A Pagan Among the Christians

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 30, 2012 — 81 Comments

Today I will be at Multnomah University, a Bible college and Biblical seminary in Portland, Oregon, to talk about modern Paganism with several Christian seminary students. The class, on world religions, is taught by Paul Louis Metzger, Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture, and author of  “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths”.


“This book promotes evangelism and dialogue, not one to the exclusion of the other. And as such it also promotes the need for thoughtful, sensitive communication during a time when our nation is reeling from the onslaught of the culture wars. The problem has not been our God or the Bible, but our approach to God and the Bible. As a result of our inauthentic witness, our God has looked all too common rather than as the uncommon God revealed as Jesus Christ. In light of this spiritual and biblical gut check, our witness in the twenty-first century will likely look very different.”

Normally I wouldn’t step into such a situation, but I thought that Metzger’s book was different from the many other books written by Christians that dealt with modern Paganism, as I noted back in May.

“Make no mistake, this is a book where all faiths are ultimately found lacking or incomplete in comparison to Christianity, but Metzger at least engages with what he sees as  positive manifestations of each religion he looks at, and argues that Christians should repent for the sins of the Church. Further, he actually lets representatives from each faith tradition he writes about get the last word. So Unitarian Universalist minister Marilyn Sewell responds on behalf of her church, Prema Raghunath speaks for Hinduism, and Gus diZerega gives a Pagan perspective.”

So I will speak today about my faith journey, the basics of the modern Pagan movement as I understand them, the mutual challenges we face in regards to dialog, and hopefully have a constructive conversation that broadens the world of several future chaplains, theologians, pastors, and missionaries. I have no illusions that my testimony may be used to hone missionary tactics, but I also hope it will eliminate some of the sad and ignorant propaganda that is disseminated about our faiths in certain Christian circles.

I will be a Pagan among the Christians, and like a stone thrown into water, I hope the experience will create ripples in the lives of those I interact with. Pagans and Christians will always have a complex, painful, and sometimes hostile relationship with each other, but we must share this world, we must learn to live together in a pluralistic society that holds many faiths, many paths. I don’t expect to solve our problems, but I do hope we can at least have a dialog that doesn’t begin and end with tactics for my conversion.

The heart of interfaith is recognizing the common humanity of a believer you may have profound disagreements with. To find areas of commonality, to learn how to move past entrenched hostilities and prejudices. To build a world that is less violent, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I will walk into that seminary with an open heart, and an open mind, and I hope my faith will be rewarded.

If all goes well, I’ll update this post later today with some impressions, and perhaps some photos. Wish me luck!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • cederelk

    Good luck Jason! Do us all proud.

  • Shelby

    I can’t wait to hear how things go. Good luck to you!

  • Best of luck out there – hope it’s fruitful for all concerned.

  • Eric Duncan

    I am optimistic and hope you can have a fruitful conversation. As a pagan who attended a small Christian oriented college. This dialog can work.

  • Polly Moller

    Blessings on your journey! I know you will represent us admirably.

  • sunfell

    I wish you all the best in your endeavor, Jason.

  • Larissa Guran

    I wish we could come give you moral support! I actually live pretty close to that school. Hope you are treated with respect.

  • H.P. Vincent J Beall

    Jason, if it is possible, I recommend doing this outdoors. (weather permitting) Although it is sure to take them out of their comfort zone, as far as theology goes, it will give a better sense of understanding about earth based beliefs.

    • Bellatrix S

      Ooh that is a good idea!

    • I can think of more amusing ways of taking them outside their comfort zone.

      • H.P. Vincent J Beall

        The idea is to provide an informative, educational, and positive understanding of paganism. Without that, how will he provide the commonality aspect he is going for. The idea isn’t to make them uncomfortable, but to allow experience work in his favor. But seriously, how do provide accurate information inside?

        • Accurate information can be provided anywhere. What you are speaking of sounds like asking them to internalize and understand it. They may never want to go that step, and might even see it as acting against their faith to do so. I don’t think they want to engage the information beyond the academic and cerebral levels.

          • H.P. Vincent J Beall

            Possibly, but they are there for education and he did say he was going for ripples.

  • harmonyfb

    May Aphrodite Peitho lend Her blessings to your talk. Here’s hoping you have a fruitful and interesting (in the best sense) lecture!

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Luck go with you!

  • Tara

    Good luck! Can’t wait to hear about it.

  • Article I of Multnomah’s “Doctrinal Statement”:

    Revelation, Scripture, and Authority

    We believe that God is revealed in creation, in the Holy Scriptures,
    and in Jesus Christ, the apex of revelation. The Scriptures, all
    sixty-six Old and New Testament books, are divinely authoritative in all
    they affirm
    . (Ps. 19:1-6; Heb. 1:1-2; John 17:17)

    We believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture. This
    means the Holy Spirit dynamically superintended the verbal expressions
    of the human authors of Scripture so that the very thoughts God intended
    were accurately penned in the wording of the original manuscripts
    . (2
    Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 2:13)

    We believe the Scripture is inerrant as to fact and infallibly
    trustworthy as to truth
    , and should be interpreted in context to
    ascertain each author’s intended meaning. Our present Bible continues
    to bear the final authoritative instruction of God for the church and
    the world
    . (John 10:35b; Ps. 19:7; Matt. 5:17-18)

    • Once again you sadly come across like a Pagan version of the Evangelical counter-cult guarding the flock of Pagans from evil and monstrous Evangelicals in this exchange, and in so doing miss the point and value of what Jason is doing at Multnomah, regardless of Multnomah’s stance on the Bible. It would seem that the Pagan community needs the good relational and dialogical work of Jason just as my own Evangelical community needs folks like Paul Metzger.

      • Are you suggesting that we should ignore the “Doctrinal Statement” of Multnomah University, and, in particular, ignore the fact that it affirms the very worst principles of Christian Fundamentalism as the core beliefs that Multnomah is committed to propagating?

        • Not ignore it, but learn to co-exist with it.

          • “Co-exist” is probably not the right word. It is more appropriate to say that we have, by necessity, learned how to survive in spite of them.

            The first step in learning how to survive in the face of efforts by those committed to your extirpation is to never forget who you are dealing with and what they are up to.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Are you then saying Jason shouldn’t accept this engagement?
            I am more optimistic. I think some of these seminarians may be vulnerable to hearing about the Goddess from a real live Goddess follower rather than some Jesuit whose job description includes misrepresenting Her just enough to discredit Her.
            A recent book, Prophetic Encounters by Dan Mackanan, suggests that meeting face-to-face people one heretofore has only heard about can induce religious ferment. (His archetypal example is a Nothern white abolitionist meeting an actual slave.) I have seen this arise from introducing fellow UUs to the Goddess.

          • I am not criticizing Jason. I am pointing out what Multnomah University is and what it stands for, in its own words.

      • John, the difference is the imbalance of power. Evangelical Christians have their hands on many levers of government and other institutional power, Pagans have virtually none. So both sides are entering into this dialogue with vastly different goals. As Jason pointed out, this is being held by the college for the purpose of honing missionary tactics. They stand behind the bulwark of political and social power that they have so industriously built over the last 50 years.

        Pagans have a very different agenda: we merely wish to be left alone, and history has shown that no Christian church has any inclination to leave Pagans to live in peace, unharassed by proselytizing. We wish to have exactly the same rights and privileges as Christians do under the law, in practice as well as theory. Politically, Pagans are secularist; we believe in a completely secular civil society. A true marketplace of spiritual ideas, where there are no institutional, governmental supports and/or exceptions that favor one religion over any other (for example, why can’t I work on Christmas and take time off for Beltane?)

        Evangelical Christians, by and large, would have no qualms whatsoever of leveraging their power to make America the “Christian Nation” they dream of realizing (not only theoretically, which they already believe it to be, but in actual, law-enforced fact) if it weren’t for those annoying protections built into the US Constitution that keep them from doing so.

        Proselytizing religions cannot be trusted. Or rather, they CAN be trusted to do what is built into their religious dogma. The heathens must be converted, indeed, it is a *kindness* to convert them and spare them from eternal damnation. I imagine a non-trivial number of fundamentalist Christians (e.g. Dominionists) long for the good old days when this could be accomplished by the sword and the bonfire. Sadly, for them, they must fall back on peaceful means such as “interfaith dialogue.” But the intention has not changed in 2000 years.

        • Joseph Max: ‘Proselytizing religions cannot be trusted. Or rather, they CAN be trusted to do what is built into their religious dogma.’

          Precisely. All I am saying is that we should take Christians at their word. The students and faculty of Multnomah either fully support Multnomah’s commitment to Biblical literalism and inerrancy, or they are base hypocrites. I give Paul Metzger and his students the benefit of the doubt and assume their sincere adherence to the depraved ideology of Christian Fundamentalism.

          • I admit to a somewhat grudging respect for the blatant Dominionists, who at least live up to their religious dogma without apology or hypocrisy. Their scripture says gays and disobedient children should be put to death, and that’s what they promote!

            I can appreciate that kind of honesty. I’m much more annoyed by “the handshake that hides the snake”, as the old song goes.

          • “I can appreciate that kind of honesty ….”

            I completely agree. But Christians have always been the masters of the “good-cop/bad-cop” routine. Wherever you find the one type, there is always the other. And Metzger/Multnomah provides an excellent case in point. Metzger wants to make nice with Pagans, while Multnomah was founded by people who believed that ancient Paganism was just so much Satanic deception:

            “In the ages preceding the first advent of Christ Satan repeatedly tried to prevent the coming of Christ through the promised line by attempting to blot out the line of the Seed. Moreover, the wonderful truth of the incarnation was counterfeited by Satan in the mystery religions of the ancient world, so that unbelieving men could say that the virgin birth was a myth borrowed from other ancient religions.”

            Willard Aldrich, President of Multnomah from 1943-1978, from his 1945 essay “Satan’s Attempt to Keep Christ from the Cross”.

          • “…depraved ideology of Christian Fundamentalism.” Language not helpful to understanding, empathy with the religious other or dialogue. Reminds me of the unfortunate ways that many Evangelicals talk inappropriately about Pagans. Perhaps we should both work to make modification in this area. At least those who have the ability and desire to do so.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Not that Paganism is in anyway Monolithic or that all Pagans want the same thing, of course.

        • I appreciate your comments. The combination of Evangelical power with the abuse of their religion has not been pretty. This needs to be reassess and some of us are working within Evangelicalism to do so. However, I would disagree that proselytizing religions cannot be trusted. As I argued in my interview at The Alternative Religions Educational Network, I believe it is possible for those in evangelistic religions to do so in respectful ways, or withhold that part of their religious identity when that aspect is not desired by the dialogue partner. Another area for dialogue.

          • John, I appreciate the attempt you’re making, and I’m not doubting your sincerity. But even evangelizing in “respectful ways” is still trying to impose your religion on others. Frankly, I doubt that in the Western world today there is a single person who has not “heard the word of Jesus.” We have heard it, ad nauseum, and have declined to convert to Christianity. That should end the discussion, but it doesn’t, because every single evangelist has to make the attempt with every non-Christian (or “non-Bible believing” Christian) that they meet. Each one assumes that they will be the one evangelizer that will succeed where all past attempts have failed. That for every non-Christian person there is some magical combination of persuasion and example that will do the trick, and they are bound by their religious dogma to make the attempt.

            There are Christian sects that I do respect greatly. Quakers, for example, embody most of what I see as good in the teachings of Jesus, as taught by Jesus (not by the johnny-come-lately Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul – most Christians seem to consider his teachings more important than the teachings of Jesus himself.) And for the most part Quakers do not evangelize. They’re happy to accept new converts, but you don’t see Quakers going door-to-door or handing out tracts. They lead by example.

            A (theoretically) non-Christian example would be the Freemasons. They are by their own customs not allowed to directly proselytize. Their motto is “to become one, ask one.” They must wait until the person asks of his own free will to become a Mason, and then the Mason can do all the “evangelizing” they wish, extoll the virtues of Masonry and encourage the person to join. But the non-Mason must ASK FIRST. If Evangelist Christians conducted themselves this way, my objections would vanish.

          • One of Morehead’s areas of specialization is the treatment of modern Pagans (along with Western converts to Buddhism and Hinduism, and others classified by Morehead’s less sensitive colleagues as “cultists”) as “unreached peoples”. Much of Morehead’s career as a missiologist is based on this premise, so it is very unlikely that you will convince him to abandon it.

          • And again, you unfortunately act as a Pagan mirror to the Evangelical counter-cult apologists you decry. Like most Christians I believe in sharing my faith, as do adherents of most of the world’s religious traditions. I do not believe this is incompatible with respect for the other or dialogue, and the sharing of faith need not and should not be part of every dialogue or encounter, and should never be shared when it is not desired and certainly never imposed. This is an important dialogue topic that I would love to explore with Pagans in podcasts, writing projects and other venues.

            Beyond this, the proof of the pudding is experiential. Ask my many Pagan friends if I have evangelized them or drawn upon a covert kinder, gentler approach in order to deceive and convert. The answer across the board will be “no.” But the only way to discover this for yourself is to take the risk of extending friendship and engaging in two-way dialogue that is willing to reassess one’s assumptions and stereotypes. Apeleius Platonicus will not be willing to do this given his apologetic paradigm, but I hope other Pagans will.

      • Northern_Light_27

        False equivalence bingo again, Mr. Morehead. The difference, as Joseph Max pointed out, is that Apuleius lacks the enormous societal and institutional privilege that you have as a Christian. He, as a Pagan, has no collective power to affect anyone else’s life, but you do. It’s really not okay to compare, as if they’re the same, someone who, at worst, might be a nuisance on a message board with people who are actively doing harm to folk on this board via their legislative agenda and the power to pursue it.

        Is it useful, what Jason does? Yes. Actual information is always better than propaganda, and as someone who fits in the LGBTQ umbrella, I know that minds change primarily because they encounter those they deem The Other. The more actual non-Christians these future Christian leaders meet, hopefully the more they will incline toward tolerance and compassion.

        But. I think Apuleius has something of a point when it comes to the advice to never forget who you’re talking to, if you’re a Pagan in a dialogue with Christians. I may simply be meeting poor examples of your faith, but even when the Christians I meet and know don’t seek to convert me, they still have that reflexive feeling of superiority such that they seem to expect (and are often given) back-pats for not being assholes to non-Christians. I mean, look at the book that inspired the dialogue that led to this post– this Christian gets Jason’s positive attention for “at least seeing the positive attributes” of other religions. In other words, it’s so incredibly awesome that there are examples of Christians who aren’t assholes to us! No, I’m sorry, it’s not awesome. Not being a complete jerk, seeing good in people who aren’t like you, and seeing people who aren’t like you as fellow human beings should be the *bare minimum* acceptable standard of conduct for anybody. That shouldn’t be exceptionable, that shouldn’t be showered with gratitude and kudos. That Christians are *so frequently* horrible to Pagans that these slight bits of positivity are given so many metaphorical cookies speaks horribly for the state of your faith. In that sense, I think Apuleius’ caution is warranted– a Christian being nice to a Pagan doesn’t mean they think we’re your equal, doesn’t mean that they’re going to tone down their triumphalism and embrace a pluralistic society, doesn’t mean they’re not going to try to convert you. It just means they’re being nice today.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Possibly this Article was intended as a joke. It is, in its references, using scripture to prop up the authenticity of scripture, a classic instance of circular logic. In a college environment that would be funny, no?

      • Good point. Solo Scriptura is such a moronic idea that it even makes creatio ex nihilo look almost reasonable (or at least less insane).

  • I am so glad to see you connect with Paul and Multnomah. You will both be enriched as a result of this encounter, as will the students. My hope is that your presentation dispels misunderstanding and stereotypes, and results in relationships and a further desire for Evangelicals to understand Paganism and the pluralistic world we live in. Thanks again to you and Paul.

  • Dialogue is good – it helps people from different religions get to know each other as people and not as caricatures. It’s a lot harder to burn (figuratively or literally) a real person than a stereotype. Thanks for going, and please give my thanks to your hosts for the opportunity.

  • Really pleased this is happening, we need more of this kind of thing! You give the Church an opportunity to learn and grow through being willing to do this, we have a lot we can potentially learn from your faith, and hopefully can give something positive back too! As a recent graduate of a Pentecostal Theological College, I am really pleased this kind of thing is happening and thank you for being willing to do this.

  • This quote bothered me the last time I read and it still bothers me:

    “The problem has not been our God or the Bible, but our approach to God and the Bible.”

    No. The problem is the Bible when it is the authoritative text that encourages colonialism and imperialism, the subjugation of all other believers and non-believers alike. The book then encourages, rather than the afflicted peoples fight back, that they accept their lot as blessed. The problem is their God when He is the supposed source of all of the Bible’s teachings, from Original Sin (depending on your denomination; at the least a woman got the ‘original couple’ kicked out of Eden) clear through to their God happily blessing genocide in His Name. They’re continuing the teachings propagated in their book.

    • Yeaaaaah. The Bible is problematic, and it gets even more problematic when it is taken literally and as the infallible word of an infallible god.

    • H.P. Vincent J Beall

      Old testament aside, the bible is a set of guidelines of what and what not to do. What the quote refers to is the fact, after accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, they tend to take action in his name, as if two wrongs make a right. The bible does not tell them to take action. That is something they take upon themselves to do believing that Jesus is the exception. That is how the approach to God and the Bible is a problem.

      John Chapter 8
      5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
      6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with [his] finger wrote on the ground, [as though he heard them not].
      7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
      8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

      What modern christianity doesn’t seem to realize and their clergyman often fail to teach is that Jesus is the example and not the exception

      Yes, I got all this out of that small quote.

      • Yet slavery is nowhere that I can see outright mentioned as a sin. Look at Leviticus and in many other passages of the Bible.

        Nowhere does Jesus name slavery as a sin. What he does say is:

        Matthew 5:17 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

        Leviticus is clearly full of references to slavery and how to treat one’s slave, as are later passages of the Bible by Paul and his contemporaries. Get what you want out of a quote, but there is a lot that is being ignored by it.

        • JC spoke against the -social and political- agenda of the people of the OT. Does JC mention anything as a sin, or is that only done by OT prophets?

        • EmilyRaven

          Our Heathen ancestors held people in bondage, as did a huge variety of most of the pre-Christian world. Slavery at that time was different than our concept of the brutal horror of the slavery in capitalist nations of the recent past. I’m not defending ancient slavery; I’m sure sometimes it could be awful, and it’s far more complicated and nuanced than a blog comment can handle.

          So, in the quote above, the context is Jesus has been brought a woman that an angry mob wants to bait him with and stone. His disrespect for these people and his example of how to handle it, is what I think HP is pointing to.

          The problem with a lot of Christians is the absolute elevation of the Bible as its own kind of god, instead of a text to be put in cultural context. If we quibble about slavery in the Bible, we are guilty of the same kind of attitude. Those of us who are basing our faiths on ancient religious systems don’t have a leg to stand on in many of the same examples.

          Discussing this though does bring up a good point and that is the important of looking at the deeper meaning of things and not jus taking texts at face-value. Context, cultural studies and historic knowledge is an important skill that all religious adherents should cultivate. Most of all contemporary Christians…or maybe more accurately, most North Americans…

          • *nods* I am with you on this. Slavery, while an institution I do not find palatable, was something my Ancestors at one point or another engaged in.

            Put that way I think I understand HP’s point better.Thank you.

            Given that many of the texts which Heathenry uses as a basis are mired in Christianity or at the least have 2-3 filters through Christians and at least 200 years of Christian history, having that context is all-important to separate ice cream from b.s.

    • These things you speak of originate in political agendas which were backed by an ambitious church, and later embraced by folk with social agendas. The words of the bible, and the nature of JC, had to be twisted in order to support their agendas, or they had to seek to uphold social paradigms JC actually protested against himself. I agree with the original statement that the -ways- in which these things have been talked of and about is problematic.

    • Charles Cosimano

      It was slavery that enabled the ancients to actually have time to think and develop civilization. It ranks up there with fire and the wheel as great discoveries. The fact that it became obsolete and impolite does not change that.

      • No, but I am not referring to slavery as practiced by Heathens or other polytheist societies, but what interpretation of Christian Scripture became: a club that was used to continuously beat all non-believers into submission, including the subjugation of countless ancient polytheists, animists, etc.

        What was done under the auspices of the Great Commission destroyed so many peoples, and vast sums of knowledge lost to the fires that spread under their zeal. Imperialism and colonialism, such as it existed under Christianity, snuffed a great many civilizations while empowered by that book, and the virulent, disgusting slavery that made its ways to America’s shores was blessed by many a Bible-quoting minister. No Pagan society I know of has so completely dismantled or destroyed so many people, religions, societies, or whole cultures, especially as empowered as Christians were by their religion.

        • EmilyRaven

          Yes! Excellent distinction Sarenth. The Great Commission and the use of the Bible to promote slavery was to promote greed, what the Bible calls the root of all evil, “the love of money”. I.E. making money your chief God. Our Northern ancestors had a different form of slavery that was for running farms and having servants and you’re right it did not decimate whole cultures with a vast trade.

          I see better now the point you were making originally. If we don’t argue against Biblical literalism trying to infect our secular governmental policies we could end up in an awful situation for all Americans, regardless of religion.

          It’s part of the reason why I’m hopeful about all the interfaith work Pagans are doing, honestly.

      • EmilyRaven

        Charles, I beg to differ. Ancient slavery did not lead to innovations in thinking. It led to innovations in amassing wealth. People could sell themselves into indentured service and some slaves could buy their way out. All that said, it was innovations in agriculture, the development of cities, food storage and preservation and such techniques that led to time to think. Class systems of workers, merchants, and the like allowed people to become free to be teachers and philosophers because you could buy products from others instead of having to make everything yourself.

        Farmers are what literally fueled the thinking class and not all ancient farms had slaves, certainly not at all in the way that the US did, as the chief labour. The wealthy, who had slaves in ancient Rome, used these people to care for their homes, cook, run errands, etc. It was akin to being a poorly paid personal assistant some of the time. So no, slavery did not chiefly advance civilization in terms of thought. It advanced wealth, mightily.

    • Paul and I would agree that the problem is the abuse of the biblical text as inappropriate justification for immoral acts such as colonialism and the persecution of other religions. We would likewise believe that this results from a misreading of the text where a Christological interpretation of the Old Testament is ignored, which posits the way of peace in engagement of others and the love of neighbors. This would be a great area for dialogue between our communities, and I am glad to have folks like Jason and Paul involved in this process.

      • The problem is that the use of violence and coercion in the spread of Christianity, and in the enforcement of monolithism within Christianity, has not been something rare and exceptional throughout Christian history.

  • Bellatrix S

    I am sure you will represent us well! Thanks for being on the front line of interfaith relations. Good Luck and Gods bless!

  • I transferred into Roanoke College, a Lutheran private school, halfway through my college career. I gained a BA in Religion while I was there and started a club for Pagan fellowship and education. While at Roanoke I did a lot of educating of peers and teachers, both informally through discussion and more formally by being asked to speak in front of a “New Religions of America” class about Wicca and Paganism.

    Roanoke is not a Lutheran seminary, but there was still the sense of being on someone else’s turf. My experiences as a Pagan – and being as outspoken as I was – were completely different at Roanoke – a conservative, Lutheran college in Virginia – than when I attended Bryn Mawr College, a feminist, liberal women’s school near Philly. There was definitely a sense of being on someone else’s turf (though I’m glad to say I only had a very few and relatively mild negative reactions to my religion and what I was trying to do). Being Pagan was suddenly a Very Big Deal, especially since I wouldn’t shut up about it. 🙂

    I’m glad you’re doing this work, Jason. It’s not easy, and the payoffs sometimes seem meager when compared to the potential risks. Here’s hoping that interfaith dialogues, of whatever stripe or bias you start with, end up doing some good.

  • I have seen many different versions of the “Christians want dialog” idea over the years. The problem as I see it is that they don’t really want dialog in the sense of conversation and points of commonality so that we might get along better. Their dialog ultimately is couched in the need to convert. Efforts to understand other faiths and enter into dialog with them really translate and finding the best inroads for conversion. I love to talk with other faiths. I have had wonderful conversations with members and leaders of even the Abrahamic faiths. Muslims and Jews are happy to talk and find common ground, or at least discuss differences in tenets. Christians universally seek to convert.

    • As this is inevitable, might I offer two questions:
      Can Pagans accept that these attemps arise from a positive motivation, as most Christians see their actions as being potentially beneficial to those they are interacting with?
      Is it possiable to have a mutually beneficial dialogue when one or both parties are seeking to do this?
      I believe the answers to these questions are yes.

      • Historically Christians have justified torture, conquest, colonialism, and enslavement by precisely this logic: because they saw these “as being potentially beneficial to those they are interacting with”, because the victims of torture, conquest, colonialism, and enslavement were thereby converted to Christianity. In fact, the vast majority of the the world’s 2 billion Christians are the descendants of those who were converted by such violent coercive means, first throughout the ancient Greco-Roman world. then throughout Europe, and then in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia.

      • Ben, let’s take you at your word and assume this positive motivation. (Shall I mention that old saying about what the road to hell is paved with?) Now let’s assume a Wiccan (for example) is likewise going to try to convert the Christian to Wicca. Would the Christian take this as a positive motivation, or as a snare of Satan, working through the Wiccan to try to damn the soul of the poor Christian? Just as the Christian is dogmatically required to witness and convert, they are also required to view any attempt the challenge their faith as a direct attack from Satan himself.

        This is why the two sides can’t be directly compared. Besides the power imbalance, the Pagan sees someone who is simply mistaken, or deluded, but it’s a matter of that particular Christian’s own personal choices. The Christian, on the other hand, sees the Pagan as someone who is being directly controlled and manipulated by an evil supernatural power, for that evil power’s nefarious purposes.

        How can there be a mutually beneficial dialogue when one side believes that it isn’t just a philosophical dispute, but a battle in the great war against God, with their opponent not simply another human being, but a proxy for the God of Evil himself?

        • Regarding taking me at my word, you can’t get the same impression from reading the paragraph of text that you would from meeting me in person, but I don’t think I fit the stereotype Apuleius Platonicus describes.
          I really enjoy trying to bring Christians and Pagans together, I have tried to do this before successfully through introducing some of my friends at the college I studied at to Glastonbury, and the quite Paganish vibe the place has, when I have done this, my Christian friends have been pleasantly surprised at how friendly and open the Pagans we have met are, and have really envied the sence of community they have, and the sincerity of their beliefs. I think the Pagans we met there have also been pleasantly surprised to meet real fundies, who are happy to listen to their opinions and be friendly to them.
          I appreciate that the difference in philosophical viewpoint can be a problem, but I find that relating as people and making friendships allows us to relate on a more emotional then philosophical level. For instance, before we got to Glastonbury my friends would be asking me about what they would be likely to encounter, or what do these people worship? When we were on the return leg, they were actually thinking in some cases about how the Church could learn from their example to a degree.
          I think that’s how we can relate across the philosophical divide.

        • Ben Hardick: “Now let’s assume a Wiccan (for example) is likewise going to try to convert the Christian to Wicca”

          This is what the Jungians call “projection”. Wiccans do not seek to “convert” others in any way remotely resembling the Christian Great Commission. In fact, the whole notion of “conversion”, as it is understood by monotheists, is completely foreign to Pagans.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It isn’t completely foreign to Pagans.

    • Christians want dialog like Zombies want brains.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Multnomah sounds like some rare disease they would do a bad TV movie about back in the 80s.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I had Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on my door today. Always a laugh – they tried telling me that LotR was a Christian allegory. I told them off lots. That’s about as close to ‘interfaith’ work as I get.

    “I will be a Pagan among the Christians”
    I respond with:
    “As wolves among sheep we have wandered.”

    • LotR _was_ written as Christian allegory (using lots of Norse, Germanic, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon mythos along the way). Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were friends as well as fellow professors at Cambridge while they were penning their respective masterpieces. Lewis criticized Tolkien for not being anvilicious enough (which was part of the reasoning behind his writing the Narnia series).

      • “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and weary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thoughts and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” -J.R.R. Tolkien, foreword to The Lord of the Rings

      • For a rather different take on Tolkien I highly recommend Joscelyn Godwin’s essay “Tolkien and the Primordial Tradition”: http://hermetic.com/godwin/tolkien-and-the-primordial-tradition.html

      • Deborah Bender

        Tolkien’s famous essay on fairytales and his short story Leaf By Niggle are overtly Christian. Tolkien was open about his intentions. Of course, a great work of art always has more in it than its creator consciously intends.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Whilst both Tolkien and Lewis were Inklings,Tolkien was pretty up front about his disdain for allegory and also that his Middle Earth epic was, in essence, a reworking of Germanic heroic stories in order to explore a form of storytelling that he felt had been lost for a long time.

    • PurplePagan

      We have a pentagram rug on our porch, just where you need to stand to knock the door/ring the bell. In five years here, we’ve had two visits from the Witnesses. I pointed out to the last one what he was standing on and he found a reverse gear smoothly and quickly. I like to play…

  • I wish you the best and hope you’ll post a follow up describing how your words were received. 🙂

  • Jason, this is truly the Goddess’s work. Blessings on you and your listeners today.

    Cathryn Meer Bauer

  • PurplePagan

    I hope your day went well, Jason.

    In all my time on the path, I’ve had the greatest problem by dint of not wanting to expound my beliefs. Where I’d really rather let everyone find their own way (don’t misunderstand, I’ll help anyone if they need/ask), there’s the in-built proselytization mandate on the other side of the conversation that seems, firstly, to be intractable and, secondly, to take my lack of “fight-back” as a sign that they have “won”.

    Faith shouldn’t be a struggle, yet so often it turns out thus. That doesn’t mean that we should do anything less than adapt to circumstance.

  • I was
    in the class yesterday so I will give my perspective from on who was in the
    seats while Jason was speaking. At first he was visibly nervous; in his defense
    he was talking to a room of Christians and he had passed by a large pile of
    sticks stacked in the lawn. I have read
    most of the other posts and they all have valid points. I will make a few observations from the
    inside of the room. Jason pointed out
    that Christians do have a powerful voice in this country and he clearly told us
    why that is discerning to Pagans and other non-Christians. I agree with him completely. His information
    on what a Wiccan is and what they believe was informative. He went one step further and pointed out the
    many areas where Pagans and Christians are on the same page. We both have very similar moral and ethical
    values for example. He talked about how Christians bring our beliefs and
    worldviews to the table and fit other religions in to our boxes. Cricky, some religions don’t even have boxes.
    I enjoyed having Jason there, and I would have an Ale with him anytime and we
    could talk about why does it have to
    rain so much here or how cool is Yellowstone.
    Thanks for coming Jason, and I am glad we did not have to use that pile
    of sticks

    • harmonyfb

      Jason pointed out
      that Christians do have a powerful voice in this country and he clearly told us
      why that is discerning to Pagans and other non-Christians.

      Did you mean ‘disconcerting’ instead of ‘discerning’? I think that ‘disconcerting’ is too subtle a word for how Christian privilege often makes non-Christian Americans feel. :/

      I’m hopeful that you took away the fact that no religion should have ‘a powerful voice’ in our secular government.

      and he had passed by a large pile of sticks stacked in the lawn.


  • Paul Metzger called me yesterday to let me know how much he and his class enjoyed the time with you, Jason. In fact, Paul referred to it as the best guest lecturer he’s had in his world religions class, and since that includes my past work there too I am both pleased and dismayed that you were better received than I have been! My best to you and like minded Pagans as we work to improve our relationships and understanding in our mutual work for the common good.

  • I think that Jason’s recent visit to Multnomah should be viewed in light of something that John Morehead wrote in 2003 in a paper published by the Evangelical Missiological Society (link to full article here). In that article, Morehead laid out five specific proposals for how to improve Christian missionary work directed at modern Pagans and other followers of “alternative spiritualities” The fifth of those proposals was to develop new and innovative ways to train future missionaries to more effectively target Pagans, etc:

    “Provide seminary students with field experience. To raise awareness among a future generation of missionaries and missiologists, we might explore ways in which students pursuing missions studies can be given practical field experience in sharing the gospel with adherents of new religions. Such programs would include practical assignments such as an interview with a Mormon or a Wiccan high priestess,for example. This interview would then result in an essay prepared by the student where they would explore the theological, missiological, and apologetic issues that arise from such encounters.”

    Morehead makes it very clear in that article that his ultimate goal is not merely making new Pagan friends:

    “In obedience to the Great Commission, missionaries and missiologists have devised effective evangelistic strategies in order to reach thousands of people groups within the world religions of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and folk and tribal religionists in their home countries. This is as it should be. Our Lord commanded the church to make disciples of the nations (Mat. 28:19).”

  • Having graduated from Multnomah University myself and then worked as a Christian missionary I am saddened to see so much fear and animosity among pagans. At the same time, I am starting to understand why. I started walking a pagan path this year (mostly in the Reclaiming tradition) and I am shocked by the kind of responses I get from my Christian friends.

    Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done to create peaceful dialogue. I would challenge my fellow pagans on their fear of evangelism or proselytization. While much can be said about powerful controlling religious systems, individual Christians who try to convert pagans are usually doing so with very good intentions. Some believe in a literal hell and are trying to convert you because they don’t want you to suffer that fate. Others are excited about the faith they found in Jesus and want you to experience the joy and fulfillment they do. While it may be experienced as annoying or even threatening, I would encourage us to look at the heart and the motivations and to listen, even though we may thoroughly disagree.

    As discouraging as this tension often seems, let us remember that it is a tension mostly in words, not in actions. While religious hate crimes certainly still exist, they are no longer sanctified as the norm in our Western societies. Considering the kind of history we have, the persecution both religions have faced throughout history and many still face today, we have come a long ways.

    • First of all, I think you have a fascinating story to tell about how you went from evangelical missionary to Pagan!

      But second of all, I honestly think that you are underestimating the amount of coercion that is still involved in Christian missionary work. Western missionaries in Africa, Asia and the Americas are involved in nothing short of cultural genocide.Even right here in the U.S., evangelical missionaries are hard at work aggressively wiping out whatever is left of Native American spirituality. In Latin America and sub-Sahara Africa it is even worse. And to compound the problem, billions of dollars of taxpayer money goes directly into the pockets of these missionaries, both by way of the foreign aid (much of which goes directly to World Vision and Catholic Charities) and domestically by way of so-called “faith-based initiatives”.

      I would be all in favor of dialog with Christians if exposing the immorality of ongoing Christian missionary work were at the top of the agenda (not necessarily the very first point, but some place very prominent).

  • PS: Jason, I can’t wait to read about your experience at Multnomah!