Lucifer’s Pawn?

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.

Sigh.

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.

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  • http://themercyblog.blogspot.com/ Mike Farley

    Excellent post, Carl, thank you. There is far too much belief in a controlling, abusive God, far too many beliefs and behaviours reflecting it. Heartbreaking, when you think of how badly otherwise lovely people are hurt by it, on both sides of the “divide.”

  • http://none Helen Kamadulski

    Hello-

    I was researching Celtic Christianity and don’t remember now what i read that drew me here, but i just had to say that i really appreciated what you said. Thank you for you honesty about how easy it is to slip from lighting a candle in the darkness to cursing the darkness. I will return to your website and read more. Your entry was a light in the darkness for me.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat Chapin-Bishop

    When I attended my 25th high school reunion (unbelievably enough, a number of years ago now) there was an awkward shuffling around of who sat where at the table for dinner. I didn’t think much of it at the time, though I was disappointed that, in the confusion, I had wound up sitting much farther away from several of my old friends than I had hoped.

    It was weeks later, talking to a classmate who had been there that night that i learned that S. and H. , mutual friends in attendance that night, had gone out of their way to avoid sitting at my table–creating the awkward seating arrangement that had left me off in a corner away from old friends.

    Apparently, having learned of my Paganism and Wiccan training, they had decided that they would be endangered (physically? spiritually?) by sitting next to me. Understand, these are both women I shared all the typical awkward secrets of adolescence with. How they could have turned the awkward girl-child that I had been into a menacing power for darkness defies my imagination.

    I concluded that they had been living very tedious lives. Some people seem to really want the world to offer the same thrills as a B horror movie. That little frisson of danger must have made their night very exciting, at the same time I wound up eating lonlier rubber chicken than I’d thought I would. *snort*

    As a non-Christian, this really bothers me less than it might seem. But, were I a Christian, I would find the implication, that the forces of evil are both so omnipresent and overwhelming that just sitting next to a stocky middle-aged Wiccan can be a danger to the soul of a believer, really horrifying. Strikes me as heresy–not my heresy, mind you, so it’s not much of an issue on my end. But I can’t think Jesus is best pleased, wherever he may be…

    In truth, there’s little either of us can do about shallow thrill-seeking Pagan-bashers, ex-Pagans, or, for that matter, publicity-loving drama Pagans. You’re following your path, as Spirit guides you; I’m trying to do the same. Once we scrape away the labels and the sensation-seekers, I’m pretty confident that’s what counts.

    Blessed be, Carl. :)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Cat, I’m sorry to hear about your reunion experience, although I know that Pagans often are just behind lesbians and gay men in terms of “people most likely to be treated like lepers by today’s non-mindful Christians.”

    When I was in elementary grade in Virginia in the early 1970s, our town announced a plan for desegregation, and our neighbors all started an “anti-busing” movement. My mother and father were two of the most vocal pro-integrationists in the area. My father actually went out and discovered that we lived closer to the historically black school than to the historically white school — which meant that integration actually reduced the busing! I mention all this because I lost several friends that year. And then the following year I attended the historically black school and got quite an education about how such schools had been underfunded in our supposedly “separate but equal” society. I mention all this to say that I learned as a youngster that it hurts when people reject us for who we are, but by the same token it can only hurt worse if we try to betray who we are to have friends. I’m so proud of how my parents stood by what they knew was right, even though it meant they would lose standing among some members of the community; I hope that as I strive to be faithful to my values today that I can follow in their footsteps. Even if it means that the Pagan-bashers, ex-Pagans, drama Pagans (and drama Christians) might disapprove.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat Chapin-Bishop

    Interestingly enough, I’ve stopped in here fresh from a visit to Peggy Senger Parsons’ blog, A Silly Poor Gospel. I rather suspect that Peggy is what Mary’s baby boy had in mind in the whole Christianity thing, and her reconciliation work in Rwanda–and, more than that, her humility in that work and in other parts of her remarkable life, as well as her terrific sense of humor–leave me in some degree of awe. She’s a spiritual grown-up; not any kind of basher or drama queen of religion, just a woman who tries to walk the talk.

    Even Peggy was struggling to stay open and loving in her last entry, dealing with a crowd full of angry gay-bashers at the Oregon state house this week. But her instincts are dead on: “I don’t like fear-based segregation. I do not often find that it is based in reality. I like to challenge it and look for the good in the other side. That’s my default setting.”

    Sometimes we act as though it is enough to know that haters are wrong, and to say so. But that’s just the beginning, where the work has to begin. We need the integrity to stand by ourselves and our friends, yes. But the integrity to keep trying to take it a step further, and work past hatred to something else… ah, well. That’s what separates the sheep from the goats! I’m not there yet–maybe no human, unassisted by Spirit, can be.

    But I admire those who try.

    (If you’ve never read Peggy’s blog, I really really recommend it. I wanna write as powerfully as Peggy does about spiritual life when I grow up…)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Thanks, I’ll check Peggy’s site out. I agree with you wholeheartedly — choosing not to hate is only the first step; choosing to love the necessary follow-through. One of my current heroes is Shane Claiborne, who is kind of the Generation X/evangelical answer to Dorothy Day and Jim Wallis. He is all about practicing love and reconciliation for “the other” — whether that be the liberal or the conservative, the Pagan or the evangelical, the gay Democrat or the SUV-driving Republican…


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