Dealing with Obnoxious Zealots
Practical ways to deal with and diffuse religious attacks.
As Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans we are often pressured by people of other “faiths” regarding our beliefs. We are chastised, discredited, and even demonized simply because we practice a different spirituality/religion.
I have experienced plenty of these encounters, originating from complete strangers to co-workers. I have a couple of occasions I will share. I will also share with you ways you can counter and altogether avoid these taunting events.
BUT First… I would like to say something to those out there who feel they are justified in badgering someone over their individual beliefs.
SHAME ON YOU!
I don’t care if you feel you are better educated, or if you feel others are “pulling things out of their ass”. Someone else’s path is not your own. You do not have that right to badger others about something as personal as spirituality and faith. REALLY! Stop acting like an obnoxious fool, and focus on your own shit. Only the feeble attack people for being or believing differently.
THERE! Now that I got it out of my system, let’s continue… It’s story time!
The first memory I will share is one of a nice sunny day, sitting in a well-known bookstore, with a fellow Pagan friend. We were perusing a variety of books on Paganism, Witchcraft, and Wicca. I think we even had a few books of Buddhism and Atheism thrown in there.
We were relaxed and enjoying each other’s company, discussing which book we were considering for purchase when our pleasant afternoon was shattered. A tall man with thinning white hair walked up to us. Abruptly, he stated that we were “both going to hell” and that “Witchcraft is not real”.
Now, in my youth, I did not care about tact. I would fiercely attack back if I was feeling threatened or overwhelmed. At this moment, I most certainly felt threatened and overwhelmed.
I could feel the heat rising from within, flushing my face red with anger. “How dare he attack us like this”, was all I could think. This led me to point out that the version of the bible this man was quoting from and preaching is the King James Version of the Bible. I also made the point that the bible has been translated numerous times prior to King James, making the text so obscure, that no one in their right mind should quote it, much less consider it to be factual. YEAH!! I didn’t stop there. I then dug deeper to point out that bible he was quoting from it is called The King James Version because King James had the bible rewritten to suit his ideas and need to control the populous.
LET THE PISSING CONTEST BEGIN!!!!!
As you can imagine, he is only getting angrier. I’m laughing, and my friend is becoming severely embarrassed. She did not like this kind of attention, and I was drawing all kinds of it. The man is getting louder stating we are evil, devil spawn, with a few other colorful accusations.
People in the store are staring. As I feel their energy turn toward us, I realize my friend’s discomfort. I knew I needed to dial it back a bit. The heat was on and I poured gas on the fire.
Quickly, I adjusted my energy and remembered my rights. I told the man that although he has a right to his opinions, his conduct was now harassment. I made it clear that he has crossed a line, and I would not tolerate it. Next, I promised to get store security, (and if necessary, the police) to remove him from the store if he did not move on. This stopped him in is tracks, and he left. Once he was gone, I pointed him out to the store manager, and I never saw him in the store again.
I can’t say the problem was solved, but he will never approach me again.
Another instance I would like to share with you is one I had with a co-worker. In the office where I worked, there were a couple of women there who were openly Jehovah’s Witnesses. “So what!”, is my usual take on these things. I was casual friends with both of them. We worked closely with one another, and I thought they were both very nice people.
Then one day something changed. Suddenly, one of the women began asking me very detailed questions about my beliefs. At first, I didn’t think much about it. I have always been open about my spirituality to those I have gotten to know… within reason.
Quickly, her questions became more intrusive. I was finding pamphlets in the bathroom and other places near my desk. That is when I realize, I should have obeyed my intuition. I knew she was not out to educate herself, she was working on proselytizing to me. I had enough when one day she cornered me in the copy room.
I gathered some of the pamphlets I found in the bathroom and took them to HR. I spoke to our HR director, who, by the way, was Catholic, and explained to him what was happening. He did the professional thing and put an end to it.
In each of these situations, I knew my rights and I exercise these rights. Standing up for myself allowed me to go on my way without further discomfort and attacks.
What I know now from looking back on my reactions and actions is that I could have handled some things better. In the first situation, I could have kept my composure and not allowed the zealot to get under my skin. Trust me, his arrogance and ridicule stuck with me for a long time. I had a lot of troubles allowing it to leave me. In my eyes, this means he won the battle. He rattled my cage and I was a fool to not realize it.
People who demand that you change religious beliefs and practices are not interested in true intellectual consideration. Pure and simple. They are bullies looking for control. They are afraid that what they believe may not be as true as they think it to be. Control over you, over their discomfort, and control over the shaky ground beneath their own feet, is the only solution they can conjure. Sure they may not recognize this as being the case, but it is what it is. Ego is funny like that.
Since every situation is different, I would like to offer to you some valuable ways you can deflect, defuse, and even squash heated instances where you find yourself at the center of religious harassment and attack.
1. Make sure you are well rooted & well educated
When you are secure in your faith and spiritual practice you will find that proving your validity is not necessary. You will realize that approval from others is not needed. No matter the situation, you will not feel the need to stabilize your position when you know exactly where you stand. You will feel secure enough on your path to dismiss religious attacks.
This takes time for many people, maybe more so for those on solitary paths. We all learn as we go and don’t necessarily have someone holding our hand along the way. Reassurances from anyone other than ourselves and the books we read can be few and far between.
Here are a couple of really great ways to help root yourself in your own tradition.
Educate yourself – Read books. Spend some money on classes. Join study groups… Read more books, take webinars/seminars/teleconferences, attend weekend retreats, and so on. We live in an era where just about everything is available to us at the click of a mouse. There are plenty of people out there giving up their free time, and working very hard to organize classes and other functions for the sake of education.
Get involved with like-minded social and tolerance-oriented community groups – When you have a solid support system you will feel validated and grounded. Get involved with others who are of like-mind, and are accepting of diversity. Surround yourself with those whom you can have deep intellectual conversations. These connections will deepen your faith in ways you never expect.
Question your beliefs, and allow others to question them…
Also, surround yourself with people who challenge your beliefs without demanding you change the way you believe.
This isn’t to say you need to provoke questioning by engaging in a philosophical debate or discussion with anyone and everyone you meet. Instead, be selective. When we can question our beliefs privately or when others, we find that our beliefs strengthen. The point is to do it with an open mind, and with those who also possess openness and tolerance. As a result, the reasons why you believe the way you believe will become clearer. You will become more stable and solid on your path.
2. Let people get to know YOU first
One thing I learned early on is the value of allowing people to get to know me before they know my religion/spirituality. It is only recently, that I have been more forward about my beliefs.
You have every right to conceal or withhold your spiritual/religious identity based on your own level of comfort. While many have no qualms about who knows their religion, others might feel the subject is too personal to share. Frankly, your spiritual beliefs are none of anyone else’s business.
What you choose to share is your choice and for good reason. People judge it is the unfortunate truth. We are conditioned and taught to do this from the beginning. The only behavior and habits we can control, are our own.
Most of us wear more than one hat. We are caregivers, educators, crafters, problem solvers, scholars, nurses, firefighters, mothers, fathers, and so on. Place yourself miles ahead of the snap judgment wagon by being selective. This will give you the opportunity to decide if the person or group in question is worthy of knowing you more deeply.
I also find it this adds an awesome shock factor in most cases. As you conduct yourself in a respectful and honest manner, people will place you in a category with other people they trust. As stereotypes would have it, this usually isn’t with people they would believe to be Witches or Pagans. I have seen people take a physical step back when I finally told them I am a Witch. I just flipped the stereotype they had in their minds upside down. Now they will have to question how they categorize Witches and Pagans. I have shown them that the stereotypes they once believed to be true, are false.
3. Be responsible, be dependable. Lead a good life.
This is an extension of my previous point, and I can’t say this enough. Be respectful, honest, kind, trustworthy, and dependable. These are all things that reinforce the value you add to your family, friends, and the greater community. Above all, this is a value you add to yourself.
Pagans are often stereotyped as untrustworthy-jobless-pothead-hippies. To most people, this label does not say “valuable member of the community”. Negative stereotypes are difficult to squash.
Now, before you get your panties in a bunch about conformity, social compliance, and social expectations/oppression… hear me out.
We all have strengths and this is what we should allow to shine when we are trying to assert ourselves in any social group or setting. When you are rude, unreliable, and dishonest you degrade yourself. I am not asking you to wear Bermuda shorts with a matching polo, as mow your lawn every Saturday at 12 pm sharp.
What I am saying is be respectful. Treat people with dignity. When you tell someone you are going to do something, do it… Don’t lie, cheat, or steal! None of this is too much to expect from anyone. You are a decent human being, so act like it.
To further my point, when you conduct yourself in a respectful, mature, and moral fashion you instantly disprove any negative propaganda spread about the Pagan community. Thus, you help squash negative stereotypes. You will instantly prove that those who speak ill of our community are liars.
4. Realize you have nothing to prove
I struggled with this one for a long time. I thought it was my place to educate every dim-witted bigot about the truth of Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism.
The fact is, if they do not have an open mind, they will never hear the truth. Most of the time, they stop listening as soon as the words, Pagan, Wicca, or Witchcraft come out of your mouth. The truth is not what they really want. Some people are so shallow and blinded that the discomfort of deeper-complex knowledge shuts them down completely. You cannot change that. Trying to change some people’s minds, is a long futile battle.
Your energy is valuable, don’t waste it. Use it for your areas in your life you know you can change.
Depending on where you live, will dictate your religious rights. I am in the USA, where we have a constitutional right to freedom of religion. It is important that as individuals, we understand and exercise our rights.
It would appear now, that our many rights that preserve our religious freedoms are being threatened. This is why we need to be heard. When you suffer an injustice you must speak up. If you witness or know of injustice, you must speak up.
You have every right to feel safe and protected, but you might lose your rights to protection if you idly stand by waiting for someone else will take care of the issue. Sign petitions, write letters to your congressperson, state representatives, and lawmakers. Report those who intimidate and harass. Make sure you are not silent in government, the workplace, or elsewhere.
6. Don’t stoop to their level
If you give into the pressure, you lose the battle. Remember me in the bookstore? I lost that battle because I gave into what that man wanted. He was looking for a fight, and I gave him exactly that.
Keep your composure, keep your wits, and remain light-hearted. At times, this can be very difficult. If and when you feel like you are unable to compose yourself, walk away or get someone else involved who can help defuse the situation.
When you lose your temper, you prove that you are not well rooted. Be confident, be compassionate, maintain your composure, and remember you have nothing to prove.
7. Practice Compassion and Empathy
I have come to realize that when someone is actively seeking to confront someone else on a subject that is none of their business, they are suffering from something. Usually, it is ego driven. Ego is a sneaky bastard that whispers to us about how righteous we are. Ego will convince us that we have made no trespasses, and will tell us that our ill behavior is warranted.
Ego will over compensate when we suffer from low self-esteem. Ego will scream and shout when we feel especially vulnerable or unwell. Ego will tell people that they need to persist for no reason. It is possible that the person preaching to you is only doing so because they need to hear themselves talk.
Compassion and empathy help diffuse the volatile nature of Ego. No, it isn’t easy, but you can do it.
8. Stand your ground, without being obnoxious
Don’t let them get under your skin.
There is something that happens when you find your own inner confidence. You are able to stand your ground without getting angry or irritated. Another interesting thing is, bullies won’t pick on people who exude confidence. They can’t, they know they will lose the battle. Bullies want to confront people who seem meek and easy to rattle.
When you are confident it will show, and you will find that zealots will not even try to engage you. You will have the ability to loop haters into a circle where he/she gets nowhere and eventually lightens up, or all together gives up. When someone realizes they will get nowhere with you, they will move on. You can breathe a little lighter knowing you have the upper hand.
Not all who question your beliefs are looking to attack
There are times when you can drop your guard. Actually, I recommend you drop it anyway. Don’t feel like you have to be defensive of your beliefs 24/7 with every person who crosses your path.
Defensiveness leads to hostility, and that can break the bridge of understanding and acceptance we want to create.
Some people are genuinely curious and want to learn. What better way for them to learn than through friendly philosophical discussion?
Uncomfortable situations where you are the targeted are difficult to handle. However, we do well for ourselves when we discover our own inner power and maintain our composure.
I know these strategies have helped me greatly. I only wish I had realized my own power at a younger age. I am glad for what I have learned. I hope my knowledge and experience can help you when you find yourself at the center of a religious attack.
I invite your feedback.
Tell me what you think.
I love to know what my readers are up to and how you put the thoughts and experiences shared here to use in your life.
Also, if you have any suggestions on subjects for future posts let me know your thoughts. I’m listening.
© 2015, The Magick Kitchen