“What is it about paganism that scares Christians?”

“What is it about paganism that scares Christians?” December 26, 2017
Neopaganism: more than just dancing by moonlight...
Neopaganism: more than just dancing by moonlight…

Several months ago, in response to a reader’s question, I posted an article to this blog called How Should a Christian Respond When a Friend Becomes Interested in Witchcraft and Magic?

The response to this post has been positive, even from readers who identify themselves as Wiccan or Neopagan.

One such reader posted this follow-up question to me on Facebook:

As a follow-up, I’d like to see what your thoughts are on this: what is it about paganism that scares Christians? Why do Christians think people are going to be hurt by paganism? I understand the fear of Satan, but a quick Google search will show that paganism has nothing to do with Satan. Is it just the fear that the person in question will go to hell?

It’s a great question, and I’m afraid there’s no simple answer. But let me offer a few thoughts.

First, some good news. Not all Christians are scaredy-cats when it comes to witchcraft, magic, or paganism. Some even relate to it positively, seeing it simply as another spiritual path in a world filled with diverse ways to encounter the sacred. Some of us are Christians, some of us are Jews or Muslims, some are Hindus or Buddhists, and some practice more earth-centered paths such as Wicca, Asatru, or Celtic reconstructionism.

On the other hand, you will also run into Christians who dismiss neopaganism as a postmodern fad, a “make-believe” religion that carries about as much weight as would belief in the Jedi or the wizards of Tolkien’s middle-earth. Such Christians have no fear of paganism, but neither are they willing to respect it. They are more likely to make fun of it and be contemptuous of it. Which is still a defense mechanism — it’s hard to be in dialogue with someone who refuses to take you seriously.

But my reader was specifically asking about Christians who take it seriously, but who project evil onto pagans and paganism, and therefore they respond to it with fear and hostility. In my experience, such Christians tend to be those with a more literalistic faith, those who see the world in a dualistic way, as part of a cosmos where a good God and a bad devil are locked in a titanic struggle for power.

I think it’s important to recognize that Christians — all Christians — tend to relate to paganism (and indeed to all other religions) in a manner that is consistent with their own internal belief structure.

In other words:

    • Christians who relate to Paganism/Neopaganism positively are usually Christians who have a strong sense of God as love and a willingness to accept that religious diversity is a good thing, and that God also accepts such diversity.
    • Christians who are dismissive of Paganism are probably highly skeptical by nature, and may even have a hard time believing the supernatural claims of their own faith. They are “cultural Christians,” where faith is more of a matter of social convention than spiritual conviction.
    • And Christians who are afraid of, or hostile to, Paganism are probably, deep down inside, afraid of their own God, a God whom they see as basically wrathful and quick to punish and condemn. They might talk a good talk about “God is love” and so forth, but when push comes to shove they only believe God is love to those who earn God’s love, by being good, social conformists, obedient to the teachings of their particular church, etc. In their mind, God is nice to the people who curry God’s favor, but is abusive and monstrous to everyone else.

I think it’s important to remember that most Christians who are hostile to Paganism tend to be equally hostile to Buddhism, to Hinduism, to Islam, and to Judaism. In other words, their hostility and fear tells us more about themselves than about what they think of other religions.

In fact, I would suggest that such people don’t do a lot of “thinking” about other religions at all. My reader points out that a quick Google search could help clear away misconceptions about Paganism (or other faiths). But the Christian who is hostile to Paganism is not very likely to do such investigation. His or her mind is already made up — shackled, as it is, in the grip of fearing God’s wrath. In fact, if these fear-based Christians were to read something that presented Wicca or other forms of Paganism in a positive light, they would likely just dismiss it as just so much “fake news.”

One more thought about my reader’s question. Over the years, there have been a few times when I have shared with a Christian friend the story of how I explored paganism for several years, and I’ve been taken aback at how strong their negative reaction has been. It’s seemed out of proportion with what I knew about the person. This leads me to speculate that, at least for some people there are strong subconscious energies driving their negative reaction to paganism that I think can only be described as “archetypal.”

We know that the witch, the shaman, and the ceremonial magician are all archetypal images — and for many, the witch especially symbolizes evil or fear. That’s what gives stories like The Wizard of Oz or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe their almost mythic power. So I think we also need to acknowledge that, for some people at least, the aversion to witchcraft functions on a deep, preconscious level of psychic symbol and archetype.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any simple way to respond to that kind of reaction, other than to meet it with kindness and understanding, which leads me to the ultimate question:

What Should We Do When People Are Hostile to, or Frightened of, Our Spiritual Path?

You notice that I posed my question in a general way. Because no matter what your spiritual path may be — Pagan or Christian, Buddhist or Muslim, Unitarian or Hindu, Jewish or agnostic — chances are, sooner or later you’ll run into someone who is either frightened of your religious identity or actively hostile toward it.

We are blessed to live in a culturally and spiritually diverse world. But the downside of this blessing is that we don’t always know how to get along.

I think we all need to remember a saying attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I, for one, wish that people would learn to be accepting and gentle with others when we disagree spiritually. So it’s up to me to try to model that behavior, even in the face of those who relate to me aggressively or fearfully.

As much as possible, I avoid arguments. If a person asks baiting questions, I try to respond honestly. “I’m not interested in arguing. I see things differently than you do. That’s a fact. But arguing about it won’t change either of us, except to raise our blood pressure. I see no point in doing that, so I’m not going to.”

When possible, I try to be reassuring, especially when the person involved is a friend or family member. “I know you don’t understand my spiritual path, but I’m still your brother/son/husband/whatever. I still love you. I’ve chosen my path because I believe it makes me a better and happier person. If we can avoid arguing with each other all the time, I’d like to show you how I’m becoming a happier and kinder person.”

I think the most important things to say are, “I see things differently,” and “I think we need to agree to disagree.” We cannot fix or change the fact that people we encounter (even including loved ones) might not be comfortable with our spiritual path. But if we can meet their discomfort with acceptance and kindness, then we are being true to our own spiritual ideals and wisdom and doing one small thing to make the world a better place.

N.B. If you are interested in learning more about Paganism and Wicca, check out When Someone You Love is Wiccan — it explains Paganism and Wicca especially for Christians and others who are not followers of these paths, but want to learn more.


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