One thing that bothers me is the fact that Neo-Pagans, and those who call themselves Wiccan in particular, are virulently anti-Christian. Even the supposedly more moderate Neo-Pagan elders (who should know better) have made statements to the effect that Neo-Paganism is going to replace Christianity. (Not a very diplomatic expression. Not even an expression that shows any of Neo-Paganism’s supposed open-mindedness.) I must confess that such an event, if not coerced, would be fine by me. But frankly, despite the wishful thinking of many people who have probably themselves escaped or left the Christianity of their parents, I find no evidence that Christianity is going to be replaced by anything closely resembling Neo-Paganism. Christianity is not even disappearing, though its influence on several Western European nations has waned considerably in the last hundred years. Within American society, Christianity is stronger now than it has ever been since the founding of the nation.
The New Age movement exhibits a larger degree of influence on American society than any version of Neo-Paganism. But that’s only among those who are not strongly attached to Christianity. I hate to break it to some smug Neo-Pagans but Christianity is growing rapidly. It is the fastest growing religion in the world, despite the slow decline of some of the older denominations. Christianity is not going anywhere and we Neo-Pagans are simply going to have to learn to live with them. “What?” I can hear the gasps now. “LIVE with them?” Yes. Live with them. Unless Neo-Pagans are willing to form communities in which they are the majority faith tendency (unlikely even in the best of scenarios, but I’ll get to that later), we are just simply going to have to live with them and exhibit some of the (but rarely present with regards to Christians) tolerance and understanding that we claim to hold dear.
Despite the evidence that abounds all around Neo-Pagans, many still adhere to the invalid conceit that theirs is the tendency of the future… “the mammals who are going to replace the dinosaurs,” to use Isaac Bonewits’ expression. The growing popularity of Wicca (mostly Wicca-lite) notwithstanding, I don’t see any evidence that Neo-Paganism will ever become the majority religious tendency anywhere. I could be proven wrong in the future, but I really don’t care. I didn’t align myself with Neo-Paganism because I felt it to be the wave of the future, or because it was ‘alternative,’ or because I read some book on Witchcraft and thought “this is me.”
It took Christianity and Islam hundreds of years of fierce and violent evangelism and expansion to get to the positions of dominance that they now have over vast parts of the Earth. It could take Neo-Paganism at least a couple of generations to come to be even a socially recognized minority. And going around telling everyone, especially everyone who is Christian, that your religions are going to replace theirs is NOT the behavior of an open-minded people (even if by some fluke, it was true). Think about it.
I know this will piss off some of you fellow Neo-Pagans, but the fact is that without viable institutions and communities in the real world, Neo-Paganism could very well be just another fad. Have you ever thought about that? “Institutions?” I can hear you say. “But aren’t those what’s wrong with Christianity?” No. Flat out. No. Institutions are NOT the problem with any religion. Situations involving power and intolerance are what’s wrong with some religions. And Neo-Pagans can be just as power hungry and as intolerant as the people they like to accuse of the same.
You still disagree? You still believe that Neo-Paganism is going to replace Christianity, despite the evidence to the contrary and despite the fact that that belief smacks of all the hatred and intolerance of the Inquisition? Just look at the recent television coverage of Pope John Paul’s funeral and of the Roman Conclave to elect another Pope. What has Neo-Paganism in comparison? Every Halloween season, some of the local TV outlets grab a bunch of the local Wiccans to show that all witches aren’t evil and aren’t a bunch of old sea hags. That’s it. Catholicism is treated as the serious business it really is (having over a billion members and more wealth than Bill Gates) while Wicca (and by extension, Neo-Paganism overall) is treated as a quaint ‘alternative spirituality’ joke. In this climate, how can anyone of you stand there and tell me that Neo-Paganism of any flavor is going to be the religion of the future that replaces Christianity?
And don’t kid yourselves either. Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic version, has weathered hundreds of years of wars, social upheavals, revolutions, schisms, etc. Rome, as the center of the world’s largest religious institution, has seen all this shit come and go before. They have seen Pagan revivals. They have seen secularism come and go. They have withstood monarchies and democracies. And they have adapted to the so-called modern Age of Science. Until we Neo-Pagans have been around long enough to get the same sort of experience, how can we even be stupid enough to say our religions will replace anything? How? Because we are a conceited and vain lot. I know we don’t like to admit this, but in my experience of living with other Neo-Pagans, this is the truth. I have seen community potential absolutely wasted because of pathetic petty power struggles among people who claim to know better. I have seen little Witchcraft inquisitions break out. I have been witness to all sorts of the same behaviors we Neo-Pagans accuse the supposedly evil mono-theists of. I am sick of the bullshit. Frankly, cut the crap.
I practice Neo-Paganism and I don’t really care about what the Christian neighbors think unless they come over to ask me what the hell I am doing and why I am doing it. I also really don’t care about the whole “faddish get on the bandwagon” attitude I see exhibited by some of the rest of you. I didn’t become Neo-Pagan to get on some bandwagon of alternative spirituality, and to be honest if you are truly Pagan and not just shopping around for the most marketable faith, neither did the rest of you.
I have seen Christians come along to fire celebrations and rock it up with the best of us, all the while giving praise to their Lord Jesus, while we gave our praises to our gaggle of Gods and spirits and it was ALL GOOD. In situations like these there is a vision of hope for the future. It is called heresy, the Greek word for “choice.” If Neo-Paganism is to truly grow and become its ‘own thing’ it is time to stop trying to compete with or against Christianity. It is time we stop worrying about the other religions and their histories and to simply start doing ‘our own thing.’
It is time to stop being so bobdamned provincial-minded and exclusionary and learn to really respect other people’s religious choices. It is time for us Pagans to practice what we preach and stop being so hate-filled to the point where we could actually conceive of having glee at the illusion that someone else’s religion is disappearing. I can hear some of you Wicca-lite adherents start to sneer and say “But Christianity did all those horrible things to us.” Yep. Uh-uh. Sure they did. When? You ever hear what you sound like when you go on like that?
To start, let’s identify the real problem many of you have with your Christian sisters and brothers: Intolerance. And (cue the pithy truism music here) this is a problem with all of us. I am sure that their God and all of our Gods would agree on this.
-Irreverend Hugh, KSC
(April 18th, 2005)
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