Nipping Trouble in the Bud: Community and Child Custody Issues Affecting Heathens
I suggest there are several ways to deal with religious issues, particularly as they affect child custody, getting along with neighbors, etc. One is to be open and honest unless you are in an area so benighted as to be putting yourself and your loved ones in physical danger by being open about your religion. In that case, I suggest relocation! Such areas are seldom economic boomtowns anyway! Most people rightly assume that folks up to no good hide what they are doing. Don't hide, and you'll give the gossips much less to work with.
Don't wait until the principal tells your kid to take off "that satanic upside-down cross". Go see him/her before school starts. Say you are a member of a religious minority. Make sure s/he knows what a Thor's Hammer is, that you aren't a racist, what religious holidays if any your child will be missing school for. Take literature. Some homemade brownies wouldn't hurt either! Stress things that will reduce fear like "Heathenism shares some of the same ancient roots as Hinduism." Fundies may think Hindus are on the road to hell, but they aren't scared of them nor are they trying to get Hindu kids taken away from their parents. Join and be active in the PTA and other community organizations, and WEAR YOUR HAMMER IN PLAIN VIEW. Do rune readings for a couple of bucks at the school fundraiser. Chaperone the school dance or trip. Join the volunteer fire department, or at least take them some really yummy sandwiches once a month. You won't work a miracle most likely. The local religious nuts will still have you on their prayer lists. However, folks will have some idea what you are, what you do, and won't be scared of you. Plus, you will have established yourself as a valuable and civic-minded member of the community.
Check with other religious minorities in your community such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu individuals and groups. Don't forget Christian minorities such as (yes) Jehovah's Witnesses. Yes, most of us loathe their religion, but they have valuable experience and some common concerns. Their kids refuse to salute flag, get flack for it. How have they handled these difficulties? A coalition of local religious minorities could have a lot of clout, and open a lot of folks' eyes as to the religious diversity already in their community.
Join the ACLU (www.aclu.org) and/or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Think of how much clout we'd have if thousands of us Heathens and other Pagans did. Soon as I land a job in my field (graduating soon), I certainly plan to.
Keep a lawyer on retainer, or at least have one picked out and informed that if anyone ever gives you or your family legal problems over your religion, you'll be there with cash in hand. Keep lawyer money onhand, or pay a retainer fee ahead of time before you spend that tax refund! Local yokels make some threat, you hand them your lawyer's card, their jaws drop....end of matter in lots of cases!
Join the local Unitarian Universalist Church. Interesting, stimulating, no creed. Pagans, liberal Christians, atheists and agnostics; strong commitment to social justice and tolerance. Excellent cultural events, yummy potlucks, good place to troll for potential new Heathens! Lots of solid Pagans attend UU Churches. Good place for your kids to learn about other religions in an academic, non-dogmatic sense. Ignore the PC types you may run into, and you'll have a lot of fun while working for a more tolerant community, nation and world.
If in or about to enter a mixed marriage, sign an agreement (pre or post nuptial) about the kids' religious training, including in the event of a divorce. If you came to this religion after starting your family, discuss your children's religious training with your spouse or ex-spouse. If they want to fight a battle for the kids' souls, remind them that the most common outcome of such doings is atheistic kids, and that you could live with that a lot better than your kids' other parent could! Few of us sit up at night worrying that someone will freeze in Niflhel for not believing in the Aesir and Vanir!
Remember you are mortal. You may not live to see your child grown up. I know of at least one Heathen child that is being raised by Bible-thumping grandparents because the parents did not designate a legal guardian to raise the child in the event of their death or incapacitation. This could, I believe, be done in a Last Will and Testament or as a separate document. Get thee to a lawyer! Be sure that the legal guardian(s) have copies of the appropriate documents, and that you take out some life insurance with them (or your child or children) as the beneficiary, so that they will have enough money to carry out the responsibilities with which you have entrusted them.
There will be religious problems for our community from time to time, but also keep in mind that most of us live in free countries, and try to avoid the paranoia, alienation, and apocalyptic thinking that I have found to be all too common in the larger Pagan Community. Talk over these things with your groups and on Heathen email lists. While no one can do or would even want to do ALL of these things, all of us can do some of them. Be prepared in advance
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