My Neopagan Pen Pal

I thought that interfaith dialogue had its limits—until I started talking with a Wiccan.

For many, paganism generally and Wicca in particular are synonymous with the occult, even Satanism. The presence of Wiccans at the groundbreaking for an interfaith chapel at a Disciples of Christ-related university brought streams of protests and a flurry of questions from the faithful. People asked/demanded: Why were they present?

This was the same sort of worry that led some Christians to raise concerns about the Harry Potter books and movies. They denounced the series because they feared that exposing children to magic—as if Disney movies hadn’t already done that a generation earlier—might lead them into witchcraft. The concern was that Harry made witchcraft look too good.

While Neopaganism and Wicca have exploded onto the religious scene in recent years—bookstores have shelves of books on these new-old religions—their popularity seems to derive not from an embrace of evil but from their noninstitutionalized character. They’re also popular for an emphasis on communing with nature, in a time when we face the prospects of global warming, overpopulation, urban sprawl and pollution. (Critics of environmentalism have thus equated that movement with the occult.)

I had never seriously considered engaging in conversation with a Neopagan or Wiccan until I wrote about Harry Potter in the local paper and received e-mails from Wiccans and Neopagans who thanked me for offering kind words about Harry Potter. My article was posted on Wiccan sites, where respondents expressed surprise that a Christian pastor could have an open mind and compassionate spirit toward Wiccans. Many said they've experienced persecution and discrimination from Christians. They feel that their religion has been mischaracterized.

In series of e-mails with a Neopagan, I got to know a man who is married, has adult children, a job and endeavors to live in peace with his neighbors. I think he’s fairly representative—although he admitted that, like anything else, Neopaganism has its oddballs.

One e-mail from my pen pal raised the issue of the Veteran’s Administration’s refusal to allow Wiccans to use the pentacle on VA-sponsored memorials. (The VA doesn’t recognize Wicca as a religion.) I don't understand why we would allow someone to die serving his country but not recognize his or her religious affiliation.

Of course, people of other religions experience similar discrimination. In Tennessee the candidate for lieutenant governor has suggested that Muslims don’t deserve to be covered by the constitutional provisions of religious freedom, because in his mind, Islam isn’t a religion.

Those of us who are members of the religious majority have a responsibility to speak up for those whose religious identities are mischaracterized and smeared. If we had a few more conversations with those who are different from us, life would be better for all of us.

Reposted from Theolog, the Christian Century blog, for which I am a frequent contributor


Gary said…
Wiccans go to Hell when they die, just like phony Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and every other non-Christian.
David Mc said…
It makes you smile, doesn't it?

Good article Bob.
Gary said…
David Mc,

People are going to to Hell forever, and what interests you is whether I am happy about it???

Why is it that I care more about the fate of non-Christians than do you and your buddies here? Is it because I'm the only one here who actually believes Hell exists, and that people really go there???
David Mc said…
You're right, you may have their best interests at heart. I apologize.

Has your church ever been picketed?

Do unto to others as they say.
Gary said…
No, my church has never been picketed, but we keep hoping.
Anonymous said…
You can call Wicca or Islam a religion if you'd like but one won't find salvation via their doctrines. Wicca is a cult. Plain and simple. the VA has every right to deny their pentacle. I didn't serve in the military so someone could display a symbol representing a cult world of unGodly spirits that we need not be in contact with.
Glenn said…

When you joined the military you swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same." Since the U.S. constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and that means all religions, not just the ones you deem worthy, your service in the military did in fact serve the purpose of protecting a wiccan's right to worship any way they see fit. You may not like it, but that is what you agreed to when you signed up. Perhaps you should have had the recruiter explain the constitution to you before you signed on the dotted line.
David Mc said…
That's true Glenn. The VA's rights are rightly limited. I believe Hell exists, but the only obvious place is here on earth. I suppose Gary does have a constitutional right to believe it, but swallowing idea seems pretty childish and counterproductive to me. If we are unacceptable to God, He's more likely to give us another chance or let us go "poof" in my opinion.
Anonymous said…
There are ties between us-!
Anonymous said…
The information on the VA's policy regarding the pentacle on grave markers is out of date. It is now an approved symbol and has been placed on the headstones of fallen Wiccan/Pagan service persons.
Oh, and BTW, hell is an imaginary place created to scare superstitious people in behaving a certain way.
Brian said…
From a Christian Education perspective, an in-depth discussion on life after death could prove fruitful. I think Disciples could offer this better than most as we are not trying to convince anybody to think join in a group think.

The reason I think it is important is that views on life after death is probably the biggest dividing line among Christians. Those who are raised in communities where the reality of hell for not putting trust in Jesus have a difficult time with seeing a Christianity that is about here and now. Putting them down won't help anybody. It is scary to believe in a literal hell. If you believe as Gary, you will be motivated to prevent people from suffering in hell. I feel sorry for them.

For a Christian Education publication, I imagine giving people information about the historical-sociological developments of various afterlife views. Disciples could do this well because regardless of whether or not people believe that God will kick people out for having the "wrong" beliefs, Disciples will not.
Gary said…
David Mc,

On what do you base your beliefs that God gives more chances after death, or that people cease to exist at some point, or that Hell is here on earth, in this life?
David Mc said…
All faith is personal. I'm not new to this God racket. God is like art to me. I know what inspires me to His truth. I may be wrong, but at least I know I'll be forgiven. How can I love God if I can't make Him lovable to my heart and mind? If there's an afterlife, I suppose I can be somewhat persuaded otherwise if required, but only then. And not by coercion or fear.

On what do you base your beliefs that hateful parts of our scriptures are of God, or that lovable parts of foreign scriptures are not? Or that the love experienced by some is evil?
Gary said…

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."
II Timothy 3:16

"Knowing this first, that no prophesy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." II Peter 1:21

"It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4

"For had ye believed Moses, ye would also have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" John 5:46,47

I could go on, but the idea is that I believe the Bible because Jesus, all the Apostles, all the Prophets, all the real Christians in history believed it.

You misunderstand just about everything important. God loves, but God is also holy and will not abide sin. His punishment of the wicked is justified, and he does not negate his love by punishing sinners.

There is no indication in the Bible that anyone gets a second chance after death. Our eternal fate is decided in this life.

According to the Bible, all are sinners. The only people who escape the rightful punishment for their sins are those who have cast themselves on Jesus Christ as their only hope. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." John 3:36

Jesus was God in the flesh. He lived a perfect, sinless life which enabled him to offer himself as a sacrifice to God for the sins of those who repent of their sins and put their trust in him. Those who don't believe on him are doomed to suffer the punishment for their sins themselves.

Now David, that's as plain as I know how to say it. What are you going to do? If you keep believing like you are now, you're going to miss God and wind up in Hell.
David Mc said…
I don't know, even you make it sound like I still have a lot of wiggle room. I never said I was without sin- some realized, some maybe not realized. I'm not hopping or hoping on any hate band-wagon at this point in my life. Pray for this sinner if you think there's hope in my judgment.

...the canon refers to the books regarded as inspired by God and authoritative for faith and life. No church created the canon, but the churches and councils gradually accepted the list of books recognized by believers everywhere as inspired.

It was actually not until 367 AD that the church father Athanasius first provided the complete listing of the 66 books belonging to the canon.

Would he have done any additional editing if he had lived today? My soul says yes!
David Mc said…
Anyway, let me share this. Ever see a solar tornado? Makes me feel small.
David Mc said…
Gary, maybe my being brought up Catholic inspired my bet-hedging. Ever hear of purgatory? Venial vs. mortal sin? At least something good came of it, for me.
Gary said…

Your catholic upbringing is probably a major part of your problems. You need to repent of your sins, get right with God, and put that catholic stuff behind you, just like some people I know have done.
John said…

I read what Gary has to say with the same purpose that I may listen to a Hindu, Muslim or Wiccan, as a check on what I believe. The difference between us helps me to define what I believe, and reveals areas where I need to spend more thought and prayer. Gary's wrathful God is as alien to me as is the Muslim's serene and distant God. The Wiccan's sense of divine presence in nature echo's the words of Isaiah 55:10
"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."

Gary's patter reminds me of the words from Matthew 25:24:
"Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master replied, 'You wicked and lazy slave!"

To me this story teaches that God, our divine master, expects us to attribute only the highest most noble characteristics to Him, characteristics such as grace and truth, love and forgiveness, and never to see God as detestable or as acting in a debased manner or with debased motives. Vengefulness is the very opposite of love and forgiveness, and anger is decried by Jesus as among the worst of human attributes - as bad as murder; why then would we insult God by defining Him as a God of vengeance and wrath? Are we then any better than the servant who believes his master to be a thief and brutally cruel?

Gary said…

God defines Himself as a God of vengence and wrath; it is throughout the New Testament. But you won't believe Him. The day will come that you will believe Him, and that day likely will come too late.
David Mc said…
That defines my faith pretty well John. I know what to look for in a false prophet, or a false prophet's messenger. I will defend God's honor, to death if needed- or to hell if Gary is correct.

I say this in order that Gary not waste anymore of his precious words.
Gary said…

I will try to remember not to waste any more time trying to get you and John to see the truth.
David Mc said…
Otherwise, we can still be friends? I would find that joyful.
John said…

I think I see your truth, and I see how earnestly you hold on to it. But the Holy Spirit within me cries out against it and in denial against the awful image of God you proclaim. God is a God of loving kindness and of forgiveness on the scale of 'seventy times seven'. God is God who abhors violence so much so that he contemplated destroying the world to eliminate it. God is a God who abhors anger so much so that he equates it with murder. Now I am not privy to the mysteries of God's righteousness, but one thing I feel reasonably certain of is that God is consistent. That being said, it just makes no sense that God would be all these things, and yet that he would have an action plan that culminates in a violent climax of wrathful vengeance.

Why men recorded descriptions of God as being prone to anger and violence, I cannot say, and don't pretend to understand, but the picture simply does not fit together with a God of forgiveness, and of steadfast and loving kindness. The two descriptions do not square in my little brain, so I have to focus on the message which I think God desires me to focus on the most, and that is the God who reflects the qualities he most desires in me, forgiveness, gentleness, and loving kindness.

And so I believe, and so I try to live.


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