I’ve been on this Pagan path for 22 years and I’ve been seriously dedicated to it for 14. During most of this time I’ve kept my religious beliefs and practices more or less to myself. At times I’ve guarded them carefully. While no one in the West faces the life-threatening circumstances the followers of minority religions face in some parts of the world, practicing a radically different religion is still dangerous to employment and friendships.
In the past couple of years I’ve done my best to decompartmentalize my life. I don’t inject my Paganism into every conversation (an obnoxious habit no matter what religion you follow), but I don’t hide it any more – especially on social media. I have one friends list on Facebook and almost everything I post is public. No doubt this has created some shock and even confusion for my overwhelmingly Christian friends and family. Their response has mostly been to ignore it. I’m fine with that.
But one thing has generated some strong negative responses: polytheism. People who nod in agreement with my reverence for Nature and smile politely with my esoteric practices get defensive and even angry with my worship of many Gods.
Perhaps it’s a lifetime of hearing “thou shalt have no other Gods before me” (a statement that taken on face value affirms polytheism). Perhaps it’s uneasiness at having a one of your own question a foundational assumption about The Way Things Are. Contemplating change is hard, whether you accept the new idea or reject it. Trust me – I’ve spent decades doing it.
I value my family relations and long friendships and I want to maintain them despite our differences in religion. 16th century Unitarian Francis David said “we need not think alike to love alike.” In that spirit, I offer this letter to my Christian friends and family.
I have no desire to convert you. As a polytheist, I believe different Gods call different people to worship Them in different ways. It would be the height of impious arrogance for me to tell you which God or Gods you should or shouldn’t worship.
I don’t care what you believe. I care how your beliefs inspire you to live a life that is compassionate, respectful, sustainable, connected, and ultimately, full and happy. I know most of you are happy with your Christianity – I’m happy for you.
If what I write and the way I live challenge your beliefs, that’s not a bad thing. Unquestioned faith in anything or anyone is no virtue. I encourage you to examine your beliefs and your reasons for them. As a Christian, you have two thousand years of theology and philosophy to help you. Modern Pagans can draw on the classics, but we are not ancient Greeks or Romans. I write in part to help establish a similar foundation for future generations of Pagans, not to convert Christians who are satisfied with their religion.
I have no quarrel with Jesus. I’m ordained in a priesthood that traces its lineage through Jesus. As a polytheist, I have no difficulty acknowledging Jesus as a God – just not as the only God. Obviously, I do not accept the doctrines about Jesus made by men long after His death. But if He wasn’t born a God (I tend to doubt it, although I accept it’s possible) He has certainly been made a God through two thousand years of prayers and worship. “Love your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself” is a wonderful way to live your life.
In the end, though, Christianity doesn’t inspire me. Paganism, polytheism, and Druidry do. I’m far happier and have done far more good as an enthusiastic Pagan than I ever could as a reluctant Christian.
I have plenty of issues with fundamentalism. Most of my Christian friends and family are mainline Protestants, not fundamentalists. But I grew up in a church where I was taught a few people were going to heaven and most people were going to hell. Once I got old enough to understand what that meant, it made my life fearful and miserable. I could not honestly believe a God who was powerful enough and wise enough to create the world and everything in it and was supposedly a loving God would condemn billions of sentient beings to eternal damnation for following the wrong religion.
I can’t believe there is Only One Way. I can’t believe the primary purpose of this life is to affirm the right unprovable supernatural proposition so you’ll be OK in the next life, and the penalty for guessing wrong is eternal torment.
The universe is 14 billion years old, not 6000. Evolution is demonstrably real, and we share a common ancestor with every other living thing on this planet. These are scientific realities backed by overwhelming evidence. We are all free to believe what our hearts tell us is true, but we are not free to dismiss inconvenient facts.
If you want to believe Adam and Eve were historical people, that’s your business and I don’t need to change your mind. But if anyone attempts to use the power of government to teach religion in the place of science or to force others to obey an outdated moral code written for a very different time and place (or more precisely, to obey the portion of that moral code said fundamentalists like) I will vigorously oppose them.
I have a calling to be here for those who need what I’ve found. While I find proselytization – the aggressive and often coercive attempt to convert others to your religion – morally offensive, any religion that isn’t based on ancestral identity (such as Native American tribal religions) has both the right and the obligation to publicize: to let people know who they are, what they believe, and what they do. This lets people who share their interests and experiences know where to find them, and it helps keep the public from developing prejudices based on misinformation and outright lies.
My liberal politics flow from my core values of justice, fairness, and compassion. Most – but far from all – Pagans are politically liberal. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my support for marriage equality, gender equity, social justice, universal health care, and other liberal positions do not arise from my beliefs about the Gods and Nature. They flow from my core values. I didn’t learn these values in Paganism. I was born with them, and they’re a key reason why I left Christian fundamentalism.
Individual autonomy is not the greatest good – that’s why I’m a liberal and not a libertarian. But unless there’s a compelling community need to do otherwise, questions that only affect individuals should be left to those individuals.
It’s not all the same and that’s OK. Pagans and Christians don’t all worship the same God with different names. We aren’t taking different paths up the same mountain. Different religions have different foundational assumptions about the way the world works, different views on the core issues facing humanity, and different thoughts on the proper way to address those issues. There are certain ethical principles that are so widespread they are almost universal. But these are older than any religion, not signs that all religions are somehow the same.
People are diverse. We’re a beautiful, wonderful, frustrating assortment of genders, colors, and sizes. We speak many languages, wear many clothes, and sing many songs. Why shouldn’t we practice many religions?
I believe consumer culture and the American empire are in an irreversible decline. This is not a religious belief, it’s a logical conclusion from a careful examination of the facts. I wish it wasn’t true, but I’m convinced it is. Much of what I write about flows from this decline: what is causing it and how we can best respond.
I believe Paganism and polytheism offer a better response to the challenges we face going forward than Christianity (or atheism, for that matter). There are Christian responses that are helpful and I welcome them. While he is far from perfect, I’m pleased with what I’ve seen from Pope Francis.
If my criticism of American culture and politics strike you as criticism of your religion, you may want to ask yourself what you’re really worshipping.
None of us know The Truth. Some religions like to think they have exclusive possession of The Truth. I don’t think any of us have it: not you, not me, not the atheists, not the Buddhists, not any of us. This doesn’t mean we’re free to believe anything we want, but it does mean we should approach religious matters with humility.
I think I’m right. If I didn’t, I’d follow another religion. But I freely admit I might be wrong. I also freely admit the fundamentalist Muslims might be right and we’re both going to hell. I don’t think so, but it’s possible.
In the absence of clear, unquestionable truth, I believe our best approach is to dive deeply into the religions that call to us, but hold them loosely and humbly, and always be open to new information and new experiences.
I welcome your questions and your challenges. If you want to talk about this, ask. If you’d prefer to ignore it, ignore it.
If you think I’m wrong, make your case. Do it politely and respectfully and I’ll respond similarly. I love talking about religion and I’ll be happy to talk about it with you – not to convert you or to convince you you’re wrong, but to explain in greater detail what I believe, what I do, and why I do it.
Or if you’d prefer to continue not talking about it, I’m fine with that too.
To my Christian friends and family: I love you all and it is my sincere desire that our relationships remain strong. I hope this letter has cleared up any misunderstandings you may have had. But I’ll close with a line from the Christian reformer Martin Luther: here I stand – I can do no other.