pjvj (pjvj) wrote,

Christian/Pagan Interfaith Dialogue - reposted with permission from Elf 1/2 aka Elfwreck

This isn't directed at anyone on my f'list. This is about a cluster of blog posts about Christian/Pagan dialogue(s)--Discussion of a recent book, and followup & preceding conversations both supporting and skeptical.

When you get past the wingnuts on both sides (which are loosely categorized as "You demon-worshippers are all going to hell!" and "Never again the Burning Times!!!"--yes, with three exclamantion points; wingnut-pagans, having less academic & historical support, need more punctuation for emphasis), there are a few identifiable camps, with quotes grabbed from posts & comments:
  1. The Christian Peacemakers: "Healthy skepticism is a good thing, but it must be balanced by some openness to the dialogue process," also known as, "let's set aside our differences and talk about how we can live together."
  2. The Christian Universalists: "they believe you are already doing Christian work even if you don’t identify yourself as Christian."
  3. The Pagan Bridge-builders: "It behooves us as conscientious citizens of the same planet to build some bridges and to at least try offering the benefit of the doubt."
  4. The Pagan Skeptics: "any 'dialogue' will look, to my jaundiced eyes, like a prelude to an attempt at conversion."
I'll call these CP, CU, PB, and PS.

#1, The CP group: Is friendly enough, and tolerant, and understanding that Paganism is not an "evil" religion (whether there are any "evil" religions, I leave as a mental exercise for the reader); however, they tend to gloss over their co-religionists' attempts to convert Pagans, and attempts to "grow toward understanding" that really mean "let me get enough info about your religion to compose arguments to convince you it's wrong." After a few encounters with those, many Pagans are unwilling to attempt *any* knowledge-sharing with Christians, and limit their interfaith activity to civil rights efforts--"you don't need to know what our harvest festival is about; the point is that it's legal and you are not permitted to forbid or attend it."

#2, the CU group, is the one that bothers me most. Even more than the "you're all going to Hell" crowd. At least the GTH crowd admits I don't follow their religion; the CUs think I'm "really" one of them. As a Discordian, I am happy to tell them in turn how thrilled Eris is with their efforts, and how She welcomes them as Her devoted desciples. As a witch, I don't like being told I'm so oblivious to the gods I worship and revere, that I don't even recognize which one I'm really paying homage to. Whether or not I am "doing Christ's work" is irrelevant--there are people in the world doing Eris' work (GWB has done more to promote chaos, confusion and strife than most named Discordians), and people doing Kwan Yin's work, and people doing Shiva's work--but they don't call themselves Pagan, and would be insulted if they were told they were "working for Odin whether they recognize it or not."

#3, the PB: Often bug me almost as much as the CU. They should be more parallel the CP; they're also advocating "Let's set aside our differences and address our common goals--living together peaceably and enjoying the diversity of our communities." However, as Pagans, I expect them to be more aware of the inequities of that position. When Pagans and Christians meet to talk, we do not meet as equals. We do not come from similar backgrounds of community support and legal rights. We are not equally free, equally encouraged, to raise our children in the faith of our choice. We ABSOLUTELY are not free to shape our entire lives around our religious devotions, should we so wish... just try sending the kidlets to school on Sunday and keeping them home on the full & new moons. We live in a society that is so overwhelmingy Christian-structured that it's almost invisible--and that inequity must be addressed before we can make useful agreements to "live together" that aren't euphemisms for "Pagans hide themselves so Christian children don't have to know they exist."

#4, the PS: I'm in this camp. I am deeply suspicious at Christian attempts at "dialogue;" I've seen too many of them become thinly-veiled attempts to convert me, or gain tools usable to convert other Pagans. I'm cagy about sharing info about my religious practices to the curious--it's not enough that they want to know; I need to know why they want to know. The witchcraft religions, unlike Christianity, have no mandate to convert--which means they have no inherent need to talk to people outside the religion at all. Christians or agnostics who are curious have no more "right" to information about Pagan faiths than non-Baptists have a "right" to know what it feels like to be baptised by full immersion. The information is not secret--but it's also not freely shared with people whose sole interest is to find fault with it.

However, we do need more dialogue. And not all Christians fall into the three categories (GTH, CP, CU) I've mentioned. However, the others feel no compulsion to seek out Pagans and have discussions with them, so they are much less noticeable. There's a certain irony that the true Christian pluralists may be ignored in the interfaith dialogue community, because, being pluralists, they feel no need to meddle with the workings of other religions.

It is mentioned, from time to time, that there are Pagans who seem to only take the name out of "shock value." That some Pagans have persecution complexes. That they avoid true interfaith dialogue because it would mess up their victim worldview. And this is true... but it's only true because there is real persecution. Only true because Pagan teens are always outnumbered by Christian teens, so that normal teenage rivalry and mockery is always many-on-one. Only true because Christian holidays are BIG and commercially supported, and Pagan holidays only acknowledged at all where they coincide with the Christian ones that borrowed from them. And so on. Paganism draws some who have persecution complexes because there is plenty of real discrimination, and some oppression, to be found in it.

It's fascinating to watch the discussions on Pagan forums, when "persecution" comes up. Teenage girl wears a pentacle the size of a small hubcap, and screams "religious persecution" when asked to remove it at school. In that case, she's an over-emotional teen. However, there's also plenty of cases of teenage girls wearing pentacles the size of dimes, who were asked to remove them at school--and when it comes up on Pagan boards, the responses often include the classic PB, "well, do you need to wear it in public? Can't you tuck it into your shirt?"--as if it were an automatically edgy or defiant act, to wear a symbol of one's religion in public.

Well, it is, in the U.S... if one's religion is not Christianity. It is "flaunting"*

Don't get me wrong; I want interfaith dialogue. I want public schools to be religiously pluralistic, not religiously null, demanding that no religious identifiers may be worn. (At least, by the students. I tend to think teachers should not show affiliations to a particularly philosophy or religious group--but I don't support banning pentacles on teachers, because I know how common crosses are, and that they're not likely to be banned anytime soon.) I want people to be able to casually mention taking Aug 2nd off from work, the same as some people take Good Friday off. I want the word "priestess" to be taken as seriously as the word "priest"--even if some priestesses are shrill, egotistical idiots, and even if some priests are pedophilic rapists. I want the criminal and bigoted and ignorant members of all clergy to be seen as personal failures, not as representatives of the pinnacle of their religion. I want Pagan non-clergy to be free to say "I don't really know much about it; I'm still learning" without being barraged by questions or told that their religion is "really just like Christianity" of some sect or another. (Or "isn't that a Buddhist thing?")

*Flaunting: The same accusation thrown at lesbian & gay couples who show affection in public, even if the affection would be unnoticed were it a mixed-gender couple. There are strong parallels in this struggle to the LGBT rights struggles, and some parallels to racial civil rights struggles. I don't have the awareness or information to write about those, but I'm aware they exist--this is not an isolated case of discrimination against "those weirdos and their freaky religion" but part of the greater pattern of discrimination & oppression of all groups that don't fit the majority mold, all individuals whose first identity is not one of location (American, Californian) but one of personal import or culural heritage. And I believe that pattern must be acknowledged, and its issues addressed, before any true interfaith dialogue can happen. And by "addressed," I don't mean "100% fixed." But they can't be wished into non-existance for the sake of good discussion--they are part of the foundation on which good discussions will build.
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