Pagan Values 2011: Other people’s religions – and lack thereof

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Distortions. Pic by Diana Rajchel

At Paganicon, I got to meet a delightful pair of women that identified as both Pagan and atheist. They attended my artist’s way workshop, and were of the adjusted style of atheist where a theist concept can be reworked into something atheist friendly. I was unprepared for such a refreshing change. I wasn’t going to ask them to accommodate “God” but that they came prepared with their own non-angry outlook did help move the workshop along. I was so impressed that I switched up my plans and went to their panel: “Those Godless Pagan Atheists.”

While it forces me to switch paradigms to get where they’re coming from, I can see it: what matters is here, and now. It’s a whole lot present moment thinking (which I know is a gross oversimplification) that removes the future thinking that is inevitable with those like myself that are theists. It’s about the here, and now, and tending to that connection by cherishing and valuing what lives right now. While I do believe that there needs to be a language developed to better communicate across the bridge of theist and atheist, it was simply wonderful NOT to have the theist/atheist conversation that inevitably trots out the Bible or common conventions of Christian thought, which are utterly irrelevant in my religious practice. I want to help develop a language that bridges the gap for theists and atheists that aren’t always swinging the holy books around. I daresay it will be more pleasant than the typical lines of dialogue.One of the key aspects of Wiccan practice as I know it is that we do not seek converts. If you have a faith, ANY faith, or you don’t have a faith, it’s no skin off my nose. If someone does convert – and while some argue that Wiccans don’t convert so much as they realize who they are, I believe I converted, thank you – that person still has to go on a journey to find the other people of like minds. In my experience, even though I am definite in my religious choice, finding like minds within my own religion is difficult, too. There aren’t welcome wagons in the sense that most people expect them, and if someone drops out of the community for awhile, a concerned friend may call about his/her health, but there usually isn’t pressure to attend. If the reason for withdrawing is “I converted,” people are generally wished well on their paths. There are exceptions, usually from people who take the “conflict” of other religions demanding converts more personally than I do.

I was mortified, once, to find a prayer book that actually petitioned for more priests and priestesses of the Wiccan faith. More? Really? While I don’t care for excessive secrecy and exclusivity, I believe that Wicca is meant to be a practice that only calls to a small subset – and the expansion of the many other Pagan religions out there supports my belief in that Wicca should be small, not everyone needs to be a priest/ess and not everyone is meant to attain 3rd degree status. Not everyone benefits from believing in God/ess – it’s supposed to be personal. A person can be happy, well-balanced and a positive contributor to society without faith, or with a faith other than mine.

I also contend that a person can understand a faith not of their origin perfectly well – and still not convert to it.

This goes against a massive part of overculture, that even a good chunk of atheists believe in: faith among the dominant faiths is actually a competition. Whoever has the most converts/followers wins, gets butts in the pews or on the prayer carpets,  and that means that those of us who refuse get inundated by obnoxious carnival barkers across all media in the name of God. I’ve been pitched for scads of different denominations of Christianity, for Islam, atheists trying to persuade me I’m stupid for believing, ((I believe you’re stupid if you can’t recognize that you’re an asshole by trying to force your views on someone.))  I’ve even been evangelized for Scientology. Not only do I find these pitches as disrespectful and invasive as spam, the people pitching them at me are so utterly convinced not only of their rightness, but that they have a right to my mind and soul, that I have snapped back more than once that “Conversion attempts are tantamount to rape.” I will not be violated, and I work hard not to violate you with my beliefs.

The other side of this for me is that I am a priest/ess. Believe it or not, I’ve done the whole 3rd degree thing, I am ordained and registered with the state of Minnesota and I know what I’m doing about as much as any other human being would in a role. I don’t use “Reverend” because the title makes me feel squicky. I’m not a reverend. I’m a priest. While I have the 3rd degree in a Wiccan coven, I do not see myself as a priest of Wicca – I see myself as a priest that serves God/ess and humanity. I’m a fill in the gaps person, when someone has spiritual need and the usual remedies don’t quite fit.

While I often draw from magic and Wiccan traditions I’ve experienced to help, it’s not about Wicca – it’s about that person. I’ve ministered to Hindus, Muslims, Christians and yes, even atheists. I will speak Christian prayers or Q’ranic verses if the situation truly calls for it. Religion has nothing to do with spiritual need. I’m the person who tries to fill in the gaps in the face of grief, especially, but also in other situations ranging from hauntings to helping people find ways to free themselves from belief systems that form neurological cancers in the mind. 99% of the time, the people I work with finish their journey with a return to their faith of origin. If they do become Pagan, it’s always after their time with me has finished. I don’t bring in new Pagans. I support people in their own faith. First, most people are born into an Abrahamic faith, so it’s most efficient to draw on the faith of their ancestors and that has been programmed into them since birth. Second, it helps some of these people understand that I am with God/ess, even if I’m not with their faith. The source matters more than the trappings and always will.

There is the knotty problem of atheists in spiritual crisis, and this is why I hope to develop a language that works in communicating with the non-belief non-book style atheist. I can’t help the people that are both non-believers AND angry at their faith of origin.  Most of the time, I don’t care to as they’re very unpleasant individuals. This whole philosophy of the present moment seems like an excellent place to begin.




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