People are cruel. I know I can be cruel, and have been cruel on rare occasion, but lately it just seems like it has become a way of life for people.
I think too often we overestimate people, and presume they have some power or strength because they are articulate, challenging, or willing to be vulnerable in public. But often they are simply as lost and scared and striving as anyone else.
I read these stories of online harassment, particularly of smart, articulate women, and it just kills my spirit. The negativity I experience online simply drains me.
It is easy to say I should be stronger, but I’m not. When I left Christianity in ’99 I thought I gave up a lot, and I did. Returning to Christianity hasn’t regained me what I lost then, but has brought fresh loss into my life. This began before I formally converted and when I just stopped identifying with and pushing the Pagan orthodoxy. I’m not saying I’m being shunned, but a lot of people no longer have time for me who used to be close friends.
I look back over the past couple of years, even just the past week, and think of people who set themselves up as elders, teachers, and leaders in spiritual communities who have said some pretty nasty things about me. People who preach tolerance and compassion can’t seem to extend those virtues towards me. Aside from filthy, lazy, and the demonizing f-bomb, I have been told I am giving in to the religion of the oppressor, that I have Stockholm Syndrome, and that I am returning to an abusive, hateful God.
The only abuse and hate I am experiencing right now is coming from the Pagan community. It wasn’t a Christian who told me they wished I’d been aborted a few years ago, but a Wiccan. I never had a Christian call my writing “filth,” but a prominent, respected Pagan author certainly did. When I was floundering and writing openly about the pain and doubt I was suffering in my spiritual journey I received a lot of messages of unconditional support from Christians, and told by Pagans I was lazy, dishonest, wrong, unwelcome, and a fundamentalist for daring to ask and explore challenging questions. While a Christian wrote me encouraging notes about how my writing positively influenced his opinion of Paganism, it was a Pagan who made a podcast denigrating my genitalia and character.
I never came to Paganism because I had a bad church experience, but because the Christianity I grew up with was twisted dark and hateful. I associated Christianity with the abuse and utter hopeless despair of my youth. Paganism flung open the windows of my soul, but after 15 years of study, practice, service, and searching I never found a Paganism that I belonged in. That is almost half my life, a decade and a half. It’s not a phase or passing fancy. It is a significant investment of my very life. And all the things people told me they left Christianity over I saw everywhere in Paganism: hypocrisy, judgement, hate, inflexible theologies, and irrational superstition.
I loved Paganism with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength. But Paganism could not love a person like me. So I took all the tools and practices that Paganism gave me and found they enabled me to find a loving Christianity. A God that exists, lives, and cares for me.
I’m no martyr, and have no interest in being one. I am actually doing pretty good. I’m happy in my life. My stresses are because I have too many awesome things happening all at once. But I’m not some powerful person. I’m no longer an editor who can aid you in your writing career, boost the signal for your project, or even report your community news. I wield no influence. I am not a superhero and invulnerable.
What I am trying to say is: your words hurt me. Worse than that, your words hurt you. Just as I was repulsed by the hateful street preachers a week ago, other people are reading your words and are repulsed by you. When you start calling people names for exploring the realms of faith, you shame other people into silence. Calling me lazy may be intended to merely hurt me and make yourself seem like a perceptive pundit, but to anyone familiar with my faith journey you just painted yourself and your faith in an uncharitable light. Your lack of compassion towards me makes all Pagans seem unfeeling. Calling me a fundamentalist for attempting to dig deeper silences and discourages Pagans from asking questions.
I never had a bad church experience. Weird or boring but never bad or abusive or hateful. I have had bad coven experiences. I have had bad festival experiences. I came to Paganism looking for a more loving theology and community. I didn’t find one.
There are a lot of loving, bighearted, wonderful, generous, devout, wise, and delightful Pagans out there. I am privileged to have some of them among my friends. I’m not anti-Pagan, but I’m not going to withhold my views or criticism on any religious group. I was a Pagan for 15 years, and there is a lot of love and dedication that grace my memories of those years.
I sometimes feel I left Paganism under duress, driven out. Sometimes I feel I left Paganism because I came to realize that something that wasn’t working very well in 50 CE isn’t likely to work today. I think part of leaving was because after all the heartbreak in my friendships with media Pagans the Kenny Klein scandal was just the last straw, shattering what was left of my trust in community elders and dissolving any confidence I might have had in my own judgement of character.
I came back to Christianity not because I am returning to an abusive God, but because after all those years as a Pagan I was starving for some love, hope, and acceptance. And I found it.
You see, I had a good church experience, and it freed me.