There are not that many folks who grew up as Pagans (though that number keeps getting bigger and bigger as time goes on). Thus, many of us have come from other backgrounds and theologies from when we were growing up. Not many folks got the chance to experiment and check out other belief systems. Usually, we all tagged along with our parents to whatever church or belief system that they were into. Me? Well, my family were Methodists, but my parents wanted me to have the ideology and beliefs of the Catholic church instilled into me. Thus, I was put into Catholic schools from the sixth grade on. When the sisters or the priests would ask me how I believed, I would always respond that I was Methodist. They would point out that I understood when to stand, sit, and genuflect better than the Catholic children did. I guess I took the concept of understanding the theology that was presented to me better than others. Or maybe I just didn’t want to look so obviously different by merely sitting quietly (the option provided to the non-Catholics that had to come to the mandatory service). Whatever the case, a lot of those posturing movements stuck with me over the years, just as much of what we learned from our various previous theological aspects have stuck with us over the years. Some folks call this our “Christian baggage”.
Recently on Facebook, Morgan Daimler brought up this aspect of “Christian baggage” that is apparently strewn throughout our cultural society. As an example, when you first meet a person, most folks will assume that this individual is a Christian of some kind. As if the auto-default for folks in America is Christian. That default setting seems to imply a bias of sorts towards Christianity, but is this bias because of baggage, a leftover set of internal programming from our days as younger folks?
Leaning on the Wikipedia page titled “Religion in the United States”, 73.7% of the total population in the United States is Christian of some sort. The statement goes further to include Protestants (48.9%), Catholics (23.0%), and Mormons (1.8%) into the Christian classification. Judaism is the second largest population at 2.1% and Islam drops in at 0.8%. Calculating this all together, this makes a total of 76.6%, meaning that Paganism, Atheism, Agnosticism, and dozens upon dozens of other beliefs make a total of 23.4%. With a nearly three to one ratio, it certainly seems to imply that the programming is correct to one degree. What about the Pagan groups?
In the same Wikipedia article, it cites a study by the American Religious Identification Survey that estimates that there are approximately 30,000 Druids in the United States. It also states that Wicca is the far more populous group within the Neo-Pagan (their words not mine) grouping. I’d estimate that the difference between Wicca and Druidry could be as high as a four-to-one ratio. Hardly anything to challenge even the lowest percentage of less than a percent for the followers of Islam. So I would, again, make the assumption that the default setting being Christianity in most aspects of assumption would be correct. Annoying as fuck, but correct.
So, the better question is whether we should be pissed off when people assume that we are Christian, particularly if they do not ask the question. Well, I would suggest that assuming things about people is not the nicest thing to do. Assumptions tend to lean into aspects of stereotyping, which takes us down paths towards racism, ageism, gender discrimination, and spending time beating up on Gingers (red-heads).
I, for one, am not a fan of stereotypes whatsoever. As an example, when I went to the convention in San Diego for one of my college’s vendors, after my presentation I was asked by folks from another college up near Minneapolis if I helped herd cows in the pasture after I got off of work. Now, these folks were trying to be light-hearted and break the conversational “ice” but its a stereotype that grates on my nerves. Yes. I live in Texas. Yes. I drive down Farm-to-Market roads that bisect six different cow pastures. Yes. I understand where I am in the season by the size of the calves in the fields. And yes, I have helped herd a cow from off the road back into the pasture. It is, after all, a neighborly thing to lend a hand where it is needed and necessary, even if my cow herding skills are non-existent (which they are). I did not fire off a retort nor did I chide them for their statement. I laughed lightly, and moved the conversation elsewhere. Pick your fights wisely.
So, as I continue to pick through all of this – trying to find an obvious aspect of Christian influence within secular US culture, I just cannot find it. Certainly, there are some aspects where people will use the default assumption that *everyone* is Christian and bring something Christian to the forefront (prayers at football games, before meals, when things go haywire – everyone seems to default to praying to a Christian-inspired aspect of God, for instance). However, as I noted in the statistics, at three-to-one ratio of Christian to everything else, the assumption is a fairly safe one to make.
Again, I have to wonder if this is even a fight worth picking. Paganism is a growing religion, but I sincerely doubt that we will see it rise to any kind of percentage growth to rival Judaism at a little more than two percent of the total population. At least not in the near generations. Personally, I think combating the constant default to stereotypical understanding of those who are not like you, would be a far better aspect to strive for. That; however, is me dreaming of a world where people have a much higher degree of respect for others. At this point in our collective societal atmosphere, I fear I am spitting into the wind.
2 thoughts on “Seeking Baggage in Percentages and Stereotypes or Someone Call a Porter For Me”
This was an excellent read. Being a Pagan in a predominately Christian society can be so difficult, and while it’s perfectly normal to feel resentment towards others for making that assumption, it’s a slippery slope, not only for personal relationships but also for professional ones (hooray at will states and lengthy expensive judicial processes). I think until more of our country is willing to be open-minded it might be best to take it on the chin, although in a perfect, or at least better, world we wouldn’t have to hide in plain sight.
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I agree…the “fight” against the perception of “Christian” v. “Pagan” is not really going to bear the fruit necessary to be a fruitful endeavor. Trying to open minds into seeing a different perception is where I’d prefer to see things set. But it will definitely be a longer road to walk…that’s definitely for sure.