Archives For Paul Louis Metzger

The late 1980s through the mid-1990s was a commercial high-point for the genre of music known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). Bands like DC Talk, Jars of Clay, and Amy Grant were garnering breakthrough success outside of traditional genre boundaries, often selling millions of albums. It was during this era that the singer known as Carman was a Christian superstar. Between 1985 and 1997 six of his albums were certified Gold, and one, 1993’s “The Standard,” went Platinum. He was nominated for two Grammys, and won several Dove Awards (essentially the Christian Grammys). I think it’s important to give you this information, because when we talk about things that happened twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, it’s easy to lose context. So knowing that Carman was reaching hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of listeners during this period, is how you should view the single “A Witch’s Invitation” from the 1989 album “Revival In The Land.”

By today’s lights it’s pure cheese, a G-rated version of Goodfellas meets Rosemary’s Baby. But at the time it was no laughing matter. America was still deep in the “Satanic Panic” that was destroying lives, and implying that Witches and Druids worshipped Satan and cursed people with AIDS could (and did) have damaging ramifications on people’s lives. Certainly Druid leader Isaac Bonewits, who was obviously the inspiration for “Isaac Horowitz” in the song, and by all accounts felt personally slandered, was not amused. Perhaps that’s why he wrote an epic Jeremiad concerning Christian fundamentalism in 1990.

Isaac Bonewits

Isaac Bonewits

“It’s the Christian Fundamentalists, however, in whom we inspire the greatest anger, hatred, and fear. They routinely denounce Buddhism, Taoism, the New Age, and all other competing belief systems, just as they have always done, but seem to save their greatest vituperation for occultists in general and Neopagans (especially Witches) in particular. As most Neopagans know, Christian Fundamentalists are constantly publishing and broadcasting blasphemies against our deities, slanders against our members, and half-truths and outright lies about our beliefs and practices. Over and over, they strive to convince the general public, the media, and the civil governments that we are devil worshiping murderers, rapists, child abusers, and even cannibals. Their kids beat up our kids in school, their adults vandalize our stores and temples, shoot bullets through our windows, and manipulate the courts to remove our children from us. Why? What is it about Neopaganism that makes some Christian Fundamentalists so desperate that they will repeatedly violate most of their own Ten Commandments to try and stop us?”

I dig up this history for two reasons, first, Carman, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, is making news for his recent comeback via a Kickstarter campaign that has raised over $300,000 dollars for a new album.

“Carman said he knows that after a dozen years away from the big stage, his new material “has to be current; it has to sound like it belongs in 2013.” At the same time, he said, his fans expect to hear timeless biblical stories and a gospel message in his music. From 1982 to 1992, Carman’s albums regularly sold more than a million copies each, and he topped the Christian singles charts with songs such as “Satan, Bite the Dust,” “Revival in the Land,” “The Champion,” and “Witches Invitation.” He was one of the first contemporary Christian artists to incorporate the kind of elaborate — and expensive—lighting, staging and entertainment that fans expected from top-level secular artists. Legions of screaming teenage fans would call him the “Italian Stallion” as Carman developed a niche for high-drama emotional ballads that featured demons, witches, spiritual warfare and always, a victorious Christ.”

Notice that his brand is still identified with “A Witch’s Invitation” and spiritual warfare against Witches. A brand that the “Carman” generation, Christian music fans now in their 40s and 50s, are willing to pay to see return. Which brings me to the second reason I’m writing about a Christian pop-star’s comeback album: the next generation of Christians and how they will see modern Pagans. In October of last year I was invited to speak at Multnomah University, a Bible college and Biblical seminary in Portland, Oregon, to talk about modern Paganism with several Christian seminary students. While everyone was very gracious and nice, there were moments where I could tell that some student’s information about Pagan religions had come through a distorted Christian media lens.

Now, I’ve been invited back to Multnomah this June to talk to a new batch of students in Paul Louis Metzger‘s class on world religions. I wonder how many of them, or their parents, were influenced by someone like Carman when they think of modern Paganism? Do some of them secretly think I’m diabolical? That I’m working malefic spells for money in league with demons? It’s easy to laugh at the notion sometimes, until you read about Christian clergy opposition to a Pagan festival in Pahokee, Florida, where some very basic interfaith outreach had to be done to avoid a protest. I think Carman and his “funny” little song about a Witch are quite indicative of how many Christians still see us. Which is why, despite the (often justifiable) distrust many Pagans feel about interactions with Christians, I appreciate Professor Metzger’s earnest efforts to more accurately understand us.

“We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”

Christian churches and denominations centered on evangelizing, on missions of conversion, will never stop their efforts. But I think our goals shouldn’t be to make them stop trying, it is to make them acknowledge our humanity, and to accurately understand who they are speaking to. If they start to understand us, if they see us as practicing valid religious traditions (as opposed to demonic underground cults) alongside all the other world’s religions, then the chances of a new moral panic decreases, and the ability to have real discourse grows. That discourse will be vitally important as our faiths continue to grow, and as tensions created by an increasingly post-Christian West become more pronounced.

We need to put the old slurs to rest if we are to evolve our understandings of one another, and this requires Christians to properly contextualize the books and records that have profited by slander against us. I have no wish to heap abuse on Carman as he mounts his comeback, but “A Witch’s Invitation” should be seen as the embarrassment to Christianity that it is, and our community is long overdue for an apology for the slander it perpetuated. Moving forward, all of us engaged in interfaith work need to constantly ask: where are my perceptions of this person, this religion, this tradition, coming from? Do they come from a place of knowledge and discernment, from first-hand experience, or from propaganda and distortion? I am hoping, by my presence at Multnomah, to replace fear and distortion with knowledge and experience. To ensure that we are speaking to each other instead of about each other.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

  • Let’s start off with Salon.com’s follow-up to the outing of rogue Wikipedia editor “Qworty,” which focuses on his strange vendetta against Pagan, esoteric, and occult pages. In the piece Andrew Leonard links to my run-down of the story, and manages to dig up some new information as well. Quote: “Every page deleted or altered by Young on grounds of self-promotion or conflict-of-interest clearly deserves a second look. And that great effort is already well under way. The Neo-Pagans are clamoring for the return of some of their deleted pages and scouring those that survived the purge to see which of Young’s cuts will be reverted. But Young didn’t confine himself to questions of notability or conflict-of-interest when tangling with the Pagans; he also challenged the basic tenets of Pagan spirituality. Wikipedia, he argued, should be debunking such things as Wiccan rituals or the exploration of drug-induced conciousness-raising, rather than reporting them.” This experience has left some Pagan Wikipedia editors disillusioned, to put it lightly. It will be interesting to see how things progress from this point. 
  • The branding of children as “witches” by pastors in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues. The BBC has a new documentary where a British citizen who was born in the DRC finds out her cousin has been accused of witchcraft and races to find her. Quote: “Journeying from her home in London to her birthplace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kevani tries to discover how ancient traditions have been hijacked in the name of Jesus, why families are singling out vulnerable children and hurting them and why toddlers are having to endure excruciating rituals in order to ‘rid them of demons’.” It should be noted that branding children as witches is illegal in the Congo now, but the pastors seem unconcerned.
  • The book “Ritual” by David Pinner, which inspired the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” is going to be getting a sequel. Pinner told Rue Morgue Magazine that he’s written a book set 30 years later entitled “The Wicca Woman.” Quote: “I’ve just completed the sequel to Ritual, after all these years, called The Wicca Womanthe children who are in Ritual are grown up in this. It’s set 30 years later just before the millennium. Wicker Man obsessives will no doubt want to keep an eye out for this one. Meanwhile, StudioCanal continues its hunt for lost footage from the 1973 film’s original cut in hopes of releasing a complete anniversary edition. 
  • Christianity in Britain could be declining faster than originally thought according to a new analysis of the 2011 UK census data. Quote: “A new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.” We may see a truly post-Christian Britain in our lifetimes. That new analysis is from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, by the way. 
  • John Macintyre, former president of the Scottish Pagan Federation, is interviewed by Patheos.com about the importance of Pagan involvement in interfaith. Quote: “Interfaith is not a threat, it doesn’t aim to change what Paganism is, still less to merge it into some kind of ‘one size fits all’ universal religion. It allows us to educate other faith groups and the wider society about the reality of modern Paganism, to challenge prejudice and negative stereotyping close to its sources, and to make a positive contribution as one of the many faith communities that make up our society.”
Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte

  • Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” writes about the Vatican’s ongoing battle with the cult of Santa Muerte. Quote: “In addition to theological objections, the current religious economy of Mexico and Latin America provides a compelling explanation not only for the condemnation of narco-saints but also for other dynamic religious competitors. For the past three decades both national bishops’ conferences and the Vatican have inveighed against the “invasion of the sects” in Latin America. Of course, Pentecostals, the most vibrant of the Church’s competitors, have been the primary object of condemnation, but Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age groups and Spiritists have also been singled out.” 
  • PNC-Minnesota has an update on Pagan-initiated tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma. Quote: “As of Saturday, Solar Cross has collected $545 in donations and was able to send 400 N95 rated respirators, 58 pairs of work gloves, 50 safety goggles, 20 tarps, and 10 shovels. Tillison said, ‘Thank you thank you thank you! Your donations will be distributed within 24 hours of the time they arrive and sent out to Little Axe, Newcastle and the outlying areas that are not receiving the outpouring the greater area of Moore is.'” You can read my initial report on this, here.
  • When talking about legal protections, “who’s a journalist” is the wrong question. Quote: “When considering whether to grant legal protection for the gathering and dissemination of information, the question should not be the person performing those acts, i.e., “who is a journalist?,” but “is this an act of journalism?” Before the user-generated content revolution, focusing on journalists (i.e., people defined by their institutional affiliations) served as a functional if rough approximation of the true interests at stake (i.e., debate on issues of public concern). That is no longer the case.” This issue is an important one for all us Pagan media types who are not affiliated with a recognized institution. 
  • Paul Louis Metzger argues that sometimes Christians create the “idols” for modern Pagans out of ignorance of our actual beliefs and practices. Quote: “We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”
  • Wiccan love spells: sometimes they (kinda) work (at least for awhile). Quote: “Yes, I shed a few tears, but not because I was in love with him. I cried because the spell hadn’t worked, at least not all the way, and I was now forced to revert to being a Party of One after having had a brief, haunting reminder of the cozier aspects of being in a relationship.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

  • The historic site of Wounded Knee is now for sale on the open market. The current owner, James Czywczynski, makes some rather insulting claims about why he’s selling it. Quote: “For some reason, they cannot see economic development and they cannot see tourism and they cannot relate. They want everything for free is what it amounts to I guess.” The Oglala Sioux see the price as artificially inflated, trading on the massacre when the land itself is valued in the thousands, not millions. Quote: “We see that greed around here all the time with non-Indians. To me, you can’t put a price on the lives that were taken there.” What happens next is uncertain. There are claims that some buyers are interested in buying the land and giving it back to the tribe, but it’s just as possible someone will buy it in order to make money off someone else’s tragedy. 
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center shares the experiences of a lone Jew in a highly racially segregated prison. Quote: “It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you’ll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you’ll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don’t have any play.” I think it’s important to share this after my story yesterday about Even Ebel. This is the toxic atmosphere in which Paganism behind bars is being practiced. 
  •  Jack Jenkins, a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, writes about how mainstream journalism still doesn’t do religion coverage very well. Quote: “Yet religion seems to be having an increasingly hard time getting a fair shake from another major player in American life: the media. The breadth and quality of religion reporting in the United States has atrophied in recent years, with once-robust religion sections now all but erased from the pages of the nation’s leading newspapers. Meanwhile, religion reporters have either been laid off or forced to re-shift their professional focus to covering religion ‘on the side.'” The truth is that it’s even worse if you’re a member of a religious minority. We just hope the new episode of “Wife Swap” treats us gently, and we scarcely dream of the coverage larger faiths get. 
  • Just thought you should know that being for gun control laws is very, very, Pagan. Quote: “Frankly, it almost would seem that animism won’t go away. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will. That’s animism, that’s a return to the most pagan of paganism and look at what nutty political views it ends up supporting.” That’s Larry Pratt, thexecutive director of Gun Owners of America, an organization that believes the NRA is too soft on protecting the 2nd Amendment. Here’s one Heathen’s response to Pratt’s animist ramblings. 
  • In response to a number of recent articles, Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead confront the issue of predatory proselytism. Quote: “Moreover, friendship is sometimes abused, when it is reduced to the end of evangelism. In one instance where an Evangelical has been involved in a high-profile relationship and dialogue with a Mormon scholar, many Evangelicals have called for an end to the relationship after a period of time because the Mormon has not converted. Aren’t relationships valuable in and of themselves without being used merely as a tool to convert others? For all our emphasis on personal relationships, one might be left to wonder how relational the Evangelical movement as a whole is.” For more on my personal interactions with Paul Louis Metzger, click here.
Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Nathaniel Rich at the New York Review of Books looks at the story of the West Memphis Three through Damien Echols’ book “Life After Death,” the “Paradise Lost” documentary series, and the feature documentary “West of Memphis.” Quote: “Investigators asked Jerry Driver, a local juvenile officer and self-described “guru” of the occult, to compile a list of local kids involved in cult-related activities. At the top of Driver’s list was Damien Echols, an eighteen-year-old high school dropout who had been hospitalized for depression. [...] In his closing statement, district attorney John Fogleman pointed at Echols and said, “There’s not a soul in there.” That argument carried the day.” As always, the story remains a cautionary tale of how a moral panic over “cults” can send innocent children to jail. 
  • Santero Jorge Badillo has filed a complaint against several officials in Monmouth County, New Jersey for civil rights violations after police searched his home (fruitlessly) for a gun belonging to his brother, went through his sacred items, and filed a complaint with the SPCA who proceeded to flood the man with citations with little evidence of wrong-doing. Quote: “Badillo claims Amato issued the tickets without any evidence that any of the animals had been abused. ‘To sacrifice a sick or maltreated animal to the Orishas or to perform the sacrifice in a way that causes the animal to suffer is prohibited in Santeria as this would be an insult to the Orishas,’ Badillo says. Amato then contacted the Asbury Park Press, a local newspaper, and told it about the summons he had issued to Badillo. The Asbury Park Press published an article, in print and online, and included Badillo’s address, he says in the complaint. As a result, Badillo claims, his home and car have been vandalized and he and his family have been threatened.” Badillo claims the accusations ruined his family’s attempt to adopt children, violated their civil rights, and endangered his family. 
  • The latest edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions is out and features an article on Heathenry and two on Otherkin/Therianthropy. At his blog, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton examines the Otherkin articles, noting that both heavily rely on Lupa’s “A Field Guide to Otherkin.” Quote: “To Laycock, Otherkin are perhaps best described as an ” ‘audience cult,’ a movement that supports novel beliefs and practices but without a discernible organization. [...] Robertson spends more time explaining the concept of Therianthropes’ self-descriptions of “awakening” to their dual natures…”
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Yesterday I engaged in a conversation with Paul Louis Metzger, author of “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, ” which I reviewed not too long ago, Mike Stygal of Pagan Federation London, and Foundation for Religious Diplomacy Evangelical Chapter Director John W. Morehead for the New Wine, New Wineskins podcast.

9780849947247

 

Today we had an opportunity to follow up on a recent conversation with some of our friends in the Pagan community. This time, Jason Pitzl-Waters joined us too. Listen in for a constructive engagement of the Pagan/Christian divide.

Download and listen to the podcast here.

In the span of an hour we discussed the need to really deal with the issue of evangelization, secular vs. multi-faith space, Christian privilege, and how to move Pagan-Christian dialog further. I think it was, on the whole, a constructive discussion that I think could be thought-provoking for evangelicals who listen. During the event I was very mindful of my relative inexperience within the context of interfaith engagement, and how there are many Pagans I know who are doing important work on a global scale. For instance, at this moment, Don Frew, a National Interfaith Representative for the Covenant of the Goddess and a Continuing Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, is at the URI’s Global Council Meeting.

When we gathered for the morning session, Zubair Farooq (Muslim / Pakistan) opened with a prayer and a candle lighting.  Diana Whitney asked us each to sum up our feelings about THIS Global Council were so far.  There were many expected statements, but one stood out… the Honorable Elisha Buba Yero (Christian & Indigenous / Nigeria) said that he sees something in all of us, a “burning flame in each of our hearts”, a desire for one goal: “to make other people as happy as we are”.

You can read more about Don Frew’s experiences at the URI Global Council Meeting at the COG Interfaith Reports blog. I think it’s important not only that I remember and acknowledge the work that individuals like Don Frew, Andras Corban Arthen, Phyllis Curott, Gus diZerega, or Angie Buchanan are doing, but that Christians just starting to enter into real dialog and discussion with modern Pagans understand the work they, and those like them, have done as well. When animus towards modern Pagans was at its height, and when books written and sold by evangelical Christians were peddling fabrications about what Witches and Pagans do, it was people like Frew and Selena Fox who were on the front lines forging interfaith communication and creating allies who would later help us as we emerged into the mainstream. Today, Pagans are involved in interfaith on many levels, and we have built bridges that perhaps some would not realize if they were not “in the loop” regarding interfaith activism.


Interfaith Action of Central Texas documentary featuring COG member Tom Davis

I’ve spent some time recently talking about the importance of intrafaith, solidarity, and ecumenicism within the Pagan community, but interfaith, reaching out to other faiths, is still vitally important. As I said before heading to an evangelical seminary to speak about Paganism:

“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.”

No matter how successful modern Pagans (and our allies) become we cannot pretend the dominant monotheisms don’t exist, nor can we avoid trying to find ways to live and co-exist together. Yes, some of what evangelicals learn in the process of our conversations will be used in evangelization, but it will also humanize us, and hopefully defuse ancient distrusts over time. Pagans working in interfaith, and I suppose I should count myself in that number, are needed, and serve a vital interest to the growth and health of our movement. The simple act of outreach, of talking, can change so much, locally, and increasingly, on a global scale.

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”.

9780849947247

“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!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Noted early-music performer Owain Phyfe, a long-time fixture on the Renaissance Faire circuit, science fiction conventions, and Pagan festivals like Pagan Spirit Gathering, passed away this week from pancreatic cancer. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who knew Owain, had this to say about the musician: “Thank you, Owain, for good times, friendship, & carrying on the bardic tradition with old & new songs & stories! Thank you for being part of the Pagan Spirit Gathering & Green Spirit Festival! Blessings of our Welsh ancestor Owain Glyndwr, upon you as you make your way in Annwn, the Otherworld!” You can find out more about Owain at his Wikipedia page, or this article from Renaissance Magazine. What is remembered lives.
  • How do you stop a witch-hunt from happening? In rural India, groups of women who met through micro-loan programs are banding together in solidarity to resist the hysteria that can come with an accusation of witchcraft, and have met with some success. Quote: “In one case, a woman was accused of causing disease in livestock and an attack was planned. Members of the self-help groups gathered in a vigil around the woman’s home and surrounded the accuser’s home as well, stating their case to the accuser’s wife. Eventually the wife intervened and her husband recanted and ‘begged for forgiveness.'” So how do stop witch-hunts? Empowering women seems an important first step.
  • Brian Pulliam, a racist skinhead who has been arrested in connection with a double homicide, is receiving scrutiny for his Asatru faith, which he believes requires him to drink alcohol. The story has prompted a representative of the local Asatru community in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area to speak up and clarify their beliefs, distancing themselves from Pulliam. Quote: “…his claims that Asatru requires him to consume mead for various holidays during the year are baseless. While many of us choose to drink mead or other alcoholic beverages during our celebrations, there is absolutely no requirement to do so. People whose medications won’t allow them to drink alcohol, those who are underage, and active service members in the Middle East, to name just a few examples, are capable of fully celebrating without mead.” The author, Sorn Skald, also noted that Pulliam’s racism would not be welcome in the group with which he worships.
  • The Vancouver Sun has more on the unfolding controversy over Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ move to stop the issuing of new contracts for minority-faith chaplains, including a Wiccan chaplain, because he’s “not convinced” that it is needed. Quote: “For the past six years, Wiccan priestess Kate Hansen has been visiting federal inmates across British Columbia who follow the pagan religion, guiding them in meditation and leading them in prayerful chants [...] “If they choose to scrap this, they’re denying the rights of all of these people – their access to spiritual advisement of the religion of their choice,” Hansen told Postmedia News.” For more on this situation, read my post from yesterday, and be sure to check out the comments section, which features input from a Canadian Pagan prison chaplain.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The Lia Fáil - Hill of Tara, Ireland.

The Lia Fáil - Hill of Tara, Ireland.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I’m in the process of reading two very different books about modern Pagans, and how they encounter Jesus, the central (and salvic) figure in Christian religion. The nature of the dialog found in these works point to the centrality and cultural power Christianity possesses, despite claims that this dominant monotheism is endangered in any meaningful way. Perhaps there are works underway about how Christians encounter Dionysis, or how best to explain Hekate to Jesus-followers, and I just haven’t heard about them yet? In any case, I think both tomes are revealing and worth examination for anyone interested in how Pagans exist and adapt into a religious world where Jesus is ever-present, and how more sensitive and thoughtful missional Christians consider modern Pagan religions.

The first book is “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths” by Paul Louis Metzger, Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah University. Readers of my blog may find that name familiar because he co-wrote a guest post here, repudiating a harmful article conflating modern Paganism with witchcraft killings, and aruging that “Christians must learn to show respect for other belief and praxis systems by substantiating our claims and criticisms and arguing for the cogency of our own convictions on level ground also occupied by others.” This is essentially, what “Connecting Christ” does, it discusses Christianity’s relationship to other faiths on “level ground.”

“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.”

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.

“As we respect and honor Christians who grow from their encounters with their sacred literature and their God, so we request a similar respect in our religions with our text and our Gods.”

“Connecting Christ” is convinced that Christ is the way, but it advocates a far more humble method of spreading the gospel message, one in stark contrast to the ugly smears and triumphal gloating we see from most missionary efforts. The next book begins with a quotation from diZerega, but it’s a very different work, one written by a former Anglican clergyman turned Christian-Druid. “Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ” by Reverend Mark Townsend flips the script to explore how Pagans encounter, work with, think about, honor, and grapple with the figure of Jesus in their lives.

“Reverend Mark Townsend’s remarkable book is truly unlike any other, a thoughtful and deeply moving collection of more than two dozen stories, essays, and interviews about Jesus from today’s most respected Wiccan and Druidic leaders. Contributors such as Maxine Sanders, Christopher Penczak, Janet Farrar, Diana Paxson, Philip Carr-Gomm, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, and Raven Grimassi explore the historical figure of Jesus in relation to witchcraft, the tarot, goddess worship, and shamanism—while illustrating how this god of the Christian church blesses and inspires many who cannot or will not be part of his “official” family.”

If “Connecting Christ” is important for how it tries to change the way Christians encounter non-Christian faiths in a pluralistic world, “Jesus through Pagan Eyes” may actually be more vital for Christians who seek to understand how our diverse community views their savior. For any orthodox Christian this work will be full of heresies, but it is also paints a portrait of why Christians find it so difficult to “reach” us. Simply put, we encounter Jesus in sometimes radically different ways than they do.

“I see him as a teacher, prophet, miracle worker, and valid deity of the Christian pantheon. Who am I to deny the Christ’s validity?  Although, having known many magicians, Jesus strikes me as far more secure in his being than those magicians.”

The above quote is from Alexandrian Elder Maxine Sanders, who, I feel, encapsulates an important point about both of these books. Townsend asks Sanders what she feels Christians can learn from Pagans, and she replies, “unless they want to, nothing.” I see in these books, an opportunity and a challenge. If Christians want to understand us, and to understand how we view Christians, they have to truly want it first. So many books, with an occasional exception, are essentially lectures by Christians to other Christians about what they believe our religions are about. It’s clear they went in to whatever research or interviews they did wearing blinders, and never took them off. I sense in Metzger a willingness to seriously consider the worldview of other faiths instead of simply knocking down a straw man, and with the release of Townsend’s book, we have a extended meditation from Pagans on the very figure “Connecting Christ” wants us to experience.

I think the two books being released so close together is a kind of kismet, and those invested in a conversation between Pagans and Christians should pick up both and read them together. For my part, I’m trying to arrange a podcast interview with Townsend and Metzger to discuss Jesus, Pagans, and Christianity, and what the path forward from here may be. For the foreseeable future Pagans live in a world dominated by Jesus, while Christians have to increasingly deal with rising religious minorities no longer content to stay on the sidelines, who demand the rights of a pluralistic society. How we converse and understand one another will be vital, and I’m optimistic at the potential dialog created by these two books.

[The following is a guest post from Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead. Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D. is Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University; Charter Member, Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. John W. Morehead is Director, Western Institute for Intercultural Studies; Director, Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.]

Rob Kerby, Senior Editor at beliefnet, wrote a recent article titled “What can the Third World teach us about witchcraft?.” This has resulted in the concern of and critique by Pagans, but it should also interest those in other religious communities. We are practicing Evangelical Christians, and we are very interested in what Christians and Pagans have to say about one another in hopes of light being shed on our respective spiritual pathways. Unfortunately, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and hostility have been characteristic traits of our exchanges throughout history. In our minds, Kerby’s article only intensified this problem.

After reading the Kerby article, we are left wondering what the piece teaches us about witchcraft. While we did not necessarily learn anything about witchcraft from his essay, we did learn that he believes witchcraft in all its forms does great damage to civilization in the “Third World” and elsewhere, and that strong measures should be taken to eradicate it from the West. In addition to other problematic features, we were deeply concerned that Kerby claims that witchcraft is a capital offense in Saudi Arabia, punishable by beheading. Why did he make this claim? Is this something the “Third World” can teach us about witchcraft, or is this one of many sensational claims by Kerby?

Those in Pagan circles have responded strongly to the piece, and with good reason. Kerby provides no solid substantiation for his claims, demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the spiritual practices and beliefs he critiques, and as a result, the piece creates fear and suspicion of witchcraft (and broader Paganism as well). While Christians have often accused Paganism of superstition, the irony is that the Christian community has often approached Paganism superstitiously. Kerby’s piece only adds to the superstition and suspicion, made worse by the stereotypes and fears that often underlie such representations.

What we learned from reading Kerby’s essay and the responses to it from Pagans is that we have a long way to go in pursuit of charity and sound argumentation in our post-Christendom and pluralistic public square. We are charter members of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. Our chapter aims to develop interreligious relationships and conversations in civility and without compromise with those of other religious and spiritual traditions. Our work in the chapter represents a new movement in Evangelicalism. The chapter seeks accuracy and fairness in understanding, and embodies a relational and dialogical approach, while addressing substantial differences in practice and belief between various religious and spiritual communities. Two examples of this approach are the books Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (written by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega, and edited by John Morehead; published by Lion, UK, April 2009), and Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths (Paul Louis Metzger; Thomas Nelson, May 2012—this work includes an article on Paganism and a response by Gus diZerega). We have been very grateful for our charitable and constructive engagements in reasoned argumentation with Dr. diZerega (who mentioned our exchanges in his beliefnet post on Kerby’s article). We welcome other opportunities for such collaboration. We also encourage Evangelicals to get involved in our FRD chapter and for Pagans to form their own FRD chapter so as to have a place at the table with other religions and spiritual paths. Over time, such collaboration may help mitigate against depictions like Kerby’s.

In our post-Christendom, pluralistic public square, Christians must learn to show respect for other belief and praxis systems by substantiating our claims and criticisms and arguing for the cogency of our own convictions on level ground also occupied by others. We must also seek to demonstrate that our Christian convictions promote the common good and pursue conversations with others from varying viewpoints who would do the same. One person self-identified as “unap” wrote in a comment posted in response to the Kerby article: “Crimes against humanity – death, torture, sacrifice, grave robbing and mutilation – are crimes pretty much everywhere. They need no special pleading for more punishment because you think those crimes are belief based.” Solid argument on level ground in civility.

We encourage both Evangelicals and Pagans to enter into sustained dialogue, with the former through our chapter, and the latter through the formation of a FRD chapter. The only way we will move beyond witch hunts and superstition is if we enter into public square discourse with level heads in search of charity and sound arguments.