Last night, after our Full Moon ritual, I wound up in a conversation with a Wiccan Priest about Christo-Pagans.
“Those two things are mutually exclusive,” he said adamantly.
Something about his tone drew me in. I’m not a conflict junkie, but I felt like this was territory I should explore.
The ritual, which he had partly officiated, was focussed on the idea of being “in balance” or “out of balance,” with an emphasis placed on communication. This opportunity to explore how some people bring elements of Christian and Pagan spirituality into balance within themselves felt like an appropriate extension of our rite.
[A disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be a "Christo-Pagan," but I did spend the early part of my life and much of my late teens and early twenties identifying as a Christian. I don't feel any trauma around that. Some of the most important spiritual experiences of my life took place in the safety and familiarity of an Episcopal worship service, even if at the time I couldn't align with the beliefs laid out in the creeds or doctrines. There is a line of continuity which runs from my early experiences as an acolyte all the way to this morning's ADF-styled ritual before my very pagan altar, and I'm ok with the existence of that line. I'm not a Pagan who feels he must make a clean break with his past. In truth, I believe that one never makes that sort of clean break; the past is always with us.]
The conversation rose steadily in tone and intensity, but it did not become hateful or mean. At least, I didn’t feel any meanness directed my way. Christians, on the other hand… well, it was probably good that there were none of them with us in the courtyard.
“Christian” was, for my Wiccan friend, synonymous with Christian Institution, or Christian Doctrine, or any number of Christian atrocities that have been dealt out over the centuries. The terms, for him, seemed to be inseparable.
This troubled me.
An unwillingness to see any distinction between the damage done by the Christian Empire and the revelatory, mystical experiences of a Christian sage seems intellectually weak to me. I wouldn’t want my Druid traditions to be painted over in such broad and careless brush strokes.
There is talk in Pagan circles about the decline of Christianity, the role of Christians in Western society (some pointing out rightly that Christians have little room to claim “minority” or “victim” status in America), not to mention the responsibility that some would say that modern Pagans have to resist the influence of Abrahamic traditions at all costs. I’ve heard a few of my Pagan kin even using war language to describe how Pagans should approach Christians.
We are in a battle, they affirm. Take up your spiritual arms.
This, too, troubles me.
In the conversation, I tried to justify and defend the validity of a person finding spiritual sustenance from both Christian and Pagan traditions. I was seeking to have a discussion about the inner realms and their inherent mystery. It does seem paradoxical that a person could find a way to identify as both Pagan and Christian. But, paradox aside, these people exist.
The more we spoke, the more it became clear that my friend wasn’t having a conversation with me about anything spiritual. We weren’t two mystics talking about the Invisible, or the Mystery, or the Divine in any of It’s manifestations. I was reaching for that place, but he was talking to me about the social and the political components of religion, and very little else.
There are plenty of reasonable arguments against Christianity’s dominance in the social and political landscape. Any religion that claims itself to be the sole authority on all-things-spiritual, or that it is the only “True Religion,” is dangerous. Pagans have cause to be on alert about the growing movement of politically backed, hard-core fundamentalist, far right-wing Christians making inroads into office. One of them could end up in the White House before long, and that would mean bad things for American Pagans.
But again, I wasn’t making those arguments, or countering them. I was just suggesting that it would be a mistake for us to dismiss the spiritual experiences of any person — even a Christian.
I may turn out to be a Unitarian Universalist before it’s all said and done. A movement that is built around the principal that all of our spiritual traditions have validity, and that none of us can claim supremacy over the other, speaks to me.
I should be able to explore the ways that my study of Druidry and Paganism through OBOD and ADF have informed my perspective about Deity, Nature, and our interconnectedness without shutting myself off to the ways that Christianity informed my attitudes toward charity, love, and forgiveness.
I worry that Pagans, in our quest to gain equal footing in society, will employ some of the same exclusionary techniques and tactics used against us by the fundi-Christians. I see us speaking out defensively, and I don’t think we can have constructive dialogue with people of other faith traditions when taking that approach.
Of course, there are some in our midst who have no desire for dialogue; some who would have monotheism wiped out completely if they had the power to do so. In my opinion, this is reckless and shortsighted thinking, and it adds nothing to the movement towards a truly pluralistic society.
The victims can become the victimizers, if given the power and opportunity. I feel we must avoid making that mistake.
I recognize that this is a hot-button issue for many Pagans. Please know that I have respect for those of you who feel that you’ve been damaged by Christians, or the Christian Church. I’m in no way invalidating your experience.
I am, however, hoping that you might engage with me, perhaps in the comment section, about what this subject looks like from your perspective. I ask that you be as respectful as you can of the thoughts and opinions of others, and that you feel free to be open and honest about your concerns.
I look forward to reading what you have to say, and if you feel this post was worth reading please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.