I’m a Facebooker, it’s a problem, and I know this. I probably check it ten times a day, usually for just a couple of minutes, but sometimes my sessions run a little longer. I try hard not to be obscene about it, I’m not a “friend collector” randomly friending people just because they happen to be Pagan, but I am up to about 850 “friends.” It’s hard to keep up with all of them, but that number does guarantee that I’ll get to see every important political and religious news story of the day (or last week depending on how often people check their Facebook accounts), along with a very large number of pictures. In addition to the over whelming number of photos from the account of George Takei I also seem to get a lot of photos from atheist sources. Most surprisingly, those atheist photos tend to get posted by people who call themselves Pagans.
I’ve always found the alliance between Pagans and atheists an odd one. Atheists don’t believe in “God” or gods, I believe in millions of gods and goddesses. Yes, it’s true that my political beliefs are generally in agreement with those of many atheists, but they are also in agreement with many Christians, Jews, and Muslims. While Pagans seem to be happily joining atheist groups online (or at least spreading some of their material), there aren’t a whole lot of us posting pictures and articles from Proud Liberal Christian. In many ways, I feel as if I have more in common with liberal Christians than I do atheists, which sometimes seems to bother many of my friends.
I’m a Pagan not because I want to practice spell-work, but because I feel as if it offers me the most direct way to bring deity into my life. Belief in a Goddess and a God (or goddesses and gods) is the foundation of my spirituality, and my spirituality is the guiding force in my life. Take away my Pan and Aphrodite and I’m like a boat without a rudder or a captain, lost and adrift, they are the most important thing in my life. That’s not really all that different from my Christian friends who have made Jesus the most important thing in their lives, and there are often similarities between their faith journeys and my own.
I’m a firm believer in religious tolerance and that (generally) “all paths lead to the center.” While we might not particularly like where some adherents take a particular path (cough, cough, Tea Party, cough, cough), that’s not necessarily the fault of the path. Jesus never preached about capitalism or said a word about abortion for example. So I see Christianity (and Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and several other faiths) as a valid and real form of religious expression. When someone tells me they’ve been “touched by the Holy Spirit” I believe them. If my High Priestess can Draw Down the Goddess, than I also have to believe that Yahweh has the power to make his followers speak in tongues. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with those people speaking in tongues about everything, it just means that I find their religious experience a valid one.
In another life I used to manage a coffee shop and I employed several Evangelical Christians. Listening to their experiences, I was surprised by how much of what they said mirrored my own faith. They talked about a personal relationship with Jesus in the same way I talk about a personal relationship with Pan. While some of them didn’t accept my faith as legitimate (it was either made up or a deception created by Satan), I was able to sympathize with them to some degree and at least understand what their relationship with deity meant to them. Amongst my more open-minded born again employees I was able to find large swaths of common ground, both politically and spiritually, a win for both sides.
I think most atheists are pretty tolerant people; they don’t go out of their way to mock the faith of others, or intentionally try to stir the proverbial pot. Sadly, there are exceptions, and there are people and groups out there who like to make fun of religion. Luckily for us as Pagans, it’s Christianity that tends to get made fun of the most, and those are the types of pictures that come up in my Facebook feed. Some of them are certainly funny, but many of them can be downright mean. When I see some of that stuff I do chuckle, but that laugh tends to end with me remembering that I believe Pan runs through the woods chasing nymphs and having sex with sheep. While my religious convictions are near and dear to me, they can be made fun of just as easily as those of a Christian. We’re just not enough of the national conversation to be a target yet.
Every Holiday Season I get the usual “Mithra is the Reason for the Season” pictures, many of them by atheists (there are even lawn signs), and often shared by Pagans, but are those types of pictures designed to educate or inflame? One of the reasons some atheist groups compare Jesus to ancient pagan figures is to de-legitimize Jesus, it’s not being done as a favor to us, and there are a lot of Pagans who don’t seem to get that. Certainly the majority of atheists don’t care what we do (just like the majority of Christians), but that small and loud segment that can’t find any good in faith, is probably laughing at us just as loudly as they laugh at Christians.
We should certainly stay vigilant as to what the Christian Right is up to, and in that regard we have a lot of common ground with atheists and atheist groups, just think about what you are posting and laughing about. I’m fine with making jokes about the close-mindedness of others, or how certain individuals want to take us back to the Middle Ages when it comes to women’s rights, but be careful about sharing things that ridicule the essence of someone’s spirituality. Also be careful about where the things you share are coming from, it could come from someone who sees your faith as an object of ridicule too.