Catching up with old friends always brings out the most interesting conversations. Last night, I spent some time with an old friend that I had met on the local Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) in Fort Worth and Arlington here in Texas. This part of the timeline of my adventure called “Life” takes place during my years at Carswell Air Force Base, sometime between 1986 and 1991. These were the earliest days of my walk on my Pagan Path and looking back – I’ve changed a lot since those days.
BBSs were a part of escaping from the regimented life that I had in the Air Force, as well to connect with Pagans I encountered in the various conversation forums. All of this is pre-internet days, and the computer systems were just transitioning from the 8-bit world to 16-bit. Well, at least at the beginning of this point in time. By the latter portion, the start of the transition from 16-bit to 32-bit was already underway. My workdays were engulfed with keeping a 1950s mainframe operating (UniSys 1100/60) for the United States Air Force units located at the base. When I was off-shift, I would spend many hours connecting to the various BBSs in the area, and participating in the long running, analog conversations that took place there. One system that I would hang out in was The Church Mouse BBS, a Christian-oriented system that encouraged discussion and debate of religious beliefs. I made some of the strongest friendships that I have to this day.
Being extremely new to my Pagan faith, I would spend countless hours in many strongly worded “debate” over Paganism, Christianity (in many different aspects), Judaism, and other faiths. I placed quotes around the word debate because many of the conversations went from friendly discussions to some of the angriest and hate-filled statements I have ever encountered. I fired my own personal attacks within the forums, so I am not claiming to be a Saint through all of this. In fact, its this activity of my own that I am trying to highlight here.
Looking backwards through my life, there’s not a whole lot that I would change. Some of my actions and statements on the BBSs; however, is certainly something that I would. If I could find a way to apologize to all the people I interacted with on such a horrible level, I would. I do have to keep reminding myself that I was a very, very different Pagan then. My girlfriend at the time, a Wiccan High Priestess, had provided me with a handful of books to read. Many of these books provided an author’s perspective of the infamous Witch Hunts in Europe, an act that still stirs some anger within me. As a new individual walking that Path, I transferred those feelings directly on to the overt Christians that I encountered. Also occurring during this time was the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, which my young, very impressionable mind turned into a modern-day Witch Hunt, minus the Malleus Maleficarum for guidance on how to dispose of Witches that the “faithful” encountered. Gods, I was so quick to leap to conclusions, and hyper-quick in painting with a broad-brush.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. There are Christians that would prefer to rid the world of non-Christians in violent means. Think Westboro Baptist Church here. However, if you look around the world you will find other faiths ready to destroy others – all in the name of their beliefs. There are wars that have been fought everywhere in this fashion. So, don’t think that I am choosing to paint with a broad-brush in the other direction here. However, there are better ways to deal with things in common discussion and debate without stooping to anger and insults to inflame things further.
Eventually, I learned that my behavior was not something that was well received by others. I spent a lot of time discussing much of this with another Wiccan High Priestess that I met when I was stationed in Germany. She was stationed in the Kaiserslautern area, in the United States Army. She was a little older than me, and a few ranks above me. On our mutual days off, we would take walks in the densely wooded areas around Kaiserslautern, where we encountered remnants of the old Roman garrison that had been stationed there many eons back. Ivy was always a helpful sounding board, particularly after my picture appeared in a center-spread article in the European edition of the Stars and Stripes. I got some good-natured ribbing from some of the people in my duty section, but the article had also drawn the ire of some of the Officers, who had made a few disparaging comments towards me about my beliefs. Had all this attention been turned to me just a few years earlier, my reaction would have been swift, vile, and extremely regrettable. Ivy explained that getting wound up and fighting back was exactly what was expected.
“The more proper approach is to say nothing. Don’t react. Don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing that they have scored a direct hit. Perhaps they will just go away when they can’t get the triumphant feeling of having angered you. Or perhaps they will go further and cross a line where command authority can no longer just look away.” We had that conversation sitting on a Roman wall in a warm rain. I’ve never forgotten those words. Every steady rainfall I encounter leads me back to that time.
So here I am now, a lot of years removed from that moment. The BBSs are gone. However, Facebook and other social platforms have taken the place of those slow, arduous, analog “debates.” The speed of communication is much faster now. The anger and the vitriol much thicker, far deeper. That’s easily seen in the huge chasm of division in today’s politics. That’s easier for me to see here in the United States, simply because I live here. But I can assure you that it takes place all over this spinning ball of rock and dirt. The sharp quickness of the speed of communication means that what we type in anger, gets sent out much faster…and, in many cases, has had very little effort at self-editing. We are quick to fire off what we feel at that very moment without a single thought at what damage our words can cause to others. Or perhaps, we do intent the damage that our words convey to others. Either way, we have learned the power of taking discussion into the realm of emotional and verbal attacks. We have learned the power that being an anonymous keyboard warrior can provide us. We know the cruel pleasure of belittling someone else. For the most part, we like it. We like the way it makes us feel powerful. Able to crush someone’s weak emotional state with just a few well-placed verbal jabs. I know how that feels. I’ve been on both ends of that spectrum.
I can’t really tell you how to handle such things. Everyone deals with this back-and-forth communications style in their own way. However, I can note this – before you click on send, read what you wrote. If its what you intended to send, no worries. If its not…edit it or don’t send it at all. As Ivy told me on that rainy summer afternoon, as we talked under our respective umbrellas, sometimes the best response is the one that you leave in your pocket. I certainly wish I had that advice a few years prior to that moment. I certainly wouldn’t feel that the me of then was such a fool.