Recently, an old friend posted the American pledge of allegiance on Facebook, with the phrase “under God” in all caps. The ensuing discussion included someone who thought that the American founding fathers intended the country to be a Christian country. I felt compelled to jump in to point out that no, freedom of religion did not mean one religion ruling the country; it meant freedom of religion for all and no, the US is not intended to be a theocracy. The response? “History is awesome!….And the whole world should put Christ at the centre!” It was like she didn’t even read what I had written.
And I realized suddenly that I am now numbered among the “must be converted” for Christians of that ilk. I don’t know this person, but judging by her words, and my own familiarity with that subculture, she would believe that I am going to hell, and that it would be her job to dissuade me from my sinful beliefs and lifestyle. After all, I’m not only no longer a Christian, I’m also bisexual AND pagan.
The conversion factor is one of the things that always bothered me about Christianity. It was one thing when I was a kid, blithely and awkwardly trying to share Jesus with my cousin, whose family didn’t attend church. I think my aunt may fall into the spiritual not religious category, and my cousin periodically attends a community church with her kids these days, but mostly it’s not a big thing in their lives, which is fine with me now, but seemed like the end of the world to seven-year-old me who believed in hell. It was another thing entirely when people seemed to expect me to chat up strangers on a street corner and ask them if they died tonight, did they know where they would spend eternity?
I even wanted to be a missionary for a number of years (mostly for the linguistics factor available through Bible translation missions), but hated the thought of preaching at people and telling them that their culture was somehow wrong because my version of God said so. I figured I could sort of ease around that and encourage a free exchange of ideas while doing linguistics instead. Then I went to grad school at a university whose linguistics program was intertwined with Wycliffe Bible Translators, got to chat with actual Bible translators about what it was like, and realized that it really wasn’t for me. The linguistics stuff at the school was still awesome, though I found myself liking the professors who were in the process of leaving Wycliffe best.
Christianity, particularly evangelical Christianity, puts a strong emphasis on converting people to the religion. One of the the many things that attracts me to paganism is that conversion isn’t a factor. I’m sure there are people under the pagan umbrella who do try to proselytize, but it doesn’t seem to be common. What I’ve gathered so far is that it’s assumed that if you’re supposed to be pagan, you’ll find your way there. I plan to teach my daughter about what I believe, and she’ll learn about what her dad believes, and her extended family, and what other faiths believe, and she can choose for herself when she gets older, whether she wants to be religious or non-religious, pagan or Christian or other.
I’ve grown to be frustrated by the proselytizing in the Christian religions. It comes across as rude, inconsiderate. It’s based on the idea that “we’re the one true faith” and I keep wondering why so many Christians don’t seem to stop and wonder if they’re wrong. I had moments, but it took me years to get to the point where I was able to seriously question the essentials of what I believed and that too I find worrying…that it was so crucial to who and what I was that I couldn’t question it safely.
The other thing is that it makes me sad. The emphasis on “saving” people for the hereafter means that we lose focus on what’s important in the here and now. Another recent Facebook post from a very fervent Christian friend included the notation that we can “make health into a god” (which is considered bad, because it’s putting your health as a higher priority than what [the Abrahamic] God wants you to do…presumably he wants you to suffer for his glory, though how that reflects well on him, I don’t know). I didn’t respond to this one, since I didn’t want to open myself up to that discussion. This is a person whom I care deeply about, who was my mentor for a couple of years, and next time I see her, I will need to gloss over how I’m doing spiritually if I want to maintain the relationship (and yes, she will ask). I can’t tell her that when I walk past the altar in the living room, I feel happier and more at peace. I can’t tell her that delving into non-Christian folklore has become more spiritual than reading the Bible. I certainly can’t tell her that my Bible now lives in the closet, or that I feel tense and anxious in most Christian churches while I feel safe in occult shops.
Is it worth it, letting go of the faith that nurtured me as a child, in exchange for a path that I was told not to walk?
I look up at the moon, at the sun, at the trees, and breathe deeply. I think it is.