Returning a favor of faith
by Jason Mankey
Paganism is not an adversarial religion. To the majority of Pagans, “truth” is something that can be found across the religious spectrum. We don’t think that you are “wrong” because you aren’t a Pagan; what works for us works for us, and what works for you works for you. The old idea that “many paths lead towards the center” is a centerpiece in many Pagan traditions.
Since we don’t believe that we have a stranglehold on the truth, we don’t proselytize. Despite what Pat Robertson might believe, we don’t actively go out and seek to convert people to Paganism. People are either meant to find Paganism or they aren’t — it’s not my job to go and knock on their door and pray to Athena with them.
One of the things that separates Modern Paganism from most other religions in the United States and the Western World is that most Pagans aren’t “born into” Paganism. That’s slowly starting to change, but the majority of us were either brought up in the religion of our parents, or with no faith at all. Becoming Pagan was a choice we made later in life, and it’s a choice that doesn’t invalidate the faith we might have been brought up in.
Paganism doesn’t require anyone to renounce a former belief system. Like Christianity, Modern Paganism has ceremonies designed to welcome new believers. None of those ceremonies involve stomping on a cross, spitting on a Bible, or even speaking an oath that condemns a former faith. If you had a religious experience as a Christian or Jew, it’s still valid as a Pagan. Deity speaks in strange ways.
As a Pagan I’m also allowed to hold onto the trappings of a former faith. My wife was raised Catholic, which is a religion, but also nearly a cultural identity. Her Virgin Mary statue sits proudly in one of our curio cabinets on display for the world to see. We’ve never been accused of being “False Pagans” for having it out there. It was important to my wife at age 12, and now 17 years later, it’s important to her still. She wasn’t required to take a hammer to it upon conversion.
While Pagans as a whole don’t mean any other religion harm, we sometimes get accused of it, because we often want to be free from other religions. Just because we don’t want people mixing Church and State doesn’t mean we are antagonist towards Christianity. Everyone is free to practice their faith as they see fit — it just shouldn’t be practiced in high school gymnasiums. If the shoe were on the other foot, I’m sure Christians would feel the same way.
We live in a religiously pluralistic society; the time of public prayer exclusively for Jesus is at an end. We’ve reached the point where you can’t hand Bibles out in high schools to the exclusion of all else. People have the right to be religious, but people don’t have the right to push their religion on everyone else. That’s not taking away someone’s religious freedom, that’s ensuring religious freedom for everyone. There’s a difference. My problem with someone pushing their religion doesn’t equate to a condemnation of their faith, just an expression of my desire to be free from it.
While Pagans aren’t adversarial to other faiths, many of us can be resentful towards some of them. Being told that you are going to hell on the account of sexual preference or for using birth control can be a pretty hurtful thing, especially when it comes from your own family. While I haven’t had an experience like that, I know many in the Pagan community who have, and it does leave scars. Having family members tell you that you are going to end up in a hell doesn’t usually result in warm fuzzies for all involved.
Because Paganism is something many of us find later in life, it means that we might sometimes “question” other faiths. Did Moses really exist? Did Jesus rise from the dead? When discussing such things with my Christian friends, they often get upset when I call such stories “myths.” A myth is just a truth wrapped in a story; I don’t think something has to be literal to give it power. Paganism is full of myths. I don’t get mad when someone tells me that the nymph Echo didn’t really turn into a reed when chased by the god Pan. It’s OK. I love the story anyways.
When a Pagan disagrees with a family member or a friend, it doesn’t mean that we think they are destined for some eternal fate worse than our own. We can agree to disagree, and those disagreements don’t have to result in antagonism. Let me practice my faith and you can practice yours, and I will always support your right to do so. Just make sure you return the favor.