Christians and Pagans: Rules for engagement

This post angers me.

In short, for those who don’t feel up to clicking today, it concerns the trolling of non-Christian obituaries with the intent of proselytizing. Christians contact the non-Christians mourning their dead, send tracts and various well-meant sentiments that essentially come down to: “You’re going to rot for an eternity in hell because you don’t believe exactly as I do. Your loved one is doing that now. Save yourself.”

Gee, thanks.

Granted, if I happened to be the grieving party subject to such treatment, I’m not sure I’d be able to restrain myself. I’m pretty even-tempered overall, but there would be at the very least an angry in-person (or, if not possible, telephonic) confrontation. No one has the right to use personal tragedy to sell faith like a used car.

Overall, I’d like to believe I’m fairly Christian-positive for a Pagan. I’ve read parts of the Bible and even studied in a Methodist seminary as both the graduate and undergraduate levels. I minored in religion. I make an effort to see people’s faith from their own perspective, or at least as close to that perspective as I can get without being of that faith, and give them what’s popularly known as “the benefit of the doubt” when they screw up. If they offer to pray for me, I thank them; I assume the intent stems from well-wishing and that’s always welcome, even if the sentiments are expressed in a way that I would find alien or even slightly obnoxious. People do the best they can.

But tolerance and even attempted understanding have their limits, and I can well understand why some of my Pagan peers shun Christians. Obituary-trolling is an extreme example, true.

Some thoughts:

1. A willingness to engage in dialogue or attempt to understand your faith practice doesn’t mean I want to convert. I am very happy as a Keltrian Druid, thanks. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a friendly interchange of ideas, but the emphasis is on “friendly” and “interchange.” Monologues don’t count, nor do mean-spirited sentiments such as “you’re going to hell,” no matter the flowery language you coat them in.

2. I won’t read the Bible cover to cover, nor will I read the Koran, the Book of Mormon, etc. Quite simply, I have other things I’d rather read right now. Maybe I’ll get to it someday, but it’s not a high priority. And while we’re comparing ancient literature, have you read the Kalevala, the Tain Bo Cuailgne, the Eddas, the Upanishads? I have and I’m more than happy to discuss them, but I don’t expect you to unless you really want to.

3. I am not, to borrow a term from Islam, one of the “peoples of the book.” The Bible and Koran aren’t immutable truths as far as I’m concerned. I don’t see why they should be, and accepting that as one of the articles of faith that makes you a “person of the book.” I’ve read parts of both the Bible and the Koran, and I didn’t find any deep, immutable wisdom that proved to me that either was the “one true way.” Sorry. Re-reading it won’t bring me there, either, because there is an essential philosophical difference. While it’s too simplistic to say that Pagans rely on the “book of nature,” that’s closer to the truth than not. Or rather: a particular set of written words is not the only way to truth and spiritual practice.

4. I don’t believe there is “one true way” and that you have access to it. To quote a Japanese proverb I’ve heard bandied about: “There are many paths up the mountain, but the view of the moon from the top is the same.” Or, to quote the Hindu mystic Ramakrishna:  “God can be realized through all paths. All religions are true.” Your faith is real and true to you, as mine is to me.

5. I think we can strive for mutual understanding. But I will never truly understand your faith path in its entirely because I walk a different one. The same goes for you.

6. If you truly want to minister to me in a way that I can appreciate, then be a role model of right action. Be compassionate, kind, concerned about justice, forgiving of human foibles. Truly embody your ideals. Seeing that, maybe others will be inspired to adopt your path. Maybe they won’t, but that’s okay, too. It’s not about racking up conversions like a video game score, but living in accordance with your vision of the sacred, right?

7. Understand that Christians are a majority religion and have pride of place in our culture. This means that the cultural discourse more often reflects your perspectives or practices than mine. Members of minority religions have at least a little familiarity with the beliefs and practices of the majority religion just because they encounter it so much. Don’t assume that this cultural centricity means that there are no other perspectives or practices, or that yours are more important to everyone because they are culturally central. Also, members of majority faiths usually have very little understanding of minority faiths because they don’t need to. Most of us get this and expect ignorance, but you get an extra gold star for at least trying to learn about us.

8. Remember that all members of any particular group aren’t the embodiment of good or evil, ignorance or knowledge, etc. Both sides need to remember this. Every group contains its great souls and its charlatans, its saints and its assholes, and more than everything else, average people.

In the end, respect breeds respect.

I’ll leave you with a fairly well-known song by Dar Williams.

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About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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