Outreach to Christians: A Sensible Pagan Policy
Author: Priestess Jean
The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey finds that 76 percent of the U.S. population currently consider themselves to be Christian. Although that’s down a full 10 percentage points from the previous survey, it seems clear that Christians will remain in the majority for some time to come. Consequently, our relationship with Christians will play a significant role in how our religion is perceived by the general spiritual community, as well as having a major impact on our ability to assist those people who are now leaving the Christian faith.
The ARIS can help us to visualize the changing demographics of religion. While the number of people who consider themselves to be Christians declined by 10 percent, an increase of 7 percent was reported in the group identifying as agnostic or atheist. In addition, various neo-pagan groups and other forms of nature-based spirituality all experienced significant increases, which clearly demonstrates that some very interesting changes in popular attitudes are now underway.
During this transitional period, I believe that it would be very wise to make a special effort to extend the hand of friendship to Christians, whenever we can. Not only will it facilitate our goals, but it is also the morally right thing to do, in keeping with the fundamental principals of our religion, which have always been firmly rooted in the path of peace and cooperation.
Of course, when we consider the historical interactions that our religion has had with Christianity, there can be no doubt that it’s been a terrible experience. Beginning in the fourth century, they burned our temples and systematically murdered our clergy. After that, they suppressed all public awareness of our beliefs and forced our followers to convert to their religion. Eventually they altered the historical record to conceal their crimes, as well as to slander and demonize us… and to some extent that slander is still causing misunderstandings and discrimination against us today.
These acts were not merely isolated instances that might be excused as not representative of genuine Christian doctrine. They were based on the clearly-stated policy of the church, and carried out by many members of the clergy, including high-ranking Bishops… as well as having been ordered or sanctioned directly by various Popes. To make matters worse, as far as I know, no Christian organization has ever publically repudiated these acts, nor issued any sort of apology for them.
When all this is considered, it would not be surprising for modern followers of the Goddess to be deeply angry, and resentful of the status that Christianity presently enjoys in our society today. Yet if we were to allow the tragic events of the past to dominate our thinking, we would be locked into a philosophy of conflict, animosity, and hatred, which is entirely unnecessary and unhealthy. Such a philosophy is very inappropriate, and can lead only to continued misunderstandings and injustice. Therefore, we must not allow ourselves to walk such a path.
Modern Christians cannot be held responsible for what happened in the past. Many of them are entirely unaware of the matter. They are for the most part good people… who embrace a spiritual dimension in their lives, and whose religion teaches many positive values and moral behaviors. We must perceive the reality of the situation, as it now exists, and not let preconceived ideas or negative stereotypes interfere with our ability to build bridges and establish constructive relationships.
In this, each of us has an opportunity to make a contribution. Outreach frequently begins on a personal, individual basis. We should attempt to establish friendship before anything else. Often we can find some common ground, in our concern for our families, the environment, animal rights, and other worthwhile causes. It is not at all difficult to do.
Eventually of course a discussion of theology is bound to occur… and when it does, I’ve found that it’s best to focus on our modern practice, and things like our metaphysical beliefs, rather than on trying to dispel historical misunderstandings. Christians will then be better able to form accurate opinions… and I’m sure they will quickly come to realize that we are good people, with a desire to help others, and to care for the Earth and all life which the Goddess has placed here.
Regarding the subject of history, Christians will usually tend to focus on the late Roman period. As we know, that can be problematic for several reasons… The Romans imported our religion from Pessinus, where it was not properly practiced. In addition, by the advent of the Common Era, Rome had become quite decadent, and our religion had lost much of its original character. Finally, Christian scholars often replaced accurate accounts about our religion with biased and offensive ones.
Proper understanding of our religion must include an awareness of the historical difficulties mentioned above, yet these sorts of issues are perhaps not the best place to begin. The deliberate destruction of many ancient records, and their replacement with disinformation and slanders (now well-attested in the academic community) is nonetheless potentially embarrassing or offensive to Christians. Pursuing that issue could result in a rather lengthy and unproductive debate, or even worse, create a confrontational situation.
One possible way to deal with that matter is to try to focus on an earlier time period. Certainly a story should begin at the beginning, and there is ample evidence which suggests that our religion may have originated during the Paleolithic era… or, at the very least, in late-Neolithic societies such as found at Catal Hoyuk. Since Christianity didn’t exist at that point in time, there is little potential to cause offense. In addition, such a discussion can also lead to an awareness of the Kurgan invasion, which provides a critical basis for many insights into the evolution of organized religion.
In general, our religion is not very well-known to the average Christian, and as a result you can expect them to ask some interesting questions. Do we think Mary is a goddess? If we don’t believe in heaven and hell, what makes us behave properly? What is our bible called? Do we sacrifice animals?
We must try to keep an open mind, respond to what is said, and avoid making any pompous speeches. When we speak, we should remember that demonstrating respect for others during a discussion is more important than any point of logic that we might hope to make. That is what the other person will most remember about the conversation, and will make our ideas much more likely to receive some genuine consideration.
There may be times when you encounter certain exclusionary attitudes… that is, assertions to the effect that no other religion besides Christianity can have any validity or merit, or that without Christ you will be condemned to hell. While it’s rather unlikely that you’ll have a productive conversation with anyone like that, you still might try to make a worthwhile point by asking “Doesn’t that sort of thinking rather limit your ability to relate to others?” or something to that effect.
Perhaps the most challenging type of attitude that you may encounter concerns the idea that a religious belief justifies taking various types of oppressive political actions, which can interfere with the rights of others. Some examples of this involve the passage of laws relating to abortion and same-sex marriage.
In a democracy, the majority gets their way… and when a religious group that happens to constitute a majority uses their influence to tell people how to vote, in elections and referendums, it is quite possible for them to impose their beliefs on others. Ultimately however, the courts must decide what is just and lawful under the constitution. The process is rather slow, but eventually a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy was established there, just as I’m certain that the right to marry, without discrimination based on gender, will also one day be established.
As these sorts of civil-law cases play out, it’s tempting to argue with those who advocate denying others their freedom, based on some fundamentalist clergyman’s interpretation of the doctrine of their religion. However, confronting such persons directly will only tend to alienate them, and become an obstacle to our overall goal of spiritual outreach. Therefore, we would be wise to bear our priorities in mind, avoid unnecessary confrontation, and simply wait for the courts to do their job.
For the most part, the trend that I see within the various denominations of Christianity is towards a more liberal outlook, rather than a strict conservatism. Many churches have a very sympathetic policy towards the GLBT community, have female clergy, and are even taking a more enlightened attitude towards the bible itself… no longer regarding it as the absolute word of God, but rather as a book written by human beings, and which does contain some problematic material.
Overall, the evolution, which is now occurring within various Christian denominations, is very encouraging. In many ways their definition of deity is approaching our own, as a loving and benevolent entity, rather than the violent and jealous war-god of the Old Testament. If Christianity is to endure, such progress is clearly essential… and will greatly enhance their ability to coexist with people of other religions as well.
Religious affiliations in our society are now undergoing some revolutionary changes. The membership in our own temple continues to increase at a more rapid pace each year. We are at the beginning of a new global renaissance, and if we recognize what is happening, and act wisely to facilitate it, then the golden age that we seek will arrive all that much sooner… and obviously, a well-defined and sensible policy of outreach to Christians can play an important role in that transition.
This is an opinion type of essay