I thought that interfaith dialogue had its limits—until I started talking with a Wiccan.
many, paganism generally and Wicca in particular are synonymous with
the occult, even Satanism. The presence of Wiccans at the
groundbreaking for an interfaith chapel at a Disciples of
Christ-related university brought streams of protests and a flurry of
questions from the faithful. People asked/demanded: Why were they
This was the same sort of worry that led some
Christians to raise concerns about the Harry Potter books and movies.
They denounced the series because they feared that exposing children to
magic—as if Disney movies hadn’t already done that a generation
earlier—might lead them into witchcraft. The concern was that Harry
made witchcraft look too good.
While Neopaganism and Wicca have
exploded onto the religious scene in recent years—bookstores have
shelves of books on these new-old religions—their popularity seems to
derive not from an embrace of evil but from their noninstitutionalized
character. They’re also popular for an emphasis on communing with
nature, in a time when we face the prospects of global warming,
overpopulation, urban sprawl and pollution. (Critics of
environmentalism have thus equated that movement with the occult.)
had never seriously considered engaging in conversation with a Neopagan
or Wiccan until I wrote about Harry Potter in the local paper and
received e-mails from Wiccans and Neopagans who thanked me for offering
kind words about Harry Potter. My article was posted on Wiccan sites,
where respondents expressed surprise that a Christian pastor could have
an open mind and compassionate spirit toward Wiccans. Many said they've
experienced persecution and discrimination from Christians. They feel
that their religion has been mischaracterized.
In series of
e-mails with a Neopagan, I got to know a man who is married, has adult
children, a job and endeavors to live in peace with his neighbors. I
think he’s fairly representative—although he admitted that, like
anything else, Neopaganism has its oddballs.
One e-mail from my
pen pal raised the issue of the Veteran’s Administration’s refusal to
allow Wiccans to use the pentacle on VA-sponsored memorials. (The VA
doesn’t recognize Wicca as a religion.) I don't understand why we would
allow someone to die serving his country but not recognize his or her
Of course, people of other religions
experience similar discrimination. In Tennessee the candidate for
lieutenant governor has suggested that Muslims don’t deserve to be
covered by the constitutional provisions of religious freedom, because
in his mind, Islam isn’t a religion.
Those of us who are members
of the religious majority have a responsibility to speak up for those
whose religious identities are mischaracterized and smeared. If we had
a few more conversations with those who are different from us, life
would be better for all of us.