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  • Guest Editorial: Pagans and Christians

    by Lisa Spiral Besnett

    As I look over the American Neo-Pagan population, at least those that attend large public events, I am struck by a number of interesting observations. Most Pagans acknowledge that any spiritual practice that works for an individual is valid. Many Pagans with Jewish families of origin identify as ‘Jewitches’. Pagans with Christian families of origin tend to consider themselves as ‘recovering’ from their Christian roots.  Pagan of course being defined by Christians as anything that isn’t Christian does not help this dilemma.

    This deep seated resentment of Christianity in the Pagan culture rears it’s ugly head in many unproductive ways. The most common theme of resentment appears in the form of Christian bashing. Christianity is a multifaceted and varied religious practice.  Pagans can often be found lumping all of Christianity into a group represented only by the narrowest, most evangelical, most anti-anything that isn’t them form of Christian practice. It’s almost as though Christians were represented by the Klu Klux Klan or more accurately as if the newest, loudest, popular, rich, televangelist was speaking for all of Christianity. We know this isn’t true intellectually, but our language does not always reflect this as we generalize about the “horrors” of Christianity.

    Even Christians are not all in agreement about who is or isn’t “really” a Christian.  Mormans, Catholics, and Jahovah’s Witnesses all fall into the questionable category for some other sects of Christianity. Unitarian Universalists are sort of considered Christian and many of their members are Christian identified but their charter does not restrict their members to Christian study. In fact not all UU members consider themselves to be Christians. Other than the Christian identifying language there is very little philosophical difference between many new age thinkers (look at Matthew Fox the ecumenical minister) and many Pagans.

    Much of the resentment/recovery issue many Pagans face is because we have been rejected by our Christian families and church communities because of our beliefs. It is interesting to note that a large number of Pagans studied Christianity deeply looking for ways to make what was in their hearts fit in with what their families professed. Part of the weaponry of Christian bashing comes from experiencing rejection by a Christian who does not know enough about their own religion to justify their position. Many of us have found that we can expound on Christian belief, philosophy and Biblical text more fluently than the average Christian we meet.

    We talk about finding Paganism and feeling as though we’ve come home. We’ve always had the beliefs and feelings in our hearts that define our spirituality. We have been repeatedly rejected by the spiritual systems we were raised in, in spite of our efforts to frame our personal beliefs within those systems. Then we find a group of Pagans and Christians people with similar experiences who accepts that we are spiritual beings regardless.

    Of course it feels like we have come home. We probably have this experience more in common than any actual spirituality or practice. (Ask 3 Pagans what they think about something and they’ll give you 4 different answers.) That shared experience of Christian rejection binds us.  The Native American spiritual movement seems to have finally come to terms with this issue. They as a community have found a way to identify as Christian in the larger culture while practicing a “cultural spirituality” that is derived from their pagan roots.

    This is also the basis for the ‘Jewitch’, a cultural identity with a spiritual component that can not be denied. Unfortunately, most white American Pagans only have the Christianity they were raised in to define their cultural identity. I believe the rise in Celtic Paganism and Heathenism is due to a desire to reach for, or build up, a foundational cultural spirituality acceptable in the mainstream world.

    This issue is exaggerated when the accepted cultural spiritual identity is not an accurate expression of the Paganism being practiced. We are beginning to see Black Pagans writing about this experience. (www.patheos.com/blogs/daughtersofeve/) Black Pagans find great acceptance in practicing Vodun, or Youruba but are looked at askance when they identify more strongly with the Greek or Celtic or Norse Pantheons.  We as a culture are still in denial of the European heritage of most American Blacks.  Slave owners got around, and the European Culture is a strong part of the American identity.

    Pagans carry their own prejudices. Often Black Pagans attending events are avoided on the assumption that they are Christian infiltrators. Most Pagans will agree that the Bible is a valid mythological text. Yet, heaven help the Pagan who wants to work with Jesus and Lilith in their circles. We even avoid the word God because it so strongly evokes the Christian ‘One God’ authority. We will clarify, ‘the God Pan’; we will broaden the scope ‘Gods’; and we will unite ‘God and Goddess’. Rarely in our dialog does the word God stand alone, and usually when it does we are Christian bashing again.

    As Spiritual practitioners we have an obligation to call upon compassion rather than judgement. This includes expressing compassion for ourselves. In order to heal our own hearts we must find a way to embrace the whole of our Spiritual selves regardless of how others choose to define us. I was baptized in the Catholic Church, that’s for life. I was born again upon the altar of Jesus Christ, and continue to admire His compassionate teachings.

    I am a Witch, a Pagan, a Mystic an Occult practitioner, Spiritual Mentor, Teacher and Pagans and Christians Healer. Unless I’m trying to join your church community why is this a problem? Unless you are trying to make me join your church community why is this a problem? If we as Pagans believe in the sacredness of all things and the presence of the Divine within each being what do we have to ‘recover’ from?

    I would very much like to see our community open their hearts on this issue. I believe it is only through compassionate spiritual practice that we will find our way to wholeness. As frustrating as interactions with Christians may be, I will endeavor not to generalize the practices of a few across the scope of an entire religion. I hope I have convinced you to do the same.

    Lisa Spiral Besnett has been Pagan identified for over 35 years. She has been active in the Twin Cities Pagan community and in the Blue Star tradition. Over the years she has presented workshops at PSG, Avalon, Heartland, Sacred Harvest Fest, Pagan Pride and the Women and Spirituality Conference. She has served on the board of Northern Dawn COG, Earth Conclave, WicCoM and The New Alexandria Library. She writes a weekly blog on spirituality in daily life at lisaspiral.wordpress.com.

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    13 Responses

    1. I come from a Catholic/ Luthran start. Also born again, and yes also from the Blue Star tradition. I agree compleatly with Lisa. We as Pagans some have not been up holding something we are taught to do….to see the God and Goddess in everyone. This saddens me.
      I look at the Christian holidays …I see something very closely related to our Pagan ones. We have to remember that Deity is Deity …. we all call apon aspects of Deity for support and guidance. We also live our lives to be happy and healthy in our lives and community what ever community we live in. We are not all that different if you just look.
      Yes there are those that bash. All I can say to them is..
      What are you trying to prove? Your spiritual life is for your heart and soul connection to deity. Treat others and your self with respect.

    2. I like this editorial and have often been troubled by Christian bashing, yet have done it myself from time to time. When I do see it, I often take it as a time to look at myself or others and ask why do we do this.

      That being said I think we do need to look at a difference between bashing and criticism/critiquing practices, attitudes, actions of anyone of any religion. For an example, I’ve heard it said if one criticizes someone who is Jewish, a Jewish practice, or actions of the nation Isreal, they will be accused of anti-semitism. The thing is actions and teachings of any religion that could be harmful to anyone’s well being or the earth’s well being should be looked at and debated, but while one debates be sure to look inward at your own attitudes, prejudices, fears and wounds.

      Wounds and fear is I think the one of the main reasons bashing happens. In my experience of myself, when I started on the new path of paganism, I had alot of anger toward my Christian path. Some was over injustices monotheistic religions have done to people over the centuries, the rest my personal stuff. I also think that when one begins a new path there is an emotional and even intellectual rejection of the past to embrace the new. Also there is an establishment of the new identity amongst family members who are Christian, who will often do everything they can to get you back into the fold. All I can say is when I questioned my old path, and forged a new one, it was a very painful, turbulent time. The worst of the turbulence was within myself years before I began to explore earth centered religions (Paganism). However, it was my new path that made me realize I could not hold on to my anger, fear and wounds if I wanted to practice Paganism fully and ethically. Fast forward several years, and attending UU, where one follows not a Christian crede but one that honors all paths and the freedom to search for truth and meaning, I was able to separate the grain from the chaffe, so to speak, and keep what is valuable spiritually in all the paths I’ve explored. It was my personal pagan path, learning about the old Gods and Goddess, different names but similar stories, that helped me feel we are all One, all heading in a similar direction.

      The saddest thing we need to remember is that while there are many beautiful people in monotheistic religions who are open to peace and working together, the main core belief is that Christianity and Islam (not sure where Judaism stands these days) teach they are the only right way, the only Truth and they worship a god who has stated “I’m the only true god and jealous and warlike to boot and anyone who doesn’t follow me will be severly punished” In otherwords, that god does not like to play nice with others. Dealing with that kind of teaching is hard because you often can’t convince someone who feels your soul is in danger, that you’re happy, living a good life and will be ok when you pass. How does one deal with someone who is convinced they are right and you are wrong?

      On the other foot, Paganism can be a very individualistic practice and there are some who also struggle to play nice with others. There is a thread of Pagan fundamentalism out there as well. Pagans who are convinced the monotheistic spiritualists are unenlightened or wrong and one must throw out the baby (good teachings) with the bath water(destructive teachings). In my opinion this is where egotism comes into play or more of wounds and rejection rearing it’s head. I have experienced some pagans being uncomfortable with my imalgamation of teachings and my ways to make peace and gain value from my past.

      Either way fundamentalism of any kind, in my opinion is destructive to both the individual and the world.

      How can we fix this or have bashing happen less often? My thought is look deeply at yourself, your wounds, fears, prejudices, attitudes of ego. Before you act on the emotion like anger, if you can before you act, ask why it’s there. That may make the difference between constructively criticizing someone or bashing someone-proactive vs reactive.

      • I think you make a good point about how a lot of the bashing comes from wounds and fear. It took me a long time to get past that part and the loss of people I thought were my friends when I came out of the “broom closet” to them. Some people embraced my change of faith and saw how much happier I was in day to day life and others turned the backs on me completely. This built up a lot of resentment for me for many years before I finally let it go.

    3. As a metaphysical Christian myself, I think that it’s worth noting that Christians, like pagans, come in a wide range of tolerance or intolerance. Unfortunately, its the loud and nasty ones that tend to make the biggest impression and be most visible.

      I think its worth noting that not all Christians are here to play “I’m right-you’re wrong” games, or try to convert or reject pagans or other people of faiths different than our own. Just ask my pagan husband, or my father the Christian pastor who married us.

      Bigotry comes in all flavors. We won’t get past that, until we can see past the labels to the people behind them….

      Catherine
      Foresight

    4. A much-needed think-piece. I have heard plenty of such bashing, and I should search my own heart to examine whether I have participated in it. Thank you for your thought-provoking essay.

    5. If Pagans believe in the 3-Fold Law, IMHO, bashing would be returned 3 fold.

      I realized I was one of the bashers a while back and the karma/3fold return and made a point to not do it.

      Sometimes it is hard to not lump a person claiming to speak for an entire group into that entire group.

    6. Been there and done that. Even though I was never Christian, religion not being part of home, I had a lot of bad feelings toward Christianity for other reasons. I have overcome it. If I do get in an argument with a Christian it will be about what they are doing to me, and not about their religion. After all attack the religion and you give them the excuse to talk about it all the more. However if you avoid arguing about their religion itself and only deal with how they are trying to convert your after you have said you are not interested, that frustrates them to no end.

      There are bad people in all religions, our own included, but those people would be bad in any religion or as Atheists. Bashing another religion just gives the excuse to have yours bashed in return. It is a ugly event, no matter who is doing it Pagan, Christian or what have you. It is not as if you are going to convince anyone, not even so called facts change opinion once entrenched, so why bother, why are you really doing it?

    7. Thank you for this Lisa! I can’t tell you how upsetting it was on the story about Grace’s necklace how so many people were resorting to Christian Bashing. If we aim for tolerance and acceptance, that means tolerance and acceptance of Christianity as well.

      It always saddens me when people do not truly espouse for others what they want for themselves in this community.

    8. Very well-written article. I myself have positive relationships with everyday Christians, inclusive people not looking for a soapbox. We all need to recognize each day and experience is a learning/teachable moment and to practice what we want around us. Love will beget love only when that is the talk we talk.

    9. I know this is an old post, but, an excellent post. I get sick of the Christian bashing (or, in some cases, Muslim bashing) I see in the Pagan community. Sometimes it makes me not want to identify as Pagan anymore (and, do something like Anne Rice did – renounce the name, but, keep the content).

      I know not all Pagans do this, and I’m fortunate I found a forum with very amazing Pagans who certainly do not bash Christians/Christianity or Islam or any religion, maybe critique certain aspects (as well as critiquing others as well), but, never bashing.

      To me, bashing someone or their religion just says more about the mindset of the basher than anything. It says a lot about their character (or lack of it), their minds, etc.

      I tend to think that those Pagans who attack Christianity/Islam, or whatever, and those Christian fundamentalists and Islamic extremists tend to have a similar mindset, they might not say the same things, or even do the same things, but, their motives are the same – spread hurt, big themselves up at the expense of others, promote their own Paths, etc. In essence, whatever names they use for their God(s), they essentially worship their own Egos.

    10. Thank you for raising this important topic. As a (different) Evangelical, I have worked as a scholar in Pagan studies, and have worked in interreligious dialogue. Some of my best relationships are with Pagans, and I am pleased to be the editor of the book Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (Lion, 2009), which brought together a Christian i Australia, Philip Johnson, and a Pagan in America, Gus diZerega, for civil discussion of our differences. As the Custodian of the Evangelical chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, I am working with members of the Pagan community to hopefully establish a Pagan chapter. Thanks again for raising this issue so that we might work through our long and unfortunate history of hostility.

    11. I think this is a wonderful article and a refreshingly candid assessment of something that has been worrisome to me as well. I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist, while living among many Jews and Catholics.. I visited many churches and experienced God/Spirit in a miriad of places and environments. When i joined a pagan community, in many ways it felt natural and organic, but I was always bothered by the christian bashing. As a UU, I was familiar with those who were refugees from Judaism and Catholicism, but I never found the animosity in that world that I noticed in certain pagans. When I began dating the woman who became my wife, she would attend rituals and gatherings with me and, as a lifelong Catholic, was offended by some of the anti-Catholic rhetoric. She would often point out that, as supposedly enlightened and open minded people, pagans should be the last to pass judgement on others – especially if they don’t really understand other traditions. I subsequently spend years involved in the local Catholic church as was pleasantly surprised to find it one of the most open minded and intellectually based religious environments I had encountered.
      It is natural for those who feel that they have been reborn by their faith community to want to evangelize – but it should be in an inclusive manner, rather than passing judgement on others.. I’m just saying..

    12. As someone whose family coined the phrase “Buddeo-Christian with Shamanic leanings” for, I empathise with both sides of this issue. I can completely understand the negative reaction I get sometimes when I state that I ID as “Christian”. I tend to lead with the Buddhist and Shamanic stuff first, to ease people who are not Christian into the understanding that I am NOT there to judge or “evangelize”. But, considering what extreme right wing fundamentalists are trying to ram down *all* of our throats by way of legislation, and considering that there are people who have been shunned by their families for the “crime” of being not the families approved flavor of “Christian” (which, as I see it, is a WHOLLY un-Christian act), I can more than understand the anger and resentment many non-Christians feel towards all things Christian. So, as someone who not only participates in a large Pagan gathering that is held once a year, but is one of the people who helps to organize it, I have learned to let others get to know me first, and then, introduce my faith later on, *if* the person is curious and asks.

      In other words, those Christians out in the world who are not here to judge, or foist our spiritual notions off onto the world, understand. Honestly? Most of *us* feel fairly similarly judged and rejected by the extremists who want to claim sole ownership of our faith. And, if we are actually practicing our faith based on the words of Jesus himself, then we will not only understand, but be gentle, loving, and supportive of those who have been maligned, belittled, rejected, and tossed aside like refuse by those who claim to be Christian, but who have obviously missed the real message in the entire. “Love your brothers as yourself”.

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