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The Mad Cleric: Dealing with Intolerance

[Editors Note: Normally here on The Mad Adventurers Society, overt discussions of real world religion are discouraged, not because we have anything in particular against any particular religions or lack thereof, but because so often these conversation lead no where and result in the sorts of behaviors and discussion that cause more harm than good. Especially in an environment otherwise intended to be friendly, fun, and safe. However, sometimes some of that discussion is unavoidable when it comes to talking about the world of gaming and how it relates to real life. Regardless of your particular point of view, it can be helpful to know how to deal appropriately with those who might disdain the hobbies you enjoy. With that in mind, we encourage you to be mindful of others and take this article in the spirit of helpfulness in which it is offered. Thanks.]

As a gamer, I get frustrated with religious misconceptions of our hobby.  Additionally, as a cleric (mad notwithstanding) I am disappointed that gamers have come to expect negativity from religious people who are supposed to be known for love, acceptance, and the like.  Rob Almond and I  have had several conversations about this topic over the last few months and I consider this article very much a collaboration with him.  In fact, we’re going to follow the helpful rubric that he set last week.

What do you do when someone sneers? What happens when they turn up their hairy nostrils and huff with derision and inquire, “Games? Like, demonic games?”  What do you need to do, when someone takes everything you love doing and turns it into a glorification of evil, violence, and heinous black magicks?

Stop…

Any person who is willing to imply or plainly state that you participate in an evil hobby — he or she is person whose mind you are unlikely to change.  Quite frankly, I’m convinced that no person can change the hearts and minds of other people.  It doesn’t take too long being in a romantic relationship to realize that.  We have a hard enough time managing our own selves, let alone managing the beliefs and feelings of others.  So if somebody accuses your hobby of being misguided, wrong, or just plain evil, resolve not to try and change their mind.

So stop before you start responding to their statements, vitriolic though they may seem!  Attacking another person’s beliefs or arguing with them does little to win friends.  In fact, it often makes enemies.  If a person already believes you to be dabbling in society-degrading activities, don’t confirm their suspicions by being aggressive.  We don’t want to make enemies — we want to make friends.  So resist the urge to attack and argue!  Don’t respond to accusations with barbs of your own.  Follow Rob’s advice: stop.

And once you have stopped, you can ask yourself a question: what’s my real goal in this conversation?  Do I really need to defend myself?  Or perhaps I can step above the fray and just aim to be loving in this conversation?  Once you are comfortable with the fact that this person’s perspective is unlikely to change, you can find yourself free to be kind.  Not in a patronizing, condescending way — just be kind.  And how?

…Ask and Listen

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This is actually the really tricky part.  And the piece of advice that follows will save you sooooooooo much difficulty: DON’T ASK RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS.  Seriously, don’t do it.  Don’t do it.  DONT’ DO IT!  As an ordained minister who spends hours each week discussing religious topics, take my word for it.  Don’t go down that path, even if you are super-religious yourself.  Why?  Because it won’t do anything but give that person a soapbox for their views.  Instead, ask personal questions.  Questions like

  • Have you ever played these sorts of games?  What was your experience?
  • Do you have friends or family who played these sorts of games?  How did that affect you?  How did that affect them?
  • Where did you first hear about these sorts of games?

Why would you ask personal questions, when religious issues are being raised?  Unless we’re talking about a very modern religion whose texts I have not yet read, no ancient faith actually has anything in their texts about Dungeons and Dragons, Fiasco, or Star Wars.  Which leads me to believe that this person’s beliefs about roleplaying stem as much from personal experiences, as they do from timeless beliefs.  By taking this route, you will often find the real reason behind their opposition to such games.

Perhaps they had a sibling, child, or friend whose hobby crossed the line into habit?  Maybe they have a parent or other influential person who has instilled in them a fear of such games?  Maybe they don’t actually understand how roleplaying games work, but have stereotyped the whole hobby?  Regardless, you won’t get to these personal issues by asking religious questions.  So don’t take that route.  Ask personal questions.

But what if they won’t follow your lead?  What if they won’t get personal, but only bark out religious positions or quote religious texts?  Again, stay the course — don’t ask religious questions.  Instead, ask a different kind of personal question.  Make this challenging statement:

“You seem really concerned about this.  What is motivating you to share this with me?”

I wish I had asked this question the last time someone confronted me about my roleplaying hobby.  No lie, I was accused of participating in witchcraft, sorcery, and demonism.  I was told my eternal future was in question.  My faith was on shaky ground!  Rather than asking good questions, I launched a defensive, “Well, um, you do know that I’m a pastor, right?  I’ve been trained in that sort of stuff and I can assure you, there’s no devil lurking behind my d20.”  My statements did nothing to change the person or the conversation.  But what if I’d asked this poignant question?

Had I asked that question, here’s what I would have learned.  This person’s real intent was love, even though it was communicated in a way that felt very unloving and judgmental.  This person wanted to protect and guard me, which is a noble desire deep down.  While the conversation did not take a productive path, I hold no ill feelings toward that person, because I am able to see their love, no matter how imperfect and misguided it was.  Take Rob’s advice: stop, ask, and listen.  Look for the good intentions behind the mess. Nine times out of ten — or at least eight times out of ten — the good intentions will be there, if we’re looking for it.

“The Other Guy Is You”

I can’t apologize for religious people, nor can I defend them for opposing gaming, because I’m a gamer who disagrees with them.  But if I was going to sum up what I’m trying to communicate, it would be these sage words from Rob: “the other guy is you.”  Don’t try to change people who assault your hobby.  After all, they’re trying to change you.  Don’t play that game.  Instead, stop, ask, and listen.  Seek to love and understand that person.  Then maybe, just maybe, they will stop and do the same for you.

As the resident cleric in our Society, I must remind any commenters of one of our seminal guidelines, one which I use as a guide in my articles: religion, sex, and politics are topics we avoid in an effort to create an inclusive environment.  That said, I invite you along with Rob to discretely share any experiences or difficulties that you have had in this area.  If you would prefer to ask very specific advice, or if you are concerned that it might violate our forum rules, feel free to PM one of us.  We’d love to help you interact with “the other guy” in a way that provides for healthy relationships and, of course, an adventure at every table.

Pax.

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