In 1836 a prophetic man wrote the following words which we still need today: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege: let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (emphasis added)
The idea of allowing all people to “worship how . . . they may” is vanishing. The definition of worship, like so many words today, has shifted to mean: whatever you spend your time, money, and thoughts pursuing. The implications reach even beyond worshiping Deity (although an argument can readily be made that just about anything can become one’s “god”).
The quote above is a declaration that each person should choose how they will live and who they will follow. Many cultures believe in a judgment day that will eventually evaluate the correctness of one’s life. But we mere mortals don’t make that final judgment. Nor should anyone force another to live a life that feels dishonest.
I’ve written this book series to speculate what may happen to a society when beliefs and ideals are eliminated to allow for only one point of view, and where people are restricted to only one location. Forcing a belief or behavior works, albeit only temporarily, as fallen political regimes—and rebellious teenagers—have demonstrated throughout millennia. A person’s individual belief is an intimate and even sacred thing. It’s also vulnerable, subject to enlightenment as well as destruction.
Beliefs can strengthen and unite us, but they don’t necessarily have to divide us. You don’t need to agree with all of my beliefs, nor do I have to agree with yours for us to still value each other.
You may not believe in a god, or you may believe in a different manifestation of Deity, while I believe in a Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
But we can still talk together.
You may believe in redefining the definition of marriage, while I feel that only God can do that.
But we can still be Facebook friends.
You may disagree with me on gun rights, or trends in schooling, or the nature of the family, or evolution, or which chocolate chip is better—Nestle’s or Hershey’s.
But we can still eat cookies together.
We don’t have to agree on everything, but we must agree to respect each other.
And we can.
In fact, I grow when you challenge my ideals, and I appreciate the opportunity to evaluate further what I think I already know.
I’ve worked with people who were diametrically opposed to so many of my beliefs that it was difficult to find common ground, but we found it. And worked together effectively.
And even called each other friends at the end.
Because we respected each other.
Then again, that was about 20 years ago.
Our world doesn’t seem to want to embrace mutual respect anymore. We used to call it “tolerance,” but even the definition of that word has been skewed to mean, “If you don’t agree with me, it means you hate me, therefore I get to call you names and bully you.”
This all-encompassing preoccupation with the self, instead of concern for others, creates a me-above-the-world mindset that promotes the individual before anyone else.
And that creates tyranny.
All the “great” dictators of the world started as bullies, or were bullied. But we all learned back in grade school that once you allow the bullies to get power, no one feels safe.
The bullies are winning now, in much larger venues and with much higher stakes. Incivility has become acceptable and even trendy, and it’s forcing people to retreat to different sides and take up arms.
But when did an all-out war ever really resolve anything, except to prove who’s the better bully?
Now, I readily concede that what I attempt to paint as a clear picture of mutual tolerance becomes murky when one person’s belief begins to affect the life of another. What I strive to maintain in my life may infringe on what you believe, and likewise your ideals may harm me.
But it’s also a very large world, with a great diversity of cultures, ideals, and peoples.
The point is, there is room for everyone. There’s no need to force every person into the same spot, the same box, the same belief system.
There’s room to explore, to change, to grow, to move.
Diversity is good. Diversity makes us think and reevaluate. Diversity reinforces our beliefs, or it can even lead us to a better, higher ideal.
Even the topography of the world is vastly diverse. How dull would the earth be if we had no deserts, no forests, no plains, but only ocean? The oceans never invade deserts, and forests stop so that plains can exist.
People are even more varied than topography. I don’t see that as a problem, but as a solution. The ocean doesn’t insist the desert changes for it; it simply resides where oceans reside best. Nor do the beliefs of others need to invade the corner of the world I inhabit, forcing me to change. Allow me to live how and where I choose, and I promise I won’t try to transform your section either. We can even visit and learn about each other, and there may even be some shifting of minds and hearts.
But there’s no reason to angrily insist that all the ocean water needs to go, or that all of the sand needs to vanish. We need both deserts and oceans—there’s room for all of the earth’s diversity, and room for all of our diversity, too.
We can still allow everyone to coexist, without choosing to feel threatened that others are different. I appreciate the sentiment of the coexist bumper sticker, symbols of differing ideals combining together to create a diverse whole.
Having met earnest believers of other religions, I’ve felt myself enlightened by their depth of soul and sincerity of heart. Goodness, like cookies, comes in a variety of sizes, colors, and flavors. I’ve learned to not label individuals with the slurs of generalizations. That’s what bullies do—shove individuals into groups, then attack the whole to promote only themselves. Some days it already feels that the world is out to get us, because the bullies are winning.
Sometimes it’d be nice to retreat to the very edge of the world, where few people rarely venture. But now’s not the time to run away, but to take a stand and ask, “Why does civility, equality, and freedom mean you have to destroy me?”
I started writing this book series four years ago, and have been grimly surprised to see elements I worried and wrote about initially are manifesting in society today. Books seven and eight will describe a world which frankly terrifies me, and it seems we’re running headlong towards that end in real life.
I also decided some time ago that I can just drift with the current like an apathetic fish and float to whatever dismal end there is at the end of the river, or I can swim against the current and insist on staying right where I choose to be.
I’ve chosen to fight the current, and to live at the Forest at the Edge where I can still speak my mind and follow my heart.
You’re more than welcome to join me.