Deity, By Any Name...
Author: Micca MacKay
As I sit here, having just been called a devil worshiper and hearing the word "Pagan" used like a four letter word, I wonder why we are asked to endure the closed minded?
So, I want to challenge those closed minds with some questions. I contemplate these same questions myself on a regular basis. I felt these needed to be shared and I hope that by writing this it will help someone come closer to Deity, open a closed mind or help someone find their own idea and path to Deity that's right for them.
These questions are my personal beliefs and thoughts, and I hope you will all see that I don't claim them to be the only right answer or a "gospel" to be followed. Just something to think about.
First, my questions. I like to ask them to start a conversation verses an argument with people that say I'm wrong because I don't believe or accept their religious belief. I like to start with, "What do you gain from your belief personally?" The most common answer I get is "I don't know"
How strange is that! They don't know what they get from their beliefs? Sometimes someone will say it makes him or her happy or lets them see there is a life out there to live that they didn't know was there. This often leads to several other things, such as the comment, "How come you didn't know this life was out there?" and a discussion on being able to make choices in our lives that will change where we are and what were doing.
You might wonder why I take the time to talk to people who are obviously closed minded to anything or anyone that's not of "their religion". Well, I do it because I believe we, as Pagans, have to start the dialog and take the steps to open those closed minds. We need to show these people that we are not the "heathens" they think we are just because we don't follow their chosen insert religion If we don't work to open the minds and change the thinking, who will?
I hear many Pagans talk about disrespect, lack of rights, the fear of being "outed" and countless other complaints about why it's hard to be openly Pagan. Again I ask, if we don't speak up for our beliefs, and work to change these things, who will?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not out to change the world or to make anyone change their faith or belief, I'm just trying to open their minds, to see the alternatives. I hope by helping people see that there are alternatives, they will discover that thinking and belief other than their own shouldn't be scorned or put down, but accepted as someones personal choice in belief. Hopefully this will help them see that Deity comes in many names and forms, not just one.
Religion is about faith and conviction of the heart, not about the building, the book you read to find it, the money you put in the offering plate or even the politics that a religion may support. Granted, you can't turn around sometimes without one of these things being used to influence religion.
How many times have you seen a new church being built or heard the televangelist asking for more money or even the President saying "with God's help"? We are a nation that has a Constitution based on the belief in religious freedom; people fleeing to a new home to have religious faith and freedom, as they wanted it, founded this country. But it seems sometimes, that the freedom offered by the Constitution only exists if you're following "mainstream" faiths.
Pagans in some areas are facing the same religious persecution that those Pilgrims faced before coming here. Take a second to think about that and remember why this country was founded.
Yes, over the last few years, Paganism (and more commonly, Wicca) has come into the view of the mainstream faiths. Those Pagans that serve this country in the military are allowed to worship on base or ship because of changes in the past. These small steps that we are seeing come at a cost of huge gaps between all Pagans and the true freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In September of 1986, Wicca, more commonly referred to as Witchcraft in this case, was recognized as a religion protected under the First Amendment. This ruling in Dettmer vs. Landon (1) was additionally upheld with the repeal of the Helms Amendment (2) by the United States Congress.
So don't get me wrong. There have been huge strides to better the understanding and general acceptance of Wicca and Pagan's by the mainstream religions, but we have also had barriers put before us.
In 1999, just prior to the 2000 Presidential Elections, in a televised Presidential debate, the candidates were asked "With religious diversity increasing, what are your thoughts on the protection of religious freedom and the separation of church and state? Should religions like Wicca be banned from recognition by the military, as some legislators suggest?"
Then Texas Governor George W. Bush replied to this question with "I am committed to the First Amendment principles of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity. Whether Mormon, Methodist, Jewish, or Muslim, Americans should be able to participate in their constitutional free exercise of religion. I do not think witchcraft is a religion, and I do not think it is in any way appropriate for the U.S. military to promote it." It would appear that G. W. Bush, our current president, is all for religious freedom under First Amendment protection, as long as your NOT Pagan.
There are many more examples of the barriers and problems we must face as Pagans, but let us also look at those steps that take us in the right direction.
Enter one Chrystal Seifferly, in October 1998.
Chrystal was ordered by school authorities to remove her pentacle necklace under threat of suspension. She was an honor student, and admitted witch and Priestess of Wicca and had been for several years at that time.
So you ask, where does the step forward come from? Simple. In March of 1999, the ACLU brought First Amendment legal action against the Lincoln Park Michigan School District (3), in the U S District Court of Judge Gerald Rosen. Judge Rosen agreed with the ACLU, declaring the student's pentacle to be a recognized symbol of the Wiccan religion. As such, the display of that symbol is protected under Constitutional law.
I have traveled far and wide from the original subject, but there is much for us as Pagans to do to start opening minds. Having some knowledge of what has been done and has been dealt with in the past can do nothing but help with the future struggles we will face.
Some people, whom I consider far wiser than I and whose opinion I respect, fear for the freedom of our faith and the practice of it in these current times. Are we facing another "Burning Times?" I don't know the answer to that one, but we should be concerned and again, we need to be the ones to speak up.
We can't allow another politician to make comments like Mr. Bush did and still be elected to office. These are the people who will shape the future for us through their political and, as we can see, religious belief.
My stepdaughter comes to circle on occasion and is starting to question faith for herself. If I/we don't speak up now, and open the minds of those in authority, what will her religious freedoms be in 5 or 10 years? Freedom of faith, religion and belief for ALL not just a few, is what we need to work for.
This article is not about politics, so forgive the soapbox stand in some areas of this. But understand, if we don't stand up and demand our rights under the First Amendment, there will be Acts like the Barr (4) and Helms Amendments that slip through and harm us all in our practice of religious faith.
This article is about Deity, and changing the way people accept faiths other than their own.
A dear friend, Vernon McCoy, once said, " I close my eyes and hear Deity's voice".
I don't think I ever told Vernon how those words hit me and made me look at my own faith, but in them I found the culmination of my own long held belief about faith. It strengthened my feelings that closed minds should be questioned. I thought about my own actions and wondered if I was doing enough to open those closed minds.. and I found that I wasn't.
Yes, I questioned people when they would give me a hard time about being Wiccan. But I never took the time to talk to them. I just defended myself. (So excuse me a second as I say Thank you to Vernon...)
I'm not out to force anyone to change his or her mind, but only to ask people to think about Deity in the broad span and to think about other choices in faith and belief outside their own.
I don't expect them to come rushing to support Pagans, but if we can open a single mind, get them to think about something outside their comfort zone, to understand that we don't all have to follow one faith, then we have the beginning of a new future.
You see, to me, Deity in all its forms, names and visages falls into place when I think about the energy and grace Deity possesses. Deity is all knowing, all encompassing and because of that belief in Deity, I have my personal thoughts.
Now some will say that I am wrong; others might say that it can't be this easy. Some may even close their minds to the thoughts that faith and belief don't have to be mainstream. But I hope they will at least think about it.
So you're probably asking yourself, "What's this thought? What's his personal idea?"
Well, here it is Deity, in all its forms, names, and grace, is SMARTER than we are!
I know, some are asking how can you say that? I say it because it's true. If Deity weren't smarter, the way to knowledge, worship and faith would be impossible for us to find.
Deity being smarter than us makes the way to that path possible and we have the way to faith, belief and prayer. Imagine if you couldn't find that path. No faith in your beliefs. What a sad thing that would be.
Deity is smarter than we are, and I'm happy for it, aren't you?
Now using that simple statement, 'Deity is smarter than we are', I came to the understanding that I use to question closed minds, and yes, even some open ones. I'm sure someone reading this has had this conversation with me in person, and by the way, thank you for your input in that conversation. This discussion is ongoing; I find new ways to approach it every time I get to have it with someone.
The main question that has built from this thought about Deity being smarter than we are is simply this; "If Deity, in all its knowledge, wanted us to believe and have faith, wouldn't it make the path to that belief something we can most easily accept and understand, by form, culture and grace, as faith and religion?"
There you go! The question that has started discussions, some arguments, and in one case, a long discussion and friendship with a Catholic Priest. I still ask the question even though there are those who want to argue about it. I still use it to start a discussion or to counter negative opinions.
So, as you read this, stop for a minute, think about how YOU would answer this question.
Now that you have thought about the question, let's get into it some more. First off, Deity wouldn't come to each of us in the same form as it did for you. Why would it? What you see and what I see and what the man or woman next to you sees are most likely NOT the same thing. But yet, to us all, it is Deity.
An example of this I like to use comes from the early days of this country. With the expansion west, we came to know more and more about the Native American culture. Many Christians felt that the Indians were wrong in believing that the Eagle flying in the sky was the symbol for the Great Spirit, aka Deity, and the Indians didn't understand the early Christian's seeing a cross with Jesus on it as a form of god.
Neither culture or people were wrong in their faith, they just didn't understand the other and were closed minded about anything not of their faith. Both cultures had faith and both cultures had a belief in "God". They just viewed it with different names.
The same can be said for every religion in the world. No matter the name, image or belief, its all faith in Deity. No matter the culture or people, in whatever form they choose, Deity comes to them in the form they can accept and have faith in.
Doesn't this all sound like something the "all knowing" Deity would do? It does to me. Think about it for a minute. With the vast religious faiths practiced around the world, the countless names, beliefs and images all have one thing in common: faith.
Here comes another discussion starter In all the forms of faith and belief, religious icons, symbols and song, Deity and faith the all mighty "God" by whatever name, is still simply faith in Deity. Though we have numerous names, countless practices and cultures associated with religion, it's still all about faith, belief and worship of Deity.
I remind you, it doesn't matter if you worship outside in the forest, or in a Cathedral or in Temple. It's still faith that opens our hearts and minds to Deity.
It's that same faith that leads us to the path we choose to follow to Deity. 'Deity is smarter than we are' and has allowed each of us the ability to have faith in our personally chosen "God form"
Often this discussion leads to a variety of comments, denials and even acceptance of the idea that Deity is smarter than we are and has allowed us to find faith in a way we accept personally. What I have found that often helps with this discussion, especially when people are starting to question their own acceptance of the idea, is to calmly listen and discuss the reason they are feeling like this.
Usually you will find that people are not secure in their own faith and belief and this discussion, and the idea it represents, can make them very uncomfortable. Know in your own heart that you're secure in your faith and choice in Deity before discussing with others about their faith.
I know I'm secure in my faith. I choose to see Deity in the form of the God and Goddess and I'm happy with my faith. But remember, just because I'm happy with my faith, does not mean that anyone else is wrong in their belief and faith just because its not mine.
In my opinion, those people with closed minds will view your faith and belief as wrong simply because it's not the same as theirs and because you don't believe the way they do, or in the same thing they do.
These are the minds we, as Pagans, have to start to open, and to get people started on questioning their own strict moral high ground that they are standing on. If we can get one person to look at Deity, and see that faith in Deity is about our hearts and where we are, then we will have done the best that we can.
Simply put, everyone has the choice to believe and have faith as they wish, and this is what we have to continue to protect.
The freedom that we as Pagans and other non-secular religions have fought to gain, and are working to maintain, has to be held onto. If we allow people to change laws and/or enact policies that discriminate because of religious choice, then we have lost our own chance to have the faith that Deity has allowed us to choose.
I have been told many times I'm wrong because of my faith because its not the same as my family's choice. To those people I say, "I'm sorry you feel that way.. maybe we can discuss it?"
Remember, if we can open one closed mind to the idea that religion and the choice to have faith is based on each person accepting deity in their own way, then we will continue to gain ground in true religious freedom.
Who knows? If you ask the right questions along the way, you just might strengthen your own faith along with opening minds. Softening the religious morality and stoic views of 'right' and 'wrong' as seen by "mainstream" religions is one challenge each Pagan has to stand unto.
Without religious freedom, and the right to make our personal choices of faith and deity, then only one question remains:
Where will we be?
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