Archives For Speaking of Faith

Top Story: As post-earthquake Haiti continues to make the news, mainstream media continues to explore the unique and complex religious atmosphere of the small Caribbean nation. Specifically, the relationship of Haitian Vodou with Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity, and the growing chorus of voices that have risen up to defend this oft-misunderstood faith. At the religion-focused interview program “Speaking of Faith”, Krista Tippett re-visits her previously run program on Vodou, adding new content from interviewee Patrick Bellegarde-Smith in the wake of the earthquake.

“After the earthquake, we had a moving and illuminating exchange with Patrick Bellegarde-Smith and learned that he lost nine members of his extended family in it. We’ve updated our current program with excerpts from this correspondence.”

SOF’s programs are rich explorations of the chosen topic, and have covered minority faiths like Vodou and modern Paganism fairly and fully. I highly recommend downloading/listening to the re-aired “Living Vodou” episode. Sadly, not all ongoing discussions about Vodou are fair or open-minded. Rod “Crunchy Con” Dreher tries to spark a discussion of “comparative theology and culture” with the not-at-all leading or offensive title of: “If Haitian vodou isn’t demon worship, what is?”

“But as a Christian, I don’t believe this is merely a psychological phenomenon. I believe that the vodou entities are real — and malevolent. Despite the syncretism with Roman Catholicism vodou tries to accomplish, there is nothing authentically Christian about it, and I too would think that this religion draws spiritual darkness around its followers and their communities. That does not mean that it causes earthquakes, for goodness sake! But I think it’s a mistake to see vodou as benign or positive. Serious question: if what you see on that photo slideshow isn’t demon worship — demons defined as malign spiritual entities — from a Christian (or Muslim, or Jewish) point of view, what is?

But don’t misunderstand him! He just wants to explore “the limits of religious tolerance”, but beware, if you are “always” against passing value judgments on faiths you don’t understand, you might be an enabler of Mormon polygamy. He’s so charming, isn’t he? But wait there’s more! He also issues a dire spiritual warning to a Christian family that is raising their adopted Haitian orphans within the Vodou religion.

“I believe these well-intentioned people are playing with fire. Real spiritual fire.”

Yes, according to Dreher, caring Christian parents should obliterate any sign of non-Christian culture from traumatized Haitian orphans. Luckily the Fitzgibbons’ don’t share his rather narrow view of things.

“[Vodou] is interwoven into every bit of a Haitian person’s life,” said Paula Fitzgibbons, a former Lutheran pastor. “I’m at least presenting them with some part of their spiritual heritage. I can offer them enough that they will be familiar with Vodou when they get to the point of making their own choices about spirituality and religion.”

I’d make a guess as to who was actually more Christ-like, but being a unrepentant Pagan, I’ll refrain. You can read more about the Fitzgibbons family at their blog, “Raising Little Spirits”.

In Other News:

Patrick McCollum v. California: Americans United, who wrote an amicus brief on behalf of Wiccan chaplain Patrick McCollum, weighs in on the controversial WallBuilders brief that alleges the Religion Clauses should only apply to monotheists.

“Based on phony history, Wallbuilders’ court filing asks the 9th Circuit not to consider Americans United’s viewpoint. It states we don’t cite “true history” but a “revisionist history” since we claim the Founders wanted to extend religious liberty for all. Needless to say, the brief is offensive, disrespectful and essentially advocates that the government should feel free to discriminate against all non-Judeo-Christian religions. But what else can we expect from Wallbuilders? The organization’s founder and president, David Barton, is a well-known Religious Right propagandist who for years has pushed a fundamentalist “Christian nation” view of American history. He claims to be a historian, but he isn’t one. He earned a bachelor’s degree in “Christian Education” from Oral Roberts University and then taught math and science at a fundamentalist Christian school founded by his father. Wallbuilders’ brief, like Barton, is a serious joke. And we hope that the 9th Circuit pays it no mind.”

This story continues to seep into the mainstream press. There is still no response from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation concerning recent developments. For all of my past coverage of this ongoing case, click here.

Religious Discrimination or Misuse of Storage Facilities? The Times-Georgian reports that the Carroll County Board of Commissioners has rejected a conditional-use permit for the owners of a Pagan retreat that would have allowed them to keep using storage buildings as temporary residences.

“Robert Crowe asked the board to approve a conditional-use permit for use of his 33-acre tract as a Dragon Hill Retreat STAR (Sacred Tribe of the Ancient Roots) Grove, allowing it to be used in activities of the Church of the Spiral Tree, an “ecumenical pagan church.” The request itself was made by James and Rita Middleton, both members of the Church of the Spiral Tree. As part of the activities of the church on the property, the permit would allow storage buildings that have been used as temporary residences on the property to remain as such. Crowe said he is Native American and he practices certain pagan rituals that by definition are rooted in an “earth and nature-based religion.” Crowe said the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Board recommended denial of the request on Jan. 26 simply because the proposed church would promote activities and beliefs to which the members of the board were opposed.”

While Crow alleges that “personal prejudices” led to the zoning board recommending against the permit, Commissioner George Chambers says that his vote against the permit appeal had nothing to do with religion.

“I don’t take issue with what anyone else’s beliefs are. The issue is a conditional-use permit on the houses,” Chambers said. “It wasn’t an issue of whether or not I agreed with their beliefs or what they do on the land as part of their church. My issue is not with that because the current zoning allows for that. My issue was with the houses.”

So, religious discrimination, or simply a zoning issue? Why were storage facilities being used as temporary housing? The retreat’s web site says that there are cabins and kitchens, so what’s going on? Is this selective enforcement because they are Pagans? Or was this appeal more a CYA maneuver?

The Pagan Circle at the Air Force Academy: While the newly installed stone circle for Pagan cadets at the Air Force Academy has garnered some anonymous “criticism” recently, it has also faced some vocal lashings from Christians who seemingly don’t believe in the equal treatment of religions within government institutions.

“What we label today as ‘pluralism,’ God called ‘idolatry,’” said Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, in a commentary in The Washington Post. “The first commandment from God was, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’ “To openly violate this most basic law is to invite God’s judgment upon our nation.”

Meanwhile, Bill Donahue, the self-proclaimed advocate for all things Catholic, says that Christians are the real victims in the military (all that pluralism is “chilling” to Christian expression, don’t ya know), and Fox News finds two conservative think-tanks to explain how this incident isn’t really  a big deal.

“It’d be one thing if there was a harmful act, but to have competing symbols, I’m not sure I would put that in the category of destructive behavior,” London continued. “What is being expressed here is the view of the Judeo-Christian as opposed to the pagan tradition.”

You see, it was just a friendly discussion! An exchange of symbols. I’m sure they would agree that a Pagan idol placed within a Christian facility would be equally harmless, just another round in the showcase of competing expressions. You can read all of my stories concerning the Air Force Academy, here.

Skip Having Breakfast With The Family: In a final update, I just wanted to note that while President Obama did indeed attend the Family/Fellowship-sponsored National Prayer Breakfast despite calls for him to boycott, both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the opportunity to indirectly criticize “The Family” and their support of Uganda’s noxious “kill the gays” bill.

“We may disagree about the best way to reform our health care system, but surely we can agree that no one ought to go broke when they get sick in the richest nation on Earth. We can take different approaches to ending inequality, but surely we can agree on the need to lift our children out of ignorance; to lift our neighbors from poverty. We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”

It must have made for some uncomfortable moments over pancakes. To find out more about “The Family”, and why they are so dangerous, you can read my interview with journalist Jeff Sharlet, here.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 18, 2008 — 3 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

West African Vodun is taking an important step towards modernization as Togo passes new laws (with the blessing of the Vodun divinities) that forbids pressing young girls into the service of the priesthood after their initiation as adepts.

“After a three-year campaign, rights groups claimed victory over a way of life that they said cut the girls off from their own families, sometimes involved ritual scarring — and occasionally led to sexual abuse. But it took some intense lobbying of political and religious authorities in this small west African state — and, it would seem, the voodoo divinities — to get there … Voodoo priests say that several hundred young girls are baptised every year as voodoo adepts, or voodoosi, after lengthy initiation rites of between three months and two years. Under the old system, instead of rejoining their families after these ceremonies, they had to stay at voodoo convents to serve the gods.”

Under the new laws, it is a five-year prison sentence for anyone to take a child away from their family environment. This is a major shift in attitudes in one of the few countries where Vodun is still a major social and political power (60% of Togolese people are adherents of Vodun).

Speaking of Vodun, Speaking of Faith’s blog takes you behind the scenes of their recent episode on Vodou.

“About two years ago, Patrick Bellegarde-Smith wrote us a brief e-mail asking if we had produced shows on “African and African-derived traditional religions” and recommended several volumes that he’d edited on Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santeria, Brazilian Candomble, and Umbanda. Our former associate producer Jessica Nordell called him asking for suggestions for people that he thought could speak about Vodou intimately. He was forthcoming and recommended many voices, including Claudine Michel. But we quickly realized that he was that voice — a Haitian aristocrat who was not only a scholar of the tradition but a practitioner who discovered Vodou in his early adulthood. We found his personal story about rediscovering his heritage and the spirit of the people of his country utterly captivating.”

Check out SOF’s archive of programs for a wealth of programming of interest to our faith communities.

In a town like Salem, even the cops are psychic!

“A retired Salem cop who swapped his badge for a crystal ball is still sleuthing – with backup from his friends from beyond the grave. Professional psychic medium Chuck Bergman, 57, spent 32 years pounding the beat in the Witch City, but says that since retiring five years ago he is finding old habits die hard. Initially skeptical of his “gift,” Bergman says he is now channeling the spirits to help police and desperate families find missing loved ones from coast to coast.”

Forget “Medium”, I want to see a police procedural set in Salem with a psychic cop! Maybe CSI: Salem? Forensics and Witchcraft, I’d watch it.

The Modesto Bee interviews a group of atheists about their struggles for tolerance and respect, including a self-described Pagan atheist.

“Shawna Amaral, a 22-year-old Modesto caregiver, said her parents and grandparents were Christians who never went to church or read the Bible when she was growing up. “They were too busy,” she said. “Since nobody was there to teach me basic religion, I just came to believe that I can’t believe in a god or a higher power or anything. “When I was 16 or 17, I discovered paganism, an earth-based religion. You don’t have to believe in in a god or goddess, so I still consider myself an atheist in that way.” Amaral said she lived in Alabama for a couple of years. When she told people she was an atheist, ‘they’d call me a devil worshipper and said I’d go to hell. I’d laugh at them and ask how I could go to hell if I didn’t believe in it to begin with.’”

I wonder if she has read Frederick Lamond’s “Religion without Beliefs”?

While an American Indian spiritual leader hasn’t been invited to the opening interfaith service at the Democratic National Convention, a gathering of Ute tribal leaders will be on hand for a “grand welcoming” ceremony.

“Colorado’s first residents will offer the first official welcome to the Democratic National Convention in Denver Aug. 23, when Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Northern Ute tribal leaders and other Indian notables in full regalia will lead the pageantry of a grand entry before officials address some 13,000 media representatives. “It’s the right thing to do, since they were the first people in the state of Colorado,” said Holly Arnold Kinney, co-chair of the entertainment committee for the media event at Elitch Gardens near the Pepsi Center. The Ute Mountain and Southern Ute tribes are the only sovereign nations currently in Colorado, once considered home by the Northern Utes and many other tribes.”

Interesting that Native Americans performing dances and songs tied to their indigenous faith traditions will be handled by the entertainment committee, while representatives from “mainstream” religions are organized by the head of the Democratic Party’s Faith in Action initiative.

In a final note, the News Virginian reminds us that homeschooling comes in more flavors than right-wing Christian.

“For some reason, it’s gotten into the mindset of the public that homeschoolers are right-wing Christians,” said Ann Cameron Siegal, a homeschool mother and a volunteer for The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. “Obviously, there are people under that label, but there are also Jewish homeschoolers, Muslim homeschoolers and pagan homeschoolers; it ranges from far left to far right. If there is any unifying thing, it is the idea of freedom – freedom to pursue education, much like people did in the Colonial period, to the depth and breadth of what you want to do.”

My wife’s youngest daughter was homeschooled, and is entering college this year as a sophomore. I’m proud to say I had a hand in her homeschooling, and there was nothing particularly Christian about it.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

Their are three recent podcasts involving Pagan themes that I felt needed special attention. The first is from the Pagan talk program Deo’s Shadow*. In their latest podcast (posted July 16th) Deo along with co-host Mandy and special guest Kare (a Pagan parent and youth worker) discuss the issue of children and adult behavior at Pagan festivals.

[click here to download an Mp3 of the show]

Considering the recent conflicts over child endangerment (and accusations of pedophilia) within the Pagan community, I think this calm and adult conversation about behavior, who is responsible, and where we should set limits is refreshing. A must listen. Be sure to check out the spirited discussion of the latest episode on Deo’s web site.

Another show worth downloading and listening to is a recent episode of the wonderful religion radio program Speaking of Faith. In the June 28th show, host Krista Tippett interviews two experts on Haitian Vodou for a program entitled “Living Vodou”.

“The word “Vodou” evokes images of sorcery and sticking pins into dolls. In fact, it’s a living tradition wherever Haitians are found based on ancestral religions in Africa. We walk through this mysterious tradition – one with dramatic rituals of trances and dreaming and of belief in spirits, who speak through human beings, with both good and evil potential.”

You can download an Mp3 of the show, here. Be sure to also surf over to the page for the episode to download uncut interviews with the guests. Speaking of Faith is a very high-quality show and their episode on Paganism was very good, so this very much worth checking out.

Finally, Al from In Pursuit of Mysteries has posted the first of a three-part interview with Pagan author and teacher Thorn Coyle on his Ex Templo podcast.

“The fifth Ex Templo Podcast is now available. This is the first of the three parts of the interview with T. Thorn Coyle in San Francisco, California. In this podcast, Thorn’s spiritual background, her views on witchcraft and the Feri tradition and its practices.”

You can download an Mp3 of the show, here. Thorn is one of freshest thinkers within religious Witchcraft, and any chance to listen to what she has to say shouldn’t be passed up.

* You can also listen to Deo’s Shadow on the Pagan Radio Network, the best Pagan-themed streaming Internet radio station. PRN is also the home of my podcast A Darker Shade of Pagan.