Monday, October 26, 2009

A Compelling Letter from a Pagan

The following email was sent to me by a Canadian guy named Mark who lives in London. Mark is a Pagan, and migrated to that faith after growing up with friends from a evangelical Christian background. I asked Mark if I could post this letter on my blog and share with my friends. He was happy to have it posted, but wanted to make sure that we understood that he did not have an anti-Christian bias.

In his words, he said " I think that Christianity is a beautiful religion for those who choose to follow it, and I would like to see the real followers of Christianity growth and prosper. Unfortunately, Christianity is starting (particularly in the USA) to be seen more and more like Islam; a religion that represents those people who want to retain an "ideal society" that doesn't really seem likely to ever exist again."

I believe that it is important for us to hear the voice of the objective outside observer of our faith who is responding to the the societal interactions we have with with our culture.

This letter will be significantly different from Carmen's silly, exaggerated, and religiously militaristic Witch's Invitation.

Please note: You may not agree with everything Mark says. But does that really matter? He does have something to say to you, that we do need to learn. May you hear his words of gentle, and peaceful concern for our "beautiful religion" as he calls it.

Mark - thanks for your kind, and gracious words. I am deeply appreciative for them and hope to meet you face to face in London someday soon.

Post begins here ----

Dear Pastor Phil,

Hello my name is Mark and I live in London, England. I recently read about your church in Salem, and the hassle that you've had from church groups and your own church peers, because of your contact with neo-Paganism, and I felt I had to write and say what a courageous thing it is that you're doing.

I've recently converted to Paganism (which is actually a lot less "looked down upon" in the UK since the modern neo-Pagan and witch movement basically started here) after a long, LONG search for meaning in my spiritual views.

When I grew up in small town Canada, most of my friends were born again Christians. They were all from different denominations and each one found the other denominations to be "weird" in one way or another, and certainly they didn't practice "pure Christianity" in the way that their denomination taught it. They all spent time trying to get me to join one of their prayer groups and convert, and when I didn't I found out they were holding "secret" prayer meetings together to discuss how to get me to "find Jesus," and these just ended up making me feel alienated from my friends (if all of your friends when you were 15 were holding secret strategy meetings about how to deal with you, how would you have felt?)

I hold nothing against Christianity however I didn't feel that a lot of the teachings of modern Christian churches represented my world view well. When I was 13 my best friend came out of the closet which was fine by me but, not so with my Christian friends; my girlfriend when I was 14 was a witch; many of the Christian parents of my friends were Conservatives (the Canadian equivalent of Republicans), and I didn't believe religion and politics made good friends and Conservative beliefs towards the poor didn't seem very Christian.

Anyway, after a long and eventful story I found myself living in the UK and studying comparative religion (whilst not a Christian, I have always had a desire to learn about the weird and mystical thing that people see as "belief"). It was here that I also developed a 6 year struggle with alcohol that nearly cost me everything that I had built up over the years: my home, job, reputation, friends, etc.

When I got sober, I found myself feeling more and more alone in the world (alcoholics have a tendency to surround themselves with other alcoholics so that no one will challenge their drinking habits and these people tend not to want to be friends with you once you sober up). So I committed myself to seeking out the things that I loved in life before I started drinking. That led me to a focus on nature and the splendor of the natural world. This focus led rather naturally (no pun intended) to Paganism when I discovered that it probably most closely represented my own views of the world.

Personally I shy away from saying that I'm a Witch because it is a term that implies certain beliefs in goddess/god polytheism that I am not certain that I believe in, favouring instead to worship nature in its natural glory and seeing myself as a part of a divine macrocosm of life on this planet/in this universe, but I've met many, many witches and druids, Kaballists and wizards, cunning men and women, and most, if not all, of them have been wonderfully understanding and accepting of other people and their beliefs. I think that more Christians ought to take a leaf out of your book and mine, and practice a bit more of this understanding towards pagans of all denominations (and of all other religions for that matter).

The single most off-putting thing about Christianity for me was the lack of acceptance of others (or the "acceptance with intent to convert" that makes them seem as though they aren't really your friends at all; friends shouldn't have agendas towards you). When I saw your blog and read a bit about your beliefs I felt that I should send you this e-mail and say thank you for your attempts to see that anyone's beliefs can be a beautiful and peaceful thing. I think that if there were more pastors in the world like you, the world might be a happier place. Heck, if the Christian churches that I had grown up around had been more understanding and accepting of my gay/witch friends or my early atheism when I was younger, I may have even been convinced to convert.

Please, please keep up your good work and keep being friends with the neo-pagan community. Maybe if we can start with simple friendship, we might be able to convince the world that the old Christian teaching and Wiccan Rede philosophy to "harm none" is really the best way for the world to be.

Your friend,



cern said...

Well I agree with Mark. But then, as a Pagan who has experienced your ministry and your friendship, that shouldn't come as a surprise. :)

I'm thinking that perhaps I should get in touch with Mark as we're living in the same city and he may be interested in some of the events and activities I'm involved in. :)



IZenBet said...

it's been an evolution over the past 5 years of my spirit to come to the level of love and acceptance i'm at currently regarding differing belief systems. at age 7 i was totally over zealous for the cause of Christ. learning of the beauty of equal exchange and mutual respect yet knowing where i personally stand has been not only growth but opened the doors for friendship to some truly beautiful people.

be blessed.


Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

I will see if Mark wants to connect. I left his personal info off the post purposely.

Peace and Miss You Bro,

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Transformed towards love! What a novel thought! Thanks for sharing your good words.


cern said...

Miss you too bro. We'll do something about that when finances permit. :)

BB and hugs


a Christ follower said...

Hard and good to hear.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

Thanks for the comments on my letter. I'd also like to thank Phil for his kind posting of my humble opinions; I don't claim to be an expert on religion, only an expert on my own story which is really all I wanted to comment on. What Phil is doing by opening up a dialogue with people of a faith that has received a lot of, I think, unfair criticism from the Christian church (all because of one little passage in the Bible that has been mistranslated from the original Hebrew in "Suffer not the witch to live". The word "Witch" didn't even exist until the middle ages!!!) seems a real shame to me.

I read somewhere that the world is about 70/30 split between people who have a religious view and atheists, and of that 70% only about half are Christian (the rest being predominantly Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, etc). That makes people of any view into a minority which means it is unlikely that there will ever be a single religion the world over (this also makes the Taliban and their followers seem even more deluded!) and so we should all learn to find common ground and practice a little respect and love for each other. I believe it was the apostles John and Paul who said, "All you need is love!"

Thanks again for reading my silly little letter of thanks, and once again I'd like to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation to Phil and Christians everywhere who are like him, for trying to extend that olive branch of understanding.

Happy Halloween everyone and Mike, if you'd like to get in touch, Phil has my person e-mail address.


Anonymous said...

Whoops, I meant to say that what Phil is doing is a truly brave thing and that the shame is that he is taking flak for it. I always get lost when I go off on a tangent like that...


Brad Evans said...

Paganism? Bunch of ex-methodists chanting "Blessed Be" to the goddess of cellulite.
Religion in general is so pointless. Spirituality is about as interesting as last week's oatmeal.
Salem has made a fortune out of hanging those women for no reason. Can you imagine a "Slave Land" in, say, Brazil or the US south to attract tourists? Sick.
This is all there is. I don't care if you want to bring back Jesus, Mohammad, or some idealized pre-monotheist past when we all supposedly lived in harmony with the Great Goddess and her many lice, bacteria, viruses and worms and 90% of us died before reaching 50 years old.
Neo-Paganism is like Unitarianism with Dungeons and Dragons attached.

cern said...

Thanks for that astoundingly informed post Brad. :) Of course, you're entitled to hold your perspective, the same as the rest of us.

Just as a reference point, I've been a Pagan for 23 years. Before that I didn't hold any religious perspective.... brought up in a broadly humanist household, holding an agnostic perspective but still in awe of the natural world. I wouldn't describe myself as a Goddess worshiper either. My perspective is more panentheist with animism as the lens for understanding what I perceive. But hey, to someone who believes there is nothing spiritual, all that sounds a little crazy too I should imagine.

What an interesting species we humans are. Such diversity! How boring our world would be if we all held the same beliefs, all behaved and thought in exactly the same way. One of the really interesting things about the Pagan community is that it is extremely diverse and embraces that diversity. There are even those who describe themselves as atheist Pagans. One of the interesting things about the Gathering and this blog is that it recognises human diversity without condemning it. Unusual for vocal Christianity. So it would seem an odd choice for what would appear to be a rather dismissive post from you. But that's diversity at work. :)

I'd offer you my blessings as I usually do. But I suspect they would be meaningless to you, so I shall just say I hope you enjoy a state of well being. :)


Brad Evans said...

Sir, I have heard the Mainline Protestants preach about diversity and celebrating it for years; I've also seen pictures of their churches and gatherings and they have all the diversity of Vermont. Sour cream is less blindingly white.
If you think that the wind speaks to you and that the chipmunks are your cousins, fine. No skin off my nose. Pagans haven't killed anybody (at least not in the West)for over 1650 years, so there's that to be glad about. But I do look at blogs like this and hear the same politics, the same Stuff White People Like and think...

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Brad,

It seems that religion/spirituality is interesting enough for you to spend the time both reading and responding to blogs. If it is so pointless, wouldn't that make your comments and interaction with it pointless as well?

While I certainly appreciate debate, I don't have the same respect for the "it's stupid and therefore useless" argument. intelligent debate about real issues might better serve whatever position you are attempting to present. Unless of course "spirituality is stupid and therefore useless" is your only point. That point might not be worth talking about unless you can present it in a civil and logical manner.

Have you ever been to Salem by the way?

Brad Evans said...

Yes, twice. I got a tour of the new witch memorial and walked around town the first time for most of an afternoon.