by Jason Mankey
I grew up as a Christian. As a teenager, I lived just north of Nashville, Tennessee, where church attendance nearly felt like a community requirement. I wasn’t a reluctant Christian back then, I embraced it (mostly) with a full heart and only a few reservations. I was so involved in my church that I was president of my church youth group; I even gave a sermon at an Easter sunrise service.
I was a pretty involved Christian, and then something changed on. My conversion to Paganism was near instantaneous, something that happened over the course of about 72 hours. I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with Pagan Witchcraft* when I first prayed to the Goddess (I’d always been interested in comparative religion), but it was quite a change. After relating my early history, one of the questions I’m frequently asked when I’m part of an inter-faith panel is, “Why Paganism?”
It’s a good question, and the easy answer is “It just felt right,” but that’s not really an answer that makes sense to anyone but me. When I dig down into the roots of the question, I can find a whole host of reasons to explain why I’m a Pagan. I suspect that many of those reasons are shared by others who believe the same way I do.
My favorite thing about Paganism is that it allows me to experience and seek deity on my own terms. While there are certainly leaders and elders in the Pagan community, anyone is free to have an experience with deity. A lot of more organized religions put roadblocks between you and deity. To experience “God” requires study, an antiquated sense of morality, or an intermediary, and that never felt right to me.
Now of course there are benefits to many of those things. I encourage my own students to study and understand what they are doing during ritual,** but sometimes you just get lucky and have an experience as a neophyte, and that’s no problem. When praying to deity I don’t need someone to do it with me, and never have, I just open myself to deity and say what’s on my mind.
I’ve always felt like large religious institutions (such as, but not limited to, the Catholic Church) often acted as intermediaries between the faithful and the Divine. In order to be “right with God” you had to have help. You had to have someone pray with you, and a human being around to absolve you of your transgressions. If deity is more powerful than us, why would that be the case?
Like many people, I find the morality expressed in the Old and New Testaments out of date. It’s hard to believe that something as sacred (and fun!) as sex was put on this Earth as some sort of holy litmus test. One of my biggest problems with Christianity was that it didn’t feel adaptable, that so much of it was stuck in a different era. There’s nothing wrong with “waiting for marriage” or avoiding shellfish, but I don’t understand how it applies in 2012. People should be free to make their own decisions about the things that only affect themselves or a consenting partner.
As a Pagan, I tend to believe in the validity of most other religious faiths, and that as long people are happy and not hurting anyone else, they should be free to worship as they choose. There are devout Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Taoists who live happy, healthy lives without conflict. Being raised a Christian, I was taught these people were all “wrong,” and that was something I was never comfortable with. For all of their strengths, the one weakness of monotheistic faiths is that they often deal in absolutes: “If we are right, then everyone else is wrong,” and to imagine a world where a deity would set up “false religions” baffles me.
If a psychologist were to analyze why I’m a Pagan, s/he would blame it on abandonment issues. I haven’t seen my mother since fifth grade, and I’m sure some professionals would see my embrace of The Goddess as an attempt to have a mother. On the other hand, the Divine Feminine just makes sense to me! Over half of the world’s population is female; I have trouble seeing deity as exclusively male.
The Pagan worldview is also one that embraces creation, and I do so love the Earth. I’m not sure that I “worship” the natural world, but I certainly find it sacred. Where we are is either a cosmic accident or the result of something wondrous, and if it’s the latter, I feel as if we have an obligation to love and protect it. Paganism puts me in touch with the natural cycle of the seasons, and I find that feeling to be a holy one.
There are probably dozens of other reasons why people have converted to Modern Paganism over the last 70 years, and the great thing about Paganism is that we’ll accept them all.
*Witchcraft or Wicca being the predominant form of Western Paganism in the United States.
**Pagans don’t usually have “services,” we have rituals.