Saturday, 20 August 2011

Labels, identities and causing offence

More than one twitter user appeared offended/confused about me when I 'follow friday'ed some Christians as well as some Pagans. Apparently real Pagans wouldn't follow Christians. This kind of anti-Christian nonsense really pisses me off, regardless of my faith or labels. Other people, from what I've observed, rush to prove their Pagan status under these kinds of doubts. I just stated that I'm not far enough along the path to be sure of labels. But even if I was, and even if I left the Church, I'd still follow the awesome, open-minded Christians whose feeds and blogs I enjoy so much. Like Soul Liberty Faith. You have to read the blog of this incredible woman whose unconditional friendship with local Pagans has lost her the support of her fellow Christians. This is someone who is embodying the open interfaith spirit that I long to see more of in our divided world. Why are Pagans so desperate to decry all Christians that they miss or ignore wonderful exceptions like this? Yes, there are some nasty, bigoted, cruel and exclusive Christians out there. Newsflash: there are a lot of Pagans out there who are very similar in their attitudes. I'm not accusing the tweeters who were confused about my religious identity of that. But I have already observed a lot of it, in my few short months in the Pagan community. And if I have to prove my religious purity to be part of a religion, whether it's Christianity or a Pagan path, then I don't want to be part of that religion. I've already had quite enough of the 'prove you're one of us' attitude from the more conservative Christians. I don't want to join a new faith and find I have to prove my 'Pagan-ness' there, too. I really don't care who's offended that I worship Jesus as well as Arianrhod. I haven't worked out my beliefs yet, and I don't honestly know how to square Christianity with my polytheistic beliefs. And they are polytheistic - I don't even have a Wiccan-style 'all gods are one god' belief to fall back on. The gods are many and that's why they're the gods, to me. I think the reason I (quite suddenly) believe this is that I met some deities who are in no way, shape or form anything like Jesus (or Yahweh, but I don't think I've ever met him). Deity is far too complex to be one, for me. There is probably one source of power or life that humans and gods alike emerge from. But increasingly, there's going to be absolutely no way that I can say the 'I believe in one god' line in the Christian creed.

Which brings me to the other problem of labels I've had this week. Someone very close to me, an atheist of all things, accused me of not knowing what I believe and lying to people by calling myself a Christian. She is so upset about it that, although I know these are her insecurities and not mine, it's made me go back to worrying about deceiving people in church about my beliefs. It is a core aspect of my values that honesty is one of the most important things in a community. It's one of the things I value most about myself - I am honest to the point of stupidity. For now, my conclusion is that I need to take some more time off church (at least in my official choirgirl role - I can visit sometimes) and use the time wisely to keep working on my beliefs. I'm studying and experiencing things all the time (more later on the land spirits/local deities here in Scotland). That's definitely helping me to sort out my own beliefs. Equally, though, my lifetime of experiences as an aspiring mystic and interfaith theologist is helping immensely. Paganism is the path I'm moving towards, but the Divine is far, far bigger than one path. I've always believed that God is bigger than Christianity. That belief continues to sustain me now. Whatever else changes in my life, the Divine is constant. My lifelong aim is to experience more of the Divine. That has not changed. Those of you who think Neo-Paganism has all the answers, remember how many hundreds of other spiritual paths also have a part of the truth, and some have done for thousands of years, from Zoroastrianism to Zen Buddhism. We will never understand everything about the Divine. Let's learn from those who mistakenly think that they do, and be humble.


  1. Very, very well put. I've been attacked on more than one occasion by pagans when I dared to stick up for Christianity-or God forbid- actually suggest that Christianity is as valid as any pagan path. I always see my spirituality as accepting whatever the divine means and 'says' to me personally, but we must never lose sight of the fact that religion is simply lots of different ways of looking at the same thing. Labels are a matter of convenience, not the be all and end all of the matter, as a linguist I recognise and frequently see when comparing languages that words are simply that-a word, a sound to describe a thing, action or concept. And sometimes we have to sacrifice precision for ease of language.

  2. The hidden eyes: Language is a really good analogy for this kind of thing. The French word for 'dog' is (phonetically etc) a long way from our word 'dog', because words are arbitrary symbols we attach to things. Sometimes, though, the concept being described is a lot less concrete than 'dog', and there might not be a corresponding word for that concept in a particular language. (My bilingual wife often gets stuck because "there's a word for this in Hebrew, but not in English.") Similarly, it might sometimes look like concepts from one religion or spiritual path are untranslatable into another. Cultural variation creeps into religion like it does into language - more so, because the Divine is so subjective, as we experience it. That doesn't mean the paths in question have nothing in common. They do - the search for the Divine.