This evening, Google Alerts alerted me to the following critique of my conversion to Catholicism. It comes from a blog called Meanderings Along Ancestral Pagan Paths, by someone who goes by the handle of “Ancestral Celt,” and includes a quote from a members-only Pagan site called An Fianna:
…I cannot understand Mr McColman’s reasoning for Catholicism: the magic left, meditation didn’t work anymore. As someone else recently said:
‘The magic left?’ So what about the catholic priest who claims to magically transform a wafer and a few drops of vino into the body of his God, by way of some mumbled mystical mutterings? Meditation didn’t work anymore? So what about the spiritual exercises of the Jesuits, compliments of ‘Saint’ Ignacius De Loyola? Or the mind numbingly boring constant repetitious prayers of the rosary before a plaster catholic idol of your choice? (Source: An Fianna)
It like giving up a diet because you’ve hit a plateau, isn’t it? Or, am I completely missing the point?
Well, I don’t know if “Ancestral Celt” is completely missing the point or not, but my decision to forsake Paganism for Catholicism entailed a lot more than just my dissatisfaction with Pagan-themed meditation or magic (although that was certainly part of the adventure). To push Ancestral Celt’s diet analogy, when I hit my “plateau,” I didn’t give up dieting, but I did switch diets. After four years, I have no regrets, so — for me at least — it was the right choice.
Meanwhile, the quote from “An Fianna” displays precisely the kind of rote anti-Catholicism/Christian-bashing found in some corners of the Pagan world, that I chafed against for quite some time, even before I became interested in the Catholic Church. Not only is this author’s hostility toward Christianity revealed in his sarcastic language, but also in his failure to acknowledge the distinctions between sacramentalism and magic (and saying, “It’s the same thing!” doesn’t fly — that’s as fallacious as the thinking of non-Pagans who lump Wicca and Asatru together. This kind of stereotyping annoys Pagans to no end; well, it’s just as problematic when Pagans do it to Christians). As for the comments about meditation, Ignatius, and the Rosary — hoo boy. I wonder if this person has never heard of mala beads, or the chotki, or other forms of repetitive prayer, meant not to be “mind numbingly boring” but rather to occupy the discursive mind so that attentiveness to contemplative silence might take place on a more intuitive level. As for the Ignatian exercises, while they are “meditations” in the classical Christian sense of the word, they do not represent contemplation, which is what I was looking for (and not finding) within the Pagan world.
Sigh. I know a lot of Pagans (including some dear friends of mine) read this blog, and I don’t mean to bash Paganism in general — but I do find this particular kind of criticism to be exasperating. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again now: my decision to leave Paganism for Catholicism should not be construed as an attack on Paganism. It is simply the logical result of the fact that I no longer felt at home within Pagan spirituality.
I guess there will always be those who will want to make me “wrong” as a way of undermining my conversion experience, as if attacking the flaws in my thinking or experience somehow protects Paganism from the likes of me. After all, my conversion could easily be construed by extremists (both Pagan and Christian) as a denunciation of Paganism, and/or a vindication of Catholicism/Christianity as “good” religion in contrast to Paganism’s “evil.” But just because others think that my journey entails a de-legitimization of Paganism doesn’t mean I endorse such a stance. I emphatically reject any such divisive ways of thinking, not only about Paganism, but indeed about all faiths. I’m simply not wired to see the world as divided into camps of who’s “right” and who’s “wrong.” On the contrary, I remain as committed as ever to a spirituality that radically honors all that is good and true and beautiful in all faiths.
To “Ancestral Celt” and my critic from “An Fianna,” all I can say is that I wish you well, and if Paganism is a path that fills you with joy and a sense of purpose and also helps you to be a more loving and compassionate and just person, then good for you. But please, don’t worry about me. I’m fine right where I am. This March will mark the fourth anniversary of my entry into Catholicism. At some point, I would think that my conversion would be old news.
1/9/09 ADDENDUM: I’m happy to report that a wonderful dialogue has emerged on Ancestral Celt’s blog, following her questions not only about conversion, but also about the relationship between atheism and Paganism. I’m also touched by her words of kindness and welcome to me.