My youngest son in this past year has very firmly declared himself to be a Pagan, and he is quite outspoken about this. Actually, he’s quite outspoken about everything and has a level of confidence at times that I want to encourage and foster.
Unfortunately, this has meant that he has had to deal with some of the fallout from classmates questioning why he isn’t one of the more mainstream religions. In his school and within his classroom he is around children who practice several of the major world religions – Christian, Muslim, and Hindu – and who come from from points all across the globe. A rather culturally diverse group in other words.
Note: He also told me that he had some problems with teachers during Religious Education lessons pushing specific religions on him; however, I had a conversation with his class teacher and am satisfied that this wasn’t the case.
Given my son’s age and lack of life experience I have suggested that he not try to engage in debates or in-depth discussions with others, and I am monitoring things at his school to keep on top of that.
However, how do I deal with it when people start slinging questions at me, or trying to tell me my religious beliefs are wrong? Or just come out with some wacky comment about Pagans or Paganism?
Which brings us to this week’s entry for The Pagan Experience: Dealing with Other People
These days I am not really all that confrontational or in your face about being a Pagan. I don’t hide it, but I don’t wear it on my sleeve either. Over the years, these are some of the questions and comments I have had, and my responses to them.
Comment: “I’ll pray for you.”My response: “Thank you.” or, “Thank you. I will pray for you as well.”
Reason: Chances are, this person is going to be praying for me to find the “one true way”. I choose to interpret their prayer as a gesture of goodwill. Since 1. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “the one true faith” and 2. just because they’re praying to their God doesn’t mean it won’t be heard by the other Gods as well. Besides which, going through life there are times I can use all the help I can get, and if someone wants to get their God on my side, I say go for it.
However! Occasionally (rarely) I come across someone who rather persistently tells me that they are going to pray that I “find_____”. These people, I very politely tell them, “No, thank you.”
Comment: “Why are you an atheist?”
My response: “I’m not, I believe in many Gods not just one.”
Reason: Yes, I did actually have someone ask me why I was an atheist when they found out I wasn’t Christian. In their world view there was only one option for religion, and that was Christian in any of the hundreds of different variations.
Comment: If you were to attend one of our church services we’re sure you would change your beliefs.”
Response: I would love to attend one of your religious services. In exchange I would like to invite you to attend one of mine.”
(They declined as “pastor wouldn’t approve”)
Reason: The Pagan beliefs which I hold are not a fad or a whim or an adolescent attempt to shock the grown ups in my life. Visiting, listening, taking part in the religious services of other religions do not threaten my own core beliefs.
I have regularly attend services through my children’s school for Christmas programs, Easter programs, Harvest Festivals, and the like. These have taken place both in the school and at a local Church of England. Most of the time, I have fun mentally considering all of the Pagan influences in the Biblical stories.
I can also with good authority state that I have entered the local parish church and spoken with the Priest, and not once have I been struck by lightning.
Comment: “You’re always attacking (this) religion.”
Response: “No, I poke fun at hypocrites within a religion, but I have the utmost respect for the core teachings of (that) religion.”
Reason: There is much to admire in the teachings of spiritual leaders across the world. It’s the followers and religious leaders who seem to have forgotten the teachings of whom they are following I lack respect for.
One Christian priest I am friends with calls Christians of this ilk Churchians, because they are followers of church doctrine, while ignoring the original teachings of Jesus the Christ.
Comment: Do you believe in Jesus?
Response: Yes. I believe that a man called Jesus of Nazareth was born and lived in the area around the Sea of Galilee. I believe that he performed great miracles of healing. I also believe that Buddha lived and performed great miracle of healing as did many other spiritual teachers throughout time.
Reason: I wrote a whole blog post about this a while back, so rather than go into details I’ll just link to it and you can read it for yourself.
Comment: “Followers of alternative religions are just attention seekers/following a fad”
Response: “I’ve been practising as a Pagan for over 20 years, that’s a bit long for it to just be a fad.”
Reason: I am the first to admit that yeah, there are people who decide they want to be Pagan because they see it as being a cool thing to do, or they want to make a fashion statement, or even because they want to piss off their parents. When they realise that there’s more to being a witch than wearing a lot of pentacles and shocking the local pastor they tend to drift off into the next fad.
If someone manages to stick around for a few years and actually grows and matures in their beliefs, then I think you can safely presume it’s not just a fad.
Comment: Pagans are just better people because…”
Response: “Pagans are humans same as any other group and we get our share of arseholes and idiots.”
Reason: I see this mostly in the newly converted. But, you get that with any belief whether it be religion, or dietary, or political, or health-related. The world gets divided into “us and them” where “Us” is considered to be good and “Them” isn’t. Ever notice how annoying a person can be when they start trying to get you to eat exactly the same way they are eating because “People who don’t eat jelly beans are just so much more in tune with their emotions than people who do.”
No, they aren’t. And no, they don’t.
Just because someone identifies as Pagan doesn’t mean they’re automatically a nice person and it most definitely does not mean that they are better or more “enlightened” or just plain better than anyone else.
Response: “If you would like to have a discussion about your beliefs and what they mean for you I will be happy to listen and share perspective on my own beliefs and what they mean for me, however if your interest is purely an attempt to convert me I’m not interested.”
Reason: I have no problem whatsoever about engaging in religious discussions, but not when the other person has an agenda of trying to convert me or tell me my personal beliefs are wrong.
Response: “There’s no such thing as a white witch or black witch, such terms have racist undertones alluding to one as being good and the other as bad. Asking me am I a white or a black witch would be akin to my asking someone ‘Are you a good Christian or a bad Christian?’ ”
Reason: Just like it says there. Most people see the point when I give them the analogy of asking if they are a good (religion) or a bad (religion). There are some Pagans who aren’t nice people, but it isn’t being Pagan that makes them not nice, they would be the same regardless of the religion, or non-religion, they followed.
I would say that 20 years ago I was much more likely to engage in extended conversation with other people about being Pagan. These days, I’m a lot more discerning.
Some people are honestly interested in talking, debating, and learning. I could talk to them for hours.
Others, well they’re more interested in figuring out how they can twist my words to convince me that I am wrong and they must be right.
I don’t want to talk to them. Life is way too short and I’ve got more important things to focus my time and energy upon.