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Author Topic: How to explain my views to people who don't know?  (Read 1305 times)

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diniesaur

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How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« on: November 01, 2012, 12:39:18 AM »

I've been having this problem lately. People are often curious about my beliefs and ask me to explain them. It's not the hateful ones I'm having trouble with; I know exactly how to deal with them. What's bugging me is having to explain my views to people who have never even heard of Paganism, and who have preconcieved ideas about religion, terminology, and deities. Often, out of innocent ignorance, they'll say something really insulting; other times, they'll need a lot of background explanation. I want to educate them because they want to learn, but sometimes it's just...frustrating!  :brickwall:

As an example, one time I was explaining my beliefs to someone, and I mentioned that my patron deity is Set. He started lauging and blurted out, "No one worships Set anymore!"
I told him that I do, and that I'm not the only one who does, but I couldn't help but feel a bit frustrated.

Another difficulty is explaining my view of deity to people who are perfectly capable of understanding it, but who don't have the background--they haven't heard of anything other than monotheism--and polytheism, but of course, it's "outdated"--so when I have to first explain my view of people and souls and spirit, which requires a bit of explanation of things like ego loss and meditiation, which requires a whole other can of pacmen, it gets tiring. When I talk about my patron deity, I have to explain about who and what Set is, and about how his bad reputation is not deserved (if they have pre-concieved ideas about him). On top of that, I have to make sure they know that I'm not representative of all Pagans, and that there is huge diversity...and I have to explain about the structure of the various groups (and how not everyone has a church and a priest)...

I mean, I already have to explain my Autism to everyone I'm going to be interacting with for a lengthy period of time, and to be honest, even that's been getting to be a pain, even though the people I explain it to are genuinely open-minded and helpful--just like with my beliefs. I feel like it's my duty to educate people who are open-minded and curious about these things, but I guess it's a drag, and sometimes they unintentionally offend me.

So...does anyone have any advice other than "Just get over it"? (That's my Plan B, by the way...) I was wondering if there's a way to simplify things for the first conversation--I'm usually pretty bad at picking out which parts are important, and which parts I can explain without giving an oral dissertation about a bunch of background topics that each require further background explanation. Also, how do I deal with the offensive but well-intentioned comments? I guess this part is more of a social skills question, but I'm sure many of us have heard of the "overly-sensitive Pagan" who launches into a lecture whenever someone portrays witches as ugly--for example. Should I just shrug those off, or should I point out that it's offensive? It could be particularly important if they meet another Pagan who is more sensitive to offensiveness and says something like that again.

Here's the thing--I'm very thankful for all these open-minded people, and I should be! I'm very lucky to recieve such acceptance in the middle of the Bible Belt, even if these people can be offensively ignorant sometimes. I love talking about my beliefs to people, especially other Pagans, as long as they don't offend me or insult me, and it doesn't feel right to deny anyone innocent knowledge, especially about something that could really help them. It just occasionally irks me when I remember that for the most part society likes to forget about us.

Thanks!
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thegeekwitch

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2012, 03:36:39 AM »

Normally when people ask me what Paganism is, I reply that it's a term that can describe religions that don't believe in the Abrahamic God, and that we generally believe in dual or multiple deities, including deities from ancient civilisations.  If they want more than that (which they rarely do), I might refer them to a few resources about Paganism.
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BronwynWolf

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2012, 06:38:32 AM »

I think Tahlea has the best idea. The first answer should be broad and general. As for dealing with the unintentional insults.... all you can really do is deep breath, count to ten and move on. Although I would (being me and sometimes being very nasty) point out that in this age of science, there are a lot of people out there who consider the god of Abraham to be "outdated".
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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2012, 07:11:43 AM »

Generally, if I don't know the person to whom I am speaking is pagan, or open to it, I simply do not mention my beliefs. I feel keeping my spirituality to myself is the best approach.
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dragonspring

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2012, 07:37:23 AM »

I would go with a broad definition and explanation about how we see Diety.  I have friends who know I am Pagan and that I am a witch, but only a few of them know any specifics.  I prefer not to have to justify which Gods influence my path.
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Tirya

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2012, 10:46:58 AM »

I like Talea's "broad view" approach, and if someone wants more detail about my beliefs personally, I'll say something to the effect of "I am drawn to (or "honor" or "work with" depending on the person or context) the Gods of the Egyptian pantheon". It usually doesn't get much further than that - there aren't many people who are *honestly* inerested in Kheper, Upuat, Anpu and Bast, let alone my relationships with them...sometimes saying less is more. Remember - it's YOUR path, and you don't need anyone's permission or approval. :)
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rainshadow

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2012, 11:37:44 AM »

I give broad explanations, and if they ask me to elaborate further, if I have the time, I will... I don't get offended really easily, unless it was in the case of my mother, who tried making it all seem "evil" and "bad" but that is a whole separate post in itself.

For example, I had a woman at work ask me my religious beliefs because she saw my rings (a pentacle for one and then the second one is a moonstone set between two Celtic Triskeles)... she then went off on a tangent about how I'm worshipping the devil, blah blah blah, went into a whole bunch of stuff. That, I was a little offended by, but I had knowledge from prior discussions that she was fairly close minded.

Another example is again, another coworker. We were talking about crazy things we've seen in our careers, and she got onto the topic of her brother being a police officer. She said the craziest call he ever went on was this naked lady running out of her house screaming that she just killed her baby because she was Wiccan (turns out the lady was just crazy, had no religious/spiritual basis to it)... that, I wasn't so offended by, she had no idea what Wicca was, knew nothing about witchcraft, and openly expressed her curiosity after I told her Wiccans/Pagans don't sacrifice babies.

I really try not to bring up my faith to anyone... but I'm also the kind of person that I really don't speak unless I'm spoken to or I have to speak in public situations.

I kind of place it to people staring at my tattoos (I have numerous tattoos that cover large portions of my body)... if I don't want people to talk to me in public about them, ask me questions, etc., then I simply cover myself up a little more... some days I don't mind, other days it gets kind of weird... guess it all just depends on the mood I'm in.

I think most things are better left short, sweet and simple, especially in situations where you are interacting with strangers.
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vordan

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2012, 07:55:51 PM »

Yeah I babble in generalities, tell them that I believe in God but just a little differently. The big difference since I am a pantheist, I tell them is that I believe God is in all things and that I revere nature as an expression of that divinity. I find that the Divine expresses itself in great poetry, mythology as well as in the Bible. That is pretty vague. I work with some pretty conservative folks so I found out that most can't handle my beliefs. Really unless a person allready gets it, they most likely never will.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2012, 08:20:27 PM by vordan »
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FairyQueen

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2012, 09:38:12 AM »

Pretty much what everyone else says!

Lucky for me, I haven't had to explain my beliefs to non-Pagans at all. I keep my pentacle tucked inside my shirt, my other jewelry isn't blatantly Pagan, either. My largest tattoo, well, has Catholic imagery (St. Christopher - I'll eventually cover him up). With that said, I don't bring it up, no one notices, and life runs smoothly.

In the case it is brought up, I'll use broad terms about Paganism and skirt around my personal beliefs.
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earthmuffin

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2012, 04:45:59 PM »

Yeah, I'm like GW and FQ. I keep my beliefs to myself for the most part. If I know someone would be accepting and I trust them then we might talk about them if something came up in conversation, though it usually doesn't. To me it's quite private and nobody's business but my own.
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diniesaur

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2012, 11:26:12 PM »

You guys have a point about the keeping views to yourselves part--maybe if I were more private about that stuff I wouldn't have to worry about these things. (I'm actually strangely extroverted, especially for an Autistic person!) It would be very hard for me, though, since I'm usually not private about anything (seriously, not even what happened with my ex) unless I tell absolutely no one. It puts people off sometimes, but most people I talk to now don't mind it. Do you think it's worth the...difficulty?...to become private about this one thing? I've never actually said anything like, "Sorry, but that's private, so I'd rather not tell you." It's...kind of weird, I guess.

The broad approach seems like it would probably be a little easier for me, specifically. Tirya's mention of people not being that interested in the specifics of my religion makes a lot of sense, especially when people who are just meeting me ask me--they might just be asking questions because it's a social skill and it creates conversation, not because they're really curious. Maybe I don't really need to give a huge dissertation, or even show all aspects of my beliefs.

I guess I could work on figuring out some basics to tell people, maybe in a few sentences, so that they can be satisfied and walk away with a better understanding, but so I don't have to take forever to explain. I guess I'll stick to something like "'Paganism' is an umbrella term which encompasses a broad spectrum of religions, some of which aren't set in stone or institutionalized, and many of which include some form of polytheism..."

 :rolleye: Well, I'm working on it. It's a bit harder to explain to certain Atheists and Agnostics in my area, since a lot of times they'e been beaten down to the point where they believe that all religion is bad, or the same. I actually have a bit more difficulty with them than with strong Christians sometimes, because they've been more aqcuainted with diversity in religion.

I mean, I've not encountered any discrimination--luckily, I've only met one bigot at this school, and I'm not wasting my time on him--but the unintentionally offensive comments and the feeling that I have to explain everything can bug me. Sometimes it can feel like explaining calculus to someone who's never heard of basic algebra! But this is helpful. I like the general consensus that I'm not required to tell people everything they want to know just because they want to know it. I'm not sure if I forgot that, or if I never knew it in the first place.

As a side note, the guy I mentioned in my first post made that comment again. I told him calmly that it was a little offensive when he said that, and I don't know if he internalized that, but it was worth a shot. I think he just thinks it's funny and doesn't understand how it can make someone feel. I mean, he is Agnostic, and when I was an Atheist (a long time ago) I didn't understand how it could feel either. I hope he sees, especially since he's trying to be understanding and I don't want to come off like I'm over-sensitive.
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Celtic Dragon

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Re: How to explain my views to people who don't know?
« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2012, 02:55:31 AM »

  diniesaur,
  The answer given by Tahlea is a very fair and correct answer to those people who are passing acquaintances in your walk with Set. I wish to offer my respects to your beliefs. The road is long, but is begun with a single step and you've come far by what I read. Choose your audiences well and maybe you'll escape the narrow minded. Thou we have never met I offer space on my altar in respect to your beliefs, a candle to illuminate your thoughts and words from Set. Scented oil to soothe any uneasiness and to draw those who truly wish answers. Sea salt and water to of course wash away any preconceived thoughts. Desert earth here from Arizona to set your feet in contact with your pantheon who also may and will assist in helping your message coming across as intended.
                                                                                           Respectfully,
                                                                                           Celtic Dragon
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