoping to imprint upon their brains that questioning is a very important and positive thing.  Especially as our children grow older, and start understanding that mom and dad don’t actually know everything–as they assume when younger–it is even more important that we teach them first hand, the priority of curiosity, and diminish the importance of being correct.  We must question, without giving up who we are in the process.

One thing that I think we can definitely learn from the Unitarian church is the ability to step outside our comfort zone to ask questions.  It is good to learn about other people, and what is important to them–what makes them tick, if you will.  Ignorance is the biggest obstacle to acceptance and tolerance.  Tolerance, however, is not always what modern society seems to think it is.

Tolerance means accepting others for who they are, and not trying to change them, but it doesn’t mean that you have to diminish yourself, or join in with their particular beliefs.  My fourteen year old doesn’t seem to understand this simple point.  The other day, he thought it was ridiculous that I wouldn’t pray facing a christmas tree.  I told him that it was a pagan fertility symbol, and that I wouldn’t pray facing it.  He got all indignant and said, “I thought Jews were supposed to be tolerant of other’s beliefs.”  I simply responded that, “yes, we do not force anyone to be Jewish, so yes, we are tolerant of them.”  Ironically, it was his indignant attitude regarding what I would and wouldn’t do concerning my spiritual worship that was intolerance.

In this day of false “coexistence” we are less free to be the people we actually are.  When I see the bumper stickers with this credo on them, it makes me think that even the thought of coexistence is something that must be foisted upon people, as if it is simply another form of intolerance.  While I don’t think that people should be disrespected based upon race, creed, etc, I also don’t think that we should all be lumped into one pile of being.  To do so would deny the uniqueness that makes us, and the world, beautiful!  Some of us are short, tall, round, thin, strong, meek, fast, courageous, timid, extroverted, introverted, etc.  We are all human, and so there are “certain inalienable rights” that we all should give one another, but we must also understand that we are not all the same.  We are equal in that first category, but we are not equal in all ways.  IF we continue to operate under the false pretense of absolute equality, we will do great detriment to future generations, and a great disservice to ourselves.  IF we do this, we remove the opportunity for tolerance, and education, and replace it with a mask of universalism–while denying the universe.

so, Shalom, Salaam, Pax, Paz, and Namaste, to the universe…including all of you unique and beautiful creatures who make it the wonderful place to live.  I appreciate you not in spite of your differences, but because of them.

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