So there’s something I’ve noted recently. I’m a bit steamed as I write this, so please pardon any upset that I have. And I have a sneaking suspicion this will turn into quite the monster of a ranted post, so I apologize in advance.
This is something that means a lot to me for several reasons. I think it best to start with the situation that’s arisen and why I’m even writing this semi-ranting entry to begin with. I’m going to be blunt, and so I do expect I might rub some people the wrong way. But in a situation like this, with a situation like this, I think being blunt and honest is more important than writing eloquently to avoid upsetting anyone.
I’m part of several different pagan forums, Facebook groups, and I follow blogs, tumblrs and visit websites quite frequently. I’m not always the most active poster in a group, I tend to lurk more than I talk. I like to see/hear others arguments and learn how people think. Not to mention – I’m always the type to think long and hard before I post up anything personal. I think it’s a long-held belief on my part that I’m going to say something wrong if it isn’t well thought out and intentioned. Well, count this post as another in today’s trend of me posting my thoughts without my usual drawn-out thought process.
See, today I’ve noted on several of the sites I follow/visit a disturbing trend:
Which is, I will be honest, one of my number 1 pet peeves. I despise disrespect in all its forms. This disrespect I’ve been seeing today is of a single nature – towards religion. And specifically towards religions that the poster/writer is not a part of.
The focus today: one part was disrespect of Satanism, the other was disrespect to Christianity.
The Satanism disrespect was directed at implying that Satanism is not a valid religious belief. Ah, and tied into the argument was the assumption that Wicca is the only valid pagan religion. I’m sure (read: I’m hoping) the person didn’t mean to imply that, but I have a very sneaking suspicion that they did indeed mean what they implied. The writer insulted Satanists by suggesting that they are without morals or a code of ethics, that they’re all just whiny babies. Now, second part of that, that’s ridiculous. Calling anyone a whiny baby or implying it, is just beyond even considering. I’m focusing on the first part. Satanism does not follow Wiccan morals, that’s true enough. But then again, a lot of paths don’t. To say that Satanists are lacking morals or ethics because they don’t follow the “Wiccan Rede” is both insulting and dumb. And best of all, the person the writer was responding to only said that they had studied Satanism. Not that it was their present-day beliefs, or that it was the full basis of their morals/beliefs/practices. In any case – it doesn’t matter. Satanism is a real religion, whether you agree with it or not.
Judging all pagans by the Wiccan tenants is wrong, false and detrimental to all who identify as pagan. There’s nothing wrong with judging Wiccans by their own tenants, that’s actually expected. But to judge a whole group of people on a tenant that only some follow is wrong. You can be a pagan and not believe in the Wiccan Rede. You can be a pagan and not believe in witchcraft. You can be a pagan and believe in the flying spaghetti monster for all I care. I’m not here to determine others’ beliefs. Each person needs to decide their personal beliefs for themselves. Now, if you’re a pagan and believe in the Wiccan Rede, that’s your choice. If you think it’s total crock – that’s also fine. However, everyone should respect each others’ beliefs. You don’t need to agree, I’m not saying that. But just as you want others to respect your path, you must respect theirs as well.
It’s a two-way street that you can’t just pick and choose at.
That leads me to the second issue: Christian bashing.
Now, there’s a long history involved in this, I know. I might even upset a few people by some of the things I’ll say here. If that happens, then I suppose it’s inevitable. Because I’m very strongly opinionated on this whole issue and I wasn’t raised to let something like this go and just watch it happen.
I was raised in an agnostic-atheist household. I was not raised going to Sunday School or to Mass/service/etc. I grew up reading all the ancient epics, Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid…Epic of Gilgamesh. I read children’s versions of theBook of Mormon and I think the other was the story of Job (eaten by a whale). Borrowed those from friends, though I’m certain their parents were the ones who suggested that my friends give these to me, trying to convert the poor Godless child that I was. That’s irrelevant. I loved reading and learning what other people thought, what other beliefs about the world were.
I’ll be honest – I’m not the most informed on minutiae of the Bible. I’m well aware of the basic tenants of Christianity, and I’m aware of the most popular stories, and I even can recognize the most touted verses, even if I can’t remember what they are myself to tell you (Book X, verse X:X). I cannot tell you every tiny little detail that is written though. I am aware of the stories and beliefs though, due to classes at my university, discussions with friends, and my own research into what the Bible says.
I wasn’t raised to think that any one religion was better than another. I was raised that I should respect all religions and understand that people have different beliefs. This was always fine for me. I loved learning, and people with different beliefs meant I had lots to learn. I’ve been to a Catholic mass, a Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) service, a Lutheran service and an Evangelical service (I must ask pardon that I can’t remember the specific church, it was nearly 10 years ago and at the time it didn’t matter to me). I read about Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism/Taoism, Shinto and even just the folklore of eastern cultures. I’ve always wanted to visit a Buddhist temple, there’s quite a few in my home city, so I will eventually go. I want to understand what others believe, how they think, how they feel about their spirituality. I’m learning more about Islam and Orthodox Christianity, because I know very little about either. Religion is fascinating and I think that by understanding spirituality you understand a lot about individuals and societies.
Perhaps I was lucky. I wasn’t raised in a Christian family, going to church every Sunday. There’s nothing wrong with this, in fact, most of my friends love going to church on Sunday. They love the discussion, learning new ideas from the Bible, the singing and music…they’ve told me quite a lot about what they love. However, I’ve noted a huge trend amongst former-Christian pagans. Not all of them, but a huge majority have bad memories of their times as Christians. Now, I can understand being opposed to the fury, brimstone and fire of Hell by Christian standards. And I know there are very repressive families/beliefs in Christianity, as well as in other religions. I can understand the gut reaction to denounce that when someone finds a religion that they feel comfortable in, more safe with perhaps. There’s nothing wrong with saying why you left a religion. There’s nothing wrong with thinking that your new religion is better. However, no matter what, I believe that religion should be respected. So if you’re a former Christian, now turned pagan, you should not turn to “Christian bashing”.
This is two-fold. One, Christianity as a religion is not to blame for what a person suffered (not in my opinion). And two, Christian bashing is worthless and insulting.
When I say Christianity is not to blame, what I mean is that the religion itself is not the one who frightened a person, set up the framework or caused the bad experiences. The bad experiences come from people. Yes, those people in Christianity are Christians, and they use their religion as their justification for actions, that’s irrefutable. But, Christianity as a religion is actually quite good. They’re even learning now that the modern-day understanding of Christianity may not be fully correct. The problem is the people who are in charge of the religion. Look at the entirety of the Christian Bible. The Church (Catholic and then Luther and others) took out books they didn’t agree with, they rearranged the order, they denied older edicts of the Church or modified them as time went on. Different sects of Christianity all have “the true Bible”, but they have different books at times. The Church had gatherings to determine canons that are not even mentioned in the Bible. Jesus’ divinity à la the Trinity: not mentioned specifically in the Bible. Many of the beliefs that modern-day Christians have stem not only from the Bible, but from folklore and long-held beliefs that come from sources we either no longer have, or that were never written. Oral tradition and folklore are powerful shapers to mythology of any kind. Religion gets modified to suit those in power. King James had the Bible re-translated to suit his needs, and this version is still popular. The Catholic church deliberately chose which books it kept as being “canon”. Luther removed books for his version of the Bible as well.
All of this tells us that the view of Christianity that we have in modern times is the product of political, social and economical pressures and events. The problems with any religion come from the use of people. A religion, a belief system, in my opinion, is not the problem. Problems arise from people and their interpretation of beliefs. Perhaps this is a bit naïve and I’m overly optimistic about religion. I’m fine with that. But Christianity itself, if you follow the actual words of Jesus’ teachings for example, or even some of the commandments, they’re actually quite similar to pagan beliefs. Small wonder. The beginnings of Christianity – Judaism – began in the same region as pagan religions. So the view that all of Christianity exists to destroy, suppress and ruin paganism is wrong.
Being happy with your new-found pagan beliefs after leaving Christianity is fine. Bashing another religion is never acceptable. Pagans often say that they want “respect” and “recognition” for their beliefs. I agree, I want the same things. However, if you’re going to insult, demean, belittle, and bash another religion, I don’t think that you, as a person, deserve respect. I’m a firm believer of the whole idea of “worship as you please”. Meaning, let Christians worship their God, Hellenic pagans worship the Greek pantheon, Roman-pagan Reconstructionists worship the Roman pantheon, Celtic recons the Celtic pantheon, etc etc. I’m a firm believer of people’s spirituality or religion being their own concern. If it doesn’t affect me, then I don’t care. If someone wants to worship J.K. Rowling as a goddess, well then that’s their prerogative and I don’t see any reason to concern myself. It has nothing to do with me. Belief is intensely personal and it should remain that way.
The argument in this whole disrespectful Christian bashing of earlier this morning (by my time, it’s actually an evening conversation of the 4 April by US time zones) was something that really struck at me. The main instigator of the whole bash-session said that Christians killed pagans, tortured them, desecrated and destroyed holy lands that belonged to pagans…and therefore we should all hate them.
Now – true enough that they killed and tortured pagans. But that was centuries ago. Pagans also killed and tortured Christians. Hell, put two people/tribes/groups/nations/whatever that disagree with each other anywhere near each other in history and you’ll have war/strife/battle/death/destruction. So yes, centuries ago Christians did do quite a bit of murdering of pagans. Pagans returned the favor during the same time. Murder and torture are (sadly enough) a part of human history. And if you’re even going to mention the Inquisition (or as some types call it – “the Burning Times”), pretty much those victims were Christian. The people killed for “witchcraft” were loners, outsiders, widows or people who someone had a grudge against. People accused neighbors if a cow died of having killed it with witchcraft. Or if your crops failed – blame the strange old woman across the property. She might have some good land from her dead husband, you accuse her, she’s killed, and you get her land. There were dozens of political, social and economic reasons for the mass killing of people during this time. Besides – hysteria of a few claims leads to more. That happens quite a bit in history.
As for desecration of holy land…well that’s another argument. Conquerors destroy the important places of those they conquer. So, if people A conquer people B, and a temple is important to B as a gathering point, as a rallying point…then yes, people A are going to destroy it. You don’t, if you’re trying to control a new land/people, leave them with a potent place or object to rally around. That’s just good warfare and good military strategy. It’s no different, in terms of wartime, than destroying cities to ensure that your victims are far too busy trying to rebuild their cities for protection or survival in say a cold winter, so that they have no time to plan on trying to kill you for what you did. Survival required in the ancient times that they do things like this, or at least cultural survival. Now, not that this excuses any culture in destroying temples, churches, artifacts, items…but it’s what happened. Historically speaking, it isn’t shocking. Christians did sometimes destroy pagan temples. They also converted them for use. Say a people became Christian, they would either convert their existing temple to a Christian house of worship, because they were presently Christian, or they would rebuild on an existing holy site. It’s stupid to think that the ancient peoples would have left the buildings unused. The spot was good to build a religious building on for a reason, why just let an old temple that no one believes in those gods stand? Better to use it for the present-day beliefs of the tribe. That’s common sense. And to be fair – the pagan tribes destroyed each others temples all the time. They were no better or worse about it than anyone else.
The problem, I think, is that Christianity won out in the western world. It became the largest religion. So of course people focus intense hatred on it, because it’s in power per say. It’s just like how in the States the party in power or with power gets blamed for everything that’s going on, even if they aren’t the main cause. With Christianity – due to some irresponsible writers who perpetrate false history, people who are angry about childhood experiences, and even people who just need something to hate – you have a religion that makes an excellent scapegoat.
Now, what Christians did in the past is reprehensible. But…Caesar massacred the Gauls of France and he was a pagan by modern standards. The Mongol hordes massacred across the steppes and Europe. Tribes across Europe wiped each other out and fought in countless wars. People kill each other regardless of religion. It makes sense to tell the truth. Explain that historically these things happened. Explain that historically the Christians in the Crusades slaughtered thousands, yes. Explain that many empires have slaughtered in the name of religion, as a way to retain power. There’s no denying history, and history must be admitted and explained. But also, understanding context is important. Blaming modern-day Christians for the Crusades, the Inquisition, or even the Christianization of Europe is both wrong and misleading. The Christians alive today had nothing to do with events hundreds of years past. They inherit the same legacy of those events as non-Christians do. We are all living in a world shaped by these events, but none of us caused them. Blaming modern people for what their ancestors did is ridiculous.
Disrespecting a religion due to a time period, cultural context, societal circumstances and understanding, and even religious and cultural beliefs that no longer exist is insulting. It’s insulting to modern Christians, to modern pagans, to modern citizens of the world. We don’t judge the ancient Greeks by today’s morals, we don’t judge modern Italy on what ancient Rome did, we don’t judge modern day Great Britain or Ireland on what the ancient Celts did. No more should we judge modern day Christians on what their predecessors did. No modern person is responsible for the actions of those that are long dead.
The person making this argument against Christians went so far as to say that I was not pagan, because I respect Christianity as a religion. That is what infuriated me perhaps most. Being pagan does not mean hating Christians. I am a pagan and a witch. I was raised to respect everyone’s beliefs. I also firmly believe that people should be held to their personal beliefs, not the beliefs of the whole, or even a part of the whole that someone assumes they should be judged on. To be told that I’m not pagan because I don’t blindly hate a whole religion was both shocking and also eye-opening.
I may not like certain Christians for what they’ve done to me, and believe me I do know a few Christians I seriously dislike, but it’s more than their religion. It’s their personality and their mentality, their belief is just a tiny part of who they are. Hating a whole religion is beyond incomprehensible to me. It goes to the territory of mind-boggling. I refuse to follow the statement that “well Christians hate all of us, so why should we respect them?” Not all Christians hate pagans, some respect us. I suspect that most Christians don’t really care about our beliefs, since they don’t affect the Christian in question personally. And really, so what if a minority don’t like paganism?
Christians have an obligation, according to most churches, to try and convert the unfaithful. That’s another gripe many pagans have. I must admit, the ones who constantly delude me with religious information when I’ve asked them to stop are annoying. However, if a Christian talks to me about God, and asks if I’d thought of joining the church, of finding God, I’m not going to be up in arms immediately. I just thank them for their concern, tell them that I’m not interested in joining the church, I’m happy with my spiritual path, and if they tell me that they will pray for me, I thank them for their thoughts. It isn’t a big deal at the beginning. Now, if a Christian continues to pressure at me, or delude me with materials, sermons, lectures…then I lose patience. But you know what I do then? I walk away. I’ve learned that 9 times out of 10, I ask them to not proselytize and they don’t. I admit that I’m curious and I want to talk about Christianity (which I do want to learn), and I get good discussions. They don’t bother me to convert, but the invitation is extended, that should I wish to visit their church, they’re more than willing to show me around. So I don’t understand the knee-jerk hatred of Christian proselytizing by pagans at times (not all pagans). Many of the pagans – in my observation – who react the strongest to this are the ones who were the biggest Bible-thumpers and pushers of Christianity when they still believed. Quite a few people argue that Christians don’t follow their religion, that they pick and choose. Perhaps they do. But then they get angry when Christians follow one of the teachings/obligations of their church. Proselytizing is a part of most Christian sects, I actually respect the Christians who go about it respectfully. They’re doing as their God wishes, what more can you ask of a worshiper?
So I took offense at the suggestion that I’m no pagan. Christianity is not a bad religion. People have twisted it and used it for ill, but that has happened with all religions at one point or another. I am not a bad pagan for respecting a religion that perhaps many hate. If it’s popular now in pagan circles to hate Christians and to bash on them, well then I’m afraid I’ll always be outside of popularity then. Because I refuse to bash a religion for what individuals do. See, I know that there are intolerant people in every belief. It’s unavoidable with human nature. But I want to break that habit. I want to get along with all beliefs and learn from every religion. So if that means that I’m unpopular with some pagans by respecting Christians and standing up for their right to worship their God as pagans worship theirs, then so be it.
I’m proud to be the person who doesn’t follow stereotypes. I’m proud to be the person who is accepting of all religions. And I’m proud to be a person that feels confident enough to stand up for religious equality, no matter what religions are involved. Because bashing on any religion is unacceptable.∗