A Line in the Sand

Star Foster at Patheos has created a small uproar with a passionate post titled “I Reject Jesus Christ.” It’s a response to a condescending post by a Catholic blogger who explained why Pagans have it all wrong, including a blatantly erroneous insistence that Paganism is “a particularly strong form of Protestantism.”

Responses to Star have been all over the board. Some have agreed with her and aired their own grievances against Christianity. A few insist Star’s problems with Christianity aren’t representative of “real” Christians (i.e. – their own brand). Many have said they have no problem with Jesus, but he’s simply one of many gods they don’t worship. And some see Star’s rant as an insult to liberal Christians who frequently are our political and humanitarian allies, and as a setback for interfaith relations.

I wrote about my thoughts on Jesus at Easter. While I join Star in rejecting conservative Christianity, I see the teachings of Jesus as a good thing. As a polytheist I see no problem recognizing Jesus as a god, but only as one among many. You could do far worse than follow Jesus, but that’s not my calling. I’m a Pagan – I’m called to follow Cernunnos and Danu (and sometimes Morrigan).

But all of these comments are missing the point of Star’s rant.

There comes a time for all of us when we need to draw a line in the sand and say “this is who I am.” “This is what I believe.” “This is what I do.” And just as importantly “this is what I am not.” You have to define your religion and your spiritual path or someone will define it for you.

I come from a very similar religious background as Star. I know what it means to say “I reject Jesus Christ.” It means that if the religion of your childhood is correct, you just bought your ticket to an eternity of hellfire. Even the “once-saved-always-saved” Baptists would say that someone who would utter those words was obviously never saved to begin with – and has now closed the door forever.

I don’t know what’s in Star’s mind and heart, but I do know that in order to write those words she had to have the courage her chosen path was right and the one she left years ago was wrong – at least wrong for her. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to burn the bridges behind you and eliminate the option of ever going back.

It took me a long time to move from the religion of my childhood to a universalism that allowed me to accept my calling to Paganism. Even though intellectually I rejected fundamentalist, exclusivist Christianity in my early 20s, it took far longer to break the emotional tentacles that had latched into my impressionable mind as a small child.

During the eight years I casually explored witchcraft and Paganism I did a lot of dabbling, including at least two self-dedications. But none of them felt permanent and I still kept one foot in Christianity. Of course, my practice went nowhere – not in Paganism and not in Christianity.

When the Denton CUUPS group began to prepare for our first Ritual of Dedication and Covenant, I knew it would be different. I knew I was drawing a line in the sand. As the date grew closer, I began to be inundated with calls to turn back. Every time I turned on the TV there was a preacher talking about how everybody but his version of Christians was going to hell. I visited a friend who is very well off financially and got the feeling I should be working to make more money instead of “wasting” my time with religion. I visited another friend who rarely steps out of his comfort zone and got the feeling I should just stick with what I know.

The line in the sand was glowing bright red. Sometimes ordeals happen before the ritual even begins.

I knew this was what I wanted to do. I knew this was what I was called to do. I knew I would never be more than a reluctant Christian but I would be an enthusiastic Pagan. I knew I had to walk into that circle, not without fear but in spite of my fear.

We performed the Ritual. After the castings and invocations, after the object lessons and after the oaths, Summer drew the sacred symbols on my forehead. I stepped across the line in the sand, and I felt the change happen. And it felt right.

The old fears got smaller, but they didn’t stop right away. That would take several more years of practice and study and meditation and direct experience of the gods and goddesses. But that was bound to happen once I stepped across that line in the sand.

And what about you? Are there lines you need to step across? Are there bridges you need to burn? Perhaps you don’t need to do something as loud and public as Star did yesterday, but if you’re clinging to religions or myths or ways of living that no longer serve your True Will, you need to step across that line in the sand.

This is who I am. This is what I believe. This is how I live. This is who I serve.

So mote it be!

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  • I understood where Star was coming from, and do understand that sometimes for psychological reasons it's necessary to "draw a line in the sand." However, one should distinguish between valid therapy and a valid spiritual assertion. If one is coming from a background where a particular religious tradition and view was imposed by authority, and are making a statement like Star's as a way to sever that authority once and for all, therapy is exactly what one is engaging in. That is indeed understandable — but not necessarily right. And once you've gotten it off your chest, it may be time to do a reassessment. Someone who is in rebellion is not yet free, and one can arrive at the truth only in a state of freedom.

  • I'm not sure I would separate "therapy" from "spiritual assertion". Both are attempts to define and refine the person and make her or him whole. Unless you mean that therapy is for the individual and spiritual assertions are generalized statements applicable to all? Again, I don't know her head or her heart, but I don't think Star was trying to make a generalized statement and say that everyone should reject Jesus.

    As with my own story, this is an example of an initiation. It is a beginning, not an end.

  • I haven't read Star's original post, but what you said about defining your beliefs unless someone else defines them for you–that hit me. I've crossed over the line from christianity, but now I find some of my old friends are asking more questions about my beliefs. And these aren't even the religious friends, just average, nominal, cultural Christians. They don't really care that I'm not a Christian but they want to know what I believe now. Part of me strongly resists answering because I don't want to be labeled and because I can't easily identify my beliefs with a label that they (or even I) will understand. That may not really matter, because people will form opinions no matter what I do or say. And so, in the end, always more lines in the sand to cross!