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MORE THAN ACCEPTABLE Religious acceptance is something everyone hears a lot about these days. ‘Coexist’ and  ‘Tolerance’ read bumper stickers as you drive down the street, the letters made out of different religious symbols. ‘Embrace  Diversity,’  say  the  posters  on  the  classroom  walls,  depicting  a  young  girl  in  a  Muslim  veil  hand  in   hand with a Christian child. For many of us, I believe this message had been so engraved into our minds that we recite it dutifully when asked about religious tolerance, but fail to realize what it is truly about. Up  until  recently,  I  myself  was  one  of  these  acquiescent  people,  knowing  “all  religions  should  live   in  harmony”  but  not  really  looking  any  deeper  than  that.    I  live  in  a  neighborhood  where  Catholics,   Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and more all live side by side. Growing up, I attended both Bar Mitzphas and Confirmation ceremonies. I was raised knowing these neighbors were religiously different from me, but that never meant we could not be friends. Because of this, I took religious tolerance for granted. Several months ago, however, I was fortunate enough to discover a world where this easy acceptance was far  from  the  case.  In  my  research  for  a  dream  journey  to  Ireland,  I  stumbled  upon  a  time  known  as  “the   Troubles”.  “The  Troubles”  was  a  thirty-year period of violence in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants. Throughout the decades, bombings, shootings, and attacks were a way of life on both sides of the conflict. By the end, more than 3,600 people, mainly civilians, had lost their lives. Today, the violence has  ended,  but  the  hate  continues.  Towering  walls  known  as  “peace  lines”  separate  the  Catholic  and   Protestant neighborhoods, and many children are raised to view those of the other religion as outsiders rather than friends. After learning about this terrible conflict and realizing similar situations were happening every day all over the world, I found new meaning in religious tolerance. As I ran through my own neighborhood during the holidays, observing the Menorahs and Nativity scenes right next door to each other, I realized how blessed I really was. Religious tolerance is much more than a bumper sticker or a poster. It is about accepting everyone’s  beliefs,  and,  more  importantly,  respecting  them.  It  is  tremendously  vital  to  help people understand the true meaning of religious tolerance. When one group fails to respect another, the sad truth is that violence always follows. Countless wars since the beginning of time have had their roots in religious matters. Thousands of children all over the world have been bullied and beat up because of what they believe  in.  Millions  of  people  have  lost  their  lives  simply  because  of  the  lack  of  someone’s  ability  to  accept   one another for who they are and what they believe in. How can we live our everyday lives so passively while knowing this hate and cruelty is filling every aspect of our world? If children learn to respect all religions and all who participate in them, innumerable lives can be saved. Religious tolerance may be able to finally put an end to this violence. Religious tolerance is the key peace. Therefore, we can no longer stand aside and let the world continue to fight against itself. We must embrace religious tolerance, starting in our own communities and reaching out to the rest of the world. All children around the world must be taught from the very beginning that partaking in one religion or another does not make you superior to anyone else, and all religions deserve to be treated with respect and deference. If everyone could  learn  to  respect  each  other’s  religion,  the  world  would  see  harmony  like   it has never experienced before, and the children of tomorrow would have the chance to grow up in a nonviolent, nurturing, and equal-opportunity world that most of us never dreamed was possible. They would have the opportunity to grow up in a world of peace. Shannon Gaden

Embracing tolerance 2011 Gaden  
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