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How to be Taken Seriously Following an Alternative Religion

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It is always more difficult following the less-traveled path and holding the less popular opinion. Most people are not overly familiar with alternative religions (most of which are also new religious movements, and some have outright wrong information about them. Believers might be accused of being silly, frivolous and not grounded in the real world. Among younger seekers, it's common to be accused of simply rebelling against one's parents. How do you demonstrate that you are serious about your faith?

Describe what you are, not what you are not

In the West, conversations about religion often become comparisons with Christianity, and it’s a losing argument. Christianity is not the standard. To presume other religions have to live up to it is absurd.

Yet because accusations are often phrased in Christian contexts, people also commonly describe how they compare with Christianity: we have no Satan, we have no hell, we don't believe in a Savior, etc. That doesn't say anything about your own beliefs. If anything, it just reinforces the stereotype that you're rebelling against convention.

Address questions rationally

Not everyone asking you questions is trying to be hostile. Some honestly want to hear your answers. Don't presume they are looking for a fight. Answer the questions asked truthfully and clearly. Don't try to guess what they really want to know; presume they are asking about what they want to know.

Don't make excuses

If someone asks a question you can't answer, be honest about it. "I've never thought about it that way," is a perfectly reasonable response if you're dealing with rational people, and if you're not dealing with a rational person, you won't get through to them anyway.

If it's a factual question about your religion, you can say "I don't know that off the top of my head, but I could look it up if you would like." Heck, as a college instructor I sometimes say that in class, because no teacher can be expected to know absolutely every fact related to a subject (and my subject is history, so there's lots and lots of subjects to potentially study).

What you shouldn't do is attack the questioner. A common knee-jerk response is "You're clearly not listening" or "you're just trying to trip me up so you can prove me wrong" or my personal favorite, "I don't have to justify myself to you." You are correct that you are not required to justify yourself, but if you're going to be public about your faith, its reasonable for people to ask questions, and if you suddenly decide you don't have to justify yourself halfway through a conversation, you're pretty obviously covering something up.

Act on Faith, not Appearance

This can be difficult. When people try something new, they very consciously want to do it "right." They may focus on certain actions or items as tangible evidence that they are behaving how members of that religions should behave.

"That's just what we do," is a terrible reason to do something. Religious people have reasons for what they wear or display and how they act religiously. Part of taking a religion seriously is to learn those reasons before engaging in such actions. Otherwise you really are just putting on an appearance.

Don't Over Advertise

You're thrilled with finding your new faith. It brings meaning to your life, helps you be a better person, or whatever you feel is a merit of your faith. Often, people want to share this great new thing with others.

However, other people frequently don't care. They may be happy for you at first, but if you're constantly talking about your new faith, it gets old, just as you probably only want to hear so much about Star Trek from your geek friend, or, indeed, hear about Christianity from a Christian friend.

Also, if one doesn't make it public they may feel they are hiding their faith. That's not at all true. If you are hiding your faith, that means you go out of your way to keep people from knowing, possibly including lying. Being responsibly open about your faith means you don't avoid the subject when appropriate, but you also don't broadcast it to the world.

Let Haters Hate

There are people you simply will not be able to satisfy. If they have misconceptions about your faith, attempt to correct them. However, if they simply condemn everything different from their own faith, there's no point arguing. You will not convince them otherwise, because no matter what you say about your own religion, it still won't be theirs, and that's all they care about. Walk away from those confrontations.
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