If you’re going to be respectful, you’ll care about my religion

I had the great privilege to attend “Omaha Table Talk: The Heartland Interfaith Dialogue” hosted by Inclusive Communities. While polytheism in any form wasn’t at all discussed (until I brought it up in my table), it was a great effort to bring discussion around religion and religious identities. The panel we got to listen to prior to the table discussions contained a Jewish person, a Lutheran Christian person, and a Muslim student. It gave me a great deal to think about, and I am glad I attended.

But what I am writing about isn’t necessarily about the entire event, but more about what a person at my table brought up right when we were ending the talk. I didn’t get a chance to respond to them, but what they said needs a response. And since I’ve heard this type of thinking before, it definitely needs to be said publicly.

This person ended the talk by saying: “It doesn’t matter to me what your religion is! Only that you’re a respectful person!” …says the Roman-Catholic attendee.

Let me explain why I find this offensive…

This is denying people their identity. I find that, more often than naught, it’s someone of privilege who thinks that a label is irrelevant. I see it with heterosexual people towards sexuality. Basically, when someone comes from a place of privilege, they are so use to being catered too that they don’t know what it means to stick a neck out when identifying as one truly feels. They don’t know what it’s like to share their identity because their identity is assumed, such as that they are Christian in a predominately Christian area. It also means that they never had to say their identity without knowing if it was safe to do so.

Religions aren’t devoid of culture. Or at least, they shouldn’t be. There are customs and prohibitions found in religions for a reason, and within those religions ways to be insulting. I mentioned at the table how hospitality is a huge thing for Gaelic Polytheism. It’s huge. So, unless you know what hospitality is and what it means, you can easily insult me. I’ve been insulted by going to someone’s house and not being offered food and water. But if they knew about my religion’s culture around hospitality, if they bothered to ask me about my religion and learn about it, they would know they were being disrespectful.

In other words, not caring about my religion is saying you don’t care if you act disrespectfully towards me because it doesn’t matter to you to learn what is and is not respectful in my religious context.

Lastly, people have died because of how they identified religiously. I can’t emphasis that enough: people have died because of how they identified religiously. So denying a person their identity they or their ancestors had to fight to defend means something. It means that you can’t decide it’s irrelevant.

Basically if you don’t think my religious identification matters, you don’t think I matter.  You don’t think it matters what my virtues are, what I consider to be vices. You don’t care about me beyond what you get from me.

I understand that this person is trying to come from a place of love and not hate. I understand this sentiment is often coming from that same place. But it reads as apathetic towards something I and so many other people are passionate about. It comes off as a shallow understanding of a person.

I don’t know. I feel like I don’t give enough justice as to why this bothers me. If you have something to add, please comment!


4 thoughts on “If you’re going to be respectful, you’ll care about my religion

  1. Truth. I see this a lot, from the “colorblind” folks to the folks who don’t see gender. If your struggle includes an aspect of your identity, to be told that it doesn’t matter is not only marginalizing, it’s also outright incorrect. It’s incorrect for you, who has to struggle daily with it, and it’s incorrect for the one who claims not to notice or care.

  2. I totally get what you are saying, and hopefully if you go to more of those you’ll get the chance to politely challenge those sorts of statements. It’s like checking the “Other” box, and having the institution giving you the form think they’re so nice for including “Other”. I think we need to have interfaith dialogs that are set up to center minority voices we don’t hear enough.

  3. (I know this is an old post, I was browsing older stuff this evening!)

    I get what you’re saying here, and it’s a very important point. I think a lot of folks who say they don’t care what someone’s religion is do really mean that – they don’t care, they don’t to know, they just don’t want you to rock the boat.

    Others actually mean something more like “I accept your religion, whatever it is.” but we don’t do a good job of differentiating between those sentiments, so we don’t do a good job of teaching people what the difference between them requires them to do to demonstrate that respect.

    The difference is palpable in interfaith settings, where I encounter both attitudes on a regular basis.


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