Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Category: Religious Liberty Page 1 of 2

Is Christmas Pagan?

So over at Renew America, one Gina Miller (not the woman who sued the UK to try to prevent the Brexit being implemented, as far as I can tell) has an article up proclaiming loudly that Christmas is not pagan or ‘holiday’ (sic). Let’s take a walk through this together, shall we? (I’m quoting the whole thing below, in the interests of not wanting to have anything taken out of context. I’m sweet that way.)

Each year around this time, in Facebook posts and elsewhere, we are certain to be lectured by well-meaning Christians on the “sinfulness” of celebrating Christmas. Their arguments can be persuasive. “In the Bible, God never told us to celebrate Christmas,” they say. “Christmas has its roots in paganism,” they say. So that must mean we’re just dupes celebrating a pagan ritual when we ignorantly think we’re gratefully celebrating the birth of Jesus. Who wants to celebrate what God never told us to celebrate and which supposedly has its roots in paganism? Not me! But are those things really true?

Since Mrs. Miller doesn’t actually link to any examples of people saying this, it’s difficult to suss out whether this is actually happening. It would have been nice, and unfortunately without something specific for her to be chewing on, this has the look of a straw man. Fortunately, Google is a fine mistress, and I was able to quickly find a few examples of the question of whether or not Christmas is Pagan, from good, upstanding Christian ministries and groups; should be easy to find the sorts of Christians that Mrs. Miller is talking about, right? Let’s take a quick look:

I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year. Keep in mind that the whole principle of annual festival and celebration is deeply rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament, for example, there were times when God emphatically commanded the people to remember certain events with annual celebrations. 

This much we know: Before there was December 25, there was January 6. As early as the second century, Christians celebrated Jesus’ appearance at the Jordan and his baptism by John on January 6. Some time later they expanded this festival to include Christ’s appearance at birth. Christians called it Epiphany, or manifestation. So the meaning of the first Christmas was not pagan; it was a celebration of the Word manifest in flesh.

We’re not celebrating a pagan holiday because the pagan holiday was the saturnal and we’re not worshipping the god of Saturn, or whatever the content was.  We are not doing that.  If you listen to the words of the song “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,” the original was written with the Christmas tree being a type of Jesus Christ.  You look at the words and the gospel is in the words of the Christmas tree.  So this is not a Christmas tree that we’re putting in our house as an idol to some tree god, or something like that.  No, this is a tree that we are using as a cultural expression that can be invested with religious meaning for the Christian.  

Oh, hmmm… Maybe it’s not so easy after all.

Heh… I’m just having a bit of fun; I do know there are Christians out there who don’t like Christmas and condemn it as Pagan. But they’re not the majority, by a long shot. And in fairness, they’re not complaining about the holiday; they’re complaining about the trappings and customs that have been attached to it (more about that later). But finding pro-Christian stuff was a lot easier. Goodwife Miller continues.

While there is no specific instruction in the Bible to honor or celebrate the birth of Jesus each year (and no, of course we don’t know the actual date of His birth), neither is there any prohibition of it.

REALLY??? Is a committed conservative Christian actually making an argument that, “if it’s not specifically prohibited in the Bible, it’s okay to do”??? ‘Cause I’m very sure there isn’t any “thou shalt not commit abortion” or “thou shalt not have gender reassignment surgery” or “thou shalt not have sex wearing a Pikachu costume” passages in there.

The Bible says this is okey-dokey!

Interestingly, there really is a concrete Biblical prohibition on one cherished Christmas custom:

2 Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

But as for using the literal words of the Bible as a guide to what one is and is not allowed (or compelled) to do, I’ll leave it to Jed Bartlet to have the final word:

But I digress. Gentlewoman Miller continues…

Further, when you read the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, it is clear that heaven and earth celebrated that miraculous event. Can you imagine the breathtaking awe felt by those humble shepherds at the sight of the multitude of heavenly host praising God on that powerful, wonderful occasion?

Well… no. Your Bible does say:

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So a bunch of angels appeared in the desert, and the shepherds looked around and said “WTF just happened?” but nothing about heaven and earth celebrating what happened. Again, since Mrs. Miller doesn’t provide any passages to back up her assertion, it’s hard to tell. Maybe she’s thinking of Luke 19:40 (which has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, by the way)???

I can think of nothing more worthy of annual remembrance and celebration than the birth of Christ, alongside the celebration of His resurrection from the dead (the supposed “paganism” about which we are also lectured by those same well-meaning Christians. “The root word for Easter is the name of a pagan goddess!” they say). These events are part of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Well, the word Easter does come from the Old English word Eostre, which was, according to Bede, a Heathen goddess. So… yeah. That’s probably why different languages have different words for things, and many languages call Easter a variety of different words related to the Hebrew word for Passover, “Pesach”. English being a Germanic language and all…

But I think this is at the heart of the problem with Mrs. Miller’s article. She is confusing the complaints about customs, language, dates, and the like, with the significance of the holiday in the Christian religion. Legitimate complaints about those things don’t necessarily mean they are complaining about the Christian symbolism associated with the holiday.

I submit to you that the truth is the opposite of these assertions of paganism. The claims that the pagan rituals in which Christmas (and Easter) supposedly are based pre- date Jesus’ birth, earthly ministry, sacrifice and resurrection from the dead are wrong. Nothing “pre-dates” Jesus. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He is outside of time, because He is before time. All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing – nothing – was made. He is God. His willing sacrifice to save the world was set and planned before the dawn of time and creation of the world.

Well, that’s a nice (and conveniently self-serving) theory, but just saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.

Fortunately, we have history, and archaeology, and historiography, and all the other branches of science to tell us that yes, things did happen prior to 4 BCE, when your savior-god was supposedly born. Time being linear (even if events do move in great cyclical patterns), are you actually saying that Satan literally has the power to see the future?

Let’s see a quote stating that in your Bible. Somewhere near the back, maybe?

Dame Miller continues.

All pagan (satanic) rituals, “holidays” and celebrations throughout history are nothing more than cheap imitation knock-offs of the Real Thing. Satan has always tried to set himself in the place of Jesus, to be the object of worship. Before being cast to earth, he tried the same thing in heaven. To this end, he has created myriad false religions and rituals, from blatantly pagan to sneaky, fake “Christian.” Not only are these designed for Satan to soak up men’s worship, but also to deceive men and keep them from coming to a saving knowledge of Truth found only in the Word of God.

Except, of course, that there were religions before Christianity. Heck, there were religions before Judaism, which is the spiritual basis for Christianity. Unless she’s saying that Satan founded the Egyptian religion millennia before there even was a Jewish or Hebrew people? Or perhaps he was responsible for Neanderthals worshiping the skulls of animals, or burying their dead with horns? Because that’s religion, too, and it way predates that sorry patchwork you call a faith.

In so many different ways, since the fall of man in the Garden, the devil has deceptively imitated and mocked Christ’s ministry and message, even before they played out in time. So, no, the celebration of the birth of Christ – that we call Christmas – does not have its roots in paganism. It’s the other way around. Satan has always stolen the ideas he has from Christ’s truth, and then he twists and perverts that truth into lies and grotesque wickedness.

So… Satan can see into the future. And then arrange things so that he can create things that presage that future, but… not. Gods, this is as absurd as Satan planting fossils in the ground, or arranging photons in space so they happen to hit the Earth at exactly the right instant so as to give the illusion that the universe is more than six thousand years old. And Yahweh lets him! Her god is either a sadistic fuck who enjoys seeing the humans he supposedly loves being conned, or, well, not quite what he’s been cracked up to be.

Another point to consider is the fact that the world, currently under Satan’s lordship, despises and reviles all things of God and Christ.

But wait. Isn’t Mrs. Miller in the world, too? And of it, because she’s got a physical form (I assume; otherwise how could she hit the keys on the keyboard?) Doesn’t that make her a vassal of Satan?

Thus, we see Satan’s war on Christmas, waged by his servants the God-haters among us. If Christmas was truly based in satanic paganism, don’t you think the devil would be fine with its presence in the public square?

Oh, the “war on Christmas” canard. I was waiting for this one. How successful it has been, too. Why, the padlocking of church doors on December 24th has been a staple of our society for years. The postal service, pressed into service, routinely opens up cards throughout December, gainfully employing hordes of people with Sharpies to cross out the word “Christmas” and replace it with “Holidays”. There’s nary a mention of Christmas in print, or radio, or television.

It’s almost enough to make you wish there were churches on every corner. But those were bulldozed years ago in preparation for the final assault on Christmas.

Christianity has a collective martyr complex, but in the absence of real persecution, they seem to feel compelled to invent it. “My cashier didn’t say “Merry Christmas”! I’m just as oppressed as Christians who are killed in Somalia!”

Instead, we now see almost every major corporation aggressively scrubbing even the mention of Christmas from their businesses and advertising.

Indeed. Like A.C. Moore, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Belk, Best Buy, Bronners, CVS Pharmacy, Dillards, Hallmark, Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, JC Penny, K-Mart, Kohl’s, Lehmans, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Menards, Neiman Marcus, Rite Aid Pharmacy, Sears, Staples, Toys R Us, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart. All of whom appear on the “nice list” published by the Liberty Counsel.

It’s irksome to see the ridiculous level this corporate purging of Christmas has reached. Having been in radio for 22 years, I’ve watched as the generic word “holiday” has slowly replaced Christmas in national radio ads. It would be silly if it weren’t so devilish:
“This holiday, give the gift your sweetheart wants!” “Make your holiday cards special!” “Find all your holiday gifts in one location!” “Do your holiday shopping with us, and save!” “We have the perfect holiday gifts at prices you’ll love!”

I know it shouldn’t come as a surprise to squaw Miller, but there are other religions out there, that are just as legitimate, and legally protected, as hers is. And most, if not all, of them have holidays clustered around the winter solstice. Not to mention the entirely secular holiday of New Year’s. And as the population of the United States (and the West in general) has slowly shifted away from Christianity to other faiths, or no faith, or a mushy “spiritual but not religious”-osity (ugh), the assumption that any given person will be Christian. Saying “Happy holidays” or advertising “holiday gifts” is simply safer for retailers who want to make the maximum number of potential customers feel welcome.

It’s not “holiday.” It’s Christmas.

…and Diwali, and Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve/Day, and Yule, and Kwanzaa, and Saturnalia, and Zartosht No-Diso, and Festivus, and Korochun, and Hogmanay, and dozens more. Christianity is not the only religion out there, and retailers would be idiots for not wanting to reach out to the 30% of Americans who aren’t Christian.

No one sends out “holiday cards.” They send out Christmas cards.

See above.

No one does their “holiday shopping.” They do their Christmas shopping. No one gives “holiday gifts.” They give Christmas gifts. 

See above. Lots of midwinter festivals have gift exchange traditions. In fact, the tradition started with Roman Saturnalia and Norse Jól.

This is yet another example of the world doing its worst to obliterate even the mention of Christ – in this case, as it appears in the word Christmas.

No, this is an example of the world being inhabited by a majority of people that aren’t Christian, and don’t want to follow your insipid sexually repressive death-cult.

The giant corporations are glad to scrub Christmas from their advertising, but boy do they love to load up on national “holiday” ads in order to separate you from your Christmas cash!

Yeahhhhh, about that…

Christmas is not pagan, and it’s not “holiday.” It is part of the greatest True Story in the history of stories. How fortunate we are that God so loved the world! Jesus, stepped down from the glory of His heavenly throne and into the form of man. He was born into the world He loved so much that He willingly offered His precious, sinless life in place of ours, and all we have to do is believe and accept His free gift salvation.

Yeah, yeah. We’ve all seen The Little Drummer Boy. Your religion’s midwinter myth has been shoved down out throats on national television for decades (how’s that for being oppressed!). Doesn’t make it true.

For those well-meaning Christians who deeply believe celebrating Christmas is wrong, an offense to God, then for them, it is wrong. Let every man be convinced in his heart. But, for those of us who view it as the celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, then let us celebrate it with joy and thanks to God.

And here, I think, is the fundamental disconnect, and why frau Miller would have been much better served to pick a few concrete examples, rather than the straw man she ended up arguing against.

On one level, I actually agree with her. The celebration of the birth of their savior-god is absolutely a Christian thing, and there’s nothing wrong with Christians doing so. The date may or may not have been selected to coincide with a couple of Pagan Roman celebrations, but who cares? Christians can choose dates for their holidays like anyone else.

However, it should also be noted that modern (and historical) Christmas celebrations have accumulated enormous Pagan and Heathen customs over the years, many of which I’ve detailed (and will continue to detail) here on the blog as the Yuletide season continues. In fact, I hate to say it, but Jason Mankey has outlined the Christian and Pagan provenance of a host of modern Christmas customs and symbols, and done a very good job of it (I might quibble on the edges here and there, but it’s a good piece overall). I daresay when people write against Christians celebrating Christmas, they’re really referring to the Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Wassailing, drinking and overeating in general, commercialism in general, St. Lucia, Rudolf, Yule Logs, and on and on and on. And maybe they have a point, if one is so wrapped up in the Bible as to want to purge from one’s life anything that doesn’t come out of Leviticus.

The other problem with her analysis is the blind willful refusal to acknowledge that any other religion besides Christianity exists, let alone that all of them have holidays around this same time of year, that the United States is becoming steadily less Christian, even if she might not like that fact, and businesses want to try to sell goods to as many people as possible. It just makes sense to market to a full third of the population who don’t happen to share her faith, even if “holidays” becomes a handy shortcut to do so.

Merry Christmas!

And a glad Yule to you, too.

Why end with this? WHY THE HEL NOT???

Why a Black Mass in Oklahoma Matters

Apparently Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has engaged the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall to perform a Black Mass in August.

Needless to say, the Christians, particularly the Catholics (who apparently believe they have a lock on performing any sort of “Mass”) have gone completely apeshit. One group, called Tradition, Family and Property, has even set up an online petition to shut them down, because in their words the event “offends more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide, 200,000 Catholics in Oklahoma and countless more God-loving Americans. Sacrilege is simply NOT free speech.”

The trouble is, that is 100% untrue.

Indeed, it may be argued that “sacrilege” is entirely, and explicitly, the reason for the First Amendment in the first place. Precisely because “sacrilege” is entirely in the eye of the beholder, it cannot possibly be subject to censure or interdiction by the forces of the state. What is “sacrilege” to a Catholic might be perfectly innocuous to a Mormon, what is abhorrent to a Muslim might be positively required by a Christian, and… to bring this home… what is worthy of death under the Old Testament might be the entire religion of a Wiccan.

It has been said before, but it bears repeating, that unpopular speech is exactly the sort of speech that needs protecting. Because nobody tries to ban speech that offends no one.

If anyone thinks that, given the freedom to shut down religious expression with which they disagree, the Catholic “Tradition, Family and Property” goons would be content to stop with the Satanic Temple, is simply deluding themselves. Given that sort of power, backed by the literal guns and economic force of the State, do you really think they would scruple to prevent an Asatru blot in their city? A Wiccan Full Moon circle? A druid camping event?

If you don’t think they’d use that power, you’re an idiot.

You don’t have to be a Satanist, or an Atheist, to see that the principle that a majority can shut down the religious expression of a minority, no matter how fervently they object to it, is simply intolerable to a society built on the principle of religious freedom. By involving the tools of force available to the state, whether they be the guns and handcuffs of the police, or the more subtle tools of higher fees, slower approvals, or outright rejections of requests, the heavy hand of the State cannot get involved in the business of choosing which religion is right, which is wrong, and which has the right to shut down another because it feels “offended”.

The higher principle of government neutrality when it comes to religion demands that the city ignore the petition. The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to protect the minority from the crushing will of the majority. This is a perfect case in point, and if it is allowed to proceed, I guarantee you neopagans and Heathens are next on the chopping block.

Religious liberty and civil obligations

There have been a couple of stories in the news lately that directly impact the ongoing discussion of religious liberty in this country, and I thought I’d offer an opinion or two.

The first is the case of Kim Davis, elected County Clerk of Rowan County, KY, who is (as of this writing) in jail for contempt of court after refusing a judge’s order to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court, who declined to hear her case.

In Ms. Davis’ case, she can’t simply be fired or reassigned, because she was elected to the office of County Clerk (a position that pays $80,000 a year, which in that area of the country is quite a sum). To take office, however, she did swear an oath to fulfill her duties, as is also required by Kentucky state law (interestingly, not all states have such laws!).

Setting aside the specific issue of same-sex marriage, the simple fact of the matter is that, while Ms. Davis absolutely has a right under the First Amendment to the Constitution to practice her religion, the Rowan County Clerk has an obligation, under that very same First Amendment, not to “establish religion” through public policy.

In short, when Ms. Davis swore that oath, she placed those two elements of the First Amendment – the right of the individual to freedom of religion vs. the obligation of the government to not enforce a particular religious point of view – in conflict. On her free time, outside of her job responsibilities, Ms. Davis still enjoys all of the protections of that First Amendment liberty. However, as soon as she steps into that office, and is acting as an agent of the government, she must abide by the government’s obligation not to enforce a particular religion.

If she can’t, or won’t, do that, she must resign as being unable to fulfill her duties. Period. The oath she swore requires it. And that would be just as true if her Muslim religious sensibilities prevented her from issuing marriage licenses that are legal under Kentucky law, as it does because of her Christian faith.

Note that this is a very, very different thing than a private citizen or business doing the same thing. In that case, there is no obligation not to play religious favorites (in fact, quite the opposite, as the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause remains in effect), and I am firmly of the belief that a sincerely held religious belief should allow a private business owner to refuse to undertake whatever custom he or she wishes to refuse. That’s an argument for another day, however, and one that has not yet been tested to completion in the courts.

The other case, which is actually very similar to the first, is the Villa Rica (Georgia) high school football coach who instigated a mass baptism before a football practice, which included 18 players and one assistant coach. The Freedom from Religion Foundation found out about it when someone posted the video on YouTube, crowing about “how God is still in our schools!”, and sent a C&D letter to the school, asking that the coach be punished and the practice stopped.

Now, there are some essential differences between the two cases:

  • The baptism was held before practice, apparently
  • The baptism was said to be voluntary
Now, that said, there is one essential commonality:
  • The county clerk, and the football coach, are both agents of the government
No less than an English teacher, or a Principal, or a Judge, a football coach at a public school is an agent of the government, and as such falls under that same injunction that all agents of the government must observe; they cannot push a specific religious agenda as part of their official duties. And the courts have ruled that in a school environment, the strictures are even tougher, because children are more vulnerable to being manipulated by authority figures. 
Now, it may be quibbled that the baptism happened before the practice. But that begs the question, how did the team know to get there early? Did they all just happen to show up, or were they told (or asked) to do so? If the latter (and no one would honestly believe the former), then it was a de facto official event, and the coach was being coercive. Don’t think so? Imagine what happens to the one kid who, when the coach of the football team, which is by definition supposed to be an integrated unit that is used to obeying the instructions of their authority figure, asks him to show up early for practice and he says no. 
Is he going to be treated as an outsider by the rest of the team? Is the coach going to (either overtly or otherwise) censure that kid? In a high school environment, how many kids are going to have the courage to be The Other, and how many are going to do whatever they can to fit in and be popular?
That’s coercion, but it’s also besides the point. Even if every single one of those kids did genuinely volunteer to be baptized by their high school football coach at a practice, it would still be illegal. Let him do it at church on Sunday, when he’s not acting in his official capacity as a government agent, but in his individual capacity as a private Christian citizen who wants to get ’em while they’re young.
Not good, but not illegal.

Religious Rights vs. Gay Rights

As just about everyone by this time knows, Indiana and Arkansas recently passed versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which was originally acted into law on the federal level by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993. A number of states have similar statutes, and until now their enactment hasn’t been too controversial a proposition.

The current opposition to RFRA laws is rooted in the new perception that they are being enacted for the benefit of majoritarian religions (i.e., Christianity) so as to allow them to promote anti-homosexual discrimination. But that is not at all what RFRA laws do. Rather, they were (and are) enacted to protect the religious rights of minority religions from governmental overreach, such as:

  • Lipan Apache religious leader Robert Soto
  • Sikh federal employee Kawal Tagore
  • Santeria priest José Merced
  • Adriel Arocha, long-haired Native American kindergartner
  • Muslim prisoner Abdul Muhammad
  • O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV), a Christian Spiritist sect with origins in the Amazon rain forest
  • Orthodox Jewish prisoner Bruce Rich

Hardly a list of typical supporters of Westboro Baptist.

Now, the kicker is that the RFRA bills as originally passed by Indiana and Arkansas wouldn’t have changed anything in those states regarding the ability to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. That’s because it was already legal to discriminate against gays in those states:

At most, all that RFRA does is to create an exemption from a legal duty for the religious objector. Neither Indiana nor Arkansas has a statewide public accommodation law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Since there is no requirement in either state’s law for bakeries or florists or caterers to treat same-sex couples equally in the first place, the religious objector does not need an exemption in order to refuse to provide goods or services for same-sex couples.

So much for RFRA being enacted as an excuse to discriminate. What RFRA laws do is say that the government cannot restrict religious activities without a “compelling interest” in doing so. How horrible!

The fact is that the Pagan and Heathen communities have a lot more to gain by supporting these sorts of laws than they stand to lose. The homosexual community (and the left in general) has essentially thrown Pagans, Heathens, and other minority religions under the bus in the name of supporting gay rights (specifically gay marriage). I’m personally in favor of gay marriage, but not at the expense of my freedom to worship the Gods in the manner of my choosing. Lucius Svartwulf Helson puts it brilliantly:

They [the Gay Commuity] do not care about Pagan Rights. In leading the charge to have major business and other state government boycott states that try to affect a Religious Freedom Law, the GLBT+ community shows not only a complete disregard for any attempt to enshrine into law legal ways to defend and help Paganism obtain its full legal rights, they have shown a completely Fascist attitude to the rights of anyone but themselves, but especially to anyone that identifies themselves as religious. To further this end, Christians (like Memories Pizza) have been repeatedly threaten with real physical harm and the firebombing of their businesses.

(Read the whole thing; it’s terrific.) “Witchery in the Express Lane” makes a similar point, from a slightly different angle:

However it’s been all about the LGBT community and not about people that actually benefit from this law. People like me, a pagan, witch, Hellenist, Heathen and United Stated Citizen. I demand that my religion not be attacked by the federal government and not to be interfered by the federal government. But what really burns me up is that everyone is more concerned about the rights of the LGBT community then about the rights of people who call themselves something that, back then would of gotten you burned alive.

The gay community really seems to be burning a lot of bridges here. Heck, the push to legalize gay marriage in general seems to have just cost them around 34,000 black churches. Folks are finally starting to realize that fighting for their own religious rights is just as important, or even more important, than fighting for the sexuality rights of other people. Especially when the people they’re fighting for suddenly turn on them and attack a law that is designed to, and does, ensure those religious liberties, even though it doesn’t do anything to affect the rights of homosexuals in practice, because they don’t like three of the nineteen people who were present at the signing ceremony.

Meanwhile, homosexuals are being executed – actually killed – by Muslim fanatics in the Middle East, and the pro-gay protesters are silent.

Given a choice between fighting for my real rights, and someone else’s imagined slights, I’ll take my rights every time.

Home Worship Under Attack in Dallas

There’s a story out of Dallas that should be of interest to every Pagan and Heathen out there. A Dallas man, Rabbi Yaakov Rich, has been holding Jewish worship services in his home twice a day. His neighbor, David Schneider, who lives across the street and who happens to have just been elected as president of their homeowner’s association, is suing the rabbi for $50,000, claiming that the home-synagogue is hurting his property values.

The implications for Pagans and Heathens are obvious. If the courts uphold that the RLUIPA doesn’t protect the use of one’s private home for religious purposes here, then it’s pretty obvious that it wouldn’t protect such use for a Wiccan or Asatru worship service, either.

Now, granted, holding services twice a day seems a bit much, and one can only hope that the congregation is doing everything it can to get a permanent and dedicated temple space as soon as it can. But depending on the wording of the eventual court decision, this could have dramatic impacts on anyone holding a blot in their back yard. Think of the mischief a decision like that could instigate, especially with a neighbor who has a grudge against “those weird people across the street who practice that strange so-called religion”.

We see similar push-back against people holding Bible Studies in their homes. Again, in that case, the defendant tried to push the issue and there were ancillary questions about his use of a building on his property as a church when building inspectors were told it was a shed. But these cases do form a pattern, and could, in the hands of the wrong judge, bring about a disastrous precedent that would harm Heathens and Pagans even more than it would Christians and Jews, given the relative state of our religious infrastructure (buildings, land, schools, etc.) compared to that of the Peoples of the Book.

Keep an eye on these. They’re important.

Why the IRS and NSA scandals should matter to every Pagan and Heathen

If you follow the news, or watch Jay Leno, you’re probably aware that there are a number of scandals a-boiling within the Obama administration right now. Two in particular should be extremely worrying to every Pagan and Heathen, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum (and even if you consider yourself “apolitical”).

I’m going to ask you to set aside your personal politics just for a minute. If you’re a Democrat or a liberal, try to forget it was Republicans and conservatives who were targeted. Just for a minute, I beg you, resist the temptation to assume it’s a good thing or justified simply because it’s conservatives being targeted.

Never forget, if we have a government that can do this to conservatives and Christians today, we have a government that can do this to liberals and Pagans four years from now.

The first scandal relates to the IRS. In the process of its acknowledged unfair scrutiny of conservative groups, the IRS started demanding donor lists, details on activities (including what books were being read in a book club), lists of interns, and, most recently, telling religiously-based organizations that they cannot take stands on particular issues, that they would not be permitted to exercise their Constitutional right to protest, and – most damning – that they were not eligible for tax exempt status because “your position is not based on facts.”

Let that last one sink in for a minute. We’re finally starting to get rid of local laws banning fortune-telling. Do we want to turn around and give that authority to the IRS?

Now, even if you have a problem with 501(c)(4) organizations engaging in politics, the point is that only conservative organizations were being targeted.

You don’t like the law and think it should be strictly policed? Fine. Do it equally. There are plenty of political liberal groups that could be scrutinized too.

The second scandal relates to the NSA. It has been alleged that the NSA and other intelligence agencies have been systematically collecting phone records, emails, and other information on American citizens (a program started under President Bush, but continued and expanded under President Obama, even though Candidate Obama condemned it). Even if the contents of those calls and emails aren’t examined (and there are rumors that that is the next shoe that’s going to drop in this scandal), the metadata thus collected lets the government build a complete picture of your associations, where you are at any given time, who you’re talking to, your social networks, and so forth.

Yes, they say it’s for security. But is security really advanced by logging the phone calls and emails of each and every person in the country? Is anything gained by logging your emails? Remember Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote:

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

On the one hand, we have a government that has proven its ability and willingness to build complete profiles about anyone, whether or not that person has been charged with a crime, has had a warrant against them signed by a judge, that would allow even the most innocuous transactions to come under the closest scrutiny. And if you think you’ve done nothing wrong and therefore have nothing to hide, you’re wrong.

On the other hand, we have a government that has proven its willingness to target individuals and organizations that it considers to be its political opponents. To the point where the IRS feels empowered to question those groups about the content of their prayers, and direct them to give up their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association, simply because the administration in power at the time doesn’t like what they have to say, and who they want to associate with.

The government that can do this to people you don’t like today is the very same government that can do this to people you do like tomorrow. Maybe even you yourself.

Imagine…

The Wiccan Law Federation, a 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to representing Wiccans and Pagans in religious freedom cases, has its tax status re-evaluated by the IRS, and is told that they need to  present both sides of civil liberties issues equally, or they’re not fulfilling their educational mission.

Organizing for the Earth, a liberal 501(c)(4) organization that supports Democratic causes and candidates relating to climate change, has its tax status held up for two years, and is required by the IRS to divulge the names of all its donors, staffers, and to give up the passwords for its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The New Jersey Wiccan Alliance, a purely religious 501(c)(3) organization, is asked by the IRS to provide complete records of the content of their prayers and whether or not they intend to stage any rallies or protests against military interventions in foreign countries, or against cover-ups of child abuse in the Catholic church.

Information is leaked concerning several high-profile Wiccan and Pagan bloggers and journalists who have been especially vocal in their condemnation and investigation of conservative Christian politicians. This information is highly embarrassing personally and professionally, and is used to discredit their reporting.

Lest you think that none of those things could actually happen, think again. They already have, to conservatives, Republicans, and Christians. If you think that there is going to be a Democratic majority in government for the rest of your life, you’re sadly mistaken.

Once the precedent has been set that political opponents are fair game, and the organs of government are fair instruments to investigate, track, and attack those opponents, then it’s only a matter of time before those instruments are turned against Pagans.

That’s why this needs to be stopped here and now. It’s not about snickering that government is persecuting folks you may happen to disagree with. It’s about making sure that the Christians aren’t snickering four years from now about the government finally putting those witches in their place. This is a weapon that shouldn’t be turned against anyone in our democracy, and we should not tolerate or encourage it merely because it hasn’t — yet – been turned against us.

Careful What You Wish For

In 1993, Jay Sekulow, chief council for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court entitled Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist. The ACLJ was formed by conservative Christian leader Pat Robertson as a counterpoint to the liberal ACLU.

Lamb’s Chapel established the at-the-time unique precedent that it was not the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that applied in cases where religion was being inserted into public schools, but rather the Free Speech Clause. Speech is speech, and “viewpoint discrimination” based on the content of that speech was no longer legal in the United States. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions (notably 1995’s Rosenberger v. University of Virginia) reinforced the point.

The practical application of this new legal philosophy could be summed up by a phrase that Sekulow uses ad nauseum on his daily radio broadcast; “If they (“they” meaning any government entity, especially schools) let one group in, they have to let every group in, even evangelical Christians.”

Flash forward to 2012; we read in various places of the latest front in the “War on Christmas”; Santa Monica, CA.

Specifically, in recent years the city, acting under the strictures of the Lamb’s Chapel case, opened up their longstanding tradition of allowing churches to put up Nativity scenes on city property, deeming (rightly) that the doctrine of “viewpoint discrimination” meant that if they let one group in, they had to let them all in. In this case, that meant if they let the Christians put up crèches, they had to let the Atheists put up their own displays. Something that would not have been possible without Jay Sekulow’s argument in Lamb’s Chapel.

Since there was limited space, they ended up resorting to a lottery to assign space. Last year, so many Atheists won slots in the lottery that this year, they ended the practice altogether.

Naturally, the Usual Suspects are complaining about the “war on Christmas”; that they’re being persecuted because some other group is daring to exercise the same right that they themselves bludgeoned through the Supreme Court.

The flip side of “if they let anyone in, they have to let everyone in” is that “they” can decide not to let anyone in. That works as well for space at Christmas in front of town hall as it does for space in the public school on weekends or after school. But it’s all or nothing. Boy Scouts are in, the Wiccans are in. Girl Scouts in? Asatruar are in. You got 4H? You got Druids. Manger scenes? Scenes of the Death of Balder or simple signs stating your view of the significance of the season. You get the idea.

Space for meetings and rituals is often difficult to come by for Pagan and Heathen groups. Libraries don’t always have meeting and classroom space, private homes are often not an option for a variety of reasons, Pagan bookstores can charge enormous sums for space, and municipal community spaces can be either non-existent or difficult to come by. But thanks to Jay Sekulow and Lamb’s Chapel, a whole new venue—paid for by the hard-working, 73% Christian taxpayers—is now opened up to the Pagan and Heathen community.

Now, this is not a call to proselytize. It’s just pointing out that there’s a resource out there, fully legal and established law for nearly 20 years, that says that government facilities can’t discriminate based on viewpoint. And Paganism is a viewpoint. Heathenry is a viewpoint. Wicca is a viewpoint. Just the same as Christianity is. We are legally entitled to use the facilities available. It would be a shame not to take advantage of that opportunity.

Anti-Ritual Slaughter Bills Gaining Steam

(Cross-posted at witchesandpagans.com)

Another European country is considering a bill to regulate ritual animal slaughter. In Slovenia, there is a bill under consideration that would require that any animal slaughtered must first be stunned. This is widely (and correctly) seen as a measure aimed at ritual animal slaughter; both kashrut (Jewish) and halal (Muslim) practices require that the animal be conscious when their throats are cut.

In Estonia, all animal slaughter must take place in a government-approved slaughterhouse. That effectively ends all private animal slaughtering, and once again is a measure aimed at kashrut and halal practices.

Back in June, the lower house of the Dutch parliament approved a similar ban. Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland already ban ritual slaughter. In the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled that ritual animal sacrifice is protected under the First Amendment, although that hasn’t stopped states and local jurisdictions from attempting to do so (unsuccessfully, heretofore).

The unintentional fallout of laws like this is that they can also affect smaller religions that sometimes practice animal sacrifice, such as Paganism and Heathenry, as well as other faiths such as some forms of Hinduism and Sikhism, Santería, and others.

Not all Pagans and Heathens practice animal sacrifice, of course; in fact, many are strictly opposed to it on moral grounds. But many Heathens and some Pagans, especially those who are of a more reconstructionist bent such as Ásatrú, Théodism, the Religio Romana, etc. do practice and/or support it (again, not all, but many), and they are seeing their own rights trampled as the law attempts to legislate more “humane” treatment of animals. I myself have been present at a svínblót (pig-sacrifice) and it was one of the most stirring and spiritual events I have ever witnessed.

When done in such a setting, an animal sacrifice is most definitely neither terrifying or inhumane for the animal involved. Indeed, care and love are heaped upon the animal; if it shows fear and terror as it is led up to the spot where it is to be given to the Gods, that is a sign that the sacrifice should not take place. It is often bathed and garlanded, pampered and given affection and honor that it would never have received in an industrial slaughterhouse. The killing itself is invariably as quick and painless as possible, again in keeping with the general principle that a frightened offering is a failed offering. When done properly, the animal simply drops with nary a whimper, content to bring the words of those assembled to the ears of the Gods, happy that its last hours were gentle and pleasant, and the meat then shared among those assembled to witness the act.

The mere fact that in such a slaughterhouse the animals are stunned (either by a 300-volt shock to the back of the head or by a hit from a powered hammer right between the eyes– quite “humane”) prior to being killed does not make their final moments any less uncomfortable or terrifying. In fact, I would argue that an animal who is given to the Gods in such a fashion dies a cleaner, less stressful, and less painful death than it would have suffered in an industrial slaughterhouse, crammed in with hundreds of other animals, mutually terrified and treated like… meat.

In this sense, these efforts by animal rights activists to make animal slaughter more humane are misguided, inasmuch as they inadvertently sweep individual sacrifices up into their net alongside industrial practices. Not only is it a violation of the religious liberty of those who choose to honor the Gods in this particular way, but it arguably the case that such individual sacrifices (conducted by those with the training to do so) are much more humane even than a “humane” industrial slaughterhouse.

This is not, of course, to imply in any way that those who do not wish to engage in animal sacrifice do so. But while no one should be coerced into participating in or observing a ritual against their wishes, the door of coercion swings both ways, and those who do choose to make offerings should have the right to engage in the practice, as long as it is done humanely and respectfully.

Left, Right… A Bigot is Still a Bigot

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. has posted a piece over at the Progressive Christian section of Patheos that I think everyone who complains about the “Religious Right” needs to read.

The piece specifically addresses the efforts of American Atheists to have a piece of the ruins of the World Trade Center that coincidentally happens to have two beams welded together orthogonally (gee, how many times would that have happened in the steel infrastructure of a building?) because their inclusion is at the insistence of Christians who think that it’s somehow “proof” that their god was there, protecting them, etc.

Pity their god didn’t get there a few minutes earlier to actually stop the planes from hitting the buildings and killing three thousand people, but I digress.

Whether or not one agrees with the AA position that the cross is inappropriate in the memorial museum or not is immaterial to my argument. What I’m most incensed by is the position taken by Dr. Schmidt that (quote):

You are not entitled to argue that the expression of a Christian point of view “hurts you” in any fashion that has legal standing.

Really?

It’s not “I think your lawsuit will fail the legal test”. It’s not “I think you’re doing your own side harm in the court of public opinion by pursuing such an unpopular lawsuit.” It’s not “the law doesn’t support your argument”.

It’s “you are not entitled to argue”. To hell with the point you want to make; you don’t even have the right to make the point in the first place. You should preemptively be prevented from even opening your non-Christian gob and complaining that Christians are expressing their point of view, no matter how you personally feel about it. In fact, you should shut your non-Christian gob even if you think you have a legal point.

“You are not entitled to argue” your point. Period.

It is the ultimate expression of Christian hubris. It’s stating, in no uncertain terms, that anyone who thinks that Christianity is anything but beneficial, in the public good, and especially “for your own good” if your one of those benighted non-Christians, you should just shut up. And it’s not aimed at Atheists exclusively; anyone who doesn’t like Christians pushing their religion in our faces needs to wake up to this fact. Including, especially, Pagans, Heathens, and Witches.

The wonderful folks at the Lady Liberty League, run by Circle Sanctuary, might have something to say about this assertion.

You think you’ve been hurt by the fact that a public school district hands out Bibles to students, but then turns around and rejects Wiccan and Pagan books that are supplied for the same purpose?

You are not entitled to argue that the expression of a Christian point of view “hurts you” in any fashion that has legal standing.

You think you’ve been hurt by the fact that your child, in a public school, has been told that “paganism is not a religion”, had your 11 year old’s faith questioned in front of the class by a teacher, harassed by teachers and fellow students alike because of his faith, and told that school assignments on cultural and historical topics must contain only accounts relating to a particular religion? (And guess what… it just happens to be Christianity…)

You are not entitled to argue that the expression of a Christian point of view “hurts you” in any fashion that has legal standing.

You think you’ve been hurt by the fact that certain businesses, which are otherwise deemed public accommodations, close their doors specifically to shut out those in attendance at a Pagan festival, and state their bigoted reasons publicly and proudly?

You are not entitled to argue that the expression of a Christian point of view “hurts you” in any fashion that has legal standing.

The list could go on and on, but you get the point.

Bigotry against non-Christians is not the exclusive province of the Right, and anyone who believes so is simply deluded. Christians by definition think that theirs is the only path to salvation (John 14:6) and feel that this gives them the exclusive right to walk over and obliterate any other faith “for your own good”.

The next time someone starts whining about “The Religious Right”, remind them it’s not a right/left issue. It’s a Christian/non-Christian issue.

Post-Christian America

Over at the Catholic Thing, Fr. C. John McCloskey III frets that America is currently in a post-Christian phase of its history, but offers hope (as he sees it) that a revival of Catholicism could give us a Catholic America where a Protestant America has lost its grip on the culture:

With the passage of time, homegrown American Protestant sects sprang up so profusely that they now can be counted in the thousands. Despite this variety, almost all shared a biblical moral philosophy not far removed from Catholics. The loosening of divorce laws and the propagation of the birth control pill in the Sixties, however, precipitated further retreat mere decades later by mainstream and traditional Protestant denominations on other moral fronts, including abortion, homosexual activity, and most recently same-sex marriage.

The primary reason is the lack of dogmatic authority in Protestantism and the reliance on the principle of private judgment. Leaving people to rely on only their opinions or feelings as moral guide is not enough to sustain a country that was once Christian and now is increasingly pagan.

Now, in this passage he doesn’t mean “pagan” in the sense that I do when I use the term. He’s referring here to a vaguely non-Christian set of cultural norms and choices, rather than to contemporary polytheistic religions such as Wicca, Asatru, and the like.

Fr. McCloskey’s argument is undermined by his own Catholic myopia, however. Anyone reading the byline should have known that the answer in the article was inevitably going to be the Catholic Church; it’s impossible to trust his arguments or analysis because it’s obvious that the end-point was clearly in sight for him before he ever undertook them.

That said, if we set aside his foregone conclusion, we can see that these sour grapes can produce a passable wine. McCloskey is dismayed that the freedom of religious choice guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution has allowed people to (gasp!) choose something other than Christianity. I, on the other hand, find that a strength, and believe that a post-Christian America doesn’t have to replace the Christian cultural hegemony that is now in the process of passing into history (albeit not without its gasps of desperation to cling on) with a single religiously-based hegemony.

Rather, I think that the Founding Fathers were wiser than we give them credit for. Distrustful as they were of strong central authorities (given their experience with George III), they set up a system wherein law and culture is not dictated by the “dogmatic authority” that McCloskey seems to yearn for. Rather, the First Amendment itself guarantees against just such a thing, setting in its place a system of legal understanding and cultural evolution that flows from the ground up in a true marketplace of ideas where the strongest, most capable, and ultimately most valuable ideas rise to the top while those that are found wanting sink into obscurity.

Thus, the collective Christian idea (expressed sub-rosa in some cases, loudly and proudly in others) that sex should be for procreation only, has largely eroded away and replaced with a much more life-affirming sentiment that sex is fun, the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, and decisions regarding sex and procreation should reside in the conscience of the individual rather than being mandated by “dogmatic authority”. This has led us, over the last few decades, to the understanding that depictions of sex are okay and should not be illegal, providing contraception for people who choose to use it is okay and should not be illegal, sex between consenting adults who don’t happen to have undergone the marriage ritual of a specific religious tradition is okay and should not be illegal, sex between individuals of the same gender is okay and should not be illegal, etc. etc. etc.

I find nothing wrong with that whatsoever. The toppling of McCloskey’s “dogmatic authority” is nothing to be feared, and certainly nothing to be replaced with yet another such authority. It is the ultimate promise of the First Amendment, and should be cheered loudly and proudly by all lovers of individual liberty.

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