Gingrich Hangover

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 8, 2009 — 37 Comments

It seems I wasn’t the only one drawn to Newt Gingrich’s “surrounded by paganism” comment, other religion blogs have weighed in on the significance of that (and Mike Huckabee’s) talk at Rock Church in Virginia. We start with fellow Pagan blogger Gus diZerega, who wasn’t very happy with the idea that Pagans might not be fully American.

“Apparently from Newt’s perspective we Pagans are not Americans, for in his fatwa he warned Americans that they are surrounded by “Paganism.” … Three old white geezers giving their race and gender a bad name, speaking to a crowd that gives its religion a bad name.”

Meanwhile, another Beliefnet blogger, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, suspects a bit of redirected anti-semitism.

“I am pretty certain that any time a non-follower describes any tradition, without at least the active presence of an actual believer or two, something bad is bound to happen. Any doubts? Think about how Judaism has been mangled over the centuries by non-Jews twisting it to meet their needs for a spiritual foil. My guess is that is what Newt was doing with paganism, and since it’s no longer acceptable in most quarters to do that with Judaism, he simply picked on another group which has fewer defenders. It was wrong to do to Jews, and it’s wrong to do to pagans.”

However, Bruce Wilson at Talk To Action sees something far more dangerous in Newt’s (and Huckabee’s) appearance at Rock Church than some lazy swipe at “paganism”.

“Leaders on the Christian right have been giving such speeches for decades, but the  two-day Rock Church conference was not business as usual. Rather, it showcased the rapid reconfiguration of the Christian right around the rising, highly militant but poorly understood charismatic wing of the new Christian right, a movement which includes both Ted Haggard and Sarah Palin.)”

Wilson goes on to look into Lou Engle (featured in “Jesus Camp”) , who presided over the event, and who has a long history of anti-abortion and anti-gay militancy (including providing a theological framework for the murder of doctors who perform abortions). It should surprise no-one that Engle has ties to C. Peter Wagner of the “Third Wave of the Holy Spirit”, with its emphasis on prayer-war and destroying the “Queen of Heaven” (who they see as the Virgin Mary of the Catholics, a major demon, and the Goddess of the Pagans all rolled into one).

If Gingrich, Huckabee, and other Republicans are nurturing these folks as the new core of a revived “Christian Right”, we better keep our eyes open. As Wilson points out, these Christians have an entirely different unifying rallying call.

“…the emerging face of a new type of fundamentalism in America that is multiethnic, multiracial and, because of that, can appear pseudo-progressive but which is in many ways farther right than traditional fundamentalism. The new axis of bigotry is no longer defined by racial and ethnic distinctions. It is religious supremacy.”

Maybe Gingrich, a recently converted Catholic, doesn’t realize the dog-whistle language he’s using. When you say “paganism” to these folks, it doesn’t merely mean secularists, or modern Pagans, or atheists, it also means Catholics, and any Christian who isn’t fully on-board with their mission of “religious supremacy”. They are just as proud of (allegedly) killing Mother Teresa as they are of (again, allegedly) blinding and giving cancer to a Wiccan with their prayers. Gingrich haphazardly invoking the spectre of “paganism” might make for good jokes, but it’s no laughing matter to the prayer warriors at Rock Church.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Leonna

    I agree with Tasha, many of these religious extremist groups are twisting scripture to suit their own needs. What these Christian groups are doing is just as bad as the Muslim terrorist who twist scripture to justify blowing up buildings with innocent people in them. They want a state with NO religious freedom. They'd really be hurting if the US someday declared a state religion and it wasn't theirs. (not that I'd ever want that to happen) You need only look at other countries around the world to see total theocracies such as Iran or Saudi Arabia to see the government controlled by religious law. I bet most Christian extremist would tell Iran is an injust place. To bad there not countries ruled by Christian law (save the Vatican) to convince them how bad the idea is.

    I only hope Karma come back and hits them really hard and soon.

    • Riverbend

      This was bound to happen when Obama got elected–not that we'd have more or scarier wingnuts, but that they'd start being more out in the open again and turning up the rhetoric. Same thing as Dr. Tiller's murder: when they don't have a friendly right-wing president that they think has their backs, they get more intense and sometimes more violent. Remember how vitriolic they were when Bill Clinton was first elected–that horrible culture wars speech that Pat Buchanan gave during their convention? And then 1993 was when we had the first abortion provider killed, with several other doctors and clinic support workers to follow.

      Fundamentalist/evangelical movements in the US (and they aren't quite the same thing, but there's plenty of overlap) have two basic phases: separatism and political activism. For much of the 20th century they were a fairly separatist bunch, but as the overall culture became more liberal they got more directly engaged in politics, and in the early 70s we saw them really coming out strong. During the Bush years we saw important segments of them becoming more separatist again–basically concentrating on building their networks and infrastructures (think xian cable and satellite networks, xian bookstores, radio shows, megachurches, Jesus Camps)–and now that they have less power in Washington they are going to come out of those networks full force and do battle–or "spiritual warfare" as they call it.

      There are many, many Christians and other religious folks that we can educate about Paganism (what WE call Paganism, not the small-p "paganism" that means "anything that's not part of our movement and is therefore evil")–the rabbi Jason quoted is a good example–but these serious wingnutty types are NOT among them. Anything they learn about us they will simply use against us in their propaganda. We need to watch them VERY carefully and be prepared to work against them–not just us Pagans but anyone who doesn't want a theocracy. These people follow a kind of (watered-down, in some cases) Christian Reconstructionism (aka "Dominion Theology") that focuses on the idea that ONLY the right kinds of Christians should be allowed to hold public office and all of our laws should be strictly Biblical. I don't think that could ever get truly enacted in this country, but we lean that way sometimes when these folks get powerful, and we and our allies have to be poised to pull it back in the direction of real democracy when it starts happening again. Religious right activism goes in cycles, and we need to understand the history behind it to know how to deal with the movement in the present.

      • freya1924

        I don't agree. I went thru the "keep quiet, be invisible, don't stick out" times of the 1980's. The Queen of my coven had a burning cross on her lawn from a fundamentalist group, the Warehouse Ministries. No body cared, not the cops, not the media. "Oh it's just that witch bitch. Ignore her she'll go away." Ignoring hate speech of any kind will not make it go away; it will encourage them to continue.

        • Bjorn Odinsson

          "I only hope Karma come(s) back and hits them really hard and soon."

          That's all fine and dandy, but you'll still be sitting on your laurels hoping "Karma" hits them back while chained up in prison or worse: sanitized (ie murdered). We cannot afford to be sheep on this one, passively waiting for the wolves to eat us. The Christian Right wants a country where only Christians are tolerated and allowed. We saw what happened to the Constitutional protections during the Bush fiasco, all it takes is a religious freak like Lou Engles to be elected and good-bye to public sabbat rituals, good-bye to Dragonfest, and hello neo-inquisition. Bush told one of these fundie churches during one of his campaigns that he thought that witchcraft should be made illegal.

          • Ravan Asteris

            Facebook makes linking easier, but is lousy for finding content. It's easier to link and blurb on Twitter, and find related stuff with hashtags (#foo) When I want to write serious stuff, I post it to either my public blog ( or my DW/LJ ( then post a link to Twitter.

    • Ravan Asteris


      People need to remember that liberal is not the same as pacifist, and that pagan is not all peace, love and brown rice. We need to stand up for ourselves.

      We need to defend our country and Constitution against these dominionists in word and deed.

      • Riverbend

        Some very good points–you're absolutely right that fundamentalists make a point of portraying themselves as practitioners of the one and only "civilized" religion (hence their repeated referrals to abortion as "child sacrifice")–supposedly when people started converting to Christianity en masse, many of the evils of the world as it had been began to end, and if *everyone* would just convert, all the world's problems would be solved in the process because we'd all be living by "God's law."

        However–while they're still a minority among Christians in general, I'm not sure how "small" a minority they are anymore. Fundamentalist "megachurches" have grown astronomically in the last couple of decades while mainstream churches have languished and lost members. And regardless of how many of them there actually are, the main point I think is that they are *politically powerful*–these are the folks that make up the core of the Republican's base, after all, and they are easily organized through their churches and are very responsive to get-out-the-vote campaigns and the like. Even a minority can swing an election–they just have to be the ones to show up!

        I suppose it might make sense to just think of them as bullies–ignoring them doesn't make them go away and leave us alone, and as you so rightly noted, the hardcore ones are not ones we can educate about what nice people we really are. We have to watch them carefully and be prepared to fight back (PEACEFULLY, mind you!) when necessary. They are angered by the fact that we (both religious Pagans and people who don't agree with them in general) even exist, and are utterly furious that we increasingly have the guts to "live out loud" instead of just hiding out somewhere hoping they don't come hassle us too much.

        • PatrickKelley

          You're right, that is scary, to put it lightly. There are even evangelical Christians in Afghanistan who were going around passing out Bibles to native Afghans, in two different Afghan languages. Like we don't have enough problems trying to convince people in Muslim nations we are not trying to disrespect Islam or that we are not over there at least in part to convert them to Christianity. It seems that some of our people in uniform are there for precisely or mainly that reason. Sends a very bad message.

          As for the AU, I don't agree with a lot of what they stand for, but at least they're consistent. For example, they go after black churches who push Democratic candidates as much as they do conservative churches who push Republicans. Or at least they did at one time.

          • Valissa

            Since I was forced to again shorten my above comment… In Jan 2005 I went to the Counter-Inaugural in DC and protested with Starhawk's group. Ever since then I have been studying politics, propaganda and power games, along with history and sociology Since I am at a stage in my life where I don't have to work full time I've done alot of very thorough research. My comment above about Bush and Obama not being very different is based on facts, not beleifs. Personally I wish Obama was everything he said he was, I would much prefer him to be that way.

      • Valissa

        The comment editor made me delete some of my coment saying it was too long, so I inadvertently cut out the Gingrich portion that tied my thoughts to your post. My larger point was that religious code words are being used to stir up sentiment by Gingrich for the same reasons that Bush and Obama use religious language… as a means to capture people via their beliefs and rile them up. Gingirch using anti-pagan language is not all that significant to pagans in and of itself, IMO… I don't think most Xtains even know a pagan in real life so Gingrich can get away with those words. Gingrich is simply trying to re-establish some type of political authority and using religious language for poltiical ends. This has become a standard tactic in the New American Empire.

    • PatrickKelley

      I think Gingrich was using the term pagan as a euphemism. That is not to excuse it, as words can always be twisted. It's probably in his case an unfortunate choice of words to denote something that may not apply to large swaths, or maybe even most pagans. He almost certainly was not directly referring to Wiccans or other religious pagans, though I am reasonably sure that a great many people-probably including him-would adopt an "if the shoe fits" attitude.

      • Pegan Newby

        As I mentioned below, you can't respond to ignorance and cowards and racists. You just have to let it go and spread the word yourself. Be the person you are and show people your goodness. Spread that goodness to as many people as you can and be with those who share your simular direction. It doesnt matter that we dont control the world. We dont want to. We dont want to be like the extremists. Let them make the mistakes and eventualy get swallowed by mother earth in a long and lonely path. Keep your focus….

    • Donald Meinshausen

      Newt Gingrinch, thrice-divorced defender of family values, stated today that America is surrounded by Paganism. What's he talking about? A Native American invasion of Nativist America? This is what happens when you don't do your magickal workings properly. Instead of invoking a salamander from the fire you get a Newt from Hell.
      Please post this in other chat rooms and blogs and let me know of the reaction it gets. Humor is our best defense from such idiocy.

  • Valissa

    Obama is just as bad on using religion in politics as Bush was. I am surprised at how many pagans have been duped by Obama's political promises, you would think they would be more savvy about the powers of propaganda as it is a form of mass magic. But I guess many pagans wanted to believe in Obama, so why bother paying attention to the facts of his actual political history instead of the lovely divine myths that were spun for him.

    So how is Obama all that different from the Republicans on the issue of religion? Obviously the oligarchs want to appease the masses with religion, specifically Christianity. I wouldn't expect Obama to pay more than lip service to freedom of religion. After all it's much easier to get religious people to believe in you if you use the right code words for the group.

    Barack Obama invokes Jesus more than George W. Bush

    Obama's poor choice for faith leader. Why did a pro-choice president appoint someone to HHS who is against abortion AND birth control? Political payback?

  • Valissa

    OK, then why isn't Obama appointing more lefty religious leaders… it is the religious left that has long been associated with social justice issues. Why on earth did he pick Rick Warren for the inauguration when he could have picked one of several excellent ministers from the religious left? Why is Obama catering so much in public to the religous right? IMO, because the religious left has almost no political power these days… the evangelicals and catholiocs represent a much larger source of power and they lean right. To tie this back to GIngrich and the point of this post… from a power perspective pagans as a group are not recognized on the national political radar… therefore politically speaking pagans and pagan values are essentially inconsequential… not worth bothering with. Newt was NOT inflaming xtians against pagans he was using classical christian right code words to call followers to him. Pagan in this case is merely the contrast point, the demonic other for the purposes of manipulating the group.

    • Ed Hubbard

      He converted to Catholicism form Being Baptist recently.

      My main question, is how does the community respond. I know we are not much of a community, and closer to a series of interrelated movements, but I would love to know what people think is the best response. I feel that while we do not need one voice, I would love to hear us as a chorus.

  • Illisse

    I'm confussed about one thing – Gingrich converted to Catholicism or converted from Catholicism?


  • Tasha

    Something got me and I think I'll probably have to chew on it for a little bit but "prayer warriors" gave a Pagan cancer and blindness? Is that REALLY the point of Christian prayer? to inflict? There's this thing I have scrawled in paint on a wall in my home "and harm it none, do as you will". Not sure I've read that in any Christian creed. Maybe that's the overall problem?

    There is something strange going on here, and the climate I live in-my county and every county around me went Republican in the last election-I see these people every day. They are frightening. I am an out witch and unabashed about my beliefs, but not to the point of hurting people by telling them they are wrong. I really really really think this is the problem. There is no accountability to oneself in that belief system. There is merely a twisting of Scriptures, a twisting of the Prophet Jesus message.

  • Embreis

    I was a newspaper reporter in Gingrich's district back in the 'eighties, and I got to know him fairly well. The interesting thing was that he hardly ever mentioned religion in those days; his schtick then was that America was built for and by "the achievers," sort of a chamber of commerce version of the ubermensch.

  • Yvonne Rathbone

    I don't think we can just hope karma get 'em in the end. I think we need to keep articulating a progressive, pluralisitic theology that give lie to enforced orthodoxy. We have to be living proof that secular pluralism is a more civilized way of living than any type of sharia and that this pluralism doesn't preclude the individual from having a meaningful spiritual lif.. And we have to keep coming back, in the public sphere, to the Enlightenment principles that have ushered in the modern world.

  • Yvonne Rathbone

    If you are Pagan, can you be surrounded by Paganism? "Surrounded by" implies separation with something at the center. From my perspective, I could focus on the fact that I'm a Pagan surrounded by Christians. I drive by churches with huge crosses, on hills, by the side of major freeways. I turn on the tv and see Christian shows on prime-time networks. And yes, I have to hope that Obama really does understand something meta about g*d when he says "God" (but I also think it's reasonable to believe he does.)

    And while there are important civil rights issues at stake here, ultimately what is more important is to find those people who are really walking their own path and have opened up to the spiritual in some way (even as atheists). I find this opening to be incompatible with one-wayism, although I admit occasionally, to feeling surrounded by people who are trying to get me to believe differently-an experience that is itself a product of one-wayism.

  • Pegan Newby

    Gingrich's comments proves how narrow minded and ignorant people can really be. And, although its an insult to the millions of kind pegans out there, let it go. We know who we are and thats more important then giving in to some pathetic racist. Spread the word as you would normally do my children. Be the better one and move on.

  • Simon

    As a life long Pagan (who's now 60 years young) I have seen and heard this kind of crap before. With the fall of the Soviets and their brand of communist devils, these so called christians have to find so new enemies. Right now its the Pagans, the Gays and the Pro-Abortion folks.
    There are two ways of dealing with these people. One is to ignore them and let them spout their crap which tends to turn off most right minded people.
    The other is to stand up to them in everyway possible. We too have our warriors. Everyone has to pick their own path.

  • Ravan Asteris

    My apologies for any duplicate or odd comments. OpenId logins are being strange, and it keeps trying to post old comments.

  • PatrickKelley

    The term "old white geezers" is, I think, more of a slam at a traditionalist, to the point of bigoted and narrow-minded, mind-set, and maybe even an attack on the so-called "patriarchy", than it is an insult meant for old white men in general. Still, it is very true that it is also an unfortunate choice of words.

    I think something else that should be pointed out is that, when the average Christian (or at least the average conservative Christian) hears the term "pagan" bandied about by their ministers and conservative politicians, they aren't seeing a religion, or a spiritual movement. They aren't even necessarily seeing "tree-huggers" or other far-left radicals.

    The first thing that comes to mind, to most of them, is a group of people that, in their historical tradition, persecuted their historical religious forefathers to the extent of tossing them and their children to wild animals in the arena to be torn apart for the viewing pleasure of the masses, and in some cases hanging them and burning them alive as human torches. And of course, there's crucifixion and other excessively cruel methods of punishment for real and perceived wrongs, including but not limited to practicing an outlawed religion and refusing to participate in the cult of emperor worship. You might say the early Christians were not what you might call "politically correct".

    That's the very image a good many people are trying to evoke when they use this type of language, and it puts pagans in a real bind. If we use a lot of the language many of us so typically do, without giving it a lot of thought, then we are reinforcing their preconceived notions of what a pagan used to be, and what a pagan might well be again if given the opportunity.

    On the other hand, if we go out of our way to portray ourselves as well-meaning, life-affirming, earth-centered and balanced, positive in every way, then many will just say we are being "used by the devil" to lure others away from the truth. Their version of truth, of course, which is to many of them the only truth.

    In other words, we're between Scylla and Charybdis when it comes to many of these folks. The good news is, they are now and always will be a small, albeit overly vocal, minority within the Christian community, including by the way the conservative fundamentalist Christian community. In fact, most Christians don't even have to be open-minded and tolerant to understand just how nutty and extremist many of these folks are.

    As long as we make plain we have no intention of minimizing their own religious beliefs, and their rights to practice them-including publicly, by the way-then for the most part, they would not be a problem for us. They don't have to like us, or even practice "toleration", which implies merely putting up with something you despise. But they will in time accept us and move on to other more appropriate and pressing concerns.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    I personally am all for throwing them to the lions again lol.

  • Bill Baar

    I'm not certain the Christian world has ever been all that Christian and we are indeed surrounded by Paganism.

  • Rev. Jeff

    As a Pagan (and apparently also a (p)agan, lol) I am also offended and disturbed by the tone and message put forth by Gingrich and Huckabee in these reported statements. At the same time I have to share that I was also offended when I read the quote by Gus diZerega when he referred to these folks as "three old white geezers". That sort of attack and language do nothing to aid our side of this issue and serve only to insult and stir negative feelings and reactions that have nothing whatsoever to do with the issue itself.

    While I share the sentiment and the outrage I could not shake my disgust in reaction to "one of our own" who it seems took the low road in his counter view and response. That statement stuck with me as I read this blog post when I wanted to focus on the insulting behavior that initiated it. I hope we can avoid insulting and belittling the age and race of those who criticize us in that disgusting manner. We are, I hope, better than that.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    How does this have anything to do with Gingrich directly courting anti-Pagan (and anti-Catholic) extremists? You might want to keep your powder dry on the "Obama is just as bad as Bush" topic until you have something more than conjecture.

  • Elysia

    If you're all sufficiently freaked out, look into joining a broader coalition to fight theocritization, like Americans United for Separation of Church and State. There's also one called the Secular Coalition of America, but they are a coalition of mostly atheists. Still, they have the same aim of keeping the government free of religious dogma and crap like this. : )

  • Valissa

    We have donated to Americans United for Separation of Church and State for many years. They were a key player in getting the pentacle allowed on gravestones. Another organziation worthy of donations from pagans is the Military Religious Freedeom project. There is a very scary amount of evangelical indoctrination going on in high places in the military.. very scary.

  • Jarod

    I dislike brown rice, but otherwise agree with you statement.

  • Riverbend

    Obama's overt religiosity makes me uncomfortable too sometimes–BUT the difference is that he's coming from a decidedly interfaith/ecumenical and social-justice perspective, which is very different from dominion-theology-based fundamentalism, which ultimately seeks to create a nation where only the right kinds of xians are allowed to hold power and the government can then base its laws directly on its interpretation of the Bible.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    Wake up Pagans, the Christian Right is dangerous and will not go away. Blowing off their rhetoric will only encourage them. The Jews in Germany blew off the Nazi party's rhetoric too. . .and it ended them up in Dachau and Aushwitz. We need to raise our voices in outrage to these remarks, write to your editor, organize pagan-pride marches, and last and most simple, come out of the broom closet. The more visible Pagans there are, the harder it will be to demonize us. It is pretty hard to demonize the nice bank-teller or the brave soldier. However if we wait to come out, then the destructive propaganda may have already taken hold in the minds of those who stradle the fence between Christian Right and Christian progressive.

  • Bera

    Go Rabbi!

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  • DaBroad

    Surrounded by pagans? Who knew? I always felt I was surrounded by Christianity.