Pagans and heathens and goats! Oh my!

Received this letter yesterday; my response is below it.

Hi John:

What’s your take on the legitimacy of pagan practices and rituals: devil worship, praying to pagan gods, etc.? Do those have real effects, or has that been exaggerated by fundamental Christians? I recently stumbled upon a few pagan blogs via a friend of mine, and the stuff there greatly freaked me out (people hearing voices telling them to do things, having strange accidents occur, levitating stuff, and so on). Is this stuff real, and something I should stay far away from, or is this just an issue of how other people have different religious views and should be accepted too rather than avoided? Because I realize that some parts of Christianity probably come across as just as crazy to non-Christians. I’m a bit scared (okay, that’s a lie; very scared, to the extent that I’m having trouble with capitalization, which somehow happens when I’m terrified) at the stuff I’ve just read. So I thought I’d contact you, since most people I know are either skeptics who would dismiss it outright, or fundies who would freak out and claim there are demons involved. Thanks.

So, to answer this sentence by sentence:

What’s your take on the legitimacy of pagan practices and rituals: devil worship, praying to pagan gods, etc.? If you’re asking whether or not I think it’s a good idea to worship the devil, I would say that it depends on what you mean by “the devil.” If you’re equating “the devil” with evil, then, no, I don’t think anyone should worship evil. But duh.

“Pagan gods” is too broad a term to in and of itself have any meaning. Paganism is a Big Category word that refers to indigenous, ancient, polytheistic spiritual beliefs and practices. That covers a lot of history. Ancient Greeks and Romans, for instance, practiced what Christians later decided to pejoratively label “paganism.” But no one (sane) would say they were into worshiping evil.

But cutting to the chase: ancient or modern, “pagans” and “heathens” can be every bit as morally sound and spiritually healthy as anyone else. There’s a lot of wisdom in the old ways. (Speaking of all this, pastor Mark Townsend’s just released Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ promises to be a great read. You can read a review of it here.)

Do those have real effects, or has that been exaggerated by fundamental Christians? Don’t know what you mean by “real effects.” Spiritual practices always have an effect on those doing them, of course. And yes, fundamentalist Christians have not just exaggerated the harmful effects of ancient, pre-Christian faith practices, they’ve distorted them beyond just about anything having to do with reality. Christians avidly labeled Native Americans, for instance, “pagans” and “heathens.” But many Indian spiritual beliefs are supremely sublime; if universally adopted Native American religion would, if nothing else, save the planet.

I recently stumbled upon a few pagan blogs via a friend of mine, and the stuff there greatly freaked me out (people hearing voices telling them to do things, having strange accidents occur, levitating stuff, and so on). Rest assured: no one gets to make gravity their bitch. And hearing voices that tell you to do things remains the exclusive domain of the insanely delusional.

Is this stuff real, and something I should stay far away from, or is this just an issue of how other people have different religious views and should be accepted too rather than avoided? You should definitely stay away from anything that’s cruel/evil/malevolent/stupid/victimizes any people or animals. Also I think a good rule of thumb is to avoid any religious ceremony that involves wearing a hooded robe. Because it’s always wise to avoid looking like once the sun comes up you’ll go right back to living in your mother’s basement and playing Fable II all day.*

Because I realize that some parts of Christianity probably come across as just as crazy to non-Christians. It is pretty hard to beat virgin births and a God who encourages people to eat his flesh and bones. (Um … new readers: I’m a Christian. Promise.)

I’m a bit scared (okay, that’s a lie; very scared, to the extent that I’m having trouble with capitalization, which somehow happens when I’m terrified) at the stuff I’ve just read. Wait. What? When you’re maximally frightened you lose your ability to properly capitalize? That’s … different. How often does that even come up? When in the grips of terror, do you tend to write stuff? Do you find it hard to write while running? Anyway, best response to fear ever. Especially, I guess, if you happen to find yourself running alongside a proofreader.

Anyway, why so afraid? Cuz of something you read on the Internet? Seriously?

Here, I’ve got something scary for you to read on the Internet: TeaParty.org. By some horrific twist of fate, I’m on the TeaParty.org’s mailing list. I’ll subscribe you if you want. Talk about an excellent reason to start hoarding canned goods.

Listen: Don’t be afraid. No one’s going to come reaching out of your computer monitor and force you to start worshiping cats. You’re safe. You’ve got a mind. You get to decide what’s real and good, and what’s a bunch of poseur geeks pretending to be “dark” and “magikal” in a last-ditch attempt to seem interesting to members of the opposite sex.

Relax. The world is yours to punctuate just as calmly and correctly as you please.

So I thought I’d contact you, since most people I know are either skeptics who would dismiss it outright, or fundies who would freak out and claim there are demons involved. Really? Those are the kinds of people you mostly know? So, you need to meet more people.

Thanks. You’re totally welcome. Thanks for writing.

 

* This is a joke. I’m not anti-hooded robes. Some of my best friends wear hooded robes.

Print Friendly

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.macdougall1 Kevin MacDougall via Facebook

    At first I thought the thumbnail pic was of Jar Jar Binks.

    • Wendy

      Hahahaha

    • Carol VanderNat

      You mean it’s not?!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        It’s Jar Jar’s cousin, Jar Jar Billy.

        • Estrogena

          Or Baa Baa Binks.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            funnier!

          • Lymis

            Isn’t that Jar Jar’s Maaaaa?

  • Elizabeth

    I totally get the amount of fear required to mis-capitalize. Excellent post, John.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Knowing what a fastidious writer you are, Elizabeth, I shudder to think of what would scare you into errant punctuation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.b.foster1 Robert Banks Foster via Facebook

    Great reply. While no one will try to reach out and force you to worship cats, how about cars, The Olympics, Monsanto, Molloch. Jesus with rifle. Demonic forces. Not to be confused with Paganism.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      We don’t have to be forced to worship cats? Please someone tell the felines in residence. They have this serious delusion.

      • Barbara Rice

        I think it’s too late. At least at my house.

  • Rob B

    “…living in your mother’s basement and playing Fable II all day.” HAHAHAHA John, you are a gem.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thank, Rob B.

  • Melody

    This person obviously knows nothing about paganism. I mean, the fact she (I assume it’s a she) mentioned it in conjunction with “devil worship” and magick (no, that’s not a misspelling) verifies that. I was very interested in Paganism (specifically, Druidry and other European branches), and their teachings are nowhere close to what she’s talking about. Paganism is very much a spiritual religion, not one where people perform magick or questionable rituals. I would wager that those blogs she’s visited are bogus.

    Now before anyone flames me, I’m glad she asked John. But she really needs to do legitimate research, and not just rely on her “friends’” blogs.

    • rorabelle

      I wholeheartedly agree with Melody. The sources this person is likely referring to are in no way legit. A good place for her to start would be About. com, they have an excellent Guide to Wicca/Pagan religions, which addresses some of these issues specifically.

    • Jim

      I agree with Melody, and most specifically with her final point.

      That is, if you really want to know about something do your own research, find and use reliable sources, and take anything you read on the World Wide Web that is presented as factual with a huge grain of salt.

      Google and Wikipedia, by the way, are not reliable sources. They are launching pads.

    • http://www.llewellyn.com Elysia

      “Paganism is very much a spiritual religion, not one where people perform magick or questionable rituals.”

      Umm…wrong. Many Pagans of different flavors, most Wiccans, and yes, even some Druids do practice magick! Probably not the magick you’re thinking of (levitating things or whatever) but it is an aspect of many Pagans’ spirituality. As for “questionable rituals”…it depends on your definition of questionable, as well as your definition of Pagan. Some mesopagan religions like Santeria or Vodoun actually do sacrifice animals (in an ethical, non-evil way) while most neopagans would abhor the very thought. (See http://www.neopagan.net/PaganDefs.html for definitions of mesopagan vs neopagan.)

      Plus, I’m sure a lot of rituals Wiccans, Druids and other Pagans do (honoring the Lord and the Lady, for example, or revering nature in some way, or working *with* deity rather than bowing and scraping to an angry, jealous god) would be antithetical to most Christians and therefore quite “questionable” even if it’s a completely positive, run-of-the-mill, G-rated ritual.

      So to sum up: yes magick, yes ritual, it’s not just all about cosmology and “spirituality” – Pagan spirituality is in general very rooted in its practices, it’s not something that can be separated purely into the mental realm.

      • Melody

        I know. That’s what I meant.

      • Melody

        And the fact that I’ve studied it would indicate that I know the difference between the two types of magick.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          You know what the difference is between magic and magick? Home-schooling. *

          * joke. this is a joke. some of my best friends were home-schooled.

          • Melody

            So were some of mine. Except we’re not really best friends anymore, since they were so sheltered that they still believe the crazy stuff they were taught. Now I get to see their drivel on Facebook. *groan*

      • Melody

        One more thing, and I’ll let it go. The “questionable” rituals I was referring to are those commonly misattributed to Pagans (as well.as to Satanists, for that matter). Fundamentalists have the mistaken notion that Pagans and Satanists participate in animal and human sacrifice. I’m not one of those people who thinks our beliefs are perfectly acceptable while others are evil or even just weird. I’m educated.

        • http://www.llewellyn.com Elysia

          Cool, Melody! I just wanted to step in and make sure we don’t whitewash different forms of Paganism entirely. Not everyone is just a love-and-light, think good thoughts, hug trees and offend nobody kind of spiritualist. :) We can certainly say we’re harmless, but we can’t say “there’s nothing here that would offend anyone” by any means.

  • Lisa

    A few years ago when I was sorting through some of my Grandfather’s things after he passed away, I came across a large, wall-mount Crucifix. It had been his mother’s, and apparently she acquired it on a pilgrimage to the Vatican. Okay. I’m not Catholic, so this was an interesting object to me, and I’m very into family history, so I loved it as an heirloom. Then I discovered that the front panel slides up, and the whole front can be placed into a slot at the top of the cross, and inside are candles, and holy water, and cotton, and instructions, and the bottom of the cross has holders for the candles.

    My brain locked up, hard. See, a good number of my friends are active Pagans, and I’ve been with them to Pagan rituals, and what I was looking at in that Crucifix were so familiar from those rituals I actually laughed. SO, so much in common, from the desire to be a good person to the belief in something greater to the actual tools of the faith. All in the perspective, I suppose.

    Crucifix hangs on my wall now. I alternately tell people it’s to confuse visitors or to scare away vampires.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Whoa. That’s awesome, Lisa.

    • Jill

      It’ll likely scare away some of the fundy groups that knock on your door to sell you religion. (AH! the good ol’ days…) ;)

    • Michelle P.

      Ah, a crucifix designed for extreme unction and the giving of last rites. My grandparents had a few of those. They always made me smile, just about the idea of having a prepared ritual to help deal with the sorrow of a dying loved one, and getting to experience that in one’s home. There can be something profound and beautiful in that, depending on how one views it.

    • theresa

      What you have is what is known as a “sick-call crucifix set.” The idea was that when the priest came to your house to give you what these days is known as “the anointing of the sick” (we used to call it last rites, but that can scare the bejeebers out of people), you would have the crucifix and the holy water and all the other stuff so that he could sit right down and administer the sacrament. I’m not even sure if priests do house calls anymore, but a lot of Catholics still have one of these hanging on the wall.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

    If one stopped to consider all the rituals, beliefs, practices that we’ve adopted from other cultures and beliefs then I doubt we’d worry to much…or we strive even harder to purge all that pagan crap out of our religion.

    That being said, we’d have to kick out…

    Wedding rings…possibly Egyptian in origin, certainly Roman, who LOVED adopting cool stuff from those they conquered.

    Bachelor parties….Those Spartans were such party animals.

    Mistletoe..thank the druids for a reason to kiss that cute copy machine man at the office Christmas party.

    and of course the celebration of Jesus’ birth…Thank you Persia. You Babylonians have some excellent holiday ideas. That whole hell thing…not so much.

    That’s just the pre-amble.

    Does it really matter where stuff originated or is what they mean to us today as a person of faith of greater importance? And as we are so unique as Christians does it really matter if one prefers a tradition or not? And do we not enjoy the benefits of what others before us came up with, regardless of who they worshiped or how? If we eschew stuff because it had just because the concept or the persons had roots in another religion other then the “right one”..then heck we’d have to give up algebra….wait…algebra is a good thing right?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Nice, sd!

    • http://www.poesies.com Gina Cirelli

      On a similar note, I’ve had people complain to me that the only “real” rosary is the Catholic one, and that Episcopalians should be ashamed that they wanted to create “their own”.

      I guess nobody ever told these people that the Catholics stole the whole rosary idea from the prayer beads they saw during the Crusades.

      • Jill

        Boy, pesky facts sure do mess with my favorite pastime as a hypocrite.

  • http://wilkinsonweb.com Dan Wilkinson

    For me, it doesn’t really matter whether or not any of that stuff is really “real” or not. If something freaks you out or makes you feel extraordinarily uncomfortable, then it seems like a good idea to avoid that sort of thing…regardless of whether it’s a complete hoax or it has true Evil Power™ behind it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Oh. Right. I forgot to say that. Boy. Why aren’t YOU writing my blog, Dan?

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      I wouldn’t necessarily take that all the way to its logical conclusion, though. Lots of things that make people uncomfortable aren’t useful to avoid. For example, my grandmother was really, REALLY uncomfortable around black people. They scared her. Avoiding them only allowed her to continue to feed her phobias and fears about black people. If she’d had the courage to make friends with people who were black, she’d have been better able to overcome her racism. Being uncomfortable around something doesn’t mean it will hurt you — sometimes that just means it is challenging you in a way you don’t yet understand. On the other hand, if something engenders the same response you might have if dropped into the enclosure with a siberian tiger, i.e, “I’m so scared I’m about to wet my pants,” avoidance is often called for.

      • http://kellythinkstoomuch.wordpress.com KellyK

        I think there’s a difference between avoiding things or activities and avoiding people, especially if you acknowledge that your reasons for avoiding whatever have more to do with you than with the thing you’re avoiding.

        Like, if given the choice, I will not be around when anybody does any kind of divination. If someone breaks out the tarot cards, unless they’re playing a medieval card game with them, I’m going to need to leave the room. It actually makes me deeply uncomfortable, to the point that I feel physically ill. I’ve mostly gotten past the visceral terror of anything labeled “occult” that going to a fundamentalist church as a kid gave me, but not enough to feel comfortable with fortune-telling. (When I was seventeen, and baby-sitting, the kids had a Ouija board. After telling them a jillion times that we weren’t going to play, I hid the thing under a table so they would quit bugging me about it.)

        That doesn’t mean I think badly of the person doing the card reading or whatever ritual I don’t want to participate in (Oh, horrors! You have a different belief system than I do). It just means that between my own religious beliefs and my own mental…stuff…I can’t participate.

        • Diana A.

          I’ve heard some pretty freaky stories about things that happened when people decided to “play” with a Ouija Board. I don’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cory.c.gilliam Cory Christopher Gilliam via Facebook

    hahahaha, magikal!

  • Tim

    My mother is Wicca, and the theology is endlessly complex and sublime in its own way. However, you have got to laugh at those people who confuse old-line Polytheism or Nature Religion with modern “Satanism.” And even then, Satanism is more a way of deliberately rejecting social conventions you find burdensome to the self, ask any Satanist (I’ve known a few, good people, actually) and they will say either that 1) No, they don’t actually believe in Satan at all, but that the belief system is in essence a repudiation of the modern religious ethic or 2) Worshiping Satan means claiming your own free will as your own and daring any God to punish you for it (which I can understand for the rebellious type, but is a bit feckless). No one, however, worships evil.

    • Jill

      Always amazing to me that when you draw back the blinds of ignorance, you find…people. And not terribly dissimilar people either.

      And then the fear falls away and is replaced by knowledge.

    • Diana A.

      “No one, however, worships evil.”

      No one smart anyway. Actually, I believe some people do worship evil–just not in a formal, religious way. But there are people who actively seek to do what causes harm to others and even take a vicious pleasure in the harm that they cause. What is that if not worshiping evil?

    • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

      =koff-koff= Ayn Rand =koff-koff=

  • http://Facebook Joely

    I grew up Christian, Sunday school, conformation the whole shebang. Denied and fought who I was for 40 years..Did what I felt I was supposed to do..Made sure my kids got to church when they were little, etc. When I finally got to the point, I had to make a decision..The church was so busy trying to scare the crap outa me, if I would ever act on who I really was…So my point is I think some Christians can make me mis-capitalize too!! And I’m sorry many “Christians” believe they hear God, or that he speaks to them.. Yet that is acceptable..

    I have a close Wicca friend, the basis of that is harm non,protect the earth. etc…Nothing evil about it…They don’t even believe in the devil..They believe in karma..you do wrong/harm it will come back to you 3 fold.

  • Jill

    After the heavier content of recent days, I needed a good chuckle. So thanks for that.

  • AMA

    Loved the Tea Party comment! Too funny!!

  • Lymis

    One question I find myself with is whether all this scary stuff that the letter writer found on the internet that is so disturbing really was written by actual people who practice these religions or whether they were written by people who are telling people about what “they heard” or “everybody knows” that pagans get up to.

    I know the writer said that they stumbled on some pagan blogs “via a friend” – but this is exactly the way so much anti-gay stuff is framed that it makes me very skeptical. That the only place to get “the real truth” about “them” is to read what Good Christians want you to know about them.

    And seriously, we had a number of Presidential candidates, not to mention politicians of all sorts, and certainly televangelists and moral crusaders running around saying that “God spoke to them” and told them to do what they are doing. In many cases, they are quite clear that they actually heard voices. And people claim that Mary and Jesus appear in concrete stains, burnt toast, and such, and reports of miraculous healings and such all the time. If claims like this scare your writer, they need to avoid a lot of today’s Christians, too.

    • LVZ

      Hear, hear!

      This reminds me of the incident several months ago when a presidential candidate told a story from her teenage years. She said that she’d gone on a date with a witch and seen his satanic altar.

      The candidate soon became something of a joke, but I never heard any commentator point out the obvious: witches don’t believe in satan, and no witch would have a “satanic altar.” That’s like saying she’d gone on a date with a Buddhist monk and he’d given her a tour of his synagogue. She obviously made up the whole story.

      • http://kellythinkstoomuch.wordpress.com KellyK

        It’s possible she saw an actual altar or shrine type of thing that she defined as satanic because she’d already been taught that pagan = “devil worshiping.”

  • Christy

    This is a keeper. Thanks for the shout out to Native American Spirituality.

    • Elizabeth

      Christy, I love you. But you already know that. ;)

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    Is…that goat STICKING ITS TONGUE out at us?

    I toyed with a lot of different things in my I-Hate-Everything-t0-do-With-Christians years, including considering wicca and various forms of paganism. Ultimately, none of them felt like a spiritual “fit” for me, and I eventually abandoned them, though a lot of the literature I found through research was extremely informative and sometimes gave me some deeply spiritual ideas to consider.

    I think most people fear what they do not know. We fear the dark, because we can’t see what might be coming to eat us. But the dark isn’t dark anymore when the sun shines on it, so my personal favorite method of addressing that which is scary is to learn about it. Some things unfortunately remain frightening – the more you learn the more you fear (i.e., Teaparty.org). Mostly, though, education stomps the living crap out of fear. Asking friends and acquaintances about a thing is well and good, so long as one accepts that what one will receive are opinions as opposed to facts. Its ultimately still up to you to do the research to verify or discount what others have told you.

  • Wilfried

    “Also I think a good rule of thumb is to avoid any religious ceremony that involves wearing a hooded robe. Because it’s always wise to avoid looking like once the sun comes up you’ll go right back to living in your mother’s basement and playing Fable II all day.”

    I must take exception, and deep offense, at this. At my high Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parish, orthodox, Christian and ever so liturgically correct, the sacred ministers (of which we have the proper three) wear hoods at every liturgy. Our cassock-albs all have hoods, though generally worn down over chausuble, dalmatic, or tunicle (if we wore proper albs with amices, they would obviate the hood issue, but I’m not fighting that fight). Copes also have hoods, of the heavily embroidered, brocaded, and upholstered variety. I take supreme umbrage at the suggestion that our oh so proper catholic Christian vestments are in some way heathen. It is wholy irrelevant that they are a throwback to ancient imperial (non-Christian) Rome. Our worship is not play, and does not take place after dark (except for the Easter Vigil, when it is entirely correct to light fires in the dark) or take place in a basement. There is nothing, nothing I tell you, pagan about our worship. Do you not see hoods at your parish? If not, they clearly don’t know how to dress correctly, are clearly apostate, and you should find yourself a proper Episcopal church.

    [Irony alert, in case anyone missed it.]

    • Lymis

      “There is nothing, nothing I tell you, pagan about our worship.”

      Irony alert, indeed. You put this in the sentence after the one about the Easter Vigil. I can’t speak about the Episcopal version of the ceremony, but nobody could describe the Catholic version as “nothing, nothing” pagan without either bursting into laughter or being supremely insensitive to their surroundings. Thrusting a lit candle repeatedly into a vessel of water to make it fruitful? Please.

  • Bmac

    I find it interesting that Wicca and neopagan religious practices are associated with evil and questionable rituals. My grandmother is a Wiccan. She is a retired RN and uses a lot of holistic medicine which has been quite useful in the past with things like rashes and bug bites. Growing up my parents (especially my mother’s family who have been staunchly Protestant for more than a few generations) would always drive the point of how evil witchcraft, as they referred to it,was. As I got older I found out many things about my grandmother. In the 80s and 90s she worked in the AIDS ward when very few people would even look at an AIDS patient. She has showed the kind of love, acceptance and compassion despite the MANY hardships of her life. To me she has shown many more Christ- like characteristics than the evangelicals on the other side of the family. Try not to let the judgements of others cloud your ability to discern things for yourself. You may be amazed by what you find.

    • Jill

      Great message Bmac, that’s exactly what I found when I stumbled onto a metaphysical shop so many years ago which began my investigative spiritual journey. I didn’t know the love of Christ could be found in people and places not Christian, particularly when I could barely find the love of Christ in the fundy Christian circles in which I grew up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelly.withee.1 Kelly Withee via Facebook

    Awesome response John!

  • Meical abAwen

    >>And yes, fundamentalist Christians have not just exaggerated the harmful effects of ancient, pre-Christian faith practices, they’ve distorted them beyond just about anything having to do with reality.<<

    Thank you.

  • mike moore

    In regards to frighteningly occult worship practices – involving real flesh and blood – I would point toward transubstantiation, a belief of the largest Christian denomination is the USA, as it is defined in the OED: “the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining.”

    Can I get an “ewwwwwwww”?

    As for making Gravity “my bitch”, I beg to differ … any number of people have told me I’m light in my loafers.

    • Melody

      That certainly is a ridiculous concept. Whoever invented it doesn’t understand metaphor.

      • Don Rappe

        I’m pretty sure this was invented by Thomas Aquinas to reconcile Christian beliefs with the best science of his day, the philosophy of Aristotle. Aristotle was a better scientist than he is usually credited, first by inventing science as fields of thought and creating classifications of living things which are still useful. Unfortunately his understanding of the sacrament may left something to be desired. As Melody comments.

        • Don Rappe

          i. e. Aquinas understanding of the sacrament left something to be desired. Aristotle predates the ritual.

      • NR

        Easy now! Let’s not alienate our LGBTQ Catholic brothers and sisters who are going though major struggles at the moment!

        Honestly, the Eucharist, and my faith in the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist is close to being the only thing at all that keeps me in the Church. It is entirely reasonable to trust that God – who creates the sun, the weather, the wheat, the grapes and bestows human ingenuity to take the seeds, raise the food, take the raw ingredients and make bread and wine out of them – is perfectly able to” transubstantiate” bread in wine into his own body and blood. This to me is completely reasonable. My own body is not my own, it was given to me by God. What God’s body and blood actually IS is beyond my power of comprehension. However, it makes perfect sense that if God wanted unite with people in a very intimate – might I even say erotic – way, it would involve the meeting of two bodies. The whole thing about the incarnation and the Jesus thing culminates in the Eucharist. I don’t understand how one can claim to “follow Jesus” or whatever and NOT accept that the Eucharist is the true body and true blood of Jesus.

        • NR

          And for the record, my partner is Wiccan. I have no issue about having statues of Dionysus and Hecate and Cernunnos and other pagan deities right near my Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Mt Carmel statues. That is the beauty of our day and age. Basically I follow the teaching of Sri Ramakrishna, “God is One, but has many names.”

  • kelven

    Years ago I went to a Spiral Dance in San Francisco that was lead by Z. Budapest. It is a beautiful pagan ritual that honors the beloved dead and welcomes the newborn into this life. One of the things I remember her saying was how the commercialization of holidays was the Goddesse’s revenge, because the pagan and christian elements of Christmas and Easter were fused forever by Madison Avenue. (Remember what a huge fail it was when they tried to de-canonize Santa Clause?) And of course Halloween remains firmly embedded in our culture no matter how much some christians would like to eliminate it. I love that Christians like you recognize that love is love and that the outer trappings have nothing to do with the holiness of something. The love you put into it is what matters.

  • Josh

    Hey John, I can resonate with this post. I found it very odd that so many Christians are afraid of things like Wicca….funny, some of these Wiccans, Buddhists, etc, are better Christians than a lot of Christians.

  • Scott Wilde

    Everybody’s a pagan to somebody. I wonder how many that call themselves Christians would even recognize their own holy books if the names were changed?

    What if we started to spread this:

    “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” – Satanic Bible

    I wonder how many would decry it as not christian?

  • http://elfinragdoll.facebook.com Heather Halloran

    I wanted to thank you for this post, John. As a Pagan who was raised in a Pentecostal environment (trust me, these particular people were extremists) and as someone who is tentatively but hopefully navigating relationships with my fiancee’s Christian family members, this was of great comfort.

  • http://www.pathofblue.blogspot.com Lloyd Hargrove

    I am well into the final section of Rev. Mark Townsend’s “Jesus Through Pagan Eyes” and have found it to be thoroughly worthwhile reading. We are presented with Rev. Townsend’s own very interesting story of his evolving development into what can be termed a Christian-Pagan and then we are educated as to the eclectic natures of numerous pagan spiritual leaders/authors who wrote their own articles discussing Jesus. The final section goes into actual interviews conducted by Rev. Townsend with some of the “top tier” pagan leaders regarding Jesus, impressions of his history (both real and imagined) and his unmistakable spiritual influence even well outside of what is deemed the “Christian Church”. Put this book on your list of “must reads” if you want to be in the know.

    • Mark Townsend

      Thank you so much Lloyd,

      I’m very grateful to you for taking the time to read the book and comment so generously. I find your words very encouraging indeed.

      Many blessings,

      Mark T

  • otter

    TEA PARTY….Bwwaaa haa haa ! They really are scary…..so is the Westboro Clan…..

  • Maia

    I would just like to say that I would consider myself a Pagan, and I don’t even BELIEVE in the Devil, or “evil” forces. And if I started hearing voices, it wouldn’t be the result of some “ritual” I did, it would be my roommates TV. Real Pagans have nothing to do with “devil” worship, so don’t feel like you have to cross the street when we are walking towards you. And if you do, we don’t really give a shit.

  • WindReader

    thanks for a thoughtful post. Neo-Paganism is a very broad spectrum – I am sure your original writer would not feel calmed to learn that I am an Atheist Pagan! but you took the focus off that and refocused it on our own right – divine or not – to worship and believe as we see fit

  • Granite

    [Fundy troll trash-talk deleted.]

    • Josh

      Did you ACTUALLY read all the articles? I think not.

      • Melody

        Well of course he didn’t. It’s no fun having to actually do your homework. It’s much easier to just be an asshole for the fun of it.

        • Granite

          [Fundy troll trash-talk deleted.]

    • DR

      Sounds good. And I’ll call you a terrified, miserable excuse for a Christian who’s not educated enough to put up am actual substantial counter to the post. You’re welcome.

    • Melody

      Seriously? You, sir, are a complete moron and know not of which you speak. Stop trolling and spreading hate.

    • Don Rappe

      If you think this site is encouraging the worship of small g gods, you may have missed the point of the satire about Capital Punctuation! On the other hand, I’m pretty sure the entire NEW TESTAMENT WAS WRITTEN ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS WITHOUT ANY PUNCTUATION AT ALL YOUV JUST GOTTA KNOW WHERE THE THOUGHTS BEGIN AND END AND COMMENTS IN THE MARGINS WOW

    • Don Rappe

      OK CAUGHT FEEDING TROLLS AGAIN

      • Elizabeth

        Ha ha ha, Don. Lovely you to “see” you.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

        is it just me or does the photo of a goat, and the mention of a bridge invoke a mental image of a bridge?

        • Elizabeth

          Might be just you, but I like it. Sacrificial animals have been, for centuries, our bridges to another consciousness. “This is body, broken for you. Take it in remembrance of me.”

          • Elizabeth

            *my

  • Angela De Benedetto Fioresi via Facebook

    Would you believe me if I told you that I have desperately been trying to find your page on FB for the last ten minutes and bam! up pops your post on my wall.

  • http://www.facebook.com/duecyiii Chuck Duecy III via Facebook
  • Aliyah Aldridge via Facebook

    @Angela De Benedetto Fioresi – You summoned him. Bring out the goat!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tracy.livezey Tracy Livezey via Facebook

    Great post.

  • Mark Townsend

    Brilliant John!

    Very good answers.

    In my own experience of over 20 years Christian ministry, along with many years of deep friendship with people of the various Pagans paths, I have to confess that I’ve been more concerned about the beliefs and practises of some of my own ‘gang’ (Christians) than the Earth-based tribes. OK there’s good and bad in all paths (indeed, if we’re honest, there’s good and bad in every single person on this planet) but I am deeply saddened when members of my own cradle religion project their inner mess and muddle onto others, and demonise them with such ease. I’ve had the privilege of beautifully spiritual relationships with Pagans, and (in my own ‘dark night’) when the Church all but abandoned me, it was Druids who held me and kept me secure – and never with an ulterior motives to make me one of them.

    Bright blessings to all who are engaged in this fascinating thread.

    Mark T

    ps. Thank you John, for floating my book! :-)

    • Jill

      Mark T, your post was just what I needed today. :)

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/confessionsofapagansoccermom/ Kris Bradley

    I must be reading the wrong Pagan blogs. Most of the ones I read (including the one I write) are full of posts about love, gardening, getting kids potty-trained and how much laundry piled up while you were watching the Glee marathon.

    The levitating might come in handy, though…

    • http://small-letters.com Mindy M.

      Love!

  • harmonyfb

    And hearing voices that tell you to do things remains the exclusive domain of the insanely delusional.

    You mean, like Moses, St. Teresa of Avila, and Abraham? Pagans who ‘hear voices’ aren’t delusional; they’re open to the voices of the Gods.

    Over at The Wild Hunt blog, there’s a discussion about (Pagan) religious experience and pathology that you might find interesting: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2012/07/dont-pathologize-religious-experiences.html

  • http://www.redcrowgreencrow.wordpress.com Katie

    As both a Pagan and a sociologist, I greatly appreciate this entry.

    On the other hand, I have to wonder what your reader(s) are consuming on any given day. The vast majority of pagans I know- a group of people who range from people practicing African Diaspora religions to Native American traditional beliefs to reconstructionist paths of multiple flavors- are more concerned at any given day about how to make orange peels into household cleaner and when they have to plant their carrots. Even the ones posting more on the woo-woo end are much more like to be talking about what’s for dinner than talking about how to talk to Bathomet.

    And honestly I’m not sure what difference it makes even if they do think they’re having Bathomet over for dinner. Whatever floats their boat as long as it’s not causing direct harm to people, property, or animals. I was raised Baptist. I remember there being quite a lot of strange stories on both sides of the aisle.

    • http://www.redcrowgreencrow.wordpress.com Katie

      Bathomet? Baphomet. It’s too early for spelling, apparently.

    • Jill

      Exactly, and I find it sad that I once bought into the whole ‘pagan fear’ thing back in the fundy days of my youth. Truly, it wasn’t until I saw how many ‘acceptable’ rituals of that faith had their roots in ancient earth religions that my eyes opened.

      And then I began to see fruits of the spirit. Just like Mark T. said earlier, I found more Christ-like kindness and sincerity in the stigmatized non-Christian faith groups. So I stuck around. :)

  • http://salemwitchchild.blogspot.com/ SalemWitchChild

    Overall good response to your reader. Though I think some might get the wrong idea about hearing voices and wearing robes. Even if it was a joke. Nothing wrong with either of those things. Plenty of Christians have claimed to hear the word of God. Why can’t Pagan’s hear the word of their God(s)? Neither one makes the believer mentally ill.

    As far as robes. Its just a garment. We wear it to distinguish between ritual time and daily life. Some go without it completely. Others always wear it during ritual. To each their own.

    There really is nothing to fear about Paganism. Here’s the thing. Christianity says to “go multiply”. Not a single Christian I know wouldn’t try to convert me. Me, and most other Pagans out there, do not care what your beliefs are. We are a live and let live type of society. Reading something isn’t going to make you act upon what you read. Unless you have absolutely no will of your own, you’re safe. ;)

    If you don’t understand something in Paganism, find a Pagan and ask. Most don’t mind educating others on their beliefs. But please keep in mind that Paganism isn’t as structured as Christianity is. Joe Pagan might believe in one thing, and Sally over there doesn’t, but is still Pagan. There are many different kinds of Pagans, and each of us are unique.

    Blessings, Love, and Light.

    SalemWitchChild

    • Jill

      Live & let live is a beautiful thing.

    • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ Jarred

      Plenty of Christians have claimed to hear the word of God. Why can’t Pagan’s hear the word of their God(s)? Neither one makes the believer mentally ill.

      I agree with you, though I think the inclusion of the phrase “that tell you what to do” is worth noting. The gods and other guides and helpers that I hear from are not authoritarians, nor do they expect blind obedience. Indeed, there’s often a sort of dialogue that goes on.

      I would be very concerned if someone claimed that zir gods (or guides or other spirits) were behaving toward zem in a controlling manner.

      • http://salemwitchchild.blogspot.com/ SalemWitchChild

        I’ve never said they speak in a controlling manner. Nor have I ever experienced that myself. Indeed its more like talking with a big brother, sister, or best friend. Matter of fact, when I speak with my lady Isis, she addresses me as Sister witch. She’s a teacher and best friend and sister all rolled into one.

        • Diana A.

          “Matter of fact, when I speak with my lady Isis, she addresses me as Sister witch. She’s a teacher and best friend and sister all rolled into one.”

          That’s kind of cool!

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      And… not all of the mentally ill hear voices.

      I’m a bit cracked in the brain – bipolar disorder, even seen the inside of an in-paitient mental health clinic to deal with it and to keep myself under suicide-watch. (That was years ago), but, you know, the disorder doesn’t go away. I wind up finding myself online sometimes defending religion (all religion) from whiny anti-theist, “all religion is mental illnes” types not even so much to defend any religion as to defend *people* and I get particularly honked off when *this thing* is brought up becuase it’s just another reminder that a little brain-crackedness means that the world doesn’t see you as a Real True Human.

      I might as well stay the seeking, somewhat agnostic non-churchgoing quasi-Christian that I am now, or even seek out more in the ways of *religion* and *beliefs* becuase it doesn’t matter if I have them or lose them, or what ones I have, I’ll never be a Real True Human in the eyes of people who use “mentally ill” as an insult, because the bipolar diagnosis is for life.

      Yet, nope, nothing mystic has happened to me. No outside voices – everything in my head is either me arguing with myself or working out what to do with characters when I’m writing fiction. I don’t think God or the gods or whomever is out there want to torture me by giving me any visions or voices no one would believe coming from *me,* someone who is already seen as “broken” by the world at large.

      • Diana A.

        “I don’t think God or the gods or whomever is out there want to torture me by giving me any visions or voices no one would believe coming from *me,* someone who is already seen as ‘broken’ by the world at large.”

        I can see how this might be true. I’ve never had any “woo-woo” experiences either and I think it’s precisely because God knows that such experiences would scare the bejesus out of me. The voice in my head that I identify as coming from God tends to speak to me with a tender, gentle sort of sense of humor. It could easily be “just an aspect of my brain” and I’m actually fine with that. I figure that if God wants me to have a “woo-woo” experience, he knows where I am and otherwise, my call is simply to “love God, love neighbor.” Which is good enough for me.

  • pyrplewitch

    Thank you John for your non anti-pagan responses. I was raised Roman-Catholic, and my family is still practicing. I have no problems with the Catholic faith, or any of Christianity. My family and friends also have no problems with my family being Wiccan. They have attended our ceremonies and holidays. I think it is a matter of having an open mind and respect for other people and religions. The world is a big place with a lot of different views. There is room for all of us!

  • M T Brown

    A pretty good read actually. I come from Baptist/Methodist faith, but now realize that all religions have part of the right idea, for example; The Golden rule is worded in so many different ways, yet has the same meaning. First, harm no-one”.

    As for voices, yes, I hear one in my mind. They don’t tell me to do wickedness, but I sometimes have a short discussion with them about right and wrong! I win every time too. Because the voice is me, so it’s easy to sway.

    Anyways, my point is this; any religion which touts their brand of faith as the exclusive representative of God, and judges all others as unworthy, just doesn’t cut any ice with me.

  • Diane Roshelle O via Facebook

    lol Made me think of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Az2PRonAZyY

    It’s a multi-part video, but does a great job of explaining paganism to Christians.

    • Adel

      Diane, that is some awesome powerful stuff right there!

  • http://paganwiccan.about.com Patti Wigington

    As someone who’s been a Pagan for about 25 years, and as a blogger, I appreciate this post. However, like some of the other posters, I really have to question what Pagan blogs the original writer was reading. I can honestly say that I’ve never posted a single article about “people hearing voices telling them to do things, having strange accidents occur, levitating stuff” or other equally weird things.

    John, I’d like to invite your worried Christian friend to stop over at my page at http://paganwiccan.about.com so he or she can get an idea of just how normal we really are. Right now my top posts are about grain harvest folklore, a state representative who is scared of funding non-Christian schools, and a meditation ritual. Really, not a bit of levitation to be found.

    Pagans: just like you, but with more gods and stuff.

    Thanks again for this great post!

    patti

  • Mindy

    love! I wouldn’t be surprised if my younger daughter embraced some form of paganism – she is very much in tune with nature and loves it to the degree that beauty in the natural world will silence her into awe. I love watching her outside with her camera – - -

  • Amy

    Well said!! I know many Christians, and grew up in a Christian house myself, but identify with Native American and Celtic Pagan practices, just because that is what seems right. I know these things to be benevolent, and it’s sad that so many dismiss what is really a different path to the same thing as being evil. Glad to know people like you are out there!!

  • Judy

    Mr. Shore-

    As a witch with animistic tendencies (no specific Pagan belief system) for the last 25 or so years, I wanted to say thank you for writing such a wonderful (and laugh out loud) piece. And this comment isn’t going to be a “this is great, but” comment-you answered the questioner perfectly, in my opinion (and, dare I say, put them in their place-*just a little bit*).

    Best line: “no one gets to make gravity their bitch”. I LOVED that.

    BTW-Your writing reminds me of Dave Barry (in a good way).

    Hope you have a great day.

  • Blake

    Very funny stuff. Well done & well said.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    Read this yesterday… hmmm…

    My guy’s sister is Wiccan or some kind of combination of Wiccan/Buddhist, though I think she’s more in the latter these days than the former. She’s not out to get anyone (unless maybe you’re in the Tea Party and then, it’s strictly political).

    Then again, there was a former online friend-turned-enemy of mine whom I haven’t seen hide nor digital hair of in years… she came from a Fundie Christian family and ditched that (keeping the “I am always right even when I change my opinions on something week to week!” attitude of Fundamentalism, of course) and the last I saw of her online, she was claiming to be into *something she called Wicca,* but it apparently allowed her and a roomate to brag on a website about putting a death-curse on someone they didn’t like (not me). All I could do upon seeing that was wonder “How does the Rule of Three apply here?”

    I seriously wonder – are people who say stuff like that like, the equivalent of certain televangelists and assorted angry-”Chrisitan” types who cite obscure Old Testament passages to justify their praying for curses and death to people? It’s not like we can deny those guys exist even as we can say “I believe in Jesus and am not like that.”

    If any of these “scary/spooky” sites are legit in any way (and not some scared-Christian propaganda), then they’re probably run by fluff bunnies, psuedo-goths and/or people who suffer from teh crazy worse than I do and need help.

  • Eric

    I am an eclectic Neopagan with Celtic tendencies. I have found both Christians and Pagans don’t always treat eachothers faith with much respect and there is plenty of stereotyping and blaming and who killed who going on. I love my Christian friends and family and respect their faith and I have always taken the position that no matter how committed anyone is to perceiving me as an enemy to them due to my Paganism I will never be that thing. Your viewpoint reminds me to stay on the right side of this thing and not assume someone is hostile to me because of their faith, thanks.

  • Joe Coyote

    First let me say Sorry to all you Spelling nazi’s out thier :)

    we crazy fun pagans out thier love everyone of you christions, even when you try to convert us.

    ohh trust me we have our own case of radicals and nut jobs within the pagan world every belife has them.

    each one of us is both Teacher as well as Student, because we all can teach oneanother also lol if your kid reads Harry Potter or plays Dungens & Dragons he or she is not going to become a devil worshiper nor is he/she going to say i’m a pagan now.

    As to the wearing of hooded robes its just ritual garb that some, not all of us wear to be afraid of hooded robes is the same as being afraid of any priestly garments.

    No we Dont Sacrafice Animals Nor Virgins! Sorry got to say this Do you know how hard it is to Find a 18 year old concenting virgin these days :p

    and on a final note :) if any of you christions wish to know what a pagan ritual is like go to a roman cathalic mass its close enuff just without the hoods on the robes, i hope the person who wrote first isnt scared of christion monks being they were hooded robes as well…

    • Lymis

      “christions”

      Isn’t that the fundamental subatomic particle of religious belief?

  • Dana Corby

    What a great column! I’ve been a Wiccan coven leader for 40+ years, and I’ve never seen a saner, more common-sense, or _funnier_ answer to the usual fears about Paganism! You absolutely ROCK!

  • byrd

    I identify as a Christian, but I love nature so much, and feel myself as such a part of nature, that I understand why most Pagans and Wiccans practice as they do. There is an aggressive strain of nature-hate in some fundamentalist Christian groups. I’ve heard that BIRDING is considered suspicious because it supposedly encourages belief in evolution and leads to people “revering feathered things over God’s greatest creation – Man.” So, John James Audubon: artist, naturalist, woodsman, Satanist. I can see how someone confronted with such an insane false dilemma would pick the coven.

  • Peet

    “…no one gets to make gravity their bitch.”

    If I wrote “LOL” that would so totally cheapen how hilarious that sentence is.

    We keep TRYING, though, don’t we! Airplanes, blimps, rockets, parachutes, hang-gliders, bungee cords…Fucking gravity, man. Always keeping you down.

  • Matt

    …You’re on the Tea Party’s mailing list?

    I’m picturing you going, “Honey, honey, there are cockroaches in my inbox again! Make it stop!” And Catherine’s all, “I’ll go get the Raid. And some napalm. Honestly, John, haven’t you learned to keep a can by the computer?”

    And you’re all, “Yes! But they mutate D:”

  • Allie

    Disclosure: during my college years I considered myself a pagan and ran around with a lot of varieties of pagan, mainly people calling themselves druids or wiccans. I know a bit about both the theory and the practice, and the first thing to point out is that there’s no one single group which governs these practices, so it’s impossible to generalize.

    It’s hard to read the Bible without noticing that particularly in the OT, entire chapters are devoted to destroying “groves and high places” where pagan gods were worshiped. There are two commandments out of ten forbidding worship of other gods and idols. It was clearly a priority, and I think it’s dishonest to simply ignore that.

    So… in light of the Great Commandment, which instructs us to love God and love our neighbor, and from which (we are told) all valid laws of God can be derived, I always try to figure out what the spirit behind the OT prohibitions was, and if it makes sense in a modern context.

    First, it’s necessary to point out that there are ten million different practices and beliefs which can be referred to by the word “pagan.” Even if you get specific and use a word like “Wiccan,” there are enormously different flavors of activity and many completely unrelated groups going by that name. So it’s not possible to make general statements about all paganism.

    Next. Obviously there are enormous differences between the paganism practiced by the neighbors of the writers of the Bible and modern paganism. I’m not aware of any modern pagans sacrificing infants, for example. I was going to say that I don’t know any who practice orgies, but that’s not actually true, I do know a couple who call themselves pagan and host ceremonial orgies. It goes without saying that any form of worship that is crazy and wrong if it weren’t being practiced in the name of religion is wrong even if it’s done in the name of religion. While I personally don’t necessarily think orgies among consenting adults are wrong, the thing about any behavior outside the norm is, the participants in any fringe activity are always at greater risk, because they aren’t being protected by the mores of the civilization as a whole. Orgies may not be categorically wrong at all times in all places, but they have a great potential for ill effects.

    Next issue: practices which are supposed to evoke supernatural activity. It seems to me that the God I meet in the pages of the Bible is strongly opposed to bullshit of any kind. Remember the bit where (I think) Daniel unmasks the idol which is supposed to “eat” the food which is placed before it and reveals that it’s all a hoax? God is not a god of lies. He hates hoaxes. And assuming it’s not a hoax, what then? That’s even worse. Calling up actual spirits to work actual magic really is forbidden. The general attitude of most moderate Christians is, “It’s all bullshit, so it’s basically harmless.” But that’s not the attitude found in the Bible. The attitude there is that either you’re harming yourself and sinning against your own spirit by being a giant honking moron, or you’re doing even worse by summoning spirits, or you’re doing both at the same time.

    So, how about nature worship? Hit Job 31:27 for me, please. In it Job is protesting his innocence before God. He is not an idolater, he says. He has never even kissed his hand to the moon. The implication being that if he had, it would have been an offense against God.

    Because God is not the moon, and the moon does not care if you kiss your hand to it. Teaching yourself to pretend that the moon cares if you kiss your hand does two wrong things: it harms your belief in a real God who really does care, and it teaches you a lie about the moon, which is a lovely thing as a part of creation and does not need lies told about it.

    • Allie

      Oh, and in more direct response to the letter writer’s question, I have an anecdote from high school days, not connected with paganism, more about pretending to the supernatural. I was a geek in high school and my friends and I were all big sf readers. Specifically we loved Marion Zimmer Bradley, and so we all had “soul stones” which we were “attuned to” and pretended that we had a circle who could communicate with each other mentally, trade energy, read auras, etc. While we were absolutely pretending, and on some level knew it would be absurd to believe we had superpowers out of a book, we talked and acted as if we really believed in this stuff, and it was a way to lighten the crushing boredom of school days.

      There was a girl in our group who was sweet, not bright, and a natural follower. One of our story lines involved an attack by a bad guy who had possessed one of our stones and was trying to attack our circle. And this girl, participating in this story, worked herself up emotionally and had a seizure. It was a very real seizure, she was not pretending or faking it. She hurt herself, and had to be hospitalized.

      John is right that no one gets to make gravity their bitch. But it’s quite possible for a suggestible person to auto-hypnotize herself into a fit, hear voices, or confabulate memories until she would swear impossible events really happened. The most likely danger in being around the sort of whackos who claim to summon demons, cast curses on people, and so on, doesn’t come from demons, but from being around whackos. It makes better sense to hang around people who are not acting crazy, and not act crazy yourself.

    • vj

      Allie, this was awesome – thank you so much for taking the time to put together such a comprehensive, and gracious, response.

    • Lymis

      I see what you are saying, and if your point is that Christians, or at least people who choose to follow whatever you would call the rules set down in the Old Testament, shouldn’t be doing some of these things, then you have a reasonable foundation for it.

      But choosing to follow the tradition you’ve chosen isn’t the same as condemning those who do otherwise. Even if the rules of your own tradition require you to do some things forbidden by another tradition, or forbid you to do things required by another tradition. Just within Christianity, things the Catholic requirements not to eat meat on Fridays in Lent or some traditions’ proscriptions of dancing or alcohol only apply to those who have chosen that set of rules. They aren’t universals.

      I have a problem with your moon example, because I think it completely misrepresents what the people who follow a tradition like that are doing. Simplifying it down to “telling lies about the moon” is misrepresenting that belief or tradition.

      I’m not a pagan, so I won’t pretend to tell you what people who “worship” the moon feel that they are doing, but one thing I can say pretty confidently is that they aren’t claiming that the literal moon isn’t a big hunk of rock in orbit. I doubt anyone is claiming that “the moon cares” so much as that they are engaging some energy, being, or symbolic reality that is represented in natural reality by the physical moon, or using their experience of the moon to put themselves into a state of mind or spirit that the moon is a physical reflection or representation of.

      The meaning of the story of Mary and Martha seems to me to apply here. If what you are doing works for you, then embrace it and go with it and live it fully. But you don’t have to view what other people are doing through the lens of your own experience and condemn them for it simply because it isn’t what you have chosen for yourself.

      • Jill

        Beautiful, Lymis. This has been something I’ve had a difficult time putting into words as I re-investigate and reframe the faith of my past. Perhaps there is a baseline assumption made by Christians who are connected to Biblical context and detail that anyone aligning themselves with Christ but are not engaged in a firm application of scripture are not serious Christians or are wishy-washy about their commitment. (***I recognize this is a generalizing comment.***)

        Yet me and my friends who, regardless of religious conviction, apply the intent and tone of scripture through the “God is love” lens, and frankly allow much of the rest to fall away. They might call God something different, they may or may not debate the divinity of Jesus, they might follow their own rituals, ceremonies, and sacred activities based on their personal direction, but we all meet in the middle with respect and compassion for each other and the world. And because I view Christ through that lens, I view myself just as committed, just as vitally a member of his congregation.

    • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

      “It goes without saying that any form of worship that is crazy and wrong if it weren’t being practiced in the name of religion is wrong even if it’s done in the name of religion.”

      “It seems to me that the God I meet in the pages of the Bible is strongly opposed to bullshit of any kind.”

      I love these. If only more Christians understood this…

      • Lymis

        The problem is that one person’s bullshit is another person’s deep symbolic reality, and vice versa.

        I think sometimes that our familiarity with the Christian tradition blinds us to how some of the claims Christians make look to people who don’t share the tradition. Virgin Birth, angels proclaiming things to shepherds, dead people coming back to life, and so on. Most pagan beliefs that I’ve ever heard aren’t that outlandish in context, and many of them make far more sense.

        • Jill

          And it wasn’t until, through the school of hard knocks, I had to step back from what I thought I ‘absolutely knew’ about scripture, faith, God–the whole shooting match that I was humbled enough to see beauty and connection to a higher knowing in people not calling themselves Christian. I had no freakin clue! There were people that even completely challenged my long-held beliefs, but did so with gentleness. They didn’t attempt to ‘convert’ me, to corrupt or subvert me. They simply showed me kindness and acceptance not found in my church.

          Through their kindness that could not be attributed to their Christianity, I began to understand a deeper love than a stubbornly-held religious belief.

          This is where I cannot agree more with John when he has said it requires us to know, actually connect with people whom we have once judged as (fill in the blank). Once we put a human face to our criticisms, we lose our vice-like hold on that opinion. We are incapable of holding intolerance and love in the same space.

    • Eoghan

      Allie,

      I’m just presenting an outside angle, here. Speaking as a hellbound heathen (which is the nicest of many things I’ve been called…)

      *Note: I’m trying to simplify concepts that aren’t always easy to convey between cultures, and so, I’m leaving things out.

      I was raised in a more Native American way. It’s nothing that’s been codified, no real dogmas or doctrines attached to it, it’s more of a cultural thing.

      I can’t even say that I’m exactly religious, as the term is usually meant in the Judeo-Islamo-Christian sense. I also don’t ‘worship’ in that common sense. I’ve seen various neo-pagan groups, and… no, not for me. I’m still a heathen, but I’ve my own road to walk.

      I’d have to say I’m somewhere between animistic, and pantheistic.

      To me, god is everything, as well as something above and beyond what we’ll ever understand. It (he) is all we see, all we think we know, all we could ever know, and all that we will *never* know. You could say that god is ‘in’ everything. God is (or is in) the mountain, the tree, God is the hawk diving for the rabbit, just as God is the rabbit that eludes the hawk. God is that which creates, and as we’ve seen, creation just keeps on creating. That’s how I feel God.

      There’s an apache song that I use to ‘sing the sunset’. I sing to show appreciation for having the sun, for all that we have here because there is a sun in the sky, for the things that grow, the warmth, the light of day. Now, you’re right. I don’t ‘worship’ the sun. The sun doesn’t give a damn if I say thank you or not. The sun isn’t going to get angry that one little human forgot to say thanks tonight, or that he said it just the wrong way. But to me, it doesn’t matter if the sun cares or not. *I* care, *I* am grateful, and so *I choose* to show respect. And I feel that by admiring and appreciating and being thankful for the sun being around, I’m also admiring and appreciating and being thankful to that which made all things, the great artist that made the sun, and our world, and us. I see it like an artist. Many artists, in a way, put pieces of themselves into their art, and in a similar way, they are speaking through their art. God is the greatest artist going.

      Spirits: I believe in spirits etc. Generally speaking, trying to ‘bond and control’ a spirit is a really stupid idea, if you consider what they are reputed to be able to do. Say, once you have to release it.. I’d imagine it wouldn’t be too happy with you.. that is, if it thinks too similarly to a human. To my understanding, spirits, angels, or what have you, are just different faces of the All That Is or ‘God’. Spirit or spirits/angels are a part of god that sometimes gets directly involved in our matters. So.. yeah, god takes a direct hand in our ways from time to time.

      Idols: Now I don’t doubt that some folk in the past actually believed that the statue ate the offerings. Others knew it for a symbolic gesture, much like many Hindus. *I* go outside and offer pieces of food etc. from time to time. I’m usually offering it up ‘to the desert’ in a sense. By that, I mean that I’m saying “anybody (animal) that could use this, please enjoy what I have to offer”, because here in the desert, resources are scarce, and so.. if I can help a little, I do so. We all live here, right? I honor god, by trying to help what god made.

      And even if I were to make a statue or painting that I dedicate to God, and decide to leave offerings.. I’d not be worshiping the statue, I’d be showing honor to what it represented, honoring God. Now, this is not my Way, but this is how I understand the idea of idols. I’m sure ‘fundamentalists’ existed even in the ancient world, and they were likely the sort who’d say “The statue *does* eat our offerings!!!” And I’m sure that these irksome fundamentalists were what troubled the early christians, and spurred *them* into acts of vandalism and more. I can’t entirely blame them… Anyone who goes looking for trouble (as these fundamentalists were likely doing) tends to call trouble back onto themselves. We see that same thing today. Look at Westboro Baptist, and the overly sensitive folks (not all the folks) in the Muslim countries…

      I’ve read the bible. I don’t subscribe to it. I see great beauty in it, I also see things I can’t stand with. That’s just me. Maybe I am going to hell (At least I’ll know people there…) lol

      I don’t believe that God is the sort to get mad if I call it/him by the wrong name, or any such thing. I see god as above such petty things. I see God (that which creates) as far far greater than us, and so isn’t subject to our flaws, such as jealousy, rage, etc. I know the Bible says otherwise.

      Again, I was only trying to provide an outside angle here, maybe some new perspectives on old ideas or possible misconceptions. Just in case, I will say I meant no offense in anything I said. If offense is still taken through misunderstanding, I will apologize and try to make things right if I can.

      • Eoghan

        Just felt I should add:

        I really think god is god, meaning we’re all talking about the same thing, we just each have a different cultural basis for understanding it. God speaks to each in ways they can understand, yeah?

        Just do the best we can to and for the people around us, and to the world around us, and be thankful. That seems the baseline for most Ways around the world, if you strip away dogmas and cultural style differences.

      • http://small-letters.com Mindy M.

        really lovely to read… thank you so much Eoghan!

        I no longer identify as a Christian/christian, and I have always been drawn to what little I know about the Native American way.

        I get so much out of John’s posts, and everyone’s comments, but still I’m glad to be reminded here and there that it’s ok to be here myself even if I don’t identify as Christian, that I’m not alone in that.

        • Eoghan

          Thanks Mindy.

          I love reading John’s work, it’s always a beauty to me.

          I had some really psycho crazy experiences from fundamentalists back home, starting in school, but not only from kids. What I understood from reading the bible was “Love god, and Love thy neighbor as thyself” I found out that most were more interested in The Great Commission (convert the world) rather than the Great Commandment. If they couldn’t convert you, they’d swing fists and more at you, thinking they were doing you a favor. I knew on some level they really wanted to ‘save my soul’ from something horrible. After you’d had to defend yourself a few times, they spread it ’round that you were a ‘satanist’ whereupon things got even worse… and at that time, with the Dale Akiki thing going on, everybody was looking for ‘satanists’ under every bush. I was almost a pacifist, unless I was backed into a corner and was facing serious damage. I hated hurting anyone, even in self defense. I wasn’t keen on causing a lot of damage, I’d just get to where I could restrain and end hostilities that way. I knew how to fight, but I hated doing it. I hear some christians say that the bad old days couldn’t happen today… I say “don’t tell me that.. I lived through some of it, and I still see it waiting to fully bloom again. Just look at Westboro, and others…” The doctrines that were the foundation for the bad old times are still there, they just have law keeping them reined in for now. Thank God.

          I’ve always liked learning about people. That’s always been my way. But after this, I did a lot of study, to know what was coming at me and others (god what I saw done to some others…). My point in mentioning all this is that when I read John’s writings, I feel some real hope for Christianity. John’s posts, to me, show a maturity, a rare willingness to question things, and a fantastic sense of humour!

          There’s a lot of beauty in Christianity… it’s just been strangle-tied by some ideas with scary implications and effects for so long (as history has shown). I’ve heard some ‘neo-pagans’ and atheists who talk about wanting Christianity to just jump in a hole and pull the dirt on top of it. That’s not cool. Christianity’s become so entrenched, it’s become a culture (cultures?) of it’s own. I don’t like how Christianity in it’s myriad forms has assimilated, erased and rewritten so many cultures, so I don’t believe in doing it back to those who are Christian and have known nothing else. I just wish it’d leave the rest of us to what little we have left. lol I really don’t want to lose the beauty and wisdom that there is in the Christian teachings. I don’t want division of ways of life, I don’t want one ‘faith’ setting itself in opposition to any other. If we can stop the “we have The Right Way”, I really believe our peoples could start to learn so much more, and rise higher. I don’t believe in utopia, but I do believe that if we could choose to learn from each-other, then perhaps we could start to move forward at tiny bit as a species. As any culture grows, including my own root cultures, it’s important to recognize the bad, shed it or re-channel it into something better, and to enhance the healthier practices. “Accen-tu-ate the pos-i-tive, E-li-min-ate the negative” ;)

          As far as Native… First off, generally speaking, since I can speak for all peoples, native ways tend to be pretty personal. I have my road, I can’t ask you or anyone to walk my road. I’ve had folks say they wanted to get into the native way (there are many many different ‘native ways’). If they were Christian, I often look at them and want to say “what are you crazy?” lol As a Christian, you can put your deeds on Christ, and be made pure again. One thing most (I can’t say ‘all’) native ways seem to agree on is that we are responsible for everything we do, and everything we don’t do. Our sins are our own. Our cruelties, our kindnesses, our victories, our inactions, our prejudices… The responsibility is ours. If I hurt someone, *I* have to pray I can find a way to make it as close to right as I possibly can. If I see someone in trouble and I don’t do anything to help, that’s on me. If I fail to help that one, the best I can hope for is that I’ll be able to help another, but that doesn’t erase the fact that I didn’t help the first person. So, as I understand, those who’re interested in native ways have to ask themselves if they really want that responsibility. That’s part of why I can and will never convert… it’d break my brain. lol To me, (meaning nothing on anyone else) converting would mean abdicating my own responsibilities as a human being. I can’t do that and still live with myself. Again, that’s just me, on my road. To me, it’s all about being the best human being I can be, and hope I can at least balance out in the end. But I don’t believe I have a monopoly on ‘the one right way’. I know I don’t. I’ve known people of all faiths who I feel are better people than I am. I’ve seen rowdy rasty people who actually hide kind hearts, and their masks fall away more often than they might like to admit. On the other hand, I’ve seen many with the very loud attitude of “*I’m* saved, so t’ hell with the rest of y’all” Others who feel that maybe the more souls they rope in, the better their chances of getting into heaven. I’ve seen many who wear a mask of kindness, but you see something very different if you pay attention to what they actually say or do. Those who mistake condescension for benevolence.. etc. I ask ‘why?’, all the time, trying to see things from the other’s standpoint. It’s the only way to understand, yeah? Doesn’t always work, but it’s still important to push for that understanding.

          This push for understanding is part of what I get from John’s writings, and it’s gorgeous to see!

          This probably wasn’t as lovely a post, and I’m sorry.

          **end blab**

          • Eoghan

            Grr…

            **Since I *can’t* speak for all peoples… *can’t*…

            And I proofread that damn thing over and over… gah..

          • Diana A.

            “I hear some christians say that the bad old days couldn’t happen today… I say “don’t tell me that.. I lived through some of it, and I still see it waiting to fully bloom again. Just look at Westboro, and others…” The doctrines that were the foundation for the bad old times are still there, they just have law keeping them reined in for now. Thank God.”

            Yeah. Reminds me of The Third Wave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave) and the TV movie based upon it (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083316/)

      • Allie

        Eoghan, I think you’re right that there is a right way to do these things, as well as a wrong way. And there’s also such a thing as putting too much thought into it – when I was a small child, a fundamentalist parent of one of my friends tried to terrify me with a tract for children explaining that wishing on a star was idolatry and would send you to hell. Most people would probably find that notion silly. I find it silly. I hope and believe God finds it silly – because such a humorless didactic little jerk of a God doesn’t seem very likely to have created this amazing world.

        But there does seem to be a strong drive in human beings to elevate unimportant things to great importance. Is it bad that you feel grateful for the sun? I don’t think it is bad, and although as a Christian I could argue that you could go farther, looking past the sun and being grateful to the creator of the sun, that doesn’t make going as far as you go bad. It seems to be good for you, personally, and that in itself is good. But at the same time, I’m sure you’re also aware that more than one nation in the Americas killed people as a sacrifice to the sun. It seems absurd to turn a wholesome impulse like yours into murder – but somehow, for a large enough percentage of people to make up the traditions of a nation, it’s possible to get from point A to point B.

        You see this drive a lot in matters which aren’t strictly religious. Take homeowner’s associations. Somehow we get from “I like grass” to “You are in violation if your grass is not trimmed to the predetermined depth.” This is absolutely not important, and yet people spent time and mental energy on it as if it were a moral issue, as if there was “right” and “wrong” grass, instead of on things which really are important.

        I don’t hold strong opinions on these matters. It’s definitely not my business what others do with their interior lives. But as a believer in Christ, who was born into and raised in the Jewish tradition, when the Bible says “This is bad,” I do try to look at whatever it is to see if it really is bad, or at least to try to understand why that was said, before dismissing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LostInSpaceMan SteveCampsOut

    I find the notion of allowing fear to motivate you to be a very unchristian thing for any real Christian to do. I mean seriously! Unless your Christianity is more ritual and Dogma than faith and a relationship with God thru Jesus as your intercessor, you have nothing to fear from anything spiritual that a Pagan can do. How many times does God have to demonstrate that he is more powerful than some lowly demonic power for us to get it that Our Creator can beat their devil any day of the week including Sunday when he’s at rest! Am I being too harsh? Not unless you want to ignore all the scriptures where God tells us to “Fear Not”! Stop letting your flesh rule your spirit.

    • catrenn

      Sorry, he’s your devil. Pagans don’t have one.

      Doesn’t the Book say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?

    • Melody

      The fact that you say “their devil” indicates you know nothing about Paganism. Please educate yourself before spouting off such ridiculous drivel.

      • Kate

        Yeah Steve…. what catrenn and Melody said.

  • http://allthatsparkles.typepad.com sparkly jules

    Hi John,

    Regular reader, first time commenter. I find your support as a Christian for the gay community refreshing as well as kind and even, well, Christian. I was wondering if you had heard of the blog http://www.joshweed.com/ ? It’s about a Mormon man who is gay, but married a woman, has three children, and is very happy. He’s going to be on Nightline tomorrow night.

    I know of a few relationships like this second-hand, and I don’t know how they work except that love is a powerful thing and it wants what it wants when it wants it.

    I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this.

    Thanks so much for the fine words you post.

    Cheers,

    Jules

  • MaryKaye

    There are plenty of people within both Christian and Pagan traditions who have heard what they understood to be divine voices directing them to do things. The Bible story of Abraham and Isaac is a disturbing example.

    I have seen first-hand both Christian and Pagan people who experienced leadings that appeared to lead to greater love, virtue, and peace, and also ones who have experienced leadings that led to harm and suffering.

    My own belief about this (I’m Pagan myself) is that you are always responsible for your own actions, no matter what the gods say. This means that in Abraham’s situation I would have to say No, I won’t sacrifice my own child. But when my patron god said quite plainly “Stop procrastinating and study martial arts *now*”–I thought about it, and there seemed to be good sense and no harm in it, so I did. (He was right; I learned a ton of things I needed to know, mostly by being asked to teach kids. Not at all the kinds of things I expected, but useful things.)

    • Lisa

      Morality is doing what’s right regardless of what you’re told.

      Obedience is doing what you’re told regardless of what’s right.

      I don’t know for sure, but my impression is that many Christians rank Obedience higher, with the assumption that Morality actually only springs from God, so whatever He tells you to do is automatically right.

      As Mal said, “I do not hold to that.” But that many do explains why they would listen to the voice of a God that told them to do something they considered wrong, I think.

  • rexreg

    on a lighter note, if you eat the right mushrooms you, too, can have a conversation w/ god(s)

  • Jim S

    Flesh and Blood. Not bones. If you’re not careful, I’ll start to doubt your Christian bona fides…..

  • anakinmcfly

    hah, I was about halfway through before I remembered that I was the one who sent this, ages ago. I’d wondered why it never appeared; I think the feed broke or something, because I don’t recall seeing it on your blog’s main page.

    Anyway, thanks for the response!

    “When in the grips of terror, do you tend to write stuff?”

    Yes. Yes I do. Writing seems to be my go-to action to deal with fear. Grandma dying of terminal illness in hospital -> blogged about it. Sexually harassed by a doctor -> curled up in a chair in the hospital room, still trembling, and blogged about it (and e-mailed people, and texted my mother to please come get me because my legs were refusing to walk and I just wanted to sit there and cry forever.) And so on. If I ever find myself running in terror from marauding zombies, I will find a way to get online and blog about it. And none of my posts will have proper capitalization.

    “Anyway, why so afraid? Cuz of something you read on the Internet?”

    But those people actually exist out there! The guy (girl?) who claimed Loki told him to set his house and family on fire might have actually done so! plus he’d been calmly discussing that with likeminded people who didn’t even think this was slightly weird. Reading those things shattered my idea of the world as an safely rational place ultimately ruled by scientific laws. It suggested that there might indeed be creepy things that go bump in the night, people who get possessed by demons and hurt other people against their will (what if it’s me one day), and that horror movies that claimed to be based on real events might indeed have been based on real events; and I was terrified at the notion that that’s the kind of world we live in.

  • Julie Rodriguez Green

    Best response yet to a reader letter. ;-)

  • anakinmcfly

    Also, does this mean that everyone who has claimed to experience that stuff are just crazy or high or both? My mother is neither to the best of my knowledge; but she witnessed at least two possessions and exorcisms while she was in a Christian group, in one of which the possessed kid apparently displayed superhuman strength, requiring multiple grown men to restrain him, and attempted to run out into traffic to kill the host.

    My aunts also swear to the existence of ghosts – apart from having seen some, they live next-next door to an allegedly haunted house that has seen multiple families come and shortly go in terror due to said ghosts. My mother told them that there’s no such thing as ghosts, just demons, though I’m unsure how that was supposed to be comforting given that demons are way scarier than Casper.

  • Melinda Hailey

    Love, love, love the humor, Mr. Shore!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X