In the first two posts of this “series” – I took a look into how I try to answer the questions posed to me: “Why Paganism?” and “Why Druidry?” In a manner of speaking, those particular questions were fairly easy to answer. Both questions allowed me to focus on what and who I am – and the reasons why I am on those particular Paths in my life. This last question is a little more difficult, because it is the exact opposite. I must take my focus away from something positive and step over towards answering a question in the negative. And to make it even more difficult, I will have to try and do this, without sounding like I am bashing on a belief system that many people I know find uplifting and positive influences in their own lives. If you feel that this post comes across as bashing on your beliefs or being overly critical or overtly negative on your beliefs – please, that is not my intention. I am merely trying to be open about how I answer this question that I get from my non-Pagan friends quite a bit:
Why not Christianity?
In some ways, its an unfair question. Sort of like asking someone that you just met if they have stopped physically abusing their significant other. And just like the other two questions, the best place to start an attempt at answering this question is from the beginning. Except, this time I have to go much further back. Into the late 1970s, in Montgomery, Alabama – my seventh, and eighth grade years.
My parents had started me at a public junior high school for the seventh grade. However, being a small, and uber-skinny kid, I was an easy target for bullies, and according to what they have told me – I did not thrive very well in large population classrooms. I vaguely recall Cloverdale Junior High School. About the only memories I really have are the line of school buses I had to walk in the mornings and afternoons – and my favorite class: Reading. There were these speed-reading machines – designed to help you read faster and retain the information that you see. You would read a short paragraph at a set speed, and then take a short multiple-choice quiz over the material. When you managed to score 100% on the quiz you could move up in speed, and in difficulty reading. I considered it a game, and did my best to not only excel in comparison to that of my classmates, but I wanted my times to be so great that no one could surpass me. And seriously, that is all I remember of that one year in public junior high school. Perhaps I blocked out the memories of being bullied by other kids…but whatever the case, my memories are not that vivid beyond that reading class and the school bus line.
My parents, wanting a good education for their oldest child, quickly moved me into Catholic school. As I have said before, my parents were not all that religious, but they were impressed with the education system that the school had – along with the small class populations. Trust me, as a college professor, it is far easier to deal with a class of twenty students than it is to deal with a class of sixty. Our Lady Queen of Mercy was the school I was enrolled into. Like any Catholic educational system, there was a class on the Catholic beliefs that each grade had to take. I read the materials, I did the homework. Much of the ritual aspect was really strange to me, but I managed to understand the basic precepts of what the Catholic faith was about. Jesus Christ died on the Roman crucifix and was resurrected to atone for the sins of humankind. Non-Christians were to be treated with the same kindness that any other human being should be – and the Christian should help them to understand the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Which was odd for me, since I did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Smeg folks, I was what…ten? Eleven? Being the naive kid that I was – I figured it didn’t matter what I believed. Everyone at the school would accept me for who I was. Was I ever wrong.
One afternoon, on the way to the Catholic class, I mentioned to one of the other students that the class was “interesting” – particularly since I didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. Shocked gasps rose up from the back of the line (my last name starts with a “V” – I am therefore always near the end of whatever line has been created), which soon brought the Nun instructor to discover the issue. My message was relayed by another of the students, and I soon found myself being towed to the Principal’s office by my left ear. I was deposited into a chair at the foot of the Father’s desk, my statement relayed from the Nun to the Father (and I was told to keep quiet when I tried to interject). A few very nasty glares were sent my way, and both walked out of the office. I found out a bit later that a phone call had been made to my parents summoning them to the school. While I waited for them to arrive, the Father kept asking me whether I was demon-possessed (how the Nine Hells should I know?), then read the resurrection passages out of all four gospels. When my parents arrived, I was threatened with being kicked out of the school. All over my statement of non-belief.
To say that this confused the Nine Hells out of me was an understatement. I had been reading that the non-Christian was to be met with respect, treated with dignity, shown what the kindness of Jesus Christ’s mercy can do for the status of your own daily life. And here was the head of a church, treating me like I had farted in his new car. Needless to say, my parents were contrite to the Father over the issue – and furious with me. Which confused me further, since they had never shown any measure of piety prior to this. From here, I moved on to Montgomery Catholic High School, where the Catholic classes continued, but I had learned to keep my mouth shut at this point. And then my father decided to retire from the United States Air Force, and move the family to Shreveport, Louisiana – for my last two years of High School.
Once again, my parents deposited me into a Catholic School – Loyola College Preparatory School for Boys. That’s right. The two major Catholic High Schools were separated by the sexes. I found myself having to wear a school uniform. Once a month, the entire school participated in a Catholic Mass. At one point, my teacher remarked that I was the only individual in my class that understood when to sit, stand, kneel, and how to properly genuflect. When she further remarked that I probably did not know how to receive communion, I promptly stood, and showed the two proper methods for doing so.
Why don’t you receive Communion, Tommy?
Because Miss Tabereaux, I’m not Catholic.
You can imagine how popular all that made me with my classmates. But the Catholic class my Junior year was different than anything I had experienced before. The teacher, Mr. Lerchie, set the class up as a Comparative Religion class. One quarter of the class, we studied the entire Passion Play aspect through the lens of the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. He posed questions to the class about whether the resurrection was a host – and utilized the lyrics of Judas Iscariot in the rock opera as an example of how it could be. For the first time, I had an authority figure provide me with permission (of sorts) to turn my beliefs over and over – and examine them in the light.
It was here that I first started to answer the question of “why not Christianity?” – it certainly wasn’t going to be Catholicism for me. I had seen too many instances of Catholic adherents treating one another with kindness, and looking down their noses with contempt at non-Christians – “the unbelievers” was the descriptive of derision that was to be worn like a Scarlet Letter by the non-adherent. But thanks to Mr. Lerchie’s Comparative Religion class, I was aware that there were many other forms of Christianity to try.
I peeked at many different forms of Christianity, before settling on the Southern Baptist side of things. In Shreveport, there are literally several dozen Southern Baptist churches in the city. I soon found out where some friends were attending, and joined them in services. It took about two months before I started realizing I did not fit in here either. There was one guy in the entire church with shoulder-length hair. With my thigh-length hair, it did not take long before the whispers fell around behind us – we were pot-smokers. And nothing could be further from the truth. The hardest drug we touched was a six-pack of beer on Friday nights. Before and after church, we could be found over on the fire escape, playing chess or writing poetry. We were about as Bohemian Hippie as one could get – except that we listened to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Stryper, and Messiah Prophet Band. We were metal-heads. It didn’t take long before people started forbidding their children from hanging out with us. And it wasn’t long until the hushed whispers turned into statements made out loud – just loud enough for us to hear. It didn’t take me long before I realized that this wasn’t where I needed to be.
Over the next five years, I would study about Christianity on my own. I found the entire religious concept to be a beautiful concept. Unconditional Love for all, including non-believers. A belief in a world full of peace and happiness. But that was the “pretty” side of Christianity. I soon found other passages aimed towards the dominance of everything on Earth – where the entire environment was essentially created to serve Man. While I longed for the unconditionally love and peace – as promised through the shiny side, subjugating and dominance over anything only leads to one result – a struggle by the oppressed for equality. Furthermore, I couldn’t jibe all of this with my ideals that Mankind was a part of his/her, an equal partner and part – not a ruler.
And then there was the lip service that was done in the name of Unconditional Love. I saw then – and continue to see now – if an individual expresses any aspect of non-conformity such as, un-natural colors in their hair; piercings through their lips, nose, eyebrows or other personal parts; dressing in a non-conservative manner; or having something other than a typical sexual preference — the amount of anger, hatred, and dismissive attitude presented to those individuals turns my damn stomach. And I do realize that there are those Christians who will point out that people doing such actions as these in the name of Christianity are not following the teachings of Jesus Christ. I still have a problem that this is done – and is not repudiated publicly by other Christians.
Why not Christianity? Because the Natural World is treated as a resource to be used, not as the living, individual entities that comprise it. Because I see a system of Belief that provides lip service about kindness to others, and than perpetuates the opposite towards those that do not conform to their rigid standards of dress, behavior, and preference. To be more blunt – I am a Pagan. I am both a Polytheist and an Animist. I believe in the Gods. I converse with the Gods from time to time. I converse and exist with the Spirits of the Lands. I believe that human beings are a part of their overall EcoSystem and need to learn to coexist in balance with the other inhabitants of that EcoSystem. I believe that people should be allowed to love and live with whom they wish to – regardless of gender, race, creed or any other system of labeling you can dream of. I am not here to nullify the Christian belief for anyone else but me. Nor am I here to attempt to convert anyone to my way of belief or thinking. All I ask of anyone else is that same measure of respect.