Today for lunch I escaped my office and walked over to the student union, enjoying the beautiful spring weather as I went. After working my way through hoards of students, I grabbed my Orange Chicken from Panda Express, grateful for a seat at a table in the corner. There I started to blissfully veg out to the music videos they had streaming over the t.v.’s. While music videos aren’t something I generally engage in, it was something I could stare at and not have to think about. (This should tell you what sort of frame of mind I was in today).
If you follow me over on Pagan Square, you’ll know that last night I walked 10 miles for St. Joseph’s Night and had an amazing spiritual experience. Today I woke up sore and tired. Dragging myself into work was harder than usual and for once I didn’t even try to look professional. Today I broke one of fashion’s cardinal rules and wore yoga pants and a sweatshirt to the office. Luckily I’m hidden away in the back so I can get away with it.
Anyway, this video caught my attention…
…and I was trying to make out what was going on with it when a girl walked up to my table. She asked me if I was expecting anyone and since it was busy in the seating area, I assumed she wanted my chairs. So I told her no and gestured at the chairs. Apparently she was not asking to take my extra chairs because the next thing I knew she and her friend were sitting down and asking me if I had God in my life.
I didn’t have any fight in me today. I found I could not be mean to her. I told her that yes, as a matter of fact, I did have a lot of the Gods in my life; that I was a Wiccan priestess, and much of my life was based around worship of the Gods. This took her aback and I could see the mental wheels turning. She didn’t quite know what to make of that. I’ve been confronted with this in the past when approached by Christians out to convert me. They seem to think that if you don’t believe in their God, you’re either worshiping Satan or don’t have any sort of religious life at all.
She didn’t let it deter her for too long. She looked at me and said “well, I was sitting over there and I saw you sitting by yourself and God told me that I needed to come and talk to you”. I work at a ritzy private university, this girl matched most of the other girls sitting and chatting around me. Well styled hair, expensive clothing, tasteful (and real) jewelry. In comparison to me with my piercings and tattoos and crazy hair, I was definitely very Other, even without wearing any of my usual Goddess type jewelry. In her very sheltered mind, I probably looked like the sort of Godless heathen she always hears about.
I told her that that was wonderful, but that I talk to my Gods all the time. Again, a confused look.
I took a second to explain that having been raised in the Methodist Church (which she also didn’t know about) that I had worked hard to find my religious beliefs and had worked hard to become a priestess (I didn’t even touch the idea of initiation, if she didn’t know about Methodists, she wasn’t going to grasp initiation). I also explained that I was very happy on my path, that I was happy she had found hers, that many people didn’t. But, she kept at it. Of course.
Next the conversation went something like this:
Her: Where are you going when you die?
Me: I believe in reincarnation
Her: Well how do you KNOW?
Me: I believe
Her: But you don’t know?
Me: *Sigh* How do you know you’re going to go to Heaven or Hell?
Her: Because it’s where I’m going.
Me: Have you been to either place?
Me: Has God spoken directly to you?
Me: So you believe that there is a heaven and hell?
She generally stuck to the “I believe the Bible because the Bible tells me to believe in the Bible” circular argument. I finally managed to shovel enough of my chicken in my mouth to escape politely after telling her that it was nice talking to her but that I was happy with my path, but that it was good to have dialogue with other people.
But that was the problem, I wasn’t having a dialogue with her at all. I was pretty much repeating “I’ve found my path and am happy on it and am happy that you found your path and are happy on it, let’s agree to disagree, OK?” Which she was completely oblivious to.
The two things that really struck me about the whole experience (other than how unpleasant it is to have an 18 year old try to save you on your lunch break when you just don’t want to be bothered) was her complete lack of background knowledge. How do you have a rational discussion with someone who has no knowledge of the, excuse the English major in me coming out, but the “canon” of their beliefs? And two, that you can’t argue with someone who believes they are in the right and has absolutely no interest in having any sort of rational discourse. There was nothing “interfaith” about her schtick, she didn’t care that I had a fulfilling religious life, she simply wanted me to accept hers.
The whole experience bothered me much more than it ought to have. It’s not like it’s the first time, after all. I’m a witch who lives in the South. But New Orleans is usually pretty good about the whole “your spirituality is different than mine, but that’s OK, we can still be friends” sort of thing.
I smuggled my egg roll back to my office and ate it there (it was soggy at that point) and continued to dredge through the rest of the day.
When I came home, I came across Sam Webster’s controversial new article over at Patheos called Why you can’t worship Jesus Christ and be Pagan. Before my experience with God-girl earlier, I still would have agreed with Sam. This is something that my partner has written about and gets yelled at for a lot. But having had this conversation with God-girl, this article meant a bit more to me than usual.
While I didn’t agree with all of Sam’s points, I also didn’t find the article to be hateful. I did find it to be strongly opinionated. The comments, on the other hand, were actually pretty hateful.Whether you agree with Sam or not, Yeshe Rabbit summed it up beautifully with her comment:
I find this article interesting for several reasons. 1) wakes us up and invites us to question ourselves. 2) states an unabashed and personally-relevant opinion, defends it with a consistent set of data and frame of reference (whether your particular scholarly opinion of the Bible is in agreement or not). 3) asks us to state who we are, and to be able to back up why we think that way. 4) opens the unpopular dialogue about the dangers of “getting too Interfaith to be relevant or specific anymore.” 5) generates buzz and attention, which means that whatever Sam REALLY wants us to read will be coming soon/next, now that we are watching with piqued interest. I’m looking forward to that part, particularly. 6) demonstrates one viable method for owning one’s personal authority and opinion without resorting to cruelty or personal attack of any one being, the example of which I see has NOT translated to most of the comments here.
And this was exactly what God-girl was missing. Her “my way or the highway” attitude is exactly why I have so many problems with the idea of combining elements of Christianity with Paganism. While Paganism is accepting, Christianity is not. Its lack of acceptance and “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” sort of attitude is not one that is compatible with a a group of people who all do things a little differently. Pagans are also pretty big about going out and reading and discussing and arguing. We value intelligence. We can argue about how to approach our type of Paganism all we want (I do with Wicca all the time), but at the end of the day, we don’t tell you that if you don’t do this a certain way you’re going to go to a very bad place where you’ll roast for all eternity. Bringing that mindset into Paganism is scary, it’s what I left behind when I left Christianity. Christianity does not embrace differing world views or background knowledge further than “the Bible told me to do it”.
We can agree to disagree and since we’re Pagan, that’s OK. But as Jesus says, “I am The Way, The Truth and The Life, no one comes to my father except through me” (John 14:6). I don’t think it’s possible to satisfy a God that clearly points out there is no other way than His way. As Sam points out, He expressly forbids the worship of other gods, idols, doing of magic and divination, things that Pagans holds sacred. This reasoning is the sort of reasoning that has caused so many atrocities over the years. Why in the world do we want to invite that sort of “my way or the highway” thinking into our community, even if it is cloaked by a good-god persona?