This is the second in a series of articles that I wrote for a Feature Writing class at Kennesaw State University in the Fall 2002 semester. The link where the article was originally published can be found at the bottom of this entry. Feel free to comment. (Also keep in mind that any links at this point may or may not be accurate.)

Religion is not a sports team

By Brekke Ferguson

The Yankees didn’t going to the 2002 World Series. Fans around the world were shocked and dismayed, and for one year, Yankees fans couldn’t say that their team was better than the rest.

In the thirteenth century, the Catholic Church decided that they were better than the rest, a better team than other religions — even other Christian religions — and they began the Inquisition. What would it be like if such an “Inquisition” were to conducted against the fans of a rival baseball team? Murder.

Even a quick historical search will show that religious persecution and intolerance have existed for centuries. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that even today, in a country where the “Bill of Rights” plainly states that there should be “freedom of religion” that there is intolerance. The original settlers of this country came here fleeing religious persecution, yet it should have been no surprise that they turned around and began following the same practice they had run from.

Several religious groups that are being persecuted today are the Pagans and the Neo-Pagan movement. Paganism is not a single religion, but a collection of different religious paths that are outside of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. The Pagan Educational Network, an online resource, gives this general definition of the movement, “Neo-Paganism: Collection of diverse contemporary religions rooted in indigenous traditions or deriving inspiration therefrom, characterized by a belief in the interconnection of all life, personal autonomy, and immanent divinities. Often nature-centered and supportive of gender equity.”

Followers of Pagan paths take many different roads, and many of them have beliefs that are completely different from other Pagan paths. A major reason Pagans are persecuted is because of the incorrect, yet popular, assumption that “Pagan” means “devil-worshipper.” While there are so-called Satanists who could possibly fall into this category, most followers on a Pagan path do not believe in a being called Satan. The figure of Satan is actually a Christian belief.

No matter what religion one believes in, enrichment of understanding is achieved by learning not only about one’s own religion, but also about other religions as well. Being informed helps one keep an open mind, and it can also help cement one’s own beliefs more firmly.  

The word “Pagan” is defined by Dictionary.com as “one who is not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, especially a worshiper of a polytheistic religion.” Some examples of some Eastern schools of thought that would fall under that definition are Baha’i (believe in one God), Buddhism (does not point to any specific God, but there is a belief in reincarnation), Confucianism (Confucius, “head” of this religion, was actually a philosopher who believed in the need for harmony and order), and Hinduism (belief in one supreme God, but that God is worshiped in many forms).

In a brochure published by the Pagan Educational Network, it states, “Pagan religions may draw on ancient historical practices or be entirely new.”  Most Pagan religions have spanned a long history, but some have a much shorter span of history. Some are very old and rooted in tradition, such as Ásatrú, which is a Norse-based pagan religion.

The Pagan Educational Network defines a younger Pagan religion called Wicca like this: “Wicca is sometimes called Witchcraft. Practitioners differ over use of terms. The individual’s preference should determine the use of terms. Membership estimates range from 50,000 to 150,000 in the U.S.  Wiccans are initiated as priests and priestesses. There is no ‘lay/clergy’ distinction. Leaders of covens are sometimes called ‘High Priestess’ or ‘Lady’ to denote leadership status. The individual’s preference should determine the use of titles.”

Wicca is a younger religion, dating only to 1954, and was inspired by Gerald Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today. The ideas in Gardner’s books have been around for years, but he is often considered the first to ever practice Wicca in a recognizably modern form.

According to the Pagan Educational Network, “Members of Pagan religions self identify; there is no official hierarchy within the movement. Membership estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000 in the U.S. Each Pagan is independent and autonomous, even while working with groups.” This autonomy is what intrigues many people to the path.  For instance, at a recent meeting of a Georgia Pagan organization, each person introduced him or herself, and told about why they chose a pagan path, and also why they have stuck with it. The most common answer was, “It is what I feel comfortable with. It is where I fit.”

Ann, who co-founded the group, said that she “stuck with it because it makes sense.” Ann has been practicing around eight years. Kevin, a local Ásatrú, said that his father read him Norse mythology as a child. As he grew older, he began to become interested in other aspects of the mystical nature of Norse society, and he later began to practice. When asked why he stayed with it, he said, “I just did. It’s what I knew best.”

This sentiment of fitting in, and of feeling comfortable in a religion is what many people search for in religion, yet it often escapes them. These people go through the motions of religion, and many have done so their entire lives, simply because it is what they know, or what they were told to do.

Perhaps now, especially in regard to the turbulent times we all are facing, it is time to step up and to begin to think about religion, and one’s right to believe in their beliefs. It’s time to think more about tolerance, and less about whose religious “team” is best. It’s time to learn about one’s own religion, but also the religions of one’s peers.

The “United States Constitution” states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

I asked several people what their idea of religious equality and religious freedom was, and I got some interesting responses. Mark, a Canadian Pagan, said that religious freedom meant, “That I have the freedom to believe what I want and that my beliefs will not effect other areas of my life.” Allyson said that, “religious equality scares people because of the unknown.”

If fear of the unknown were keeping people from being more tolerant of other religions, then the obvious solution would be to learn about other religions. Knowledge is power, but knowledge also comes with a price – no longer being able to plead ignorance and continuing to act as one had before.  Power brings with it responsibility.

According to the Major League Baseball Association, every team in the league has the right to play no matter if other team’s fans like them or not. Likewise, the “United States Constitution” gives American citizens the right to practice religion – no matter what religion it is.

Yankees fans cannot stop the Mets fans from loving the Mets, and in that vein one religion’s practitioners cannot stop another religion’s practitioners from practicing their beliefs.  

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Brekke Ferguson is an English major at Kennesaw State University with an interest in religions of the world.

Copyright © 2002 by Brekke Ferguson.  All rights reserved.

http://www.kennesaw.edu/themagazine/Ferguson2.htm

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