Our happily remarried ex’s: Teo Bishop and Pagan spite

Quick!  Think back 6 months or a year ago.  Think about the Teo Bishop you knew and loved then.  Don’t think about Teo in the present, in context of the Christo-controversy.  Stay with the Pagan Teo of 6 or 12 months ago.  Now think of three qualities you loved about Teo then.  Here’s mine: Teo is wise.  Teo is kind.  Teo is brave.

Now come back to the present, where Teo is calling himself Christian.  Think about Teo bringing those qualities to Christianity.  Think about how Teo might, in some small way, make Christianity better by joining himself to it.  Think about how Christianity, the Christianity that may have hurt you in the past, might be made better because of Teo’s change of heart.  If you’re anything like me, you feel two conflicting impulses:  The generous part of me is happy for Christianity.  But there is a spiteful part of me that still hopes that Christianity rots in hell.

Actually, personally, I don’t have any issues with Teo’s rapprochement with Christianity.  But before I start patting myself on the back for being so open-minded, I have a confession: If Teo were joining the Mormon church … well, I would probably feel a little stronger about it.  That is obviously because I used to be Mormon.  And while Mormons are a kind of Christian, the specific form of Christianity that Teo is moving towards is not part of my pre-Pagan past.  Which is why I can be so even-keeled about Teo’s “transition” (his word) to Christianity.

If you’re like me, then there’s a part of you that sees your former religion (probably Christianity) kind of like an ex-spouse or ex-lover who you separated from acrimoniously.  Seeing Teo go back to Christianity is like seeing an attractive, fun, and intelligent person marry your ex-spouse.  Naturally, you hate them both.  Actually, watching Teo’s transition is more like losing a current lover and then watching your two ex-lovers hook up.  Double whammy!  (Of course, I don’t think Teo is quite re-married to Christianity yet.  It’s more like they’re dating seriously with an eye toward marriage.)

Anyway, I’m saying “you” here, but I’m really talking about myself.  I felt it a few times recently when the Mormon church made some baby steps forward in terms of greater gender equality (letting a woman pray publicly at the semi-annual conference), recognizing gay rights (apologizing for the hurt caused by Prop 8), and owning up to its history (admitting that the exclusion of Blacks from the priesthood was not inspired by God).  How did I, a former Mormon, feel about this?  To be honest, part of me was pissed.  It was a part of me that I am not proud of, but I was a little pissed.  Part of me wanted to see the Mormon church stay the same, so that I could continue to feel justified for having left it.

Wow!  Right?  I mean, first of all, these were very small steps forward.  Second, do I really need Mormonism to stay wrong so I can be right?  Apparently, part of me does.  And so, when the Mormon church took a small step backward in gender equality recently, when it parked a garbage truck in front of the Salt Lake Tabernacle to keep the women out of the priesthood meeting … well, I was not entirely surprised to discover that I felt just a little bit of spiteful joy.  Again, I’m not proud.  And I hope to move beyond it.  I just wonder if some of the animus which has been expressed toward Teo is a little like this.  Maybe recognizing it as such will help us as a community move beyond it.

Personally, I wish Teo the best of luck with his new religion, I hope we can still be friends, and I hope he visits when he’s in town.

 

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  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    Unfortunately, sectarian bigotry against Christianity is widespread and socially acceptable in the pagan community. Thus, people can flip out about this without even realizing they are doing the same thing they don’t want others to do to them.

    • Daniel FitzGerald

      What I think makes Teo’s experience different from that of many (most?) Pagans is that he had a positive experience as a Christian before he became a Pagan. This is probably what opened up the door for him to come back to Christianity. And it wasn’t that Paganism wasn’t for him… in my reading of BiTG, I come away with the impression of a polytheist that realized whom his Gods were, and they belonged to the Christian pantheon. Now if my previous sentence was in reference to any “Pagan Friendly” path (ie: Celtic, Norse, Egyptian, Cannanite, etc.), most Pagans wouldn’t blink an eye. But because so many Pagans are bringing with them bad baggage from Christianity (whether they actually grew up in a creepy Dominist church, or whether they’re just a victim of the culture wars in the USA), Teo going back to Christianity stings more than just a little to them.

      Now consider me as an example… I was very happy with the Christianity I came from, my upbringing being from a liberal United Methodist Church in the shadow of New York City. I liked the institution, God and Jesus, the liturgy, the people. At the end of the day, I left Christianity for two reasons: (1) the culture wars left a really nasty taste in my mouth, and (2) I could not get behind the idea of the Gospel as literal truth. So when Teo writes about becoming Christian, I don’t have a problem. But when he starts talking about the Gospels, I grimace and shiver a little inside.

      So from one hard polytheist to another, I wish Teo good luck on his journey, and I look forward to the continued interaction I anticipate him having with the Pagan community once all of this bruhaha has died down, and anticipate him becoming a calming and introspective voice for liberal Christianity.

      Now, as to the comments dismissing the Pagan community’s former embrace of Teo as being related to his percieved fame, I would like to briefly remind everybody that Teo Bishop became a Big Name Pagan well before he came out as being real world famous as well.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

        If you’re right and Teo is a Christian polytheist or polytheistic Christian, then it will be interesting how that develops.

        • Daniel FitzGerald

          I definitely came across with the impression of a man who has met the Gods, and that his Diety just happens to be the God of Abraham. If I perceived this right, it would be no different from myself, who feel that the God of Abraham is just as valid as any other Diety, but feel called in other directions.

  • Nimue Brown

    That’s a brave post. It is probably because I never really was anything but a Pagan, that I feel very relaxed about other people going to and from Christianity. About the only time its bothered me was when some friends were trending back towards Christianity and I just didn’t want to lose them from stuff we were then doing. But that’s personal. If we feel comfortable in our own beliefs, whatever they are, then we don’t need the validation of anyone else agreeing, or being helpfully wrong. Not being easy in our beliefs can actually be a good thing, and a prompt to growth, but only if we own it.

  • yewtree

    Excellent post – I think you have described the motivation for complaining about this very well.

    I especially like this bit “Think about how Teo might, in some small way, make Christianity better by joining himself to it. Think about how Christianity, the Christianity that may have hurt you in the past, might be made better because of Teo’s change of heart.”

    Well, absolutely. Look what happened when Carl McColman went back to Christianity. He carried on writing positive stuff about Paganism.

    Similarly, when we have traffic the other way (like vicar Mark Townsend hanging out with Pagans), the results are awesome.

  • kenofken

    I don’t have a problem with Teo’s departure/return to Christianity. I have a problem with our community’s unending carrying on like we lost some sort of St. Peter or Moses figure by his leaving. He was just a guy. He spent some time exploring and had some interesting things to say, but I don’t feel like we lost a “pagan’s pagan.” He spent much of his time and ink carping about how paganism wasn’t becoming the progressive church he always wanted. If he goes on to Mormonism, or Catholicism or UUA or some snake handling outfit in the Ozarks, that’s between him and them.

    • happydog

      I agree with you completely. Teo seems like a pretty good guy. But he became a Pagan celebrity way too fast for reasons I can’t comprehend. This is just my opinion, but I wasn’t impressed by his writing and never saw what the big deal was. I don’t understand the to-do over his deciding to go back to Christianity.

      • Gaddy

        I think it’s because there is a segment of the Pagan population that wants to be validated, in a mainstream way, by association with “celebrity culture”.

        Just think about how ballistic the Pagan blog-o-sphere would go if, for example, Jennifer Lawrence came out of the broom closet as an Alexandrian Wiccan….. Now consider how non-plussed those same internet folks would be if a random, beautiful, smart, charismatic and specifically non-famous 23 year old woman declared herself Wiccan on her new Blogger Acct?

        Imagine how long it could take this hypothetical woman to gain any traction on the strength of her spiritual writings and ritual acuity alone? Whereas Ms. Lawrence would only have to say the words: “I’m Wiccan, everybody!”

        Mr. Bishop wrote songs that some famous people sang, thereby giving him a genuine connection to a world that many people “worship” just as strongly as any gods. Is it any wonder that celebrity-culture, identity-seeking, people immediately put him on a pedestal of projected expectations that he had no chance of living up to?

        • kenofken

          I get why it happened in that sense. I just can’t buy into it myself, and believe we will find ourselves very ill-served as a community to the extent that we embrace “celebrity” as a primary criteria for our leaders and luminaries.

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    Well said. I’d add, too, that it’s a well-known problem amongst those who’ve been in abusive relationships to internalize blame for a long time after the end, wondering how much of it may have been actually our fault.

    Enough of us have had abusive relationships with the christianities to perhaps find ourselves wondering, occasionally and unwillingly, if the problem was actually some internal fault of ours to accept and embrace the all-encompassing “love” from which we fled for our lives and sanity.

  • ericjdev

    Going back to Mormonism wouldn’t represent a step forward for me spiritually but I’m sure it could for someone else, so I’m inclined to respect the path even if it’s not the one for me. As long as Teo is happy then i’m good, I still follow what he writes, i don’t find myself assigning it a lesser or greater value. I say this as a poly who includes Christ in his worship practice and doesn’t have a lot of the bitter dogmatic anti-Christian views that makes this collection of communities so charming. When I was a young Pagan I remember seeing a picture of a hill with all these paths leading to the top and each path marked by symbols for different dieties and different faiths(it was a trump in some obscure tarot deck). I don’t care what path he takes, I just hope he gets to the top. I saw this same clannish weirdness when an athiest blogger went catholic last year, like it somehow lessens my group if someone leaves it for another, it’s just nonsense to me.

  • Ambaa

    I am so inspired by the honesty of this post!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thank you!

  • 12StepWitch

    “But there is a spiteful part of me that still hopes that Christianity rots in hell.”

    This made me literally laugh out loud, even though I totally don’t feel this way at all, it was just so honest.

    • kenofken

      They don’t need any external hell. The self-loathing and guilt and sexual hang ups they cultivate for themselves are punishment enough!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

        Yes, been there, done that.

  • Vega

    I think we put up a lot of dividing lines that don’t need to really be there. Teo is the same awesome guy no matter what words he uses to call himself.

  • Natalie Reed

    Anyone who read Teo’s blog for any length of time likely saw this coming at some point. He has been a rather “reluctant” pagan all along. I have wondered if somehow the Pope’s softening of rhetoric did not contribute, and if so and it helps some find comfort, I am glad. It is a bit startling when someone goes to the trouble of starting a whole new community (The Solitary Druid Fellowship), and then promptly hands it off, and then turns around and makes a major change in their belief structure almost overnight. It’s fine, it’s his path, and as long as he doesn’t go around pagan-bashing, I matters not to me. But I think it is the suddenness that is bothering people, not that we have lost a treasured elder of some sort. He’s just a guy who writes a blog and made a website for solitary Druids. Now if Starhawk suddenly converts, well, that would be a different story.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I agree. Although I’m a bit of a “reluctant” Pagan myself. I know a lot of reluctant Pagans. I’m a reluctant UU and a reluctant Democrat too.

  • Courtney

    John – this really has nothing to do with the topic at hand, since I don’t have any stake in it. But it’s cold here and I’m in the mood for my favorite holiday already -despite not having considered myself a Christian for half my life, there’s just something spiritual about even the secular mythology of Christmas to me. I was wondering, have you ever written about “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”? I couldn’t think of a more concise and eloquent expression of the power and reality of archetypes. And thus I can say that I “believe” in Santa Claus! Just a suggestion for a December post. :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks! Yes, I feel the same. Christmas is my favorite Pagan holiday. :).

      There will be a post at HumanisticPaganism.com on Dec 25 titled “Yes, Virginia, I’m a Pagan Atheist” by Rhett Aultman.

      • Courtney

        Excellent! I look forward to it!

    • JasonMankey

      Most of Christmas is Pagan. Holly, mistletoe, the tree, gift giving, even Santa himself. Christmas is only nominally a Christian holiday.

      • Courtney

        Yeah, growing up in an area where you were pretty much very Christian or “loosely Christian”, all of that stuff was classed as secular and sometimes even reviled. But I’ve always been called to it. As it’s only recently I’ve become interested in Paganism and its many meanings, this December I want to look into the history behind the traditions I’ve always just taken for granted.

        To be fair, while normally Christianity more or less turns me off, I do find the Christmas story to be really touching and even spiritually moving. I’m thrilled by the idea of a young, confused, and cold mother giving birth to a tiny child who will save the world, and of humble shepherds being the first to learn of his presence. It’s a wonderful story, and I find myself especially moved to hear it through music (Silent Night being my favorite Christmas song).

  • Shalanie White

    The mormon church still has a long way to accepting women. When I was mormon i felt completely useless. With my husbands siblings, there was at least one baby being born each year. Heck one year three of his siblings were expecting. I was just learning to cook, made the money (and was head of household) and I’m partially infertile. I was so depressed that I couldn’t fit the cookie cutter mold. It is like an abusive boyfriend.

    • John Halstead

      The kind that is really nice afterward and then goes back to doing the same thing

  • rarey4

    Speaking of spite have you noticed how you assume that Christianity needs to be improved?

    Not every denomination is Mormon.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Oh, you have found the perfect Christian denomination that does not need any improvement? Congratulations.

      • rarey4

        Oh so your a mod too?

        No wonder you feel fine posting such a flawed article.


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