Several days ago, I posted an article entitled, “Voices in the Static: When a Witch and a Christian Sit Down to Talk.” Much to my pleasant surprise, many of you responded positively to the exchange, and even took the time to ask some really thoughtful, engaging questions. Even more surprising, however, were the events of this morning. When Kendra dropped me a note to ask me how I thought the conversation was progressing in the comments beneath the original post, a new, and even more penetrating conversation emerged.
So, once again, I am inviting you to sit in on a dialog between Kendra and myself. But before I bring you into that exchange, I want to openly affirm my friend. As you will see, the issues we discussed this morning had the potential to be even more inflammatory than subjects we discussed in the first post. But true to form, she never once blinked; and instead, committed herself to an honest and open exploration of the similarities and differences in how we see the world. And thus, regardless of whether you agree with her worldview or disagree with it, one cannot help but feel a sense of admiration for her integrity and personal strength of character. Won’t you please join me in once again welcoming my friend, Kendra Williams.
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Hey Scott, so have you been pleased with the responses so far?
I have. How about you?
Yes. I think it’s been a good thing. It’s refreshing that we can have this dialogue and not have it turn into the flame wars that can often happen online.
Indeed. There was only one comment that saddened me. When Bob asked a question based on Lewis, I thought the one response was a bit combative. But again, the overall tone has been fantastic.
What, my response? He kept pressing the issue.
No. Not your response. I don’t have it open in front of me. I can’t remember her name.
Ah, Jen’s? Well, in her mind, it was dismissive. I felt like he kept pushing “but what do you believe about Jesus” at us.
I think what he was trying to ask is this. How do people admire Jesus if they don’t follow him? He said, on many occasions, that he was the Son of God. He’s either lying. He’s a nut. Or he’s telling the truth. Those are the logical options. Again, I’m not trying to debate you here. I’m just telling you what he was trying to ask.
Now see, that’s a fair question.
And maybe we chalk this up to the less than perfect form of communication that occurs when people aren’t sitting face to face. But while we’re talking, I did have a question for you that I wanted to ask. You game for a question?
What do you do with spells?
See, there’s some interesting territory. I don’t often do them. But when I do, it is my way of putting my energy into focus for something in particular. It’s a way of asking the Goddess and God to help me be on the right path and to make it happen. I don’t ask Them to do anything for me. I ask for an opportunity or the strength to get something done.
So is it a combination of spell and prayer.
For me, yes. But remember, not all Witches are spiritual.
And you said that in the first interview.
I don’t have to do a spell to pray.
So for the non-spiritual pagans, are spells accessing some layer of reality that science is not currently in touch with?
Yeah. That would be a good way to put it – more like doing work with energy.
So would a non-spiritual pagan eventually expect for modern science to reveal these layers?
Well, here’s the tricky language issue. There is no such thing as a non-spiritual pagan, and forgive me for just realizing it now. Those that don’t believe in God/Goddess but still do spells/witchcraft just call themselves Witches or practitioners of magic. And perhaps science will reveal those things. We already work with stuff we can’t see: string theory, chaos theory, quantum physics …
So let me take a stab at this. You believe in a pantheon of gods and goddesses. But you seem to keep referring to a Goddess and a God. To me, that suggests that you visualize TWO supreme beings amongst a host of beings.
Well here’s the thing, I think there are different aspects of each. I honestly don’t know if they are all individuals….completely separate, or just facets on a diamond.
Interesting analogy. Let me go further. For what I have been unhelpfully calling the “non-spiritual” pagans, what you called the “practitioners of magic,” is it an issue of panentheism? Are these people that believe that there is a divine presence in all things?
No there are some “practitioners” that are down right atheistic, some are agnostic…
Then how would you call them “spiritual” in any real sense of the word?
I wouldn’t call those that don’t believe in the divine spiritual, just witches or practitioners. It was something I was thinking about this morning as we started talking, so forgive me for not making that clarification earlier.
No worries. It’s tough having a meaningful dialog across the borders. We don’t all use the same terminology.
Agreed. And there are things I understand to be basic fact that I don’t even really think about that I am having to explain.
All right. Let me try again. Let’s say, broadly speaking, that there are two categories of pagans. There is the first category that might broadly be defined as spiritual. These are folks that worship different facets of the diamond. The second category is the non-spiritual practitioners that simply practice magic. We good so far?
Yes, that would make sense.
Cool. Now, let’s talk about the two groups. Under the broad heading of religion, we have a movement called panentheism, which believes that there is something divine in everything around us. So just as you are divine, so is the rock outside your window, so is the man across the street. And for panentheists, the goal – for lack of a better term – seems to be an attempt to unite the divine in all of us. Would that be an accurate understanding of paganism?
Umm…very close. I would say “yes” to the first part. We see the world and all beings as something that have that energy of the divine in them. However, we don’t have a mission or purpose. There is no evangelical aspect to Paganism.
Hah. I can totally see how you read that from my question. Didn’t mean to suggest that at all.
Okay. But coming together in circle (which is the area we form for ritual) is a joy in bringing those who share your ideas and faith and putting all that energy together to celebrate the turning of the seasons or the full moon. That sort of thing.
And that’s what I was trying to ask in my very poor words. In a sense, you are aligning the divinity within you along with the divinity within others. Fair?
Do you view the divinity that is in everything as being a personal being or essence? In other words, is it separate from you? I’m not asking that question well.
No I get it. That’s a good question. The best answer I can give you, is a prayer that I taught my stepdaughter, Kaitlyn. We would say it together each night before bed, and I got it from Diane Sylvan.
“Blessed Mother, Blessed Father, I open my heart to your love and your wisdom. Help me to know you, hear your voice, feel your hands. Help me to see you in all that’s around me. Help me to see you in myself. Blessed be.”
So you are using personal pronouns: you, your, me, myself. To me, that seems to suggest that there is a personal being on the other side of that prayer.
Well, from a Christian point of view, are we not created in God’s own image? How can we not imagine Him/Her/Them as people?
It’s interesting that you just made that connection because that is exactly what I was thinking. Hear me out. Christians believe that God and humanity are distinct from one another. One is the Creator. The other is the created. And the created will never be … “one” with the Creator. There is a sense in which we are “in Christ,” but there is still a sharp distinction. At the same time, Christians believe that when we respond in Faith to the call of Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells within us. So we might say that while God is separate and apart from us, He is also within us.
Well see, there’s that Trinity thing. So if He is within you, how can “Mom” and “Dad” not be within me? Sorry, that’s what I call them sometimes. 🙂
I got it. All right, again, hear me out for just a moment. I think many people have a picture of pagans and witches standing in secretive circles in the dark of night, whispering all sorts of incantations, while dancing around naked. Know what I mean? And to me, as I listen to you and I try to wrestle down these ideas, there seems to be more commonalities than I think many people would expect. That’s not to say we agree on everything. But there are commonalities …
Well, some pagans do that kind of stuff. Just as some things that Pentecostals do are creepy. Snake charming, speaking in tongues … Stereotypes are there for a reason. Some “pagans” are just the emo/goth wannabes that just want to do spells because it’s “cool,” or because they watched one too many episodes of Charmed on the WB.
Hey, for the record: I think snake-handling Pentecostals are weird. And I got no problem standing by that statement.
I mean, you had talked about it in your other post on that new show “Good Christian Bitches.” There is some truth to those kinds of personalities. They do exist. I’m not saying all Christians are like that (see perfect example of who I’m talking to for that reference).
You are too kind. I spend many days wishing I wasn’t such a hypocrite.
Oh we all are to some degree, at some point.
Can I circle back to the non-spiritual pagans for a minute?
I think I’m starting to get a handle on the spiritual side of your fellow Pagans, but I’m still struggling to understand the atheist Pagans. What are they trying to do through magic? Is it merely a secret knowledge that accesses some level of reality that science has not yet uncovered?
I’ve never thought of it that way before. I don’t think it’s a secret knowledge. It’s not like you have to know a special handshake to learn it. The books are out there. I think that there are things we know happen that we can’t define or explain just yet. For example, my one friend had moved into an apartment, and when she did, she did her usual protection spell. She was guarding the windows and doors and all entryways against anything she didn’t want in her house. A few months later, the whole building was infested with bedbugs except her apartment.
But she is not a “theistic” pagan? No belief in the divine?
Nope. For her, that was just energy work, kind of like a force field.
Interesting. So I’m starting to think we have a follow up interview. What do you think? Want to put this one up on the site?
Cool. If we’re going to do that, than I have to ask the question that seemed to generate the most discussion in the comment section. In the original interview, you said that you believed that Jesus was a “holy man.” And in the comments, my brother attempted to ask you a question based upon something C.S. Lewis once said. For many of us who believe in Christ, we struggle to understand how people can admire Him if they don’t believe that He was the Son of God. Because there appear to be three viable options. He was either lying when he said these things. Or, He was crazy. Or, he was telling the truth about who He was. Can you help me understand?
Or what was written down wasn’t exactly how it happened.
Ah. So for you, the issue is a question of revelation. Whether or not the Bible is accurate in what it captures?
Most of the gospels were written what, 40 years after his death?
Within 40 years or so, yes. So are you saying that you think the Gospels accurately captured his political/philosophical views, but attributed other statements to him that you don’t believe he said?
Can you exactly remember what happened 20 years ago? Some moments, yes. But not everything to the T.
I’m actually surprised by your answer. I would have expected that reasoning from an atheist, but not you. I think I expected you to say something to the extent that He was the Son of Yahweh, but that this was not the only way to commune with the pantheon of goddesses and gods.
If Jesus had written down the Gospels himself, that would be one thing. But, they were not written by him. They were written by those that followed him. And people are flawed, and some just hear what they want to hear. Here’s how I would put it. In the Gospels that were written down, He said He was the Son of God. I think that his message of love and understanding was one I can respect. Whether or not he literally was the Son of Yahweh is not for me to decide. If nothing else I think he had the Spirit of the Divine moving in him. I think Buddha and Mohammed were holy too, in their own beliefs.
I think what many Christians would struggle with is the apparent disconnect between character and moral teaching. For many of us, the two or intertwined. You can’t separate the moral teaching from the claims about being the Son of God. Can you see what I’m saying? Let me put it this way. Newt Gingrich may say many great things about the sanctity of marriage, but his personal character betrays his own message.
So do you see what I’m saying? I wouldn’t think that you could divorce the moral teachings of Christ from his statements about who He believed Himself to be?
Let me finish my thought. Jesus could be the Son of Yahweh. But I think that path calls to those to whom it makes sense. Each of us clings to our faith to help us understand and feel better and reassure us. For me, the trials and tribulations of the Christian faith throughout the centuries have left a sour taste in my mouth regarding a powerful religion. Not to mention the lack of feminine (although some do see the “Holy Spirit” as the feminine aspect of the Trinity).
And I think that is both a fair and unfair assessment at the same time. Things like the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials … all are a blemish on the history of my Faith. But there has been much good done as well. Most hospitals, work with the poor, etc… has come from the church. And you don’t have to agree with me on that. But that’s how I see it when people bring issues like that up.
There are those that do give and do good works, but to say things like God was punishing us with 9/11 for our morals in this country. That kind of stuff just makes it look… bad. Ya know?
Ahhh … Mr. Falwell. How many of us wish he would sometimes pause to think before he spoke.
All right, you ready for what will probably be the toughest discussion we could have?
Historically speaking, the Christian church has taught that those that are outside of the Faith – those that do not believe in the exclusive Lordship of Jesus the Christ – they will face an eternity of torment.
That’s a few billion people. Hell is gonna be crowded.
How do you feel about that as you and I engage in this conversation?
Sorry, I was being sarcastic.
No worries. But I am serious about my question. You and I are friends. How does that make you feel when you hear Christians talk about Hell?
I think that it was honestly a fear tactic. I think it was something used (and still is, to an extent) to control people – to get them to do what the Church wanted them to do.
So do you think that I am … misguided in my belief. And it’s okay to say “yes” because I’m honestly asking.
If you think that I, or anyone else who is not Christian is going to hell, yes. If you believe in Christ and Yahweh because that is what calls to your soul…than that is a good thing for you, and I am very happy for you. If you think that all the poor beings that were wiped out during the Tsunami a few years ago are all in eternal torment … I would say that is misguided.
Personally, I can’t answer to what the victims of the Tsunami believed. So I have no answer to that question. Moreover, Scripture teaches that nature itself bears witness to God, and there seems to be a sense in which those that have never heard that Gospel will be held accountable to what they know, not what they haven’t heard.
True. but considering what part of the world it took place in, one would assume that most of them were Buddhist or something of the sort.
And I would agree with you on that statement. It is a fair assumption to make.
So … is ignorance bliss?
If they have never heard, potentially. But again, the Bible would teach that they are responsible to what they do know just from nature. Can I ask what you believe happens next? Is there an afterlife?
Hmm … good question. I believe the soul can go on after the body dies. As to whether it comes back again, I tend to think we do.
Understanding that you do not speak for all pagans, would you say that this is a common belief?
Yes, I would.
All right. So let’s fire up an example here. Let’s take you as being someone who is on the “moral” end of the spectrum. And let’s take Hitler as someone who is commonly believed to be on the “immoral” end of the spectrum. Is there a difference in how you will reincarnate?
Uh, oh. The Nazi reference! The conversation is over!!!
I know! I couldn’t come up with another example. 🙂
John Wayne Gasey would be one.
Excellent choice. Gasey it is. Is there a difference in how you and Gasey would reincarnate?
Is there a difference? I don’t know. I would like to believe so. Perhaps some souls are just so “evil” that they go poof, and they’re gone. I don’t know. And that’s honestly my answer.
And that’s fair. I can respect a genuine “I don’t know.” Here’s why I’m asking. The Christian belief in eternal judgment is not a belief in hatred. It’s a belief in justice. People make moral choices. And no matter how “pure” our motives, we are all hypocrites. We all do things that are horribly out of line with true, absolute justice. So the Christian conception of Hell is someone being held accountable for their decision not to lead a moral, just life. And that’s where salvation by faith comes in. The Christian isn’t deserving of heaven. Far from it. The Christian is simply someone who recognizes his or her own hypocrisy and moral failures. He or she has simply been given the opportunity to receive grace.
That’s a heavy load though, don’t you think?
It is heavy. No doubt about it.
What’s more, few Christians that I see in the public life talk about their own hypocrisy and moral failures.
And that’s also fair … [Long pause where neither of us spoke.] … I’m feeling stuck at the moment, so let me turn this around. Are there any questions you’d like to ask a Christian?
Well actually there is one, and perhaps you can think on it for a while and then answer. If one of the core missions or purposes for evangelicals is to spread the word of God and convert people, can you ever have a conversation with someone and not have that be at the core of it?
That is an excellent question; and I will think on it. And maybe later, we can pick it up. Can I ask you a question? One that you would think on?
Take the two of us. We’ve been friends for 20 years. But we hold wildly different beliefs about the nature of the world around us. Each of our worldviews excludes the other to a certain degree. I believe there is one God who is exclusive. You believe that there are many-in-one. Given the radically different beliefs, how do you think we can be friends in a way that does not wound one another? Does that make sense?
How could you be friends with a Jew or a Buddhist, or a Muslim? How can a Republican and a Democrat be friends? There will come times when we will have to agree to disagree and I can do that, but with your evangelical base…I don’t know if you can. Does that make sense?
[Long pause] … Thinking …
I can respect that you have a different interpretation of God and Divine than I do and that it is true and right for you – that it is your path. It fills your soul.
Okay. Let’s pick this up some other time. In the meantime, I will think about the questions you have asked. But before I go, I want to say this one more time. I so completely and utterly respect your willingness to engage in this conversation.
And I respect yours. I know it is a difficult line to walk… engaging in this kind of conversation without the intent or purpose of conversion.
The simple fact that you don’t kick and scream when I ask questions that raise real differences between our worldviews testifies to the strength of your character.
Well, thank you, friend. And likewise to you for not just getting frustrated with my answers.
All right. I’m going to transcribe this and put it up.
In the meantime, know that you are appreciated.
As are you.
Have a great day.