Beliefnet
A Pagan's Blog

The current
uproar over mosques and American Muslims is reminding me of my first serious
encounter with a religion towards which I had considerable hostility:
Christianity. And how I finally overcame it while remaining 100% Pagan.


One of the most
unexpected developments that arose out of my becoming a Pagan was confronting
my antagonism to Christianity, and over coming it.  We Pagans do not proselytize nor do we believe our path is
the best for everyone.  If you like
what we do – welcome.  If you are
attracted to something else – good luck and blessings along the way.  It is no secret that on balance
Christianity has a very different set of beliefs.

For years I had
paid a deep emotional price in finally abandoning my attempts to be a
Christian.  From a young age I had
learned there is only one way, the alternative is Hell, and there are many evil
entities trying to lure me there. 
I was too young to wonder what a ridiculous concept of God it took to
explain such a universe.  I worried
for years that maybe I was fatally mistaken.

Finally getting
mostly free from such a web of beliefs left me with considerable hostility to
Christianity.

Now as a
Pagan  I had become involved with a
religion where the Sacred is immanent, can be personally experienced, and
manifests in many ways.  Indeed, if
Spirit is immanent, in principle any starting point can take us to a closer and
more aware relationship with it. 
Even Christianity.  I had to
confront and eventually overcome my generalized hostility to that path from
which I had escaped.

This issue is
crucial to how I relate to other monotheistic paths with long records of
committing atrocities against Pagan peoples, paths like Islam.  Two beliefs are crucial.

Fundamentally I
believe most people simply accept whatever socially dominant spiritual path
there is in their community – and pursue their own personal relationship to the
Sacred within it.  That means for
most people the doctrines that so captivate theologians and the like are
secondary to spiritual activities within their families and communities.  It is at such ‘retail’ levels that
spiritual truth and insight comes to most people.  If it helps them become kinder and more compassionate and
loving, it’s good for them.  If it
does not, it isn’t.  Christianity
had not been good for me: it filled me with fear and strengthened my most
judgmental side.  But that was
demonstrably not the case with every Christian.

For
non-adherents the problem with Christianity or Islam is that as matters of
doctrine, literal interpretation of their scriptures encourages some to attack
other peoples’ spiritual paths. 
Here is where the rank and file can be manipulated by power-crazed
leaders.  But left to themselves,
they are non-aggressive, and some gain genuine spiritual insight and personal
healing along their way.  Some
profoundly so.

To this basic
belief I add another, based on plenty of evidence: in almost every case the
personal trumps the abstract, and so personal relationships trump abstract
teachings.  This has good and bad
results depending on context, but regarding religious peace and good will it
opens the door to good things. 
When we meet other people of other paths and become friends, perhaps
good friends, we are to that degree immunized from the ravings of the
‘spiritual’ leaders who would sow hatred and discord in the name of their God
for the benefits of  power and
feelings of self-righteousness.  Of
course the person can be compartmentalized as the good Pagan, Christian,
Muslim, or Jew – but even in this case it creates a pressure against simply
demonizing others.

The more open a
person’s heart becomes the more kindness towards the concrete trumps
denunciations based on abstractions. 

Those two
beliefs of mine lead to a simple conclusion: since most people in any religion
are not involved for reasons of dogma, the best way towards religious peace is
interactions at personal levels on a basis of equality.  This is not a guarantee of course.  Not every person’s heart is open. But I
think most people’s hearts are open enough.

Here is where
interfaith is so very important. 
Here is where getting Muslims involved in interfaith with people like
ourselves is so important.  The
point is not for them to cease being Muslims any more than for Christians to
cease being Christians, but for them, each in their own ways, to see how the
spiritual insights within their traditions can live peacefully with other
traditions on the basis of good will. 

It’s a bit like changes
that have taken place in families. 
In many old traditional societies most everything is seen through the
lens of family.  Non-family members
are distrusted. Family feuds can go on for generations.  As we entered into modern societies
this kind of amoral family loyalty declined.  But that does not mean that we love family members less or do
not feel strong obligations even when we do not have a lot in common compared
to our friends – but we love them and are obligated in a different context, one
that does not regard other families as inferior
.  They are simply not our
families.

Of course we now
contend with amoral patriotism, which reproduces at a more inclusive level the
downside of the old traditional amoral relationship between families.  Opportunities for growth in wisdom and
heart are hardly coming to an end. 
But the change in how families relate is a sign these deep changes for
the better can happen.

I think
something like this can happen with religion.  So far universally I have heard two things from people
involved in interfaith: first that involvement increases their regard for other
faiths.  They meet good people who
attribute at least some of their goodness to their path.  Second, that interfaith work deepens
their understanding of their own path as a good path towards better
relationships with the Sacred. Rather than a tendency to search for a lowest
common denominator, there is growing appreciation for a kind of spiritual
ecosystem, with each path making its unique contribution.

From what I have
read contemporary Islam is undergoing enormous religious turmoil right
now.  Its teachings are as complex
and multidimensional as any in the Bible, offering passages that appear
beautiful, passages that appear horrible, and mutually exclusive ways for
making sense of them all. 

In my opinion the
best thing we of other faiths can do is to hold out a hand in fellowship and
support for them while they find their own way to a resolution of these
dilemmas.  We should do so while standing
firm that if any religious tradition is to live with us it must do so on the
basis of mutual respect.  That way
the openness of heart and understanding that comes from personal engagement
with others can add its weight towards a happy and humane outcome to the
struggle so many Muslims are engaged with today.

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