Monday, May 28, 2007

Two items on the acceptance of pagan beliefs

Though I'm an agnostic secular humanist, I'm not against religion. I sometimes wish I had the comfort that comes with faith, and I sometimes envy those who have that faith. I do have a problem with organized religions that use doctrine as an excuse for hate. However, I respect everyone's right to have their own religious beliefs. Religious freedom is a hallmark of western democracy.

Of course, there isn't exactly religious freedom in the United States. You can't prevent people from being prejudiced. You have the right to believe anything you want, but there are certain places where you dare not point out that your not a Christian. This is particularly hard for people who believe in things that are beyond the "mainstream". Much of this is due to a holdover from the Dark Ages, particularly with regard to pagan beliefs. The early Christian church portrayed paganism (made up of a variety of faiths, such as Wicca and druidism, which are two different beliefs) not as a competitive religion but as an evil religion, or set of religions. This view of the pagan faiths has changed somewhat in recent years. This was shown very recently in two different events.

First, in the United States the Veterans Administration now recognizes the pentacle as a proper religious symbol that can be placed on the headstones of dead servicemen. Wiccan practitioners had requested this for a number of years, but it was only recently — with the threat of a lawsuit — that the pentacle was okayed by the VA. Since the settlement between the VA and Wiccan organizers, five headstones with the pentacle were delivered, and one request was pending. One of the headstones was for a World War II veteran, another for a Korean War veteran, and a third for a veteran of Korea and Vietnam. A pilot killed in Afghanistan in 2005 also received a Wiccan headstone.

Here is the story:
http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/05/27/
memorialday.wiccans.ap/index.html


In Scotland, Edinburgh University has given the Pagan Society the go ahead to hold its annual conference at the school next month. The conference will attract Wiccans, Druids, and various other believers in the "pagan" religions. Being a Celtic country, there has always been a pagan presence in Scotland, even through the turmoil of the Reformation. With greater religious freedom, paganism has expanded in Scotland.

The Edinburgh University case is interesting because it has sparked a controversy. The school's Christian Union is complaining because they believe they were discriminated against. The Christian Union was prevented from holding a conference last year about the "dangers of homosexuality". The conference, which was intent on showing gay sex was morally wrong, went up against the university's anti-discrimination policy. The conference was allowed to go on as long as the Christian Union put up posters indicating a differing view of gays and morality. The Christian Union is protesting the pagan conference because no such "differing view" requirement was made for them. It should be noted, though, that pagans in general do not discriminate against gays. It should also be noted that the Christian Union wasn't told to put up posters saying that there were alternatives to the holy trinity, or that Christ was the son of God, or he died and was resurrected three days later. They were told to put up alternatives to the view that homosexuality was immoral.

This is a thorny issue. As much as I find Christianity's view of homosexuality and bisexuality incredibly distasteful and offensive, I'm not sure that requiring disclaimers is the right way to go. I mean, does anyone today not understand the evangelical view of homosexuality's immorality? (They may not understand that such teachings were added in the Dark Ages, and that the early Christian church performed gay marriages, but the view of gays in the evangelical movement is not new.) If you're going to give a religion freedom of expression, you have to let it freely express itself without restriction. Let the freedom of expression for other religions speak for the alternatives.

Yes, it may seem unbelievable that I'm saying this. It's what I believe. It only works, though, if the body in question is willing to allow true freedom of religion without the slightest possibility of repercussion. The local high schools got into a flap because they held a student-led prayer before graduation. I don't see a problem with that. Where I do have a problem is if a student of another faith wanted to perform a prayer and was not allowed, or even disrespected. I would hope that the same schools that allowed a Christian prayer would also allow a Hindu prayer or a Muslim prayer, or even a pagan prayer. It would be interesting to see what would happen around here if after the Christian prayer a student was allowed to say a Wiccan prayer. I wonder if the same people who applauded the prayer in school would be quite so receptive to another religion's prayer, or if they'd immediately drop into the "America is a Christian nation" argument. For now, it's just a thought experiment...

Anyway, the article about Edinburgh University can be found here:
http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=823222007

2 comments:

JAM said...

Sometimes I read a post on someone's blog, or an article in a magazine that makes me sit up and think. This post of yours is one. This is as good as any magazine article I have ever read.

As a Christian, I often recieve the ire of other Christians over such matters as this.

In many ways, Christians in America have had it "our" way for so long, that we have a knee jerk reaction to such matters as a wiccan symbol on a grave. But it should only take about 15 seconds of thought to come to the realization that if we deny their use of their symbol, then tomorrow someone in a position to do so might decide that, well, if that's the case, then crosses, stars of David, etc., cannot be shown either. The poster case for the phrase, "slippery slope."

Also, as a Christian, I get offended by some of the knuckleheads on TV. I turn to our Christian TV stations down here from time to time because there are some TV preachers that I like. The other day I turned on some guy that I'd never seen who was right in the middle of his send money speech. I can understand a ministry that says, hey, here's what we believe, here's some examples of what we've done to help people's lives and we could use your financial help, but this guy was just shooting from the hip, twisting scripture and using the old guilt trip routine, and I wanted to, as my mother used to say when someone made her angry, "pinch his head off."

That's neither here nor there, but it was just the other day and still on my mind.

At the engineering company I work for, we have a handful of Electrical Engineering Phds that are our Senior Scientists and are trotted in when we end up with a circuit card design that isn't working as planned and the run of the mill egg heads can't figure out why. One of the best guys at figuring out how we screwed up and how to fix it is a grand poobah, a high priest or whatever they call their guys, in the local Wiccan Church.

Allan Goodall said...

This is as good as any magazine article I have ever read.

Thank you!


In many ways, Christians in America have had it "our" way for so long, that we have a knee jerk reaction to such matters as a wiccan symbol on a grave.

A lot of Christians tend to forget that there was a thriving non-Christian civilization before they arrived, too. Don't get me started on the whole "Indian symbol in sports" thing!


But it should only take about 15 seconds of thought to come to the realization that if we deny their use of their symbol, then tomorrow someone in a position to do so might decide that, well, if that's the case, then crosses, stars of David, etc., cannot be shown either. The poster case for the phrase, "slippery slope."

Well put.

The fact is that no one knows for certain what happens after we die. There's a fair amount of deviation even among the Christian community. Is there a purgatory or not? Are the Catholics correct that you need last rites to make it into heaven, and that only those forgiven at the last minute by a priest make it in? Or are the Baptists right that once you take Christ as your saviour you get a free pass into heaven regardless of what you did on Earth? Or maybe the Presbyterians are correct that you need to truly be sorry for your sins, and being "born again" or having last rites performed has no meaning. There are an awful lot of people who think they are right, but whose beliefs conflict with other people who think they are right.

This is why I'm an agnostic and not an atheist. I don't know what will happen when I die (metaphysically, anyway). I have my own beliefs, but I'm in no way certain.


I can understand a ministry that says, hey, here's what we believe, here's some examples of what we've done to help people's lives and we could use your financial help, but this guy was just shooting from the hip, twisting scripture and using the old guilt trip routine, and I wanted to, as my mother used to say when someone made her angry, "pinch his head off."

My father was a devout Christian and Freemason, and one of the most moral and ethical men I'd ever met. Several of the ministers of the church I belonged to growing up were incredibly good men. These were people I can respect, who lived up to their beliefs. I can truly respect someone who believes something and lives by it. I have a big problem with people who pay lip service to their faith.


One of the best guys at figuring out how we screwed up and how to fix it is a grand poobah, a high priest or whatever they call their guys, in the local Wiccan Church.

The Wiccan beliefs are generally very positive. From what I understand, they believe that the way you conduct yourself is amplified back to you, in sort of a variation on karma. It's essentially the Golden Rule.