Crone's Corner, Spring, 2000
Once upon a time, for a long time in fact, I was a Baptist. One day the minister of the church I attended, whom I had known in my youth of church camp and Bible school, used the pulpit to tell his congregation why it was that he was running for the school board. I walked out in the middle of his sermon. He called me later at home to ask if I was sick. I explained that I had left because he had offended me. Brother Charlie had been explaining that he needed to be on the school board to stop the schools from teaching evolution. I was even then a scientist and researcher. His attempts to explain how evolution was impossible and that teaching it was wrongheaded at best and sinful at worst, had been too much for me. The result of the hour-long phone conversation Charlie and I had was that he told me I couldn't believe in God and believe in evolution. I replied that he was incapable of telling me what I could and couldn't believe because that was between God and me, and Brother Charlie didn't enter into the picture at all. I ceased to be a Baptist that day.
For some reason many religious leaders develop the idea that they have the right to direct the social and political leanings of their congregations. It is one of the biggest problems I see with the pastor/congregation arrangement. For some even odder reason, Pagans occasionally develop the idea that they can speak for all Pagans. If I had a nickel for every time I heard or read, "Pagans are usually vegetarian" I'd be a rich woman. In fact, the majority of Pagans are not vegetarian. Shamanic animists (which includes Asian, African, Australian, and North and South American tribal religions) have been hunters and herders for many thousands of years. Their cultures are based on these pursuits, as are certain aspects of their religious tradition.
In the United States we've gotten the idea that Pagans are liberal vegetarians who support Gay rights and are pro-choice. But there are Pagans who are Democrats, Republicans, anarchists and socialists. There are traditions of Wicca that find same sex unions to be abominations and against the ways of the Gods (it is based on fertility rites, after all). I did not copy these statements into my personal Book of Shadows because I don't believe what others order me to any more now than I did when I was a Baptist. There are people of good conscience who believe abortion rights are a way of controlling women and forcing them, through social pressure, to rid themselves of children they truly want. There are others of equally good conscience who believe abortion rights free women from control.
According to Howard Kleinbell, author of Revision of Pastoral Care and Counseling, the purpose of religion is to fulfill the spiritual needs of all people. These include the need for a viable philosophy of life, commitment to a loving God or Gods Who energize life, hope in the midst of tragedy or loss, values that can guide a lifestyle, reconciliation of forgiveness, ways to undergird one's self esteem, experiencing the eternal in the midst of time and belonging to a caring community. Cults, on the other hand, are not supportive, viable religious groups. They often tell their followers who they can socialize with, exactly what they can believe, how they should vote, what causes it is acceptable for them to support. A religion guides. A cult dictates.
Everybody has causes and opinions. I have more than my share of both. One of my causes is to try to convince every religious teacher and leader to be aware that their cause is not necessarily an intrinsic element of their religion and that fellow worshippers may have ideas of their own.
I try to be careful to separate my religion from my politics, prejudices and passions when I'm teaching. I get more than my share of accusations of being the leader of a dangerous cult just for being a Witch. No point in giving my old friends, the Baptists, any more ammo.