Freedom of Religion

As a pagan, I often overhear pagan conversations where the chief topic of concern is the negative affect that evangelical Christianity has on the “free trade” of alternative religions – its nature to limit, deny, persecute and eradicate viewpoints other than its own.

I wonder, however, if the “power” of the rough 70% majority (in America, that’s about how many claim to be “Christians,” whether they act accordingly or not) is not greatly overestimated by my pagan colleagues.

Historically speaking, the number one enemy of Christians is usually other Christians (or in the case of the Crusades, which weren’t really about religion anyway, other monotheists). The Pilgrims and Puritans who sallied forth and assailed Plymouth Rock with their austere sense of righteousness were running from persecution in Europe and England, where they were being thumb-screwed, hung, burnt and otherwise imperiled by other Christians. The separation of the church and state was originally a way to prevent a Catholic state from persecuting Protestants, or visa versa. Those brave souls (and if they’re yours, they start as visionaries and end up martyrs; those on the other side generally begin as heretics and blasphemers and end as capital criminals) who question the status quo of the Christian power structure from within are usually the most likely victims of Christian persecution; there’s so much to harvest there (in terms of dissention, dissembling and disavowing) that I don’t think at least in recent centuries there’s been enough time for them to focus on or bother with non-believers. Sure, every now and again someone will get a Cotton Mathers bee up their bonnet and worry about the devil lurking in strangers. But typically (and ironically) it’s much more effective to clamp down on “your own.”

Of course, that depends on who you call “your own.” Particularly when you’ve got more churches than congregants (where I live, there may be 300 churches for 17,000 people – on any given Sunday, there are between five and forty cars in 300 different parking lots). To sing, not to sing; musical instruments vs. voices only; women clergy or no; laity preaching; dancing; drinking; wine vs. grape juice; transmigration real or symbolic; Latin vs. local; tithe vs. time; literal vs. figurative; dip vs. dunk; limbo, purgatory, bottomless pit, endless fire, consuming darkness. About the only thing they agree on is barbeque – and then the sauce is different depending on which side of town you’re on. Again, from local experience, there’s one denomination that has two separate facilities – one for “locals” and another for “foreigners” (i.e., those who were not born and bred in town).

How could this group of divisive, in-fighting, bickering, nit-picking and otherwise non-collective souls agree on anything – at least, once they pass out of the church’s threshold and return to their completely isolated and often hypocritical lives?

Pagans: who cares what they think anyway?

“If you want to sing out, sing out.” That’s what I say.

I know, I know. There’s that social pressure. Those potential cross-burnings. That shunning. The losing of the job, etc.

But why would you want to live in a town with that kind of thinking, anyway? Shouldn’t you be looking to live among your own kind, like the Christians do? Or do you have the same level of schism with your fellow “pagans”?

I say again – if you believe in what you are, what you do will follow. If that is worth doing, then it doesn’t matter who opposes it. Is living in any other way worth living?

Besides, I think it was Dan Rather who said in an interview perhaps 15 years ago that the most important question you will ever have to ask yourself is “what am I willing to die for?” Once you have that answer, the rest is pretty clear. If you’re up against anyone in those sacred areas who hasn’t asked themselves that question (and given themselves an honest answer), unless that’s what they’re fully committed to, you will emerge victorious.

Happy Independence Day.

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