Archives For post-Christian

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.

Bela and Hope Lugosi being married by Manly P. Hall.

Bela and Hope Lugosi being married by Manly P. Hall.

  • Salon.com has run an excerpt from Mitch Horowitz’s new book “One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life,” focusing on how former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was influenced by Manly P. Hall. Quote: “Ronald Reagan often spoke of America’s divine purpose and of a mysterious plan behind the nation’s founding. ‘You can call it mysticism if you want to,’ he told the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974, ‘but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.’ These were remarks to which Reagan often returned. He repeated them almost verbatim as president before a television audience of millions for the Statue of Liberty centenary on July 4, 1986. When touching on such themes, Reagan echoed the work, and sometimes the phrasing, of occult scholar Manly P. Hall.” Here’s Hall’s Wikipedia page.
  • New York City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, is being accused of, well, of cursing a political opponent through a giant chicken head mural painted as part of a city mural project. Quote: According to the Post, Gwen Goodwin, 52, thinks that Mark-Viverito purposefully targeted her East 100th Street building ‘as the canvas for a five-story image of a bodiless rooster atop wooden poles.’ Mark Viverito was the head of urban-art campaign Los Muros Hablan (“The Walls Speak”) last summer, which sought to paint murals on walls across the city to celebrate Latino culture. But Goodwin writes in the lawsuit, ‘According to neighbors of Puerto Rican and other backgrounds, in the Caribbean culture, this constituted a curse and a death threat, as a swastika or a noose would symbolize typically to many Jews or African-Americans.’” So, there’s that.
  • Some communities in England are preparing for traditional winter wassailing to ensure a bountiful apple harvest. Quote: “Traditionally wassailing takes place on Twelfth Night (January 5) but in apple growing areas such as Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Somerset the 17th marks the date of the orchard ceremony as it coincides with the “Old Twelveth Night” prior to the switch from the Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1752 when 11 days were taken out of the year. It will be the first time the pagan ceremony, believed to ward off evil spirits, has been staged at the property owned by the Busk family. A ‘Wassail King’ will walk through the Walled Garden orchard at 6pm offering bread soaked in cider to the apple trees and he will also pour water on the roots of the fruit trees.”
  • Here are some photos from the Arthur Pendragon-led protest against Stonehenge’s new visitor center. Quote: “I don’t want to give all my tactics away but next year’s campaign will be based around the slogan ‘don’t pay, walk away‘, and encouraging people to make 2014 the year they did not come to Stonehenge.” Can any force resist such a pithy slogan?
  • The occult is rising! Quick! Train up some exorcists! Quick! Quote: “The rise in demonic cases is a result of more people dabbling in practices such as black magic, paganism, Satanic rites and Ouija boards, often exploring the dark arts with the help of information readily found on the internet, the church said. The increase in the number of priests being trained to tackle the phenomenon is also an effort by the church to sideline unauthorised, self-proclaimed exorcists, and its tacit recognition that belief in Satan, once regarded by Catholic progressives as an embarrassment, is still very much alive.” What could possibly go wrong with training up an elite religious paramilitary opposed to minority religions that engage in magic?
Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton

  • Times Higher Education has a review up of Ronald Hutton’s new book “Pagan Britain.” Quote: “This is an expedition into deep time: a meticulous critical review of the known and sometimes shadowy rituals and beliefs in the British Isles from early prehistory to the advent of Christianity. Pagan Britain charts what we know of human spirituality across some 30,000 years. Such a broad sweep might have lapsed into mere description; instead, Ronald Hutton brings the discussion alive with detail and debate, interspersing accounts of key findings and theories with critical vignettes of the moment of discovery or the character of the antiquarian in question.”
  • The New York Times looks at Christianity in Ghana, specifically charismatic churches that emphasize spiritual warfare and battling demons. Quote: “J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, a professor at Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana, argues that these churches have spread so rapidly because African traditional religion envisions a world dense with dark spirits from which people must protect themselves, and these new churches take this evil seriously in a way that many earlier missionizing Christianities did not. Indeed, I have been at a Christian service in Accra with thousands of people shouting: ‘The witches will die! They will die! Die! Die!’ With the pastor roaring, ‘This is a war zone!’ [...]  The post-1960s charismatic revival in the United States, sometimes called “Third Wave” Christianity (classical Pentecostalism was the first wave and charismatic Catholicism the second), introduced the idea that all Christians interact with supernatural forces daily. That included demons. In fact, I found American books on dealing with demons in all the bookstores of the African charismatic churches I visited.” American Evangelical Christianity has so, so, much to answer for. As T. M. Luhrmann points out: “In West Africa, witches are people, and sometimes, other people kill them or drive them from their homes.”
  • Is traditional religion (ie Christianity and Judaism) over? Quote: “It does seem, though, that 2013 was a year in which traditional religious affiliation underwent significant change. Is this the dawning of a new, liberal age, in which America finally starts to look a little more like the rest of the Western world? Don’t count on it. American religion is nothing if not resilient. It is malleable enough to change with the times, and if anyone ever does declare war on Christmas, they will lose. We remain a weirdly religious country.”
  • Is the United Nations too Christian? Probably. Quote: “Christianity dominates the United Nations and a more inclusive system must be introduced at the world peace-making organisation, according to a new study. The report Religious NGOs and The United Nations found that Christian NGOs are overrepresented at the UN in comparison to other religious groups. Overall, more than 70 per cent of religious NGOs at the UN are Christian, where the Vatican enjoys a special observer status, as a state and religion, according to research undertaken by Professor Jeremy Carrette from the University of Kent’s Department of Religious Studies.”
  • The deep, dark, roots of Britain’s fascination with witchcraft explained by Dominic Selwood. Quote: “The inescapable reality is that these islands battle with elemental weather, giving us a visceral awareness of the drama of the changing seasons. Coupled with the long dark nights of winter and the euphoria of summer light, the British have always had an innate awareness of the proximity of the natural world, and its power to make or break us in any year. The result is an understandable fascination with the behaviour of nature. It is therefore no wonder that we have always been transfixed by figures who command the forces that the rest of us can only watch.”

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.

The Public Religion Research Institute today released the findings from its 2013 Economic Values Survey. While there’s a lot to digest about how Americans feel about economic values, the survey also has a lot to say about religious values, specifically the seemingly inevitable rise of “religious progressives.”

religious_orientation_scale

One-in-five Americans (19 percent) are religious progressives, while 38 percent are religious moderates, 28 percent are religious conservatives, and 15 percent are nonreligious, a new survey finds. The new Economic Values Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Brookings Institution, was used to develop a new religious orientation scale that combines theological, economic and social outlooks in order to paint a new portrait of the American religious landscape. “Our new research shows a complex religious landscape, with religious conservatives holding an advantage over religious progressives in terms of size and homogeneity,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones,CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “However, the percentage of religious conservatives shrinks in each successive generation, with religious progressives outnumbering religious conservatives in the Millennial generation.”

In other words, the days of the “Religious Right” are numbered, at least in terms of demographic and social power. In addition, religious progressives are far more diverse in religious identity than religious conservatives.

Religious progressives are considerably more diverse than religious conservatives. Catholics (29 percent) constitute the largest single group among religious progressives, followed by white mainline Protestants (19 percent), those who are not formally affiliated with a religious tradition but who nevertheless say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives (18 percent), and non-Christian religious Americans such as Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims (13 percent).”

Non-Christian religions, which would include modern Pagans, make up a significant proportion of this coming post-Christian religious progressive reality. Meanwhile, religious conservatives are overwhelmingly dominated by white evangelical Protestants and Catholics. As PRRI pointed out last year, relying almost solely on white conservative Christians is increasingly going to be a losing national strategy for politicians.

“Nearly 8-in-10 (79%) voters in Romney’s coalition are white Christians. By contrast, just over one-third (35%) of voters in Obama’s coalition are white Christians. The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

In CNN exit polling of the 2012 presidential elections, 74% of non-Christians, and 70% of “nones” voted for Barack Obama. Those are horrible numbers for any candidate tied to conservative Christianity and their political agenda in a society that will eventually see religious progressives in the driver’s seat. As I’ve said before, the demographic playing field is going to keep on shifting in terms of social and political power.

“That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).”

Through the lens of this new data, it looks increasingly like recent social conservative overreach on access to voting, on reproductive health, on immigration policy, are a rear-guard action designed to slow down the demographic clock for a long as possible. For modern Pagans, this data means that we are presented with a future where we could experience ongoing growth and social capital. Our collective challenge is to make sure we are engaging with Millennials, empowering them in our organizations, and making them feel welcome. This is not a time to be idle, we can’t afford to take this generational tide for granted. A more Pagan future starts with the decisions we make right now.

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.

I rarely agree with American Conservative opinion columnist Rod Dreher, not because he’s a “crunchy conservative,” but because his views on religion are so skewed by his evangelical-turned-Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian worldview that he often comes off (perhaps inadvertently) as the worst sort of smug, triumphalist, man-of-God. The kind of guy who blames Haiti’s condition on Vodou, right after it’s rocked by a massive natural disaster and humanitarian crisis.

Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.

The kind of guy who calls Santeria savage demon worship (just like Vodou), who spreads unproven smears against liberal Catholics involving the taint of Vodou and polytheism, who joined the hilarious-in-retrospect freak-out over Hollywood “pantheism” (ie “Avatar” made a lot of money), and who never misses an opportunity to be “funny” regarding the beliefs of modern Pagans (it’s humorless and like Dungeons & Dragons). However, adversity makes for strange bedfellows and all that, there is stuff going down, a Pope has resigned, and the secular “nones” are rising!

Cue the grudging “I guess Pagans aren’t SO bad” re-evaluation: 

“Personally, I find paganism far more attractive than atheism, because pagans, however mistaken their understanding (from a Christian point of view) nevertheless share with Christians a recognition that there is Something There beyond ourselves, and the material world. I can have (have had) a fruitful, engaging discussion with my friend and commenter Franklin Evans, a pagan, in a way that I just can’t with friends who have no spiritual or religious beliefs, or a sense of the numinous.

My guess, and it’s only that, is that some pagans will fall away from the practice of their faith for the same reason many Christians are: because it doesn’t make sense in our scientistic, materialistic, consumerist world. At the same time, I think that paganism stands to gain overall from the unchristening of the West. If you look at the Asatru site, this neopagan religion speaks to longings that are deep within all of us, and cannot be suppressed forever.”

Yes, in the beauty contest of belief we’re pretty homely, but at lest we’re better looking than the atheists. So, go team Paganism? Yay? Here’s the thing though, while it’s inevitable that some Pagans will leave our umbrella for other pastures in our post-Christian future, modern Paganism as a movement has no trouble embracing both “hard” polytheists and, well, Pagan humanists. Most of the faiths under our umbrella have been fine with all sorts of conceptions of the divine, because our movement isn’t centered on a single correct belief. We, and I use that “we” very loosely here, are not all that threatened by atheism, humanism, or other post-theism “isms.” Our conditions of solidarity are practical, political (in the sense of fighting for our shared rights), social, and festival-based. So it’s amazingly common to see Pagan ecumenical gatherings where polytheists and atheists participate in the same rituals. When transformative (sacred/secular) phenomena like Burning Man appear, we are generally of the “what took you guys so long” school than the “does this threaten us” school.

The “spiritual but not religious” people are, for the most part, just fine with Pagans, are are the nones. As I’ve said before, I think their growth provides fertile ground for Pagan faiths, something Dreher also agrees with. Where he truly goes wrong in his analysis is in holding any one group up as representative of the movement as a whole. Paganism, polytheism, indigenous religions, syncretic diasporic faiths, Dharmic religions, these systems endured the rise of monotheism (and sometimes even thrived) because these faiths are, for the most part, decentralized, free of a binding “Pope” hierarchy, and able to change in ways Catholicism and other top-down systems can’t. Yes, monotheism can, for a time, be brutally effective in spreading and changing culture, but that success has to tie itself to the same colonial/militaristic power structure that early Christians condemned. When that power is slowly removed, a million green religious shoots appear in the paved-over theological parking lot.

Even if the Pagan umbrella crumbles some day and our faiths go our separate ways, it will not ultimately impede the growth of this religious phenomena. Some day we may be so popular that “umbrellas” may no longer be necessary, but the religious shift we are harbingers of will endure so long as we are not actively suppressed. Dreher sees the future as a battle between “something” (theism) and “nothing” (atheism)  and thus includes Pagans in team “theism”; but modern Pagans (and our allies) know that this is a false separation. There is no dualistic battle between “something” and “nothing” and our faiths aren’t playing that game. We don’t “fight” conceptions of the liminal that we don’t agree with, we either let them be (so long as they let us be) or find ways to simply include them. Modern Paganism, and similar religious movements are far more complex, and rich, than I think Dreher can imagine, and we are far more ready for the future than perhaps even we are ready to acknowledge.

As for Dreher, I’m sure he’d make a lovely neighbor, as Chas Clifton attests, and I hope he continues to travel the road he seems to have embarked on. Maybe he’ll find that all the demons he sees are placed there by a worldview invested in seeing our faiths as demonic, that the future to fear is not the growth of atheists, or Pagans, but what the dominant monotheisms might do to retain their power and influence.

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

 05. Ginger Strivelli, School Bibles, and Buncombe County Schools: The story began at the end of 2011 when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. So began a year of contentious school board meetings, death threats, and mainstream media coverage.

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture. - Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

Eventually Buncombe County Schools passed a new religion policy that stressed neutrality, and will allow distribution of religious materials, but only once a year, along with non-religious community groups, and after regular school hours. All of these changes came about because one Pagan mom decided to speak up, and her bravery inspired a community to hold true to the secular and pluralistic principles our country was founded on.

04. Pew Forum’s Landmark Prison Religion Survey (and How That Affects Pagans): In March of this year the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the findings of a 50-state survey of prison chaplains.  The survey, which was endorsed by the American Correctional Chaplains Association, interviewed 730 prison chaplains, and has a lot of interesting things to say about religion in the American prison system. At first glance, there are no major bombshell revelations to drive the news cycle, leading to initial headlines like “a lot of religion goes on behind bars.” However, if you start digging into the data, especially the section on what chaplains think about the inmate’s religious lives‘, there’s a lot there that should be of concern to modern Pagans, particularly Pagans engaged in prison outreach and chaplaincy work.

Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights in 2008, was deeply involved in this survey and helped shape some of the survey’s questions, and helped shift “the perspective of the main researcher’s goals in ways that I feel benefited our community and minority faiths in general.”

 

chaplains chp4 5

“The inclusion of Pagan & Earth Based religions as a category in the survey carries several huge benefits for us as a community. First, for many years, correctional systems, courts, and other governmental agencies have been able to deny us our rights, by simply making the argument that we either don’t really exist, or that if we do, we are so insignificant in numbers that there is no need to legislate or accommodate in our favor. Now with the survey, that argument is irrefutably null and void.”Patrick McCollum

The data given to us here by the Pew Forum is a boon. Even taking into account the Christian lens through which most of this data was obtained and filtered through, it gives us needed information is discussing and addressing the needs of Pagan prisoners. It underscores the challenges, and affirms what many already suspected: that the Pagan population in prison is growing, that the institutional chaplaincy is disproportionately Christian and conservative in makeup, that extremism (whatever its true extent) is an ongoing concern, and that we simply don’t have the volunteers or institutional muscle in place to properly address prisoner’s needs. Just as it is on the “outside” our growth continually outstrips the pace in which we can train clergy or build institutions and services. In short, we have a lot of work to do.

03. Chaplaincy for Pagans in Canadian Prisons: The controversial move this Fall by Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to retract a paid position for a Wiccan prison chaplain was merely a harbinger of much bigger things. In October the CBC reported that Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries. [...] Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.”

Toews’ office said in a statement to the CBC that “[Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.” This lead one Sikh chaplain to ask the obvious question: “How can a Christian chaplain provide spirituality to the Sikh faith, because they don’t have that expertise.”

So from this point forth, all non-Christian chaplaincy services to federal prisons must either be provided by volunteers, or the prisoners: Wiccan prisoners, Pagan prisoners, Buddhist prisoners, First Nations prisoners, must all turn to the full-time (Christian) chaplains for spiritual guidance and resources. I wasn’t overly surprised when Toews decided to engage in a little discriminatory Witch-kicking, our community has weathered those slings and arrows for years, but this is something far more audacious. Toews and his office are essentially doubling down, saying that a full-time Christian chaplaincy is enough to handle all faiths, no matter what their history or relationship with Christianity might be. It’s stunning. Whether he’ll be allowed to get away with it is, I suppose, up to the Harper administration and Canadian voters.

02. Census Data From Australia and the UK Show Paganism’s Growth:  In 2011 I reported on efforts in Australia and Britain to encourage more accurate census counts of Pagans by asking respondents to use a uniform Pagan-[tradition/faith] format. This year we got to see the fruits, if any, of these efforts. First, Australia’s numbers came in, with over 32,000 modern Pagans (up from around 29,000 in 2006), then, we got to see the number of England and Wales where over 80,000 individuals identified with some form of modern Paganism (depending on how forgiving you want to be with labels). In addition, the base number of people identifying as “Pagan” shot up to nearly 60,000. This is about double the numbers from the last British census.

sctrfigure1 tcm77 290493

“Compared with the 2001 Census the most significant trends were an increase in the population reporting no religion – from 14.8 per cent  of the population in 2001 to 25.1 per cent  in 2011, a drop in the population reporting to be Christian – from 71.7 per cent  in 2001 to 59.3 per cent  in 2011, and an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent  in 2001 to 4.8 per cent  in 2011.”

These figures point to some success for the Pagan Dash campaign, though they were not the far larger estimates many were hoping for. Still, this shows encouraging growth for modern Paganism, particularly in England and Wales. The growth of Pagan and minority faiths, along with the rapid increase of those who claim no particular religion point toward an imminent re-alignment of the status quo when it comes to matters of faith and belief in the Western world. The new census data will provide a lot of new information for Pagan activists, and for Pagan scholars, and may have repercussions we haven’t anticipated yet.

01. The Rise of Post-Christian Elections in the United States: After the 2012 elections here in the United States I posited that this was a post-Christian election, and that the results could be a glimpse into the future of America’s electorate. Now, as information from the election is further dissected and analyzed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something significant has indeed shifted in the religious outlook of our voting public. The Public Religion Research Institute calls it the “end of a white Christian strategy.”

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

“The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). [...] Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President. For all the analysis focused on race or gender during this election, it’s become clear that it is also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from November can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House. Washington state approved gay marriage by referendum, an initiative that I paid particular attention to because it would be decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority there. In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” 

I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

That wraps up our top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2012. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join us for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2013!

After the 2012 elections here in the United States I posited that this was a post-Christian election, and that the results could be a glimpse into the future of America’s electorate. Now, as information from the election is further dissected and analyzed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something significant has indeed shifted in the religious outlook of our voting public. The Public Religion Research Institute calls it the “end of a white Christian strategy.”

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

“The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). [...] Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

In short, it doesn’t really matter that Romney decisively won white evangelicals, as minority Christians and non-religious voters more than made up for that deficit. At Religion Dispatches, Katherine Stewart says that the religiously unaffiliated (ie “nones”) are the demographic that should really worry Republican strategists who’ve placed almost all of their eggs in the evangelical Christian basket.

“Like any group of this size, the religiously unaffiliated aren’t monolithic. About a third self-identify as atheists, while the rest say they are agnostic, “spiritual but not religious,” or simply uninterested in religion. They are spread fairly evenly across education and income levels. And they’re politically diverse when it comes to economic ideas. But they do seem to largely agree on one thing: that mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.”

“Mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.” It has always sounded good as a principle, but often ignored as evangelical Christians (and Catholics) were seen as vital to winning national elections, and so politicians from both sides of the aisle catered to them, willfully mixing religious rhetoric into their political stances. However, if you read the tea leaves in the run-up to this election, you could see some shifts starting to appear. Like the fact that both Obama and Romney spurned Rick Warren’s religion test/presidential forum, or that the Democratic party was willing to play offence on gay marriage and abortion, areas where they usually play defense.

“Never before have the culture wars been fought so forcefully on both sides. While the spectacle of Republicans declaring holy war has become old hat, this was the first election in which one of the parties explicitly endorsed same-sex marriage; this was the first election in which one party defended a woman’s right to reproductive freedom without apology or hesitation; and this season also saw the passage of a number of same-sex marriage ballot initiatives, as well as the election of the nation’s first openly lesbian senator.”

For years I’ve been yammering on about post-Christianity, slow demographic shifts, and the “nones,” thinking this tipping point was years away. Now, everyone seems to be talking about how “post-Christian” and “European” we suddenly are.

“There isn’t any question that American culture is in a transition from a dominantly Christian culture to a dominantly secular culture. We can no longer expect America society to uniformly embrace Christian values or morality. How the Christian community chooses to respond to this will be critical. Angry rhetoric, and bitterly contested lawsuits and elections create adversaries, but no one ever made an enemy by offering the hand of friendship, helping the down and out, mentoring kids, giving generously to others or helping people after a hurricane get their lives back together.”

That quote, from Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, isn’t unique. While the reliable fire-breathers are getting apocalyptic, some of the more thoughtful conservative Christians are starting to realize that non-Christians, and the non-religious, aren’t going away any time soon, and that younger voters are far more liberal on social issues than previous generations.  As R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said: “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out. It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed, an increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

So, the question now is what will future election battles look like? Obviously in heavily conservative Christian districts the old Christian culture-war stand-bys will hold true for a while longer, but what about the swing states? What about the national elections in 2016? Will religion cease to be an issue at all? Will campaigns actively court the non-religious, will they even court non-Christians? Will there be a true cease-fire on the old culture war lines of birth control, abortion, and gay rights? All of this remains to be seen, but for now, it seems we’re living in the post-Christian future faster than I had ever envisioned.

Last night, aside from a few hold-outs, a prevailing consensus formed about the election that won President Barack Obama a second term, and kept the Senate in Democratic control despite unfavorable odds: America’s demographics have shifted.

obama twitter1

President Barack Obama hugs wife Michelle on learning that he was re-elected for a second term in office.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s most famous personalities, said earlier this evening. “The demographics are changing: It’s not a traditional America anymore.” Minutes later, former Gov. Mike Huckabee would slam his own party for failing to reach out to non-white voters. “I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color,” Huckabee said during an appearance on Fox. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism.”

But the erosion of “traditional” America wasn’t simply about fewer white voters, it was also about women, and younger voters, who defied the ever-popular notion that they are politically apathetic. It was also about shifting religious demographics too.

“Romney has been winning in battleground states among white evangelicals, white Catholics, and weekly churchgoers. But it wasn’t enough to give him a victory. In Pennsylvania, for example, while Romney won white Catholics and white Protestants, Obama won among Catholics as a whole, the unaffiliated, and non-white voters. [...] A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s ‘support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.’”

Did you catch that? The religiously unaffiliated are about the same size as white evangelicals, the demographic that politicians from both parties have wooed for decades now. During the run-up to the election I noted that both parties need to do a better job in reaching out to the very real pluralism and diversity that is religion in the United States.

“The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President last night. For all the analysis focused on race or gender last night, it’s also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from last night you can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House.

TulsiMazie

Tulsi Gabbard & Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

“Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a practicing Hindu of the Vaishnava tradition, campaigned on her experience as a former Honolulu City Councilwoman and Iraq war veteran. Her landslide win was expected after she became the Democratic party’s candidate following a primary victory in the state’s second district in July. She replaces Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, who subsequently won Hawaii’s vacant Senate seat.  “Gabbard is an incredibly inspiring leader whose political rise is a testament to the greatest ideals of American pluralism,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder and Board member of HAF.”Hindu American Foundation (HAF)

Meanwhile, New York’s 6th Congressional District was handily won by Democrat Grace Meng, beating out Dan Halloran, a conservative Republican, Tea Party politician, and Heathen.  While Halloran, himself a non-Christian, didn’t have an issue reaching out to non-Christians per se, he had an uphill demographic climb in the Democratic-leaning district, one where Asian Americans are increasingly seen as vital if you want to win (a demographic that accounts for much of the growth in non-Christian faiths in America). Meng becomes the first Asian-American to be elected to Congress from New York. The Halloran-Meng face-off itself is something of a harbinger of the future, where racial and religious minorities are a given in both parties, with both vying for votes in an ever-diverse electorate.

Last night was also a historic night for same-sex marriage rights.  Maine and Maryland both legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, reversing an ongoing electoral trend that favored social conservatives. Now, this morning, it looks like Washington will join them, a race decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority in that state.

“When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.”

In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” If you also factor in the vote to legalize marijuana, and the general “blue” trends in that state, I think my analysis holds up.

The good news didn’t end there. Minnesota also rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, a ballot strategy that has always worked for anti-gay groups in the past. For the many Pagans who affirm and bless same-sex unions this is a big step torward ending the hegemony of Christian morality dominating the conversation on issues like this.

There are many other instances I can pull up here, Colorado going blue (and legalizing pot), the influx of women senators, the overreach of social (Christian) conservatives, but I’ll simply end with this point: I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

There’s a certain truism that’s been adopted by commentators and analyzers of religion in the United States (and more broadly in the West), that liberal Protestant Christianity is in a demographic death spiral, and thus liberal forms of Christianity itself are in danger of winking out of existence. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat, author of “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” made waves this past Summer by asking if liberal Christianity could be saved.

“…if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves. [...] Liberal commentators, meanwhile, consistently hail these forms of Christianity as a model for the future without reckoning with their decline.”

Andrew Sullivan recently declared that Christianity itself was in crisis, and several scholars and writers have read the demographic tea leaves to see what happens as the “nones” grow and the generational shifts start to change the makeup of religious bodies. So it is within this atmosphere that I read about how the decidedly post-Christian Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has actually experienced growth in congregants over the past ten years.

Unitarian Universalists at Pride in Washington DC

Unitarian Universalists at Pride in Washington DC

“De Lee is one of a growing number of Unitarian Universalists, a group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine. The denomination grew nationally by 15.8% from 2000 to 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Although they remain small in total numbers with about 211,000 adherents nationwide, Unitarians believe their open-minded faith has a bright future as an alternative to more exclusive brands of religion.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise since, according to UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, the UUA is perfectly situated to appeal to those apprehensive of traditional Christian religious organizations, especially those claiming “no religion.”

“The great irony here is that these “nones” are very much aligned with Unitarian Universalist values. They are accepting of ethnic and sexual diversity. They are open minded. They also seek spiritual community. They present a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for us.”

Also of note is that the UUA is experiencing a lot of their growth in the South, not just the traditionally “liberal” coasts and open-minded campus towns.

“The denomination, which started in New England, has been growing more in the South than in other parts of the country, said Rachel Walden, a public witness specialist from the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association. [...] In Tennessee, Unitarians grew by 20.8% from 2000 to 2010. During the same time frame, they grew by 22% in Georgia and by 42.5% in Colorado.”

Religion scholar Diana Butler Bass, author of “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening,” recently said in an interview that she feels that America is in the midst of a spiritual awakening, one that isn’t necessarily centered on Christianity or even monotheism.

“…when I talk about the fact that we’re in an awakening, I believe we are in a period of intense cultural reorientation or revitalization, and that during an awakening, politics, worldviews, religion, education—the whole way a society approaches being community, and connecting with one another, and understanding their God or their gods—it all changes.”

So what does this growth auger? What I think this means is that liberal, New Age, and Pagan faiths are perfectly positioned to benefit from the growing distrust and disillusionment of rigid one-true-way monotheistic forms of religion. They no longer care to wait while church organizations grudgingly admit the humanity of their gay friends, or litigate birth control yet again. Liberal Christianity is diminishing, yes, but what we’re seeing now is almost a slow-motion alchemy as these adherents search, seek, and often find a home with faiths outside the dominant Christian paradigm. So we see Buddhists grow, and Pagans grow, and yes, we see Unitarian Universalists grow.

The long-mocked theological flexibility of the UUA, which allows Pagans and Humanists alike in their pews to worship alongside the UU Christians  may turn out to be a secret strength that allows it to weather the post-Christian cultural transition that many Christian religious bodies seem unprepared for. Indeed, just a year ago journalists were questioning whether Unitarian Universalists would survive far past their 50th anniversary, with three years of “dips” in membership. Now the narrative has flipped, and suddenly we’re talking about their growth. While the UUA may never become a dominant demographical heavyweight as some denominations are today, their very nature may allow them to thrive and survive while other falter. They may even turn out to be a natural nexus point for liberal religon as it grapples with what the future holds.

Some people love watching the sport of tennis, but I am not one of them. This should in no way reflect on that no-doubt fine sport, the talented people who play it, and the fans of said talented athletes. I’m sure it’s a deficiency on my part, nobody’s perfect, right? Similarly, I just can’t get too worked up over the ongoing theist-atheist tennis match, the way some read so much meaning into every “point” scored by each side, how “heroes” and “villains” are created, how “experts” in the commentary box try to explain how one point was more devastating than another point, or how one player’s career is on the decline. Worst of all is when a prominent player on one “team” decides to switch teams, then things really start to heat up!

Such was the case when fellow Patheos blogger Leah Libresco, formerly on the atheist channel here, decided to convert to Catholicism. Faster than you could say “Bristol Palin” traffic to her blog went insane, and CNN dubbed her a “prominent atheist blogger,” much to the chagrin of  prominent atheist bloggers (it’s a Catch-22, if CNN is reporting on your conversion, you must be prominent, because CNN is reporting on your conversion). Now, everybody has an opinion about Ms. Libresco, with many giving interpretations as to this conversion’s importance, or lack of importance. One Catholic blogger even opined that “heaven is roaring with joy” over this conversion (which makes one wonder what sounds heaven makes when a Catholic becomes an atheist, but I digress).

"Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman poses with Leah Libresco.

"Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman poses with Leah Libresco.

For my part, I was just going to ignore the whole thing. As a Pagan I have no real emotional investment in atheists and Catholics debating over conversion, or the significance of Libresco’s turn towards Rome. It’s like, well, like watching tennis. I can intellectually understand why some people get worked up about it, but it isn’t my game. Indeed, Pagans, in general, don’t much care about conversions. Patheos columnist Carl McColman, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism,”still has plenty of Pagan friends, despite becoming a Catholic (the same is true of Pagans who’ve become atheists). We believe that a person’s relationship to the gods is their own affair, and it only becomes an issue for us when those converted decide to turn against us. To use their conversion as a means to sell books about our defaults, or to demonize us. Sadly that is an all-too-common phenomenon.

Carl McColman at the Hill of Tara.

Carl McColman at the Hill of Tara.

For many Pagans, when we hear that one of us has converted to Christianity, we wonder when the book is coming out. You think people love atheist-turned-believer stories? Well, there’s a certain segment of Christians that just can’t get enough ex-Pagan/ex-Witch narratives. Books with titles like “Taken From the Night,” or “Generation Hex,” or “Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers.” Some of these narratives have elements of truth in them, but most are exaggerated or fabricated to make for a more dramatic telling. The simple truth, you see, is far too mundane. The truth is that thousands of people, perhaps even millions, shift in and out of different religious identities every day. It’s as common as crabgrass, and it really means little to the larger trends that are driving religion.

Those trends show that the biggest growth isn’t in atheists, but in people who refuse to label their religious beliefs. The “nones,” who now comprise around 16% of the population in the United States, and a possibly influential majority in certain states. Atheists only account for around 1.6% of that 16.1%. Only slightly bigger than the modern Pagan movement here. Meanwhile, Christianity in the West is in crisis, especially in America, where it’s becoming increasingly politically polarized. In the anxiety that is created by this situation, the still-dominant but increasingly worried religious majority starts to look for signs of “winning” the ideological/theological struggle. It starts to worry that maybe their impressive numbers are inflated, that there are far more heretics in their ranks than they ever suspected. It starts to see a minor atheist blogger converting as quite a big deal.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

As to this current ruckus, let me quote Stephen F. Roberts who famously opined that “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do.” Early pagans called Christians atheists because they didn’t merely prefer their god over other gods (henotheism), they said those other gods were demonic figments of their god’s dualistic evil counterpart. Once they grasped real power, Christians went on a campaign of eliminating those other gods, actions that would make the most militant atheists of today blanch (censorship, destruction of religious property, social pressure, and when those didn’t work, killing). Those gods that couldn’t be completely destroyed were either (literally) demonized or sanctified. That some are now trying to finish off that “last” god no doubt creates a unique tension for monotheists.

Into that tension steps an atheist who converts, who says, let us add one god. Who swings the door in the other direction, towards theism. The problem with that is that it creates its own tension. Christianity is still very much in the game of eliminating all the other gods, of stressing that there is only one god. But once you say, there is at least one god, one power in this universe that is beyond humanity, you open the door to the questions that any reasonable person would then ask. Is there more than one power? What came before Christianity? Why God and not Goddess? Is the Christian conception of God the correct one? What if the moral universe Catholics like to claim was actually acquired from other religions? Why would an inquisitive person stop at mere Christianity? The answer is that reasonable people ask these questions all the time, and certain Christian institutions spend a lot of time and money to stop people from finding the answers.

I wish Leah Libresco well, and I wish her happiness. While I profoundly disagree with Catholicism, thinking it a flawed and troubled faith, I hold no ill will towards its adherents, so long as they are committed to coexisting in a pluralistic secular society with us Pagans. I hope that her faith can develop away from the tennis match that this has all become, complete with cheering sections on each side. If you ever decide that maybe your world needs more than one god, feel free to drop me a line.

Over the years I’ve written a lot about individuals who don’t claim adherence to any religion, dubbed “nones” by journalists and researchers. This group has exploded to around 16% of the population in the United States, and defies easy categorization. What we do know is that their growth is most explosive among younger people, and that “nones” aren’t anti-religioun per se, simply against what they feel institutionalized religion has become (ie polarized and fixated on culture war issues). Now, thanks to a ballot initiative in Washington state on gay marriage, it looks like we might see the first skirmish between socially conservative Christian voters, and this diverse grouping of the non-religious.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signing same-sex marriage law. Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

Gov. Chris Gregoire signing same-sex marriage law. Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, more than half of the state’s 6.8 million residents don’t belong to a religious group. Preserve Marriage Washington, the organization behind the gay marriage petition (Referendum 74), is a coalition of community and faith groups, including the Washington State Catholic Conference. “Almost 4.4 million people are unclaimed, so that’s the group, that if they vote, will decide this referendum,” said Patricia O’Connell Killen, editor of “Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone,” and academic vice president at Gonzaga University. “Any political issue, whether it passes or fails, depends by and large on how the vast majority of these unchurched are persuaded.”

In short, those who want to preserve the right for same-sex couples to marry in Washington need to reach out to Cascadian “nones” to win this ballot initiative. What are “nones” in the Pacific Northwest like? According to the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” they are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

Normally, whenever same-sex marriage has gone to the ballot boxes, it works against supporters of marriage equality. It is so successful that it has become something of a tactic to boost voter turnout among social conservatives during important election cycles (though that assertion is being questioned). This year, Washington joins Maryland, Maine and Minnesota in putting this issue up for a vote. However, we may see a reversal of fortunes in Washington where a majority of voters believe same-sex couples should be able to get married, and where gay marriage rights have bipartisan support. With a 4 percentage point margin, the outcome will almost certainly rest on turnout, and who will be able to motivate their supporters better.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Conservative Christians are rightfully praised for their ability in getting out the vote among their supporters. It is how the Religious Right, the Moral Majority, and other permutations of this bloc have been able to wield so much influence in the Republican party, and in politics in general. Washington in 2012 may see the beginning of a challenge to that legendary ground-game, but only if supporters of same-sex marriage know how to reach out to their “nones.” For once, Pagan organizations, New Age institutions, Unitarian-Universalist churches, alternative health outlets, and other touch-points for the non-religious demographic in Washington could be vital in mobilizing groups that are traditionally distrustful or apathetic about the political process. Because if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.