An Open Letter to Catherine Sanders
I’m sure you are assailed constantly by Wiccans and Pagans who take issue with your views. After reviewing your article on the subject, and purchasing your book last night, I wanted to join that chorus.
Since I have not yet received your book, I will limit my comment to your article. While I feel you have dealt fairly with the subject from a journalistic standpoint, I think that your analysis of the religion is shallow, and your comparisons to Christianity are off base.
As background, I have been a Wiccan and Druid for 20 years, come this August, and I have a degree from UNC-CH in Religious Studies. I consider myself a Pagan Theologian. I’ve devoted considerable time and effort in analysis of my religion and its wild growth in the two decades since I found it. I’ve also spent considerable time examining the relationship between Paganism and Christianity. Perhaps you would appreciate some of my insight to assist in your understanding of those factors.
The number of Pagans in this country is going to increase dramatically, and there is little that the Church can do to stem the tide. The factors are not, as you think, purely a failure of ministry to capture the attention of the youth, the failure is in the fundamental make up of modern Christianity – and the problem is so deep that there is virtually nothing that modern Christians can do to mend it, I’m afraid. The primary issues that most Pagans have with the Church are doctrinal, and they are so fundamental as to preclude any real return to the Church from Pagan ranks.
The combination of an undoubtedly Male godhead with radical monotheism has led directly to the spiritual disenfranchisement of women in the Church, and has further led to a patriarchal mind-set that permeates every aspect of inter-gender relations in the Christian Church. This is not a matter of letting the Ladies Auxiliary lead a service every now and then, it is a fundamental flaw in the make-up of all the Abrahamic faiths. When God is male, with no female counterpart, the deck is inherently stacked and any attempt at true coequal spirituality is dashed. Certainly the doctrine of the Trinity leaves open the possibility of feminine elements, but unless someone in true authority comes out and explicitly equates the Holy Spirit with the Goddess, the Church will remain fatally flawed.
The implicit denigration of Femininity in the scriptures also leads to a denigration of sex, itself. Until the Church is willing to recognize sexuality as inherently sacred, not inherently sinful, there will be few Pagans in your pews. Masturbation, menstruation, pornography, “uncleanliness”, and the host of petty bigotries based on scriptural assertions of the sinful nature of sex, a human universal attribute and font of all life, are anathema to Pagans. The whole concept of the Fall from Eden, predicated by feminine foolishness, is a slap in the face of every woman in the world, an attempt by a tribal patriarchy to provide religious justification for the virtual enslavement and mistreatment of women. You can make all the excuses you like, but the Genesis stories provide ample basis for this subjugation. In doing so, Jehovah has made war on the Goddess. How could we come back to worship the confessed perpetrator of such a crime?
Your take on Wiccan ethics, while accurate to a point, is limited. You do not understand the very sophisticated basis of our ethical life. In comparing our ethics to those of Christianity, you proudly tout that “Only because we have a transcendent Creator, who is perfect goodness and declared what is absolute good or bad, do we have grounds to condemn anything.”, while saying at the same time that “Wicca itself falls short of providing a basis for Wiccans to take social action.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and your analysis demonstrates a distinct lack of research on the subject.
No doubt the ubiquitous Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law came up in your research. Most Christian critics of Wicca bring them up, praise them in a limited way, and dismiss them in favor of the “absolute good” Jehovah allegedly represents. They decry the lack of an “objective” guide for good-and-evil while ignoring the fact that under the “objective” rules in scripture the most horrendous crimes in history have been perpetrated. Yes, Wiccans do have highly subjective ideas about “good” and “evil” – but we aren’t nearly as concerned with the two as abstract concepts as are the Zoroastrian-influenced dualism of the Abrahamic Faiths.
Our Rede and Law are guides, ethical rules-of-thumb, not divinely given commandments. In our religion we depend on no one but ourselves and our own conscience to determine the rightness or wrongness of our actions. Do Wiccans occasionally transgress our self-imposed subjective morality? Of course, occasionally we do have people who commit acts that objectively could be considered “evil”. Do we forgive them, chalk it up to a skewed perspective and go on our merry way? We do not. We hold that person accountable for their actions.
Indeed, our religion revolves around the individual taking responsibility for their actions, good and bad. There is no Christian “get out of sin free” card. You are expected to make the right decisions, and if you do not, you are expected to live with the consequences. A Wiccan who truly understands what the Rede and the Law and the other ethical components you may have missed (the Codes of Chivalry, for instance, and the Path of Wisdom) knows that transgressions of commonly held moral views that hurt others hold powerful consequences, and encourage a tremendous amount of forethought before action is taken. Hurting yourself is not a violation of those principals – it’s just stupid, and is recognized as such.
Conversely, Christianity is packed full of people who pride themselves on being forgiven for their sins, and because of that they seem to be all the more willing to sin in the first place. “Only God is perfect” they say, as they indulge in one bad decision after another. They are never held to account, spiritually. It’s an ontological blank check, and Christians, in the Pagan perception, are constantly adding zeros to the amount. One reason why you see teens leaving the Church in droves for our covens and groves is because they tire of seeing their “devout” Christian parents indulge in daily hypocrisy. They want a religion that holds them to account. Wicca and the other Pagan religions are very big on constant and intense introspection about ethical issues, because we teach that no matter how much some transcendent deity may forgive you, it is you, and you alone, who must live with the responsibility for your actions. We don’t need commandments or laws to determine what is “good” and what is “evil”. We recognize that when a religion has such, everyone becomes a spiritual lawyer seeking loopholes, from medieval indulgences to modern televangelists crying on TV about their weakness for prostitutes and then declaring that they are forgiven. Our religion is not like that.
Can you tell me, Is Good really inherently good, independent of God, or is it Good because God says it is? Is Evil really inherently evil, or is it evil because God said it is? Under Christian doctrine and practice the “good” that the religion seems so proud of has been used to justify horrific crimes. When Christianity faces its collective responsibility and acknowledges the evil it has done in the name of supposed “good”, then we might come back.
But I doubt it. We’re not very forgiving that way.
You play up the environmental aspect of Paganism, and that’s all to the good. However, you fail to recognize the anti-environmental stance implicit in Christianity. According to the good ol’ Book of Revelations, the Earth is going to get burned up in the End Times anyway – so why bother with it? It is merely a tool God gave to Man, after all. You can quote other scripture all you like, but the overwhelming implication of Revelations, including the fatalism and hopelessness in that book, have forever tainted the Church against doing anything more than lip service to the environment. “Good Stewards”, indeed! Under Christianity we have seen our once glorious planet suffer as Man uses his Goddess-given gift like a rented mule. The tides are rising, the icecaps are melting, the species are dying, the Armada Storms have begun, all because for the last five-hundred years Christian doctrine has not only allowed the use of the Earth’s bounty with impunity or thought to consequence, it has actively encouraged it.
“The fact that all human beings are made in the image of God provides us with a basis to respect women and help the poor, while the pagan, pantheistic view of Wicca places human beings no better than inanimate objects such as rocks or trees.” This is another way in which you demonstrate the shallow nature of your study of our religion. “No better than . . . rocks or trees” . . . are we somehow “better”? Or is this attitude merely human self-aggrandizement, sufficient justification for the wholesale destruction of our world? The Church tries to claim moral superiority to our poor little limited view of humanity by claiming that Man was made in God’s image . . . when, in truth, we instead accept the idea that the rocks and trees were also made in the image of the Divine. If the Christian ethic based on this ideal held true, then we would not have the centuries of suffering the Church has spawned, up to and including the current war. Perhaps we hold human beings in no better esteem than rocks or trees . . . but we hold rocks and trees in pretty high esteem. When humans merit that esteem, we are more than happy to acknowledge it. Is a man worth more than a tree? Depends upon the man. Depends on the tree. Subjective morality is like that.
Christian missionaries approving clear-cutting of African forests to drive the animist tribes out of their arboreal lifestyle and into good little Church-centric villages, divorced from their livelihood; Christian missionaries in Southeast Asia buying little girls from starving families, only to raise them in convent schools and “ration them out” without brideprice on the condition that their future husbands convert – thus destroying a local culture that has evolved over a thousand years to maintain a careful balance with the fragile, limit natural resources at their disposal. The wholesale slaughter of tribal peoples in an attempt to pacify and civilize them while stealing the resources from their lands, with Christians more concerned about their souls than their lives. Christian bishops insisting that condoms do not protect against HIV/AIDS in Africa, and even saying that they spread the disease. Christians have a horrid history of abuses of both man and environment that has led directly to the current state of environmental affairs. And they do so because God told Adam he owned it all in Genesis and then told John the Divine that he was just going to destroy it all anyway.
And then there is the issue of basic Cosmology. Christians, of course, believe you get one shot to determine your eternal existence. Violate the rules, forget to ask for forgiveness at the right time, and you’re hellbound. Conversely, they cannot seem to agree upon what, exactly, one must do to escape the flames of perdition. Pagans see the afterlife as they see life, as a circle or spiral, granting plenty of opportunities for development along the way. In Christianity, you have the doctrine of unlimited forgiveness – but you wouldn’t need it if Jehovah hadn’t set up the rules to ensure unlimited damnation in the first place. Christ brings hope, perhaps, but it was Jehovah who established the hopelessness. Forgive us if we don’t think that’s a fair game. In respect to the afterlife and “eternal salvation”, Jehovah’s rules and attitude throughout the OT reveal a personality that, when sane, appears more like a Mafia don than a benevolent spiritual figure. Until the spiritual coercion implicit in Christianity ends, you won’t see many Pagans come back to the Church. As revealed in the OT, Jehovah simply does not measure up to Pagan moral standards as worthy of worship.
“As for spiritual reality, only Christian truth possesses a deity that took on human flesh, was real, and existed among us. Nothing is more real than Jesus and his Holy Spirit. He has given us the victory over the spirits of this world.” This statement reveals a gross ignorance of both other religions and your own. World religions are replete with examples of deities that took human form, took human flesh. There is nothing remarkable about Christ’s story, save that the mythology is hailed as history and stubbornly defended, despite any evidence to the contrary. It harkens back to the idea that the scriptures were, somehow, immune from the hyperbole and religiously-sanctioned mythologizing of the past that every single other contemporary culture and religion was subject to. And Christians make this claim without a real shred of evidence.
The divinity of Jesus? You can’t even satisfactorily prove the existence of Jesus, historically. How do you know the Bible is true? runs the argument. “It’s old!” the Chrisitans say, “and all these other people thought it was true.” But how did they know? “The Bible says it’s true – you just have to have Faith!” Faith is absolute belief without supporting proof. It’s a circular argument, and one that no self-respecting Pagan of sufficient maturity will fall for. And the implication, that unprovable “Christian truth” somehow trumps all other of mankind’s notions of divinity and automatically places it at the head of the morality line is laughable. You speak of victory over “the spirits of the world” without realizing the mystery: that the “spirits of the world” were never at war with us. We were at war with ourselves, and all Christianity did was to take that internal war which all man is heir to and express it as external war, turning the legitimate quest for spiritual truth into an all-or-nothing battle of evangelism and coercion. The Bible uses the language of warfare constantly, to devastating effect. The Goddess is above such conceits. She seeks not to war on the world, but enable us to live within it.
Indeed, the whole concept of a “divine book” is laughable to Pagans. How can a book be more divine than a tree? How can God say everything he’s going to say to one little tribe and trust them to pass it on to everyone else, untainted by local prejudice? As long as Christianity relies on the Bible as its basis, the “objective” standards you tout only serve as fodder to endless, mindless debate about interpretation, keeping people from true spiritual development as they wade through five millennia of mistranslated hagiography taken drastically out of context. As a rule, Pagans look on Christianity as a hypocritical, anti-female, anti-sex, anti-life death-cult that is bound and determined to see to the wholesale destruction of life on our world. For every positive example of Christian goodness there are a hundred horrific examples of evil done under the sign of the Cross.
Jesus isn’t the problem. Most Wiccans follow much the same path that Jesus preached. The problem is that Christianity has largely ignored his teachings in favor of glorifying his death and alleged resurrection. The Church teaches that the crucifixion is the important part and spends little time on the message. While it terrorizes your youth with images of human sacrifice and bloody torture, of eternal suffering and perpetual punishment, ours invites the youth to examine their lives devoid of threat and coercion. While the Church teaches damnation as the result of deviation from doctrine, the Coven and Grove teach the inherent worth and dignity of the individual, judged by no greater or lesser authority than yourself, with an emphasis on self love that is completely absent in Christianity. Jesus may have taught brotherly love and human understanding, but y’all lost sight of that in your liturgy and catechism long ago.
In short, most Pagans view Christianity as hopelessly flawed and devoid of meaning in our modern world. And attempts to preach at us, as kindly and gently as they may come, makes us mad. There will always be those Wiccans who go back to the Church. There will always be those Christians who find Wicca and the healing power of the Goddess and never set foot in a church again. But after twenty years of intense study on the subject, to have my religion dismissed so casually in favor of a pathologically crippled monstrosity, to have books written about how to subvert my coreligionists from their hard-won spiritual path, that infuriates me.
I have three small children who are all being raised Pagan. They are being taught a healthy respect for Life and Death, are being shown the eternal cycle of the seasons and invited to joy and delight in the manifold glories of Nature. They are being taught that God and Goddess are the Mommy and Daddy to us all. They are being taught to be truthful, helpful members of society who treat all people with respect and love. And yet they are constantly being told by schoolmates, teachers, and “well-meaning” adults that their mommy and daddy are going to Hell when they die, and the only way that we can be saved is to go to Church, where there’s this horrific dead guy on the wall and all the talk about blood. Christians try to get Pagan kids to sign “statements of faith” at “harmless” ice cream socials and Church sleepovers. Christian kids gang up on Pagan kids and call them devil worshippers and Satanists. Christians who tell Pagan kids their Goddess is a whore and a deceiver. The end justifies the means, that’s what Christianity is ultimately about. And you want my kids to come to this “wholesome” environment?
There are no books on how to convert Christians to Paganism. We don’t need them. Y’all are doing a fine job yourself. But I resent you laying out a plan to steal my children’s faith from them, I really do. Until Christianity can come clean and dramatically restructure itself, no amount of weaseling about how you can find “Wiccan elements” in scripture is going to make a convincing argument. It’s a creaky, decrepit house that keeps getting propped up, and every time it does it becomes more rickety and less able to provide spiritual shelter to those who hunger for such.
Arion the Blue