Yesterday at the Lay-Cistercians gathering a friend of mine gave me a flyer for an event coming up in a couple of weeks featuring Moira Noonan, who wrote a book called Ransomed from Darkness: The New Age, Christian Faith, and the Battle for Souls. I’m familiar with the book: a woman who had been praying for my soul ever since my Pagan days sent it to me when she learned that I had become a Catholic. Here’s what the flyer says about Noonan:
Raised as a Catholic, author Moira Noonan began apprenticeship in New Age practices and ideas as a college student. Over a twenty-five year time-frame, she worked in Religious Science ministry, as a psychic counselor and a therapist. She became certified or developed expertise in such areas as Hypnotherapy, Past Life Regression, Astrology, the Course in Miracles, Reiki, channeling, crystals, goddess spirituality, clairvouance [sic], and other occult practices. In 1993, after an exorcism and a series of powerful conversion experiences, she returned to the Church, and is now a popular speaker in the Christian community, witnessing and evangelizing, and explaining the deeper meaning of the New Age movement.
I know the reason why so many of my friends in the Pagan community were upset with me becoming a Catholic. They were afraid this is what I’d turn into.
As someone who has found a spiritual home in Catholicism, I can hardly question the sincerity or veracity of Noonan’s spiritual journey. But I certainly do question her decision to become a crusader. Her biography goes on to explain how she has become a darling of the über-conservative Catholic media empire, EWTN. Noonan basically frames her story in a way as to suggest that she had been a pawn of dark forces until she was rescued by the church. I can’t help but think she’s more of a pawn now than ever.
Since I have never heard Noonan speak or spoken with her personally, I can only speculate about what goes on in her “ministry,” and such speculation is dangerous because it could easily be tainted by all sorts of projections from within my own psyche. So maybe I should quit talking about Noonan and just speculate on this archetype: of a person who is involved in the new age, the occult, Wicca, Paganism, or Satanism; then experiences a profound or dramatic conversion experience, and then establishes a ministry to Christians warning them of the dangers of the practice(s) they’ve left behind. Moira Noonan is hardly the first or the most famous person to embody this archetype. Mike Warnke, Keziah Thomas, Michelle Smith Pazder and William Schnoebelen are other such crusaders. Incidentally, some “ex-darkness” crusaders (like Warnke) appear to be frauds, but that’s another story. A variation of this archetype is the Christian writer (often a minister) who “researches” the new age or related movements, and then publishes exposés to warn Christians of its dangers: Texe Marrs, Constance Cumbey and Walter Martin are but a few examples.
This is a club I most emphatically do not want to join. In fact, in writing about my journey from Paganism to Catholicism, one of my chief objectives to differentiate myself form the “saved-from-darkness” crowd. Frankly, I believe the saved-from-darkness genre actually undermines Christianity even while it attacks non-Christian spirituality.
Why? Simply because it is a tired rehashing of an archteypal pattern that has been around since the early years of Christian proselytization. Christian missionaries, in order to promote their faith, have to demonize alternative religious practices. “You must worship Christ because all other gods are demons in disguise. If you continue to worship the demons, you will be punished for all eternity.” It’s a method of using fear to manipulate people into agreeing to your program. It’s a great way to raise money or to fill an audience. And it is most emphatically contrary to the teachings of Christ, whose message, if it could be reduced to a single sentence, is simply “Be not afraid.”
If the way of Christ liberates us from fear, why are these crusaders in the name of Christ promoting a message that will alienate non-Christians further from the Gospel and inculcate fear in the minds of those who already believe? Maybe a very small percentage of vulnerable non-Christians will be sufficiently frightened by their message to “repent,” while other, equally vulnerable, Christians will be brow-beaten into remaining submissive to a narrowly-defined understanding of the Christian faith. But these questionable “victories for Jesus” are bought at a terrible price: for this fear-mongering message simply pushes most non-Christians even further away from Christianity and undermines the efforts of Christians who are trying to do the hard, messy work of real reconciliation between Christians and those who are alienated or have been wounded by the church. Those who preach a message of fear end up with frightened followers and plenty of critics who regard them as manipulative and abusive. These crusaders are certainly not imitating Christ, who attacked manipulative religious leaders even while he preached love and forgiveness to the masses, including Samaritans and Syro-Phoenicians — people whose religious identity were different from his own.
I suppose it goes without saying that the anti-new age, anti-Wiccan, anti-Satanist types of Christians are also often equally vehement in their anti-Buddhist, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu rhetoric. And the Protestants are often also anti-Catholic (and vice versa). For that matter, many of these folks are also opposed to contemplative spirituality (because it’s too similar to eastern mysticism). In other words, this way of thinking is all about tribal membership: if you are a member of my group, you are saved. Everyone else is going to hell.
The Quakers have a wonderful saying: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” In this post I am dangerously close to cursing the darkness myself, so I think I’d better stop here. My point is not to rag on the Moira Noonans of the world; I think such people need lots of love and reassurance that the Triune God is not the harsh and abusive tyrant that they seem to think he is. I simply want to point out that I am one ex-Pagan who intentionally and consciously chooses not to play in that ballpark; I also want to suggest that everyone (whether Christian or not) needs to be thoughtful and mindful about how we understand God. If we believe in a controlling, abusive God, our beliefs and behaviors will reflect this. If we believe in a God who claims to be “the Light” but in fact is in the business of spreading fear far and wide, we just might be Lucifer’s pawn without realizing it. But on the other hand: if we acknowledge and place our faith and trust in the God of lavish love, boundary-crossing grace, and revolutionary reconciliation, then there is no limit to the marvels and miracles that we can participate in helping to bring about. What do we believe God ultimately wants: a world of fear, suspicion and division, or a world of wonder, grace and love? Once we’ve chosen, then it’s up to us to become the living embodiment of whatever it is we are praying for.