Sunday, November 05, 2006
The Smoldering Times?
I recently posted on Phil Wyman's struggles with his former denomination, the Foursquare Church, that severed their affiliation after Phil's approach at engaging Pagans apparently made the leadership of this conservative denomination uncomfortable. I wonder what kinds of alternatives Christians might be more comfortable with. While I hope the following falls into the category of the aberrant and extreme rather than representative of Christian sentiments and approaches, Matt Stone of Eclectic Itchings recently made me aware of a story in The Times online that discusses the clash between Catholics and Pagans in Glastonbury.
Apparently the clash came as Pagans were celebrating Samhain, and a group of Catholics were in town as part of "Lightswitch@glastonbury festival, the eighth such event organised by the Catholic charity Youth 2000."
As the Pagans engaged in their celebrations a group of "militant Christians cast salt at them in an attempt to 'cleanse' the town of paganism." As the clash went from bad to worse, "police were called after militants told locals that they wanted to cleanse the town of paganism, cast salt around to exorcise 'evil' spirits and called one woman a 'whore witch.'"
To their credit, Youth 2000 distanced themselves from these actions: "Charlie Connor, the managing director of Youth 2000, said that aiming 'blessed salt' at pagans was in direct contravention of the spirit of Youth 2000. 'For the avoidance of doubt, Youth 2000 does not condone or encourage this kind of behaviour from anyone. We fully agree that differences on matters of faith cannot and should not be resolved by any kind of harassment.'”
Several thoughts come to mind when reading this story.
First, this event is similar to a Pagan-Christian clash in the United States from a few years ago. A group of Pagans were consecrating the opening of a Pagan bookstore in southern California and in response a group of Christians surrounded the participants of the outdoor event with their cars while playing loud Christian music and shouting Bible verses. The tossing of salt and epithets by Catholics in the United Kingdom sounds just as lacking sensitivity and appropriateness as the actions of evangelicals in the United States.
Second, salt surely has a connection with Christian spirituality, but Jesus' discussion of it as a metaphor for the positive impact of the Christian life upon culture sounds more in keeping with a sound Christian theology and lifestyle than casting salt at those perceived as spiritual enemies.
Third, Christians forget that many other religious and spiritual groups have a far greater sense of historical consciousness than do Western Christians. For Pagans and Witches the deplorable persecution and execution of alleged Witches in America's past, known as the Burning Times, are etched on the Pagan consciousness leaving a continuing negative impression about Christianity and Christians that continues to this day. Engaging in the kinds of behaviors as those of the Catholics at Glastonbury resurrects and reinforces the negative perceptions and stereotypes Pagans have of Christians pushing the story of Jesus further out of reach for fresh consideration by Pagans.
Thankfully we have moved beyond the Burning Times in terms of the criminal prosecution and execution of Witches and Pagans in the West. But it seems as if the fires of inappropriate engagement between Christians and Pagans have not burned out completely. Perhaps the twenty-first century, characterized by post-Christendom and a growing interest in Neo-Paganism, will see a smoldering times as representatives from Christianity and Paganism continue to clash. Surely Christians can and must do better if we are to emulate the lifeways of Jesus who engaged first century Pagans in ways very different from many of his twenty-first century followers.