When Interfaith Gets Ugly

When Interfaith Gets Ugly December 19, 2011

Patheos is a diverse place. I tend to think of it like a city with different quarters. There are good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, which shift depending on your point of view. There is the place I live, and the places I prefer to avoid. If Patheos is anything, it’s proof that, like patience, you should never pray to be more tolerant unless you wish to be tested. I believe having the tenets of your faith tested is a good thing. Makes you strong in your spiritual convictions. Writing here keeps me sharp.

Today this post went up on “Christianity’s triumph over Paganism.” I’m not here to rip apart the history. Other folks are far better equipped to do that, and have. Some are even Christian, like the always awesome Dr. James McGrath. No, I want to talk about being a decent human being in the face of hatred.

From "Prayers to the Gods of Hellas" Facebook page.

It’s not easy being a minority. For your own health and well being, you simply cannot be angry all the time. Even when your faith is mocked, ridiculed and slandered. Even when those who flippantly dismiss and attack you cannot see the complete irony of their own words:

Christmas means that Jesus has defeated the powers, the pagan gods that military rulers used to bring their peoples into subjection, to oppress all dissent, and to bring misery upon the masses of men and women.

You have to take a deep breath and weigh the situation. You remind yourself that virtue, honor, reason and piety are the birthright you received from your Pagan ancestors, and you take a deep breath. Maybe you respond. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you choose to remain silent while publicizing the bigotry, revealing the sneering hatred for all to see. Maybe you simply remain silent. You know that when you speak, as a minority, you will be dismissed as petulant, ridiculous and angry. Because in today’s hipster-colored world, there’s nothing more quick to be derided than anger. Than passion. Than faith.

Sometimes to walk in the difficult places you need to walk, to practice piety, to work deep magic, to bring honor to the ancestors, you have to deal with things that turn your stomach. Homophobia. Bigotry. Misogyny. Racism. You have to look them in the face. You have to know them in order to appreciate, respect, and fight for goodness, virtue and excellence.

I have a good Episcopalian friend who listens to extremely conservative, fundamentalist, Christian radio. She does it to remind herself of what danger lay out there, and to appreciate the beauty, love and charity of the faith she practices. I’ve come to see the wisdom of this over the years, and, in the process of remaining aware, I work hard to try not to become bitter, angry and hateful. I try not to become that which I criticize. I hope I succeed most of the time.

I am a Pagan. I claim Iamblichus, Hypatia, Sappho, Plato, Julian, Augustus, Cicero, Heraclitus, Plotinus and many other admirable intellects as my spiritual ancestors, and as my birthright. Virtue, piety, grace, studiousness, tolerance, humility, balance, excellence and honesty are my aims. Service to my community, Pagan and non-Pagan, is my duty and my calling. My walk of faith requires commitment, examination and action. I cannot fulfill my destiny if I become bitter. I cannot live out my fate if I turn hateful. I cannot honor the gift of my soul if I let anger consume me.

Having had time to reflect on Dr. Bird’s post, in calm thoughtfulness, here is my response:

Like my Pagan ancestors, I practice civic virtue. I am an American Pagan, who with her whole soul believes in religious freedom, social justice and human rights. My community, made up of big-hearted men and women, is growing. We advocate freedom, and do not crave power over another’s soul. Those you shun, we welcome with open arms, and your discarded become our artists, theologians, authors, activists and mystics.

When I see you attempt to rewrite history, to paint your anarchic, martyr-hungry ancestors as victims, I don’t get angry anymore. Perhaps you’re scared that we, along with the atheists, Jews and Muslims, might do to you what you have done to others for almost 1600 years. I cannot speak for other faiths, but Pagans are better than that. We grow on the basis of our virtue, on our love, our joy and our piety, not by coercion, violence or political coup. We thrive in spite of the hatred and adversity that is sent our way. We vote, we pay our taxes, we serve in the military and we defend the powerless. Our Gods live, even after all this time.

When you sneer from privilege, when you defame and abuse us, and when you dismiss us flippantly, we win. Because we are the children of the earth and our law is love.

To speak in Pagan terms, Dr. Bird’s behavior brings his faith no honor and much shame. It’s the reason churches are closing, pews remain empty and America is steadily becoming a post-Christian society. The problem with Dr. Bird’s uncharitable post can be summed up by one very wise Hindu:

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. – Mohandas Gandhi


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