This past April I wrote a piece criticizing the religious portal site Beliefnet for a news item that conflated the recent Cornwall controversy over teaching Paganism in religious education classes with the troubling trend of witch-hunts and witch-killings in places like Africa and the Middle East. The article, written by Beliefnet Senior Editor Rob Kerby, not only drew criticism from me, but from Beliefnet’s only Pagan blogger, Gus diZerega, and several Pagans who commented on the original article at Beliefnet. It also inspired a response from Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead. “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.
[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.
For several years I’ve been asking the question of what do we do when the men and women accused of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” are no longer “over there” in Africa or the Middle East, and are instead at our doorsteps. “If this trend isn’t seriously addressed soon, we may find this madness turning its eye towards “safe” occultists and Pagans in places like America, the UK, Australia, Brazil, and Canada.” Now, with the UK still reeling over the murder of Kristy Bamu, who died while being tortured under the auspices of an “exorcism” at his sister’s home, and British police being trained to spot cases of sorcery among immigrant communities, some Christian writers have seized on a largely constructed controversy over religious education in Cornwall to cynically launch attacks on modern Paganism. First out of the gate was Catholic Telegraph columnist Christina Odone, whose anti-Pagan screed I recently highlighted on this blog. “God, Gaia, whatever: school children are already as familiar with the solstice as with the sacraments.
A good news blogger will often try to spot trends and underlying issues in the stories of the day, using the strengths of the format to make links, provide more depth, and uncover nuances overlooked in the big headlines. However, sometimes a writer will commit the car-crash equivalent of same, using keywords and lazy cut-pasting to score pageviews for his or her employer. I believe the second scenario happened on Monday when Beliefnet Senior Editor Rob Kerby carelessly conflated the recent Cornwall controversy over teaching Paganism in religious education classes with the troubling trend of witch-hunts and witch-killings in places like Africa and the Middle East. “A fear of witchcraft? In our enlightened age?