Happy Beltane, Everyone.
Beltane, occurring at the mid-point between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice is always a wonderful Pagan holiday, filled with joy and exuberance, both for children—with games such as circling the Maypole—and for adults who will be playing, uh, more adult games to bring the summer in.
Beltane is one of the Pagan holidays not fully absorbed as part of Christianity. As most of my readers know, holidays on the Christian calendar are almost exclusively taken from earlier Pagan holidays. The goal was to get Pagans to worship the Christian God. “Oh, you’re not really worshiping the Goddess Eostre with her symbols of the hare and egg. You’re actually worshipping our God on Easter…”
Conversion is the goal. It would seem that for our Christian friends, their being “saved” isn’t enough, they also have to “save” everyone else. Even today, as in the past, the alternative to conversion, in some areas such as Africa, or just the belief that you’re a Pagan, can result in your being killed.
In the U.S., although there is still a great deal of anti-Pagan prejudice, the major focus is on conversion rather than murder. To help (?) in this a recent post called (really!) “Tips for conversations with Pagans” has appeared. It has been raising interest in other blogs (such as Here and Here—warning: the second one contains adult language). As Patti Wigington points out, the article is “condescending as hell.” I would respectfully suggest that it’s more than that.
Underlying the original article is a simple pair of concepts. These concepts are never actually written, but they are behind it all:
- Their version of Christianity is good. All other religions and beliefs are inferior, bad, or even evil.
- The purpose of talking to people of other religions and beliefs is not to share or understand, it is to convert.
I Attend A “Dialog”
I first ran into these attitudes when I was about twelve years old. I was chosen by my synagogue to be among the young Jewish students to visit a church for a “Jewish-Christian Dialog.” The purpose, supposedly, was “to promote mutual understanding.”
I went there, excited, to share my religion and learn more about Christianity directly from Christians. That was my goal. The other Jewish students I talked with had similar goals. To this day I believe that communication results in understanding and understanding results in tolerance.
So we naively went to the Church, willing to share our beliefs and learn. The purpose of those Christians, however, was not to share and learn. They had been indoctrinated in the concept that their faith was the best for everyone. It was clear that they looked down on us and their main purpose was not communication, it was conversion.
I have the honor of knowing lots of Christians who do not operate under the two presuppositions described above. Unfortunately, the author of the original post, Matt Stone, isn’t one of them.
My Analysis of Matt Stone’s Ideas
I’d like to look at some of his points and show you what I mean.
1) He advises Christian evangelists to focus on establishing a relationship with a Pagan. Why? Not to have a real relationship, but because it’s easier to convert a friend than it is to convert someone you’ve just met.
2) He advises Christians to listen to what the Pagan is saying and observe their nonverbal communication. Why? This is an old sales technique. Listen to an objection, overcome the suggestion, make the sale. This is Christianity presented by a used car salesman to make the sale (i.e., convert people).
3) Clarify issues. To be generous and not call Mr. Stone an outright liar, I’ll just say that this point is not true at all. He doesn’t want Christians to clarify issues, he wants Christians to obfuscate them! He literally tells his readers to agree with superficial points such as “I love experiencing divinity in nature” and then control the conversation to “deeper” and “more substantial issues.” The unstated implication here is that experiencing divinity in nature is not something deep, spiritual, and meaningful. To Christians with Mr. Stone’s predetermined point of view, since Paganism is inferior to Christianity, experiencing divinity in nature isn’t considered substantial or even important.
4) Focus on Jesus. Stone advises Christians not to talk about abortion or other issues, just talk about Jesus. In other words, avoid anything that might upset someone about what Christians (who believe as Stone) actually believe and do. This also falsely assumes that all Pagans believe the same way on a variety of issues. I know Pagans who have views on virtually every side of every issue. Hypocritically, it also urges Christians to do just the opposite Stone’s point 3!
5) Share your own story. This is a common technique used by many Christians. It’s called “testifying.” The idea is that by sharing a personal story—what worked for me—I’ll be explaining what will work for everyone else. It’s a false logic. In science, it’s called “anecdotal evidence.” It proves nothing. But it’s supposed to convince the inferior Pagan, from the Stone-type of Christian’s point of view, to convert.
6) Don’t demonize Pagans. Stone writes, “check between real things and imagined things before you launch into critiques.” On the surface, that sounds really nice and certainly far better than when considered agains some Christian’s extremist views that invent false beliefs about Paganism. But when examined more thoroughly, it’s just a repetition of Stone’s attacks on Pagans. Stone, and those who follow his ideas, view themselves as superior and are merely trying to save Pagans from their evil ways. No, don’t demonize Pagans. Just find out the “real things” by which to “launch into critiques.” This assumes that Pagans could not have superior beliefs and ideas or even equal beliefs and ideas.
7) Don’t dump on women, gays, or the environment. This is basically a repetition of his point 4. Once again, however, is the question of why a Christian like Stone trying to converse with Pagans shouldn’t do this. It’s so they can convert Pagans. It’s not because attacking women, gays and the environment is wrong. It’s hypocritically hiding your real beliefs in order to obtain a conversion. This is like a used car salesman focusing on a vehicle’s new paint job while ignoring that the engine is about to fall apart.
I think it’s fair to admit that Stone does get one thing right here. Stone writes, “when you consider them [Pagans] unbalanced, who created the imbalance that necessitated this counterbalance [from Christians]? Yes, us! So maybe we can learn a thing or two from them here.” However, he doesn’t acknowledge that concepts a Pagan might share could possibly have the result of causing a Christian to question his or her own beliefs or possibly even abandoning Christianity to become a Pagan. This is because to him, his version of Christianity is superior. Of course, the facts show that tens of thousands of people raised in Christian homes have chosen to abandon Christianity for Paganism.
Stone goes on to show he is clueless as to what a Book of Shadows is but acknowledges that individual Pagans have different beliefs.
I think Hecate, author of the second and more adult blog post I linked to above has it right. She blogs,
I can’t get over the notion that, in a different context, this same post could be called “How to Talk to Black People” or “How to Get a Women’s Libber to Date You.” So we get gems such as:
Pagans are people, just like us, and they
appreciate a personable approach.
Thanks. No, really, thanks. Nice of you to let me into the Human Club. Bite me. And, it’s “just as we are,” not “just like us.”
Okay, her last comment is accurate but snarky.
A True Alternative
So rather than just attack the negative and condescending approach of Mr. Stone, I thought I’d conclude by giving some practical advice on how a Christian can really communicate well with Pagans.
- Accept the fact that people are individuals. Talk with us as individuals, not as a group.
- Listen to what the person you’re talking with has to say and respond to that specific issue.
- Understand that communication is about sharing ideas, not controlling the conversation.
- Be open and honest.
- If your goal is to convert rather than communicate, don’t even start.
- If a Pagan comes to you looking to convert, do what you will.
- Understand that according to surveys, Pagans tend to be highly educated—they’re probably at least as smart and knowledgable as you. Speak with us, not down at us.
- Accept that our interests may not be the same as yours. Sure, share your interests, but don’t ignore or disparage ours.
- Pagans tend to know their own traditions as well as those of others, including those who believe in the Bible. If you try spouting second-hand sources filled with myths, misrepresentations, and lies, you’ll be ignored faster than a scared cheetah!
Because I have had the opportunity to travel the country meeting thousands of Pagans, I can honestly say that very few proselytize. In fact, the most common thing I’ve heard from Pagans is that when they heard about Paganism it’s “what I always believed” or “like coming home.” Just because your goal is to evangelize and convert, don’t assume that Pagans feel the same way. Our excitement at sharing what we believe is a representation of our joy and spiritual peace. We don’t expect you to convert. Please treat us with the same consideration.