Column: The Washington Times’ Ignorant Editorial

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 6, 2011 — 51 Comments

Yesterday conservative Washington DC-based newspaper The Washington Times published an editorial mocking and criticizing the Air Force Academy for erecting an outdoor worship area to benefit Pagan cadets. I normally don’t pay much attention or respond to Pagan-bashing editorials, but in this case the anti-Pagan sentiment came hand-in-hand with a complete lack of fact-checking and bald-faced ignorance concerning modern Paganism, our history, and the American promise of equal treatment for all faiths. I’m going to skip over the name-calling (“space cadets”) and get right to what this anonymously-penned screed gets wrong.

“…the stone circle is designed for the benefit of a handful of those claiming to be Wiccans or Druids. […] All of the actual Wiccans and Druids died out hundreds of years ago. The religions of the barbaric tribes of Europe faded away as the Roman conquest brought civilization to the region. Teachings once handed down by oral tradition were entirely forgotten over time.”

I’ve linked these two statements together because they speak to the same problem, that modern Pagans of various stripes aren’t “real” because we can’t prove an ancient and direct lineage to polytheists from the pre-Christian era. First, in matters of law it doesn’t matter how ancient the providence, the Church of All Worlds (CAW) formed in 1961 has the same legal rights as the traditionalist Witches who claim an ancient pedigree, and both of those groups have the same rights as any Christian organization. Further, the editorial mangles ancient history, and seems completely ignorant about the importance of folklore, classical philosophy, and grimoires in keeping “pagan” ideas alive after Christianity became the dominant faith in Europe. In any case, whatever stance any of us take on history, and how ancient or modern various modern Pagan faiths are, it has little bearing on how relevant or deserving they are of equal treatment and protection under the law.

“Around the 1950s, fringe leftists enamored by the concept of worshipping the Earth adopted the ancient labels and pretended to follow the old ways. They just left out the inconvenient bits, like human sacrifice.”

First, I think Gerald Gardner and several other occultists of his era would be very, very surprised to hear that. Gardner, by many accounts from contemporaries, was a Tory, and the romantic preservation and investigation of England’s folklore very much a respectable (small-c) conservative pastime. The overt mixture of leftist politics and folklore didn’t happen until the late 1950s and early 1960s when figures like Ewan MacColl and A. L. Lloyd came to the fore. Indeed, some have written about the tensions between figures like Gardner and Robert Cochrane over political and social ideas. Wicca was not a “leftist” initiative, though you could make the argument that it was indeed “fringe” in its early days. As for the fraternal Druid societies that eventually helped inspire modern Pagan Druid groups, or various Germanic Pagan revivals, “fringe leftists” is hardly the term I would use.

As for “human sacrifice,” it really depends on which groups you are talking about, and from which era. Many “pagan” cultures eliminated such practices long before Christianity came along, and those who didn’t often treated the practice the way some modern cultures approach capital punishment. Even if some of us are reconstructing or re-imagining religions based on faiths that practiced human sacrifice, we aren’t historical reenactors.

“While there may be religious and cultural elements that we wish to bring forward into our modern lives, we are not an historical re-enactment group. We are generally law-abiding modern people and enjoy things like indoor plumbing, central heating, modern medicine, and eyeglasses. What we want to do is bring forward those things that are of value and work with what is relevant for the time in which we live.”

If you really want to talk about “human sacrifice” it certainly wouldn’t stop with the dominance of Christianity. There’s a bloody and long history of ritualized and blessed slaughter in the Christian era, and to pretend otherwise smacks of revisionism.

Running out of bad things he (she? they?) can say about modern Paganism, they quickly turn to environmentalism, portraying it as a stalking horse for Paganism.

“Such [environmental] questions can only be raised in a politically correct military that may actually contain more Earth worshippers than imagined. Though cloaked in scientific terms, the tenets of global warming are essentially pagan. This belief system, which cannot be questioned, holds that material sacrifice – turn down your thermostat and trade in your light bulbs – will result in a change in the weather. It is the modern equivalent of a rain dance. These neo-Pagan worshippers now have a federally supplied space they can call their own in the hills of Colorado Springs, Colo.”

Some scholars claim that “nature religion” is the future of religion on this planet, and they may be right, but caring about the planet isn’t the same thing as invoking pre-Christian deities. Is the Washington Times honestly against using materials that might have less impact on our environment? Really? Is designing a “greener” bullet somehow taking us on a road to moral ruin? Here’s hoping nobody at the Washington Times is recycling, I would hate to imperil their immortal souls.

Anti-Pagan editorials are a dime-a-dozen. They aren’t hard to find and the people who write them are generally easy to ignore as fringe haters so concerned about their own ideas of what’s correct that nobody would enter “heaven”. However, as we see more and more ideologues start to assert that non-Christian faiths aren’t deserving of equal treatment or protection under the United States constitution, we run the risk losing ground if we don’t take the time to debunk them and engage with the wider world on why our faiths are just as deserving as any dominant monotheism.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Earlier today I posted a comment on their website, but I doubt very much that the powers that be spending their time scouring over reader comments to see if one of their editorials went over well. For that reason I encourage everyone to contact the Wash Times directly.
    Editorial Page Editor
    Brett Decker
    Tel: 202/636-4814
    Fax: 202/715-0037

    • Nicole Youngman

      Another thing I find very interesting here is the underlying assumption (similar to the Green Dragon stuff) on the WT writer's part that environmentalism is fundamentally incompatible with xianity. But while I certainly prefer a Pagan sort of "dark green religion," there's all sorts of monotheistic religious environmentalism going on out there. As Hecate noted above, this is as much about attacking environmentalism as it is about going after us specifically–and in the process they're (purposefully, I think) condemning more liberal xians who don't have a problem with sharing some of our values and (literally, in this case) giving us our space as well.

    • Nicholas

      I'm just wondering if anybody is actually calling. I'm not brave enough to try without knowing if someone else is calling too.

      • I did but I got voicemail. So I left a super long message. I don't know if anyone will ever listen to it, but hey, at least I tried. Have something to read from if you're nervous, and bear in mind you will probably just be leaving a vm.

        • The W.T's conflation of the environment and paganism, and their resulting snotty disdain goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Ever since Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, Nature has been considered fallen and evil. So anybody who looks on Nature with a kindly eye is also seen as evil.

          That's why environmentalism is so suspect to the bible-bangers. Anything Pro-Nature is equated with Satan.

          Just call me Lilith.

  • Pitch313

    I particularly like the part insinuating that "fringe leftists of the 1950s" slyly misled all us otherwise god-fearing pro-industrializing folks into following the path towards environmentalism. Paganism, and ruin.

    Why, there they were, all those pinko politicians and industrialists and men of wealth cavorting under the redwoods at Bohemian Grove, invoking owls and forests and selling production out to overseas interests and mocking America and performing wicked sacrifices and all! Turning all of us into Pagan zombies of their nasty Red agenda.

    If only we had seen the pure light of real money shining from the true temples of right wing ideology instead of getting taken in by the illusions of communities of decent people living in harmony with the Earth and with their deities!

    O Woe! O What fools we mortal Pagans be!

    • McKenzie

      *I* particularly like your sense of humor/sarcasm/if you were being completely serious I'm so very very sorry. Though I seriously doubt the third is the case.

  • Nicholas

    here's what I posted there: When the Romans brought civilization to a barbaric people? You need to get your history straight. The Romans, without provocation, invaded on another civilization's land, slaughtered it's men, and enslaved it's women. If you want to talk about barbarism, you need to look no further than the Roman empire itself. The very same empire who sent slaves to their deaths for sport. The very same empire who had at one time over 100 crucifixes lining a single road leading to Rome. I can go on and on about the barbarism of the roman empire, if you'd like. Yeah, let's call them civilized.

    • This nice little potted anti-Roman rant is ridiculous. The Romans went about their empire building the same way everyone else did, including the Hellenes, the Persians, the Carthaginians, etc. The Celts also had a tendency to hack and slash their way from one place to another, as did the various Germanic peoples. And so forth.

      The really sad part is that Nicholas' diatribe is just a bit of standard-issue Christian propaganda.

    • Don

      It will be refreshing when I read pagans ranting against the Northern barbarians for destroying the Western Empire.

      • The only ancient battles I am interested in refighting are those like the one that took place on the banks of the Frigidus River in early September of 394.

        • paosirdjhutmosu

          I frankly don't see the point of pagans (or given the recent controversy over teminology, whatever they want to call themselves) of whatever stripe throwing the Romans under the chariot. (Though my Mediterranean might be showing in this regard.)

          • In large part this is a side effect of the over-emphasis on "ethnic" identity (and "identity politics" generally) found in many flavors of modern Paganism. Each little micro-sectarian enclave (Celtic, Hellenic, Germanic, Dianic, etc) comes complete with a ready-made enemies list, and this list is composed of other Pagans, naturally.

          • paosirdjhutmosu

            Naturally, they attack the folks who AREN'T trying to convert them, or WEREN'T trying to convert their ancestors. Canaanite or Egyptian, Roman or Celt, the Galilean doesn't care. If one has too many gods or otherwise doesn't conform to the "proper" orthodoxy of the day, you're on their metaphorical hit list. That's what matters. If some group is going to have an enemies list, it should be comprised of those who would really try to extirpate them and their religion from the face of the Earth.

            Also: Mmmm…Potted history. I hope it has plenty of salt. 😉

  • One person has already pointed out that the Washington Times is owned and run by the Unification Church, ie, "The Moonies". It should also be pointed that this bastion of far-right free-market capitalism is not just owned and run by a "church", but it is completely subsidized and has never turned a profit in its entire existence. In other words, it has no pretense whatsoever of being a newspaper in any meaningful sense of the word. It is an ideological mouthpiece, pure and simple. Even Murdoch's lackeys at Fox, the Daily Mail, etc, have far greater claim to the title "journalists", than do the obedient propagandists at the Washington Times.

  • As John D. pointed out, this newspaper is owned and operated by Rev. Moon's Unification Church, AKA the "Moonies." It's leader, Rev. Moon, claims to be the Messiah. Their politics is right-wing extremist, just to the right of Genghis Khan.
    At the March 23 [2004] ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) wore white gloves and carried a pillow holding an ornate crown that was placed on Moon's head. The Korean-born businessman and religious leader then delivered a long speech saying he was "sent to Earth . . . to save the world's six billion people. . . . Emperors, kings and presidents . . . have declared to all Heaven and Earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent."

    The church is a bunch of right-wing loons. The paper is their mouthpiece. They will denounce anything "liberal" (i.e., less conservative than Joe McCarthy) and, of course, they will denounce any competing religion.

    • whateley23

      Hey, take that back that implication about Temujin Chinggis Khaan! He was nowhere near as horrible as the Moonies are.

      • paosirdjhutmosu

        So Christianity isn't even an aberration as far as "violence, intimidation, and persecution" in monotheistic religion is concerned. That stuff in the Old Testament always bothered me and was one thing that led me to reject Christianity, way back when.
        As an aside, the whole thing with the plagues against the Egyptians, for their Pharaoh doing what the Hebrew god supposedly MADE him do, really bothered me back then. Even then, I felt for the Egyptians, and I was an atheist, not a Kemetic.

        • Judaism does not deserve to be placed in the same category as Christianity and Islam. Those two religions have worked hard and long to distinguish themselves from all others. Lets give credit where it is due, and not otherwise.

          • Nick_Ritter

            Well, now, from works that you yourself have cited (those of Jan Assmann in particular), Judaism *was* every bit as intolerant towards polytheistic religions as Christianity and Islam; people *were* forcibly converted to that particular monotheistic cult, and killed for worshiping other gods, even penalized for worshiping their single god elsewhere than Jerusalem.

            Two distinctions that can be made between Judaism and its bastard children, are: 1) that forcible conversion and killing of pagans by Jews only occurred within the territory considered by Jews to be their holy land, whereas Christianity and Islam have always sought to force themselves upon everyone, everywhere; and 2) That Judaism doesn't do this sort of thing anymore (that I know of), whereas Christianity and Islam continue to do so.

            That the destruction of pagan culti and traditions under the cultus of the Jewish god occurred in the Old Testament era is self-evident: there is a reason that Natib Qadish is a *reconstructionist* tradition rather than an uninterrupted one. I would quite agree with Paosirdjhutmosu, that Christianity is not an aberration when it comes to this particular kind of religious intolerance, nor is Islam: the roots of the thing were already there within Judaism, from which both sprouted.

            Or would you disagree with this interpretation, and if so, on what grounds?

          • There are many problems with Assmann's analysis of monotheism. He places too much emphasis on the theoretical aspects of intolerance, and not nearly enough on the practice of intolerance. If I live next door to someone who disapproves of me, but he does nothing about it, so what? Let him disapprove all he wants. Why should I care? I don't need anyone's approval, and the disapproval of others, by itself, does me no harm.

            Christianity and Islam are together responsible for the eradication, through violence, of the ancient spiritual traditions of over half of the human race. Judaism accounts for less than one half of one percent of the human population. Which of these things is not like the other?

          • Nick_Ritter

            "Christianity and Islam are together responsible for the eradication, through violence, of the ancient spiritual traditions of over half of the human race. Judaism accounts for less than one half of one percent of the human population."

            With the last statement, you seem to agree with me that the difference is primarily one of scale.

            This difference in scale, though, suggests somewhat of a qualitative difference between Abrahamic intolerance as seen in Judaism and that seen in Christianity and Islam. My hypothesis is that Judaism in ancient times only saw fit to desecrate and destroy the idols and holy places of, and kill or forcibly convert the worshipers of, any other god worshiped in the land that the Jews saw as given to them through their covenant with their god. Anyone outside of those bounds was not their problem. Consequently, since the Diaspora, Judaism has not been a great force for the conversion of polytheists because, most of those residing outside of their holy land, said polytheists are not their problem. Needless to say, Judaism is not the enemy of polytheistic peoples today: at very worst, they may be the "disapproving neighbor" you allude to; while Christianity, Islam, and certain other spin-off ideologies certainly are actively inimical to polytheists like us.

            However, what Christianity and Islam have done to "the ancient spiritual traditions of over half of the human race" (to use your admirable turn of phrase) was first put into practice in Canaan. To ignore this is to miss a vital part, I believe, in understanding the development of that intolerance that we face.

          • "With the last statement, you seem to agree with me that the difference is primarily one of scale."

            Yes. And no. I think this is a case where a difference of scale is large enough to constitute a difference of kind.

          • Lisuenda

            Yes, I think it bears noting that the Washington times is a mouthpiece of the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, a messianic movement founded in the mid-twentieth century (sic) that considers Moon to be the Messiah and that believes the end justifies the mean when it comes to promoting their sect. They are not long on sticking to the facts.

  • thehouseofvines

    No need to go that far back. From the moment that Christianity broke away from Judaism it has been a movement of violence, intimidation and oppression:

  • Well done, Jason! 🙂

    • WindReader

      oh please – the Washington Times is owned by followers of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church whose history is even younger than the spiritual practices of Gerald Gardner's!

      • Daniel

        It is certainly interesting to note that Christianity's amalgamation of Pagan Traditions and carrying forth of ancient Pagan themes is a huge history on the part of the religion itself. Indeed, magical folk practices, holidays, prayers, and other Pagan religious vernacular continue to thrive in Christianity to this day. Afterall, Christianity did not form in a vaccum with sacrificial deities, etc.

        This does not mean, though, that the history of Christianity is null and void in terms of its existence and even when it formed. The aspects of Church suppressions to other, much more egalitarian visions of Christianity is a very sad historical note to how many Christianities lost out with their voice and influence on history when imperial Rome's hierarchal form of organized religion swept in with its militant ethos of "We're right, and everyone else is wrong," doctrine. Washington Times should be ashamed of themselves for their shoddy journalism, sectarian politics, and bigoted comments of those who fought and died for our country.

      • Bookhousegal

        It occurs to me that the Moonies must be wicked jealous if they actually really wanted a mass following: by those 'terms' we'd be beating the pants off em without even trying.

        I presume that's not their real goal, though: money and influence are their game, as long as there's enough to stroke their egoes: probably with the religious angle for cover for the big-business of it.

  • Brenda Daverin

    Oh, yes, definitely par for the course for the Washington Times. But still, well-played, Jason.

  • 1. The motto "In God We Trust" was only added to U.S. mintage in 1952. Although I wasn't aware enough to know then nor sufficiently studied in the post-WWII Red Scare to have learned since, I believe much of this God-crap was in reaction to the anti-religion ("religion is the opiate of the masses", whoever said it) stance of the Communist party as it existed in the USSR and the USA at the time. Jason has more than amply demonstrated how thoroughly the much-ballyhooed "founding fathers" railed against just such religious interweaving of church and state.

    2. Even the Pledge of Allegiance was modified around the same time, adding the phrase "under God" to "one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." [] Of course, such stalwarts as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, George Washington, et al, would have been likely appalled to see the symbol of the country turned into a quasi-holy object, sacrosanct. And that would have been to the original (1892) version of the pledge, not the McCarthy era one we remain saddled with. You know, that was why I quit the Girl Scouts within my first month of membership: all meetings began with a unison recitation of the Pledge, and I could NOT bring myself to say the "under God" phrase. And that was years before I gave up pretending to myself that I could follow the family path of open-minded Episcopalian belief.

    Deporodh, called Deb

  • Lisuenda

    Yes, I think it bears noting that the Washington times is a mouthpiece of the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, a messianic movement founded in the mid-twentieth century (sic) that considers Moon to be the Messiah and that believes the end justifies the mean when it comes to promoting their sect. They are not long on sticking to the facts.