What if We Really Had Religious Choice?

This past Monday night I turned my brain into the “off” position to watch a football documentary. At one point in the documentary a very well known player shows up on screen wearing a “Psalm 91″ t-shirt. The player in question had recently been “born again” and had been extremely loud about it in interviews and with teammates. I have no problem with people choosing to embrace Jesus or choosing to walk with him a second time, but the image put an end to my thinking sabbatical and made me wonder “what would it be like if really had religious choice in the United States?”

Certainly we are free to worship (and not worship) as we choose, and America is full of various religions as a consequence. We are a nation of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Mormons, Pagans, Hindus, and more. The majority of those faiths are made up of people born into them. Certainly people convert to other religions, but I’m willing to bet they are the statistical exception in the United States. Most people end up following the religion of their parents, or perhaps a socially approved alternative (which is why it’s OK to go from being a Methodist to an Evangelical).

Thinking about the football player on my TV, it occurred to me that his religious choices were probably limited. I’m going to assume he grew up in a nominally Christian household, and that as a football player he was often exposed to Christianity. (Football is a traditionally conservative institution and every college and NFL locker room has at least one true believer around.) When deciding that he needed spiritual direction in his life it seems probable that the only religions he had ever encountered in a significant and non-biased way were Christianity, Islam, and perhaps Judaism. I have yet to meet a Wiccan NFL quarterback.

Despite the stupid that often comes from the mouths of the far-Christian-right, most people are not really exposed to alternative religions, especially away from the coasts. The majority of retail establishments cater to Christian (and sometimes Jewish) religious traditions. (Good luck finding an Imbolc card.) Television specials and news programming also cater to a “Judeo-Christian*” audience (and that’s why we’re still waiting for an Aleister Crowley miniseries while the “Bible Par Two” will air on network TV). Some faiths, like Islam and Hinduism for example, are extremely visible in certain ares of the United States, and then vilified or completely ignored in others. Only Christianity is truly “nation-wide” as a religious grouping.

Even here on Patheos I sometimes feel like an outsider. I’ve had a lot of my articles on the front page of the website, and due to that I’ve reached a larger audience than I ever could have imagined just two years ago, but there are times when it’s painfully obvious that I’m living in an online world dominated by just one religion. The vast majority of the books we are asked to review site wide generally have a Christian bent, and the Patheos What Do I Really Believe Series? asked a lot of questions that generally have no relevance to Pagans. I don’t think this is representative of some sort of dastardly plot against Pagans, but it does illustrate just how unequal the playing field is when it comes to religious discourse.

This is why I believe my football player didn’t really have a choice when it came to choosing a faith. If he wanted to be religious it was basically Christianity or the high-way. Picking another faith might have meant being ostracized in the locker room and could have resulted in less lucrative endorsement opportunities. There’s also the difficulty in simply finding out about alternative religious choices.

I know what you are thinking “I got here, it can’t be that difficult” but I would argue that it actually is. Coming to Paganism requires a certain type of thinking. You have to be inquisitive, open-minded, and not completely satisfied with the status quo. You have to wade into certain areas of the internet (and formerly, the bookstore) that most people just don’t go to. Google the word “Pagan” and you’ll get several definitions of the word (with some being better than others) and lots of news about San Francisco Giants outfielder “Angel Pagan.” The seventh entry for the word comes from the Catholic Encyclopedia, and I’m sure that’s completely bias free. It takes a certain kind of personality just to find Modern Paganism, let alone embrace it or understand it.

Certainly we are more visible today than in the past, but “entertainments” (whether they be books, movies, or television shows) generally appeal to niche audiences. Fifty million people no longer watch the same program (unless it’s football, seriously) or read the same book, so while we might end up on television only a million people might be watching, and those shows might just be preaching to the choir. Even if someone completely oblivious to Paganism does end up watching the Biography Channel’s Witches special, it doesn’t mean they’ll end up actively engaged. I’ve watched shows on the Baha’i Faith and it didn’t immediately make me want to run out and learn more.

The hardest part about accepting an alternative faith as your own might come during the inevitable “judgement moments” most of us have to go through. How many people out there have had bad experiences with friends or family after embracing Paganism? I’ve lost people I love due to my religious choice, and a lot of my peers from high school just don’t know what to think of me these days. I’m sure there are individuals out there who just can’t deal with losing the people they love and therefore retreat from less mainstream religions. There are also the folks who are forced to live in the broom closet due to their spiritual choices. I live in liberal progressive California and I know people who are forced to hide their religious choice because they work for overly religious Christians. Sure, there are laws against firing someone over their religion, but who wants to test that in this economy? It’s just not always so easy.

All of that’s why I’m not sure we have true religious choice in America. Even people in the entertainment industry (a notoriously liberal institution) are hesitant to come out as belonging to an alternative faith. (That’s why actors who seem “Pagan” never admit to it, and why Will Smith has been mum about Scientology.) There are all sorts of factors that negate religious choice in the United States, and even more variables that make admitting to things outside the mainstream problematic. Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t teach “comparative religion” in our public schools is because it would expose young people to ideas that might challenge the status quo. One religion has a near monopoly when it comes to controlling religious discourse, and a lot of those folks are not the type to share and play nicely with others.

Can you even imagine a truly post-Christian United States? A nation full of people with an understanding of faith traditions outside of their own, with temples, mosques, groves, and churches dotting the downtowns of Main Street, Anytown USA. Religious programs about Pagans outside of Halloween and mentions of Islam outside the contexts of terrorism and Middle East policy. Perhaps one day we’d even live in a land that understood that Sikhs aren’t Muslims or Hindus. Then there are the images of families full of believers from across the religious spectrum and of course NFL Players with shirts that say “An it harm none” instead of “Psalm 29.”

*One of my college professor friends hates the term Judeo-Christian. I generally do too, but it’s a lazy way of getting my point across.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • kenofken

    “Can you even imagine a truly post-Christian United States?”…….

    Yes, and we’re closer to that than we may think. Christianity has gone from near-unanimous, 86 % of the population in 1990, to something closer to 70% today. The reality is also more complex than those numbers. Even though Christianity still has the dominant cultural and political narrative, most Christians are not that devout, and many hold very heterodox, even pagan values these days. More importantly, the Judeo-Christian consensus that imposed its values through government in a quasi-theocratic fashion for 200 years is crumbling with changes in views about gay marriage etc.

    Do we really have a choice given that most of us have this cultural Christian default? We can look at the glass half full or empty. It’s true that your birth circumstances tend to dictate a lot of how your life may turn out, including religion. On the other hand, potential young pagans have never had such a good set of tools and latitude to make that choice as they have now.

    That’s not to say everyone has an easy time coming out as a pagan these days, but on average, it’s much better than even a decade or two ago. The information is everywhere, and identifying as a witch or pagan does not elicit the same sort of “satanic panic” it used to. We have become a society that is increasingly secular and has de-emphasized religion as an identifier of people. Nearly half of all Americans do change faith at least once in their lives, although a lot of that movement is from one protestant branch to another or increasingly to “none of the above.”

    Mileage on all of this of course varies by where you live, but even in fairly insular rural Christian enclaves, people are increasingly living with and working alongside Muslims, Hindus, atheists, you name it. They’re not always liking it, but they’re getting used to it.

    Still, I agree that the journey from the dominant religion to pagan paths is not a very easy or likely one. I have mixed feelings about that. I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing. For all of our lack of cohesion and organization, pagan religions have had one great strength in modern times. Those who come to us and stay tend to do so out of real intention and conscious choice.

    That, I believe, is what has allowed us to punch far above our weight in the battle for our legal rights and in our “ministry ” to the society at large. We may get more than our share of snickering, and not everyone wants to take our label, but our values – sustainability, experiential and personal relationships with the divine etc., are gaining real currency in mainstream society. We are much stronger as a group by virtue of the fact that most of us had to do the internal work and take the journey and suffer a little for it rather than just drifting with whatever identity our birth origins assigned us. I’ve told Christians that I think THEY will also be better off as we move toward real pluralism and they lose their privileged cultural hegemony. Increasingly, people of all religious persuasions are going to be there out of true conviction and conscious choice rather than cultural inertia.

  • ibejedi

    Great article Jason, and (as it often seems to be) right on target with a lot of things I’ve been thinking more about recently — and wrestling with.

    While I will agree with another commenter that things are better than they have been in the past, there are still many miles left to be traveled. Thanks to the internet and a generally wider world view, people do have more exposure to “alternative” faiths. Thanks to yoga and other non-religious practices, many more people know a little about Buddhism and Hinduism. You can find books on Wicca and other Pagan pursuits in Barnes and Noble, right next to other “new age” books; instead of in some dark, patchouli-scented headshop in a college town.

    But an experience I had a couple of weeks ago when I shared a link on my FB page reinforced the view that the US is still a predominantly Christian country. The link I shared was this:

    http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/05/list-of-examples-of-christian-privileg/

    Examples of “Christian Privilege”. I shared it with the caveat that it was food for thought, etc. – not mentioning my own personal beliefs (some people close to me know — many don’t). The response I got, while not surprising, and completely predictable, was disheartening. The worst part is when it comes from people you like, and have always had a favorable opinion of (and they have thought highly of you) and family (extended, but still family).

    I was met with, “We have freedom of religion in the US” and “It’s time to stop attacking Christianity” and “The US is ‘One Nation Under God’, just as our forefathers intended” and “Christian morals and ideas are part of our society” and…well, you get the idea. Putting aside the facts of our forefathers’ religious ideas (Unitarians/Universalists/Athiests anyone??), and the idea that only Christians share our generally accepted societal mores, there was just so much wrong with the response.

    One thing that was particularly hurtful was when one of these people said that they thought the author of the article must be joking or not serious — and that they found #7-9 on the list to be laughable. That “those things are just silly, they don’t happen”.

    What are items 7-9 on the list I reference?

    7. A bumper sticker supporting your religion won’t likely lead to your car being vandalized.

    8. You can practice your religious customs without being questioned, mocked, or inhibited.

    9. If you are being tried in court, you can assume that the jury of “your peers” will share your faith and not hold that against you in weighing decisions.

    I think it’s #9 that really gets me — to have someone mock the idea that people use religion to judge people — to determine their freedom — was hurtful and upsetting. Yes, many of the items on the list are a little frivolous, and maybe tongue-in-cheek. But they are all true — whether you choose to see or not. I guess it proved the second sentence of the article: “If you identify as Christian, there’s a good chance you’ve never thought about these things.” They really had no clue. They have no idea what it’s like to experience any of these things.
    They have no idea what it’s like to feel uncomfortable wearing a small necklace with a symbol sacred to your faith to work. They have no idea how it feels to see your faith, ideas and spirituality mocked, dismissed and belittled by the mainstream of our society, every day. They have no idea how hard it is to keep your mouth closed, when you want to sing aloud to the world the joy, peace, comfort and happiness your faith has brought you.

    Of course I tried to respond, and have a civil discourse, while pointing out above stated facts and gently implying that the US is not supposed to be a theocracy — but I’m sure you can all see how that went. Then a family member joins in with a “I’m proud to follow Jesus Christ and that’s what makes our nation good and everything that’s wrong with our country is people stepping away from Christ.” Instead — the non-confrontational person I am just deleted the post, wrote a few pages about my emotional turmoil, and closed the closet door just a little tighter.
    I’m not trying to say, “Woe is me, the poor Pagan” or start a whine fest. But it was a valuable lesson to me that many, many people and facets of our lives have not changed — and that you have to weigh that fact when you decide how openly you are going to live your faith. For me — it means still walking in shadows, stepping into the sun for only brief moments of time.

    (Sorry if I hijacked you a bit Jason. Maybe it’s time to start blogging myself :)

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    You know what is harder than imagining a Post-Christian USA (or, in my case, UK)?

    Working out how to get there.

    • Guest

      I live in the UK and it seems quite Post-Christian to me. Christianity is often mocked, other religions get some TV time (like on Channel 4′s 4 thought TV http://www.4thought.tv/tags/pagan, or that program about Wicca the other week), politicians don’t have to be Christian and can be openly atheist and no-one really asks about your religion at social occasions. Okay, so there’s bishops in the house of Lords and the Queen is also the head of the church, but when it comes to society, Christianity is not that dominant.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Yet we all still take Christmas off…

        • Guest

          I’m sure you can work Christmas if you want to, but why would you want to? To change that would mean that employers wouldn’t have to give those days off to people, and that would lead to less holidays overall. Christmas now is more of a cultural tradition than a religious day. You don’t have to go to church. The religious programming is easy to avoid. There’s usually a film on, which is more likely to star Father Christmas than Jesus Christ. I’m atheist and I love Christmas.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Christmas is a national holiday. The vast majority of businesses do not operate on Christmas (there is a bizarre law that prevents food from having a use by on the 25th of December), educational establishments are closed. The practicalities are that Christmas and Easter are not days that most people in Britain will have the option to work on.

            The very fact that Christmas is ‘cultural’ shows just how entrenched Christianity is to British society, don’t you think? People can say “Oh, there is no religious aspect any more”, but that really doesn’t fly when the name is still CHRISTmas.

            Something that plenty of Pagans bemoan is the Christian appropriation of religious festivals. Why should the secular appropriation of Christian festivals be any less distasteful?

            I am not Christian, I do not celebrate Christmas. To celebrate it would be disrespectful to the Christians I know and disrespectful to my own ideologies. If I want to celebrate, I will celebrate something that actually has personal meaning.

          • Brian Michael Shea

            Once again, there are a lot of businesses open on Christmas, and all the other holidays as well. I actually went to a mall on Christmas once, something that I never have done before or since, and basically all the shops were open, and the theatre, and the place was packed full of people. It appears that people just shop on holidays, just like they do every other day. Where I work the only day it is closed in the whole year is Christmas.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Must be different where you are. It certainly is not like that here.

          • Brian Michael Shea

            Americans are lucky if they get any holiday at all off anymore.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    “Google the word “Pagan” and you’ll get several definitions of the word (with some being better than others)”
    More than that, I have just discovered the “Religion Stylebook” a resource for journalists about religious terms.

    Here is what it says about “pagan”:

    “Generally, a person who does not acknowledge the God of Judaism,
    Christianity or Islam and who is a worshipper of a polytheistic
    religion. Many pagans follow an Earth-based or nature religion. The
    modern religious movement known as neo-paganism has adopted the name as a badge of faith. Note: Some pagans prefer to see the term capitalized. See neo-paganism.”

    “Neo-paganism”:

    “A term used to describe contemporary paganism, as opposed to ancient
    paganism. Some groups or individuals describe themselves as “pagan”
    because they trace their belief and practices back to ancient times and
    the emphasis on the natural world and goddess worship. Others prefer
    “neo-pagan” because their faith blends the old and the new.”

    • Jason Hatter

      I just saw a post about someone who walks a Northern Traditions path who said that after a recent kerfluffle about Asatru, he was approached and asked to help the Religion Stylebook update some of it’s information.

      {edit} and then Jason @ the Wild Hunt blogs about it…
      http://wildhunt.org/2013/09/asatru-added-to-religion-stylebook-and-why-journalist-engagement-matters.html

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Yeah, I follow that guy on FB. He has some very good stuff. (Dr. Siegfried is actually how I found the resource in the first place.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/marla.vandermeer Marla Vander Meer

    Good article!

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    What we are dealing with here are the deeply entrenched and long-lasting consequences of a very simple fact: What we today refer to vaguely as “the West” was, until very recently, routinely referred to as “Christendom“.

    In the US, Europe, Latin America, and a few other places (especially the colonial-settler states of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), we still live in “Christendom” in all but name. True religious freedom is impossible unless there are multiple viable alternatives that are not socially marginalized. Put another way, there is no religious freedom as long as Christianity continues to “dominate”.

    This is going to take a while. And it is a major reason why Pagans should cultivate positive relationships with Buddhists and Hindus in the West. They are our allies in this long game of dismantling Christian privilege.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      What worked for Christianity was a temple building (reclamation) programme and a determined Mission to spread the word of their religion.

      Maybe if there was a(n obvious) Pagan temple in every major town and city, and people telling stories about the gods, there would be less of a Christonormative bias to society.

  • Ambaa

    I feel where you’re coming from :) It’s a challenge to be a religious minority here on Patheos and in America in general.

    I criticized a book club book a little while ago and the author told me that his book has helped “Christians and non-Christians” alike. I realized that when I said the book was really only useful for Christians I should have said “Christians and potential Christians.” When he says “non-Christians” he’s talking about people like you describe who decide to become more spiritual and go to Christianity because it’s really the only option they know of.

  • sunflwrmoonbeam

    I hear what you’re saying, and agree that the pressures of religious conformity are intense, but I fundamentally disagree with your thesis. Religion in the US is no longer a matter of culture or even family, but viewed and treated as a positive choice. This is why Christian denomination x tries to convert Christian denomination y to their way of thinking, why Evangelicals focus on the altar calls and conversion experiences. Even the “faithful” Catholics I know speak of their children “choosing” to become confirmed. It’s no longer “my people are x religion” but “I am x religion.”

    This is the legacy of Protestantism, this divorcing of religion from culture. It’s this deeply embedded framework of choosing your religion that allows the Pagan movement to flourish. I’ve never once had someone express shock that I could choose what religion to follow. They disagree with my choice, but with one exception no one has even suggested I don’t have a choice (no stepmom, Lutheranism isn’t passed down genetically).

    This “choice” is always constrained, often coerced, but it’s framed as a choice.

    • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

      I agree with you that we do not suffer any lack of choice, but would disagree that religion and culture or family are no longer joined. Sure they are, check out the southern states and many of their communities preferring to pray before football games, post the 10 commandments in their court buildings, and present creches at Christmas on public lands. It is very much a part of their culture. But that is how culture works, so no one should be surprised by that. The US was founded by a nominally Christian culture, after all, so naturally that is a big part of much of the US. Why wouldn’t it be?

      But any adult today is capable of typing ‘religion’ into an internet search engine and find many of them to research and study for personal elucidation. So long as we are all capable of this and free to do so, our choice and ability to choose isn’t at all hampered.

  • John W. Morehead

    Jason, thank you for sharing your concerns in this essay. I wish more American Evangelicals were aware of their dominance and privilege in the public square. Somehow we need to figure out ways to work toward an awareness and appreciation of our differences, even while not ceasing to hold onto our convictions and the importance of why we disagree. I think the work of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy with its goal of transforming religious enemies into trusted rivals engaged in a process of civil contestation is the way forward, and a Pagan chapter will be forming soon. It may incorporate your desires in this essay as one of its goals, and I’d encourage you to get in touch. David Dashifen Kees is the main contact.

    • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

      Nice shameless plug :)

      • John W. Morehead

        Whenever I can, my friend. Whenever I can.

  • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

    I think you are confusing exposure with choice. We all have a choice. I also think you are confusing culture with religion. Many grow up in regional cultures which happen to include a Christian worldview, and culture -is- passed on by parentage and communal orientation, naturally. Not being exposed to other religions doesn’t mean one cannot choose something other than what one has, and choosing does not have to mean being exposed to every option there is. You are also inferring above that most pagans were raised in pagan families and are following the religion of their parents, which my experience so far tells me is far from accurate.

    • JasonMankey

      You are the second person to comment that I’ve somehow inferred that most Pagans were raised by Pagan families. I apologize for not being clear, though later in the piece I do make a point to say:

      “I know what you are thinking “I got here, it can’t be that difficult” but I would argue that it actually is. Coming to Paganism requires a certain type of thinking. You have to be inquisitive, open-minded, and not completely satisfied with the status quo. You have to wade into certain areas of the internet (and formerly, the bookstore) that most people just don’t go to.”

      I thought that by pointing out that becoming Pagan (for many, but not all) takes research I was suggesting most Pagans aren’t born into the tradition. I’m sorry for not being more clear.

      I think that large chunks of America don’t even have exposure, there by negating choice. It’s certainly better than it was just a decade ago, but we have a long way to go.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        “I thought that by pointing out that becoming Pagan (for many, but not
        all) takes research I was suggesting most Pagans aren’t born into the
        tradition. I’m sorry for not being more clear.”

        That’s how I read it.

        I think that, by and large, Pagan paths are still ‘hidden’, if only by numerical minority.

        People can only choose from the options they have available.

        When a person lives in a Christian-centric society (where even the ‘unbelievers’ celebrate the Christian festivals) and is fed the line that Pagans are devil worshippers (thanks, popular culture), how are they going to be likely to gain enough knowledge of a Pagan path to decide if that is the right one for them?

        Whose fault, really, is it that these potential Pagans lack access to Pagan sources of information?

        • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

          I don’t agree that choice is limited by presented options. Anybody can type ‘religion’ into a search engine and come up with a variety of them to study and explore. They aren’t meant to be offered up as so many buffet items, after all. Cultures, of which religions are integral parts, don’t work like that. Celebrations like Christmas and Easter have become American civic holidays, with Santa and the Easter Bunny having no relevance to religious observations. It is now a part of American culture, which was historically developed by a nominally Christian people. So of course many people continue to be a part of the culture in which they were raised, because that is how cultures function. People don’t necessarily all go ‘religion shopping’ to see which one is the right one for them. They do often follow what feels right to them, in whatever guise they find it it. There can be choices within a religion as to how to engage with it as much as there can be choices of which religion to embrace, if any at all. And any adult today with access to the internet is not deprived of exposure to them at all, nor is his ability to choose how to live hampered by cultural norms. The whole point of being an adult is learning and choosing for oneself.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            That presumes they are actively seeking a religious path, and that they will look on the internet for it.

            As you say, people will follow what feels right, in whatever guise they find it. However, if they are not actively looking for a label, they may well not even realise that what they believe is mirrored by others.

            Further, if they have been raised their entire life to believe that witchcraft and other forms of Paganism are evil, idolatrous and forms of devil worship, perhaps they feel shame for their beliefs? Perhaps they would not look more into it for fear of repercussion in their community?

            When certain branches of Christianity are still calling for witches to be burned at the stake, and Pagan topics are routinely added to internet filters in public libraries, are we really to expect people born into that culture to actively seek anything that could well bring persecution down upon themselves?

            All I am saying is that, if we want to help these people find what is right for them, we need to stand up and say “We are here.”

          • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

            I don’t think we need presume they are, or must be, actively seeking a religious path to be searching something out on the internet at all. I didn’t find paganism while deliberately searching for it- I found it while researching the Salem Witch Trials and looking up ‘witchcraft’ in the library’s then-new search computers, and stumbled on modern witchcraft by accident. People could be looking up religion for any number of reasons. And keep in mind that liberal Christianity is more prevalent now that it used to be, too.

            It sounds though like you are suggesting tactics similar to those often used to engage social or political issues. In fact, your language sounds identical to those promoting gay rights. The difference I see is that a sexual orientation is not a choice, but a religious orientation is, and I don’t think it is my job to ensure anyone/everyone feels they have wider exposure to varieties of religious experiences. The options are already out there. I am open to talking with anyone who happens to approach me with questions. I already have websites, a blog, and a priestess & flametending Order online to explore, so I have already put what I have to offer out there. But being an adult means taking responsibility for your own needs and choices, and I don’t think we need to assume that adults today are incapable of those things to the degree that they need our hand-holding to navigate adult decisions.

            I also don’t think people live in a vacuum these days, and yes, people do search all kinds of things on the internet for all kinds of reasons. Adults are free to arrive at their own conclusions despite how they were raised- the majority of neopagans today would attest to that, indicating that there hasn’t been a problem with this so far, so why perceive it as a suddenly new problem today? I just disagree with the premise and conclusion of this piece- adults always have options and freedom to choose because that is the nature of adulthood; options are readily available to explore on the widely-available internet, and adults are capable of deciding for themselves what worldview to hold to despite how else they might have been raised. It has worked out well enough so far, as the number of pagans today as opposed to 20 years ago would attest, so there doesn’t seem to be any obstacles to adults religiously orienting as they’d like to.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Religious persuasion is *not* a choice, any more than sexual preference or colour preference is.

            I do not *choose* to be a hard polytheist. I *am* one.

            And religious rights are every bit as important as any other kind of civil rights.

          • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

            I didn’t say they aren’t important, but you are inferring that everyone has a *right* to comprehensive religious exposure, which can’t even be upheld universally. And I entirely disagree with your stance on religious persuasion- which worldview we choose to embrace and which religious lens we choose to view the world through are entirely up to us, and thus choices we make. You can also choose what color you like, for that matter. Religious and color choices can change over time, whereas sexual preference and skin tone tend not to (unless you’re Michael Jackson).

          • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

            Besides, if you feel that you did not *choose* to be a hard polytheist but that you were born one, then why are we even talking about freedom to choose a religion? Why even ensure some Christians know about pagan religions so they can potentially *choose* from them, if they were already born Christian and can’t choose to change it anyway? Claiming religious persuasion is not a choice while arguing for freedom to choose as exposure to options is contradictory.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I was raised Christian, but it never felt right to me. I was not given the awareness of Pagan paths until I was in my late teens. It was not about choosing a religion, but discovering that others believed along the same lines as myself.

            I could no more change my beliefs in gods/spirits than I could the colour of my skin. In fact, it would be harder, since I can go and get a tan pretty easily.

          • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

            I would say that late teens is a good time for exposure to new ideas, as one has the maturity at that point to explore and embrace them, and one is reaching adulthood, that threshold of taking responsibility for one’s life choices. And choosing forms of worship is a choice adults make. Sounds like you didn’t suffer from any lack of exposure. And happily, teenagers/young adults are well-versed in using the internet to learn about all kinds of things and meet all kinds of people.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Any age is a good age for exposure to new ideas.

      • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

        Yes, I did notice that you had changed your point of reference later in the article. I didn’t mean to infer that I was confused, but that your writing earlier in the piece was perhaps not conveying what you had intended it to.

        But I still think you are confusing exposure with choice- they aren’t the same things. Not being exposed to everything doesn’t mean one doesn’t have choice; one can have choice and only be aware of a certain set of options. As you also point out with stating that most people are born into their religions, these aren’t generally presented as a buffet to choose from- that isn’t their point. The religions are actually integral parts of the fabric of global and regional cultures, and it is more accurately the cultures themselves that people are born into and raised in, which also contain their respective religious components. And this is exactly how cultures are meant to function. So I don’t see that there is any inherent problem. And as it happens, our country’s culture was nominally Christian at its inception and has remained so, so cultural Christians will likely be the norm in most areas. That should be no surprise.

        I also think that functional adults, especially in today’s age of information, are perfectly capable of exploring the world around them and searching for what resonates with them, culturally or religiously speaking, and that many do. Some might seek out and embrace something very different from what they were raised with, while others might seek to reinforce what they have learned growing up, choosing to continue embracing it in their adult years. Any functional adult in the US is capable of typing ‘religion’ into a search engine and finding many options to learn about. I don’t think American adults face a lack of choice at all, and that the ability to choose as an adult is not hampered by any lack of exposure in the age of the internet. Choice and exposure are different things, and adults are fully capable of exploring their options should they decide to pursue that.

    • Nigel Prancypants

      No, you’re inferring what you believe Jason implied, and I really can’t see how anyone would infer such a thing from his post.

      Exposure is necessary for choices. One cannot choose D if they’ve only been exposed to A, B, and C, because they’ve never been exposed to D as being a valid option. If D *is*presented, but in a biased manner in favour of A, and with B and C presented as less-favoured, but far more acceptable than D, then social pressures will lead most people to automatically remove D from the selection of valid options. That is the “exceptional” sort of person that Jason is referring to, who seeks the unbiased exposure to D that is not normally condoned, and is willing to brave the potential social repercussions for seeking, finding, and embracing that choice.

      • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

        That is called being an adult- every adult is capable of seeking out options for consideration. They need not be presented to him in order to be a choice- all that exists is a choice and one is free as an adult to explore all existing options, and then choose from them. One need not be hand-served or spoon-fed like a child in order to do this- that is what it means to be an adult, to take responsibility for one’s own life. Therefore exposure is not required, active inquiry and seeking is, which is what adults do. Those who do not choose to abdicate their responsibility to be in charge of their own lives, unless they are content with their religio-cultural framework of birth, in which case, that too is a conscious and responsible choice.

  • g75401

    I’m reminded of that study conducted by the U of Tennessee and released a few months ago that described the many types of atheists. 15% of them attended church. Say an equal number of church goers share the views of those atheists but don’t identify as atheists on a university survey. Could it be a fair number of church attendees are actually atheist? What about the growing number of non-church attending but self-identified christians? How many of them are actually not? We, in my opinion, are on the cusp on a change in this society, the transition that christianity will make from religion to culture. I live in Houston, TX. Within 10 miles of my house there are a muslim community center, a Buddhist temple, a mormom temple (as well as many stakes). Could there be a permanent structure devoted to a pagan faith? Most likely. The end result of assimilation is not celebration, it’s apathy. BTW, “Christmas” is a pagan holiday, there’s no fault in pointing that out to christians

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Yule is a Pagan holiday. Christmas is a Christian one.

    • Nigel Prancypants

      No, Christmas is a Christian holiday. It’s a contracted compound of “Christ’s mass”. That said, it’s date was chosen to compete with Roman pagan holidays. Many of the traditions associated with Christmas are of pagan origin, but have been Christianised. Because Christmas is a Christian holiday.

  • Brian Michael Shea

    I’ve had the same thoughts myself for years. It’s almost like its a ‘default setting’ for people, so when most Americans become more religious or start getting into religion,it basically means being more Christian. It’s like they don’t know of any other alternatives or different religions. Or don’t want to truly explore anything else.


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