Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | February 4, 2012

losing my religion

Well, no, I’m not, but it makes a catchy title, does it not? I recently took Deborah Blake’s online beginner class on Witchcraft & Paganism. I was interested in learning more about it and was hoping to be able to have some interesting discussions on the similarities and differences between my Christianity and Paganism. This is not to say that I don’t see the doctrinal differences, obviously; rather I was intrigued by comparing values, celebrations, and discovering what we had in common. For instance, how do Pagans express the Golden Rule? How did Christianity take over the solstice and equinox celebrations and subsume them into Christmas and Easter? How have modern Pagans reclaimed these holidays? If you are a Christian and reading this you might consider me a bad Christian for not actively seeking to convert others, however, I figure many would consider me a bad Christian in a lot of ways so what’s one more? And, in any case, why would I want to go through life antagonizing people?

While I have nothing but good things to say about Deb and her welcoming of discussion, that wasn’t true for all the participants. Having snarky comments being made about Christianity come up in discussion was one thing. Another followed from a comment I made about Paul. In the middle of Corinthians, chapter 14 in the middle of a discourse on prophecy comes this:

 34 Women[f] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.[g]

This passage has been used to keep women silent in church for millenia. However, careful scholarly reading of the earliest texts found indicate that this passage was added at a later date. The syntax is different from Paul’s, the word choice is different, and contextually it makes little sense. It interrupts an otherwise seamless chapter. I wrote something about this in a comment and someone responded that I was obviously just too “nice” about Paul and was undoubtedly wrong. Um, nice? Me? Not really. After fuming about it for a bit, I decided to just let it go and stopped commenting thinking that there wasn’t much to be gained by engaging in what could have become both an antagonistic discussion and a distraction from the class, although you can probably tell it irritated me then and continues to irritate me.

All this is a rather long-winded way of getting to where I am going. How do you have honest discourse about religion? So many times people are threatened by the thought of examining religious beliefs as if the examination will somehow wreck their faith. Am I the only one around who finds the idea of reading about my religion and others’ religions intriguing? Am I the only one who thinks that examining doctrines and beliefs can lead to a deeper understanding of people? A deeper understanding of the mysteries of the Universe? How does one go about having discussions without offending people?

I believe that there are many paths to reach the Divine and what path works for me may not work for you. I would try to exercise respect for your beliefs and would hope for the same in return. But then, as I write this, I wonder what to do with religious beliefs that I think are harmful to the participants. How do you temper disapproval with respect? I suspect there are not some hard and fast rules for this; that such discussions need to be approached on a case by case basis.

These are some of the questions I find myself pondering.

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Responses

  1. Let me introduce myself. I’m the author of ‘God Did Not Create Evil’ at goddidnotcreateevil.com. I said this because people need to know that God who created all of us is a father. He wants relationship with us, not religion. Religion is performing some rituals people think will be pleasing to God, instead of doing God’s commandment, which is to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If anyone professes to know God in any form and doesn’t practice divine love for all, then that person doesn’t know God. God is not looking for religion. He is looking for relationship where we His children obey His rules.

  2. Very good questions! I am not really sure HOW we go about some of this with folks who answer the way that person did. I know, for me, it’s painful to see “my” belief system being represented by people who refuse to wear their polite hat to the party.
    (And you have no idea how many different names/titles/bad words I just typed in there and deleted before settling on that simple noun.)

    Fear is one reason why open discussions are difficult on this topic. Fear of an angry god, fear of being wrong, fear of looking bad, and just basic human fear of being a frail and hurt-able human. Or, that’s what I understand of what I’ve seen and been involved with. Since I don’t have any of those issues, I tend to just speak my mind.

    On the other hand, I have trouble staying un-emotional because I believe strongly in many things I’ve witnessed and lived through, but can’t “prove” to others.

    I’m looking forward to hearing what others have to say on this !
    Julie
    (that other witch)

  3. Well, the problem is that fundies exist in all religions. I can safely say that I know Christians that would, with malice aforethought, discriminate against Pagans and Muslims and feel completely justified in being asshats because they believe horrible lies about those religions — and even if they didn’t they still think those faiths are WRONG and thus open to attack from the TRUTH. However, there are clearly Muslims and Jews and Hindus who would do the same thing to anyone not of their religious persuasion. And I have met a Pagan or two who (not knowing I was one of those Fishers myself) have said really derogatory things about Christians because CLEARLY all Christians are monsters because of some shit Pat Robinson spewed.

    This is why I founded the Syncretic Church of Non-asshats. Fundamentalism is a no-no. Be nice, or begone.

  4. I truly believe everyone should be allowed to have their own belief system, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Buddist, Atheist, or whatever, and by respecting others choices and being non-judgemental, we can all learn to get along side-by-side. There is no “one” way and so many similarities within the religions. How each one of us identifies and recognizes God is personal. It is meaningful to us, and we shouldn’t have to defend our beliefs.

    How you open a discourse on religion is a tough one, it’s like politics. You’ll find some non-defensive people and some die-hards. My motto is “don’t engage” unless someone else opens the discussion. Then I know I’m dealing with a like soul, an open mind, and I can discuss without invoking anger and defensiveness.

  5. Thanks for commenting, y’all! I’m not responding individually for this one as I really just wanted to see what people had to say. And you all have really good things to say.

  6. I agree with Robena– it’s really hard to discuss religion. I’ve come to believe that one of the central problems is literal adherence to a text — people who want to literally interpret the Bible, the Koran, or whatever religious text become inflexible because they think they can point to the words on the page and “prove” that they have the “right” answer. It astonishes me that Christians do this, because it is exactly what Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for– mindless literalism in interpreting scripture. The Pharisees could always back up their ideas with scriptural references. But over and over again, Jesus says to them that they’re still getting it wrong, even though they can cite chapter and verse. I was raised with literalism, but it makes no sense to me anymore.

    well, where did that little tirade come from? ha. 🙂 great post, and great questions. I don’t think we (either of us) should give up on discussing religion, we just have to make sure that the people we’re talking to value the same kind of open discussion we do.


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