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Article ID: 8824
Age Group: Adult
Posted: December 20th. 2004
The Christians and the Pagans
"The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, "Is it true that you're a Witch?"
I was raised as an Evangelical Christian. Our family went to church three times a week when I was a child. As a teenager, I sang in the choir, belonged to a youth group, studied the bible, and taught Sunday School. I left the church I was raised in for reasons that seemed good to me then and which are still right for me now. Nevertheless, I have many good friends of all faiths, including those who are Christian, and I'm often appalled by the self righteous, hateful and, yes, fundamentalist (1) attitude that certain Pagans express towards their Christian brothers and sisters. Those who express these views do so most often behind the cloak of email and in the anonymity of Pagan newsgroups or as "jokes" among their own kind. How is it, I wonder, that a People so willing to point out intolerance on the part of other faiths can be so blindly intolerant themselves?
A long time community activist named DragonLady wrote about this particular problem to a group of Pagan Organizers just recently. I quote this missive with her permission:
"I wonder when certain Pagans are going to grow up and stop lumping all Christians in the same basket? As far as I'm concerned, this is just another form of prejudice, masquerading as twisted victim-speak. It's not OK when Christians do that to us, and it's not OK when we do it to them. Amen!... er... Yea Verily!
It's one thing to disagree civilly, even firmly, on a point of theology, politics or practice but it's something else to sling mud and scream invectives, as many are now doing... .We Pagans need to learn the difference between the Christians who stand for tolerance and do good works, and the ones like Jerry Fallwell, Bob Jones, and Pat Robertson who are gunning for our rights and grabbing for power. We'd better learn that difference soon, because we are going to need good people on our side in the years to come.
... I work with many good Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist people within the Feminist and the Ecology movements. I see these people working at women's shelters and soup kitchens, lending a hand on coastal clean up days and volunteering in our local animal shelters and I choose to stand with anyone who does this sort of work and who respects my rights. What they do matters. What they call their deity or whether they even have one makes no difference to me at all.
Once we Pagans have learned who's who in the Christian world, then we can teach them the difference between a race hating skinhead and a Heathen or a cat killer and a Wiccan. But it's a dialogue, not a lecture, and we have to listen and learn as much as anyone else.
Good grief! How many of our own people are hurting because of this? There are Pagan-Christians and Christian (often Celtic) Pagans in both communities. Why, then, do we persist in alienating the very people who share our values? It's such a stupid, useless waste of time... ..As for me, I will not tolerate hate speech in my Coven, nor will I have it in my house. And any so- called Pagan who doesn't like that, can hit the road."
Soon after the 2004 Witches' Ball, I found myself at a service in my parent's church for the first time in over 25 years. This time it was for my father's funeral. During the year he fought cancer, I was reminded again and again how very kind the people in his church are, how often they do good things without being asked, how willing they are to look in on the sick and the elderly in their group, and how much they love and care for their own and others. This church does charity work with AIDS patients in Africa and with the needy here in the U.S. and all of that work is funded by (steady, but reasonable) donations from their members. As in most Christian churches nothing happens without the hard work and support of the women in the congregation. These women were exactly as I remembered them: patient, good humored, competent and strong.
The people in this church offered love and sincere friendship to my parents throughout their lives. The congregation also accepted me, the Pagan daughter, and my Buddhist husband, among them as friends. In all my encounters with them, not once did anyone try and convert me back to their faith and not once did they question mine. Just for the record: nobody gathered kindling in an obvious way while I was there and no one stood by with an eye towards heaven, idly fiddling with a match. What they offered instead was hugs and lots of Scotch/German cooking. So much for my chances of becoming a Pagan Martyr. If these people harm me in any way, it will be from too much cholesterol.
My folks live in Oregon and I live in California. My husband and I saw them often, especially during my father's illness, but the expense of travel and our work demands meant that we could not be there with them all the time. But I knew that if my parents needed anything and I wasn't there, like company at the hospital, a visit between chemotherapy treatments, a drive to the grocery store, help around the house, or quiet, supportive chats in their home, this congregation was there for them. We Pagans talk a lot about community, service and charity work, but these people made it manifest the only way you can; through hard work and dedication. What they do, they do out of love and faith, and I have to respect that. So, yes, I left that church and no, I would never go back as a member, but I would be happy to see more Pagan groups that can walk their walk the way these people do every day of their lives.
"So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And where does magic come from, I think magic's in the learning
Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning"
I wrote an article recently for the Witches' Voice titled "What's Past, Is Prologue". In that article, I said this:
Now is the time for each of us to reject (the) negative impulse in ourselves and to reach out to "the other, " those Great Hearts who can be found in every religious, spiritual, and secular community. We will know them by their works ... These like-minded people will join with us to create peace and justice - all we need do is ask. I was talking there about our prejudice, not just theirs, and the need to reach out to other groups if we ever want to accomplish anything of real value in a hostile world. Few people know this, but the Director of the Witches' Ball in 2002 was and is a believing Christian. Our people know her as Hawk, and she is as tolerant, hard working and witty as anyone I've ever worked with. Hawk is also a talented costumer and a great cook and gardener, who loves cats, nature, role-playing, and reading. She has a college education and works in the computer field, as does her husband. Hawk has friends among the Pagan people in our area, including people who are gay or lesbian, Pagans who live in poly-amorous households, and those who are active in the leather and other alternative communities. She could even "pass" for Pagan, by which I mean that she dresses with style, is proud of her body, and likes to laugh.
During the year Hawk spent with us she worked side by side with people who identified as Witches, Pagans and Heathens and she did a fabulous job. However, there was one difficulty when it came to working with her. While our Full Circle staff knew her and loved her, I frequently had to keep Pagans from other groups from insulting her religion in her very presence. It was especially awkward when Hawk worked with me at PantheaCon, a local Goddess conference, to help Full Circle promote the 2002 Witches' Ball. While working at our table that weekend I lost count of the number of times some ignorant Pagan so-and-so made anti-Christian remarks in casual conversation, thinking, I guess, that they were "among friends" and could therefore act like idiots. Luckily for me, Hawk has a forgiving heart and she thought that working together on a charity ball to raise money for the Humane Society was more important then getting her hackles up. (2)
"So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold"
This month we celebrate several seasonal holidays and it's a time when Christians and Pagans (among others) come together in family groups. Some of us are out in the open; others are Pagans hiding among Christians or vice versa. Let us all show a little kindness and practice patience as best we can. Let us not tolerate hate speech of any kind in our presence. To do anything else is to be less than we are.
As for the future: It's about time that we Pagans did more interfaith work and charity work, as Pagans, in the greater community. To do that, we need to know who our real friends are. Some of these friends are going to be like-minded Buddhists and Hindus, some will be Moslems and Jews, and some will be Christians. So Mote It Be. Or, as DragonLady likes to say, "Deal with it."
Blessings to you and yours in this wondrous season of light,
Note: These lyrics are from a song by Dar Williams called "The Christians and the Pagans". More of her ballads can be found here: http://www.darwilliams.com
(1) Isaac Bonewits states: "I've spent years trying to come up with appropriate cross-religious terminology to use to refer to particular religious phenomena. 'Fundamentalist' is the best term I've been able to find to use as shorthand for 'ultra-conservative, rigidly dualist, deliberately ignorant, force approving, religious fanatic/extremist.'" And he also notes "The term 'Fundamentalist' has since been extended by the mass media to refer to 'Fundamentalist' Jews, Moslems, and even Hindus. In each case, the inference is that some people refuse to budge from the most conservative version of their faith that is available to them and resist, even to the point of violence, all competing worldviews, including scientific knowledge about the origins of life and of Earth not really being the center of the universe. ...Nontheistic examples would include many Marxists and Secular Humanists, as well as other fervent atheists." (I would include certain self-righteous Pagan mindsets in this definition, and a vast array of political and academic types in both the red and blue states, as well.)
(2) I'm not as forgiving as Hawk. When they made such remarks, they got an earful back from me.
Bio:Sia started on the Earthwise Path in the late 1970's. She is a Priestess in a Green Tradition and the founder of a Pagan charity organization called Full Circle. She has over 25 years experience working with charity and non-profit groups, including 11 years actively working and teaching in the Pagan community in California and 5 years at FCE. She can be reached for comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Note: If you have enjoyed reading this piece, I would ask that you help support the Witches Voice in their efforts to celebrate and support the Pagan community by becoming a Witchvox Sponsor. They rely on our support to keep this non-profit website up and running, so please, do your part to help our community and send them a donation. With thanks, Sia
Artist: Yvonne Gilbert is a well known painter and illustrator of children's books including "Per and the Dala Horse" by Rebecca Hickox, "A Christmas Star Called Hannah" by Vivian French, "Tutankhamun: The Life and Death of a Pharaoh" by David Murdoch and " The Dictionary of Fairies" and "Iron Wolf", both by Richard Adams. Ms. Gilbert lives and works in England. This image comes from one of her annual holiday cards. Depending on your point of view, this lovely piece depicts a Solstice Celebration, a children's parade for St. Lucia's Festival (a Scandinavian holiday) or a procession for the Blessing of the Animals. More of her images can be seen at her homepage:http://www.yvonnegilbert.com/index.html
Definition of Hate Speech: Hate speech is most often defined this way: "Extremely offensive personal insults and characterizations that are directed against an individual's or group's race, religion, ethnic origin, gender, or sexual preference, and which may incite violence, hatred, or discrimination. As such, this variety of hate speech constitutes more than merely the fair airing of information or viewpoints." We wouldn't allow anyone to say "all black people are (negative) " or "all women are (negative) " without calling them on it, now would we? Then let's not do that to other faiths.
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