With its tagline of “Stop the Fluff. Think For Yourself. Fight the Bunny,” Wicca for the Rest of Us is a Wiccan website even this atheist can get into. For example, the site hosts a series of essays debunking some of the historical falsehoods bandied about by some Wiccans/pagans/neopagans/whatever. The site’s take down of Margaret Murray’s bizarre, discredited theories about European witchcraft is especially well-written.
Sgt. Patrick Stewart, 34, was killed in Afghanistan last September when his helicopter came under enemy fire. His widow and family are in a dispute with the Department of Veteran Affairs over the religious symbol on his grave. Specifically, Stewart was a Wiccan and the Department of Veteran Affairs doesn’t have an approved symbol for Wiccans/pagans/neo-pagans/witches/whatever-the-hell-they’re-calling-themselves-this-week.
It is a bit strange that there is no approved Wiccan/whatever symbol given that there are almost 40 other approved religious-oriented symbols. On the other hand, the Wiccans might want to be careful what they wish for. As the Associated Press notes,
The Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetary Adminstration allows only approved emblems of religious beliefs on government headstones. Over the years, it has approved more than 30, including symbols for the Tenrikyo Church, United Morovian Church and Sikhs. There’s also an emblem for atheists — but none for Wiccans.
Sounds good, except the atheist symbol is that piece-of-crap symbol that the American Atheists in the 1960s — a stylized picture of an atom with a capital A in the middle. According to the American Atheist site,
When American Atheists was formed in 1963, a contemporary scientific symbol was chosen; this acknowledges that only through the use of scientific analysis and free, open inquiry can humankind reach out for a better life.
This is a bit like approving a single image of Akhnaton to be used by Jews, Christians, Muslims and other monotheists (and, in case you haven’t noticed, atheists for some reason are litigious-prone — someone’s bound to sue at some point). And the explanation for the symbol makes no sense. Hundreds of years from now, future generations are going to come along and think people buried in those graves were some strange electron worshipping cult or something.
Frankly, I’ve always thought that a better choice for an atheist symbol would be the logical negation symbol: ¬
Then again, I think we should put Cthulhu on the $5 bill, so I may be a bit out of the loop with my fellow atheists.
For Wiccan soldier, death brings fight. Associated Press, May 25, 2006.
A few years ago I wrote about my disdain for the tendency of pagan/wiccans to adopt relativism. Peace activist and pagan Starhawk provides an excellent example of just how nutty this view is if it is taken seriously.
The title of her op-ed says it all, “Pagans reject the idea of evil — how do we respond to terrorism?” To Starhawk, the idea of evil is simply an artificial construct that pagans avoid using,
Evil is a construct Pagans try to avoid. Our theology, or rather, thealogy, (Goddess-knowing) teaches us that dark and light, life and death, creation and destruction exist in balance, and to cut off or condemn one aspect opens us to the imbalance that leads to cruelty and horror. We might say that the simplistic formulation, “They are evil; we are good” leads to its corollary, “We are justified in destroying them by any means whatsoever.” And that is the very ideology that motivates the bombers, as well, and which throughout human history has led to the worst atrocities.
But if we reject the concept of evil, how do we respond to horrific acts? Is there a specifically Pagan response to such violence? There is no central Pagan authority, no Pagan Pope to issue bulls, no Pagan rabbinical authority to say who does or does not have the right to interpret for us. We have no sacred scriptures to interpret, anyway. As Pagans, we are each our own spiritual authority, each with our own connection to the Goddess.
In one respect, this is a very conservative ideology. The view that the balance between life and death should not be interfered with is, after all, partially the motivating factor of ultra-conservative traditionalists who reject modern medical practices. In another respect, however, Starhawk’s rejection of the idea of evil is extremely radical.
In order to defend this view and simultaneously appear to reject things that the rest of us might call evil, she falls back on empty assertions and intuitions,
From that authority, I offer one PaganÂ’s response to the bombings. While we have no Bible, no set of commandments, we do have nature as our teacher, and a set of rough ethics that value life, balance, and interconnection. We feel an immediate, intuitive horror at the taking of life, and at the randomness of this death. To die because I chose to fight in the military, or to take a particular risk, or even because I incurred a particular enemy, at least has some sense of cause and meaning.
This is a sort of fluffy bunny view of nature. I take the other view that nature, if it were alive as Starhawk believes it is, is a mass murderer. The way each of us came to exist, after all, is at the tail end of an enormously long train of violence and destruction. Just ask people in New Orleans how they feel about nature carrying out its balancing act.
We rightfully reject and condemn those tactics. Death may be a part of life, but inflicting it on others breaks the fabric of interconnectedness and assaults the sacred embodied in each one of us.
How does violence break the interconnectedness of nature? After all, interconnected creatures are killing themselves all the time in Starhawk’s exalted nature.
Anyway, what exactly is wrong with breaking the interconnectedness? After all, doing so cannot be evil by her reckoning. So perhaps Starhawk merely finds this to be unpleasant, whereas other people feel differently.
She does try to address this at the end of her essay, but again just demonstrates the moral emptiness of this sort of ideology,
A Pagan response to violence might say thereÂ’s enough death, enough drama inherent in nature, in the course of life and the changes of the seasons and the cougarÂ’s pursuit of the deer. LetÂ’s not add to it. As human beings, weÂ’re put on this earth to develop those things the cougar does not have: compassion, gratitude, conscious appreciation and wonder at the beauty and mystery of life. LetÂ’s stop killing each other, and get on with it.
. . .
We are all interconnected. Perhaps that simple, Pagan truth could lead us to reject murder as a way of resolving our issues with each other, whether the killing is done by opposition groups or by the state itself or by a ruthless and unjust economic system. We are all part of the circle of life. That understanding must lead us to create a world in which the fabric of life is cherished, in the individual and the whole, and violence is transformed by love.
Presumably if Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Ill had just realized that they are interconnected with every living being, they woul have seen the errors of their way and gave in to love.
This is every bit a silly utopian ideology as the view shared by some Christians of an end times where Christ will return and rule over an enlightened Christian community.
Moreover, Starhawks solution for getting there is simply not to resist evil. In her world, Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Baathist Iraq — none of which was evil — would not have been resisted at all, except perhaps through trying to transform those societies with love and criticism of Western efforts to end those regimes.
Personally, the American Civil Liberties Union’s successful effort to force Los Angeles county to drop a small cross from its public seal is exactly the reason I would never even consider donating to that group.
In case you didn’t follow this controversy, the Los Angeles county seal is subdivided into an number of sections and one of those sections features a cross to signify the historic role that Catholic missionaries played in California’s history. According to the ACLU, however, the cross is offensive to non-Christians (though not offensive to this atheist or my Wiccan wife), and violates the separation of church and state. As my wife puts it, perhaps next the ACLU should go after numerous other examples of Christianity embedded in California municipalities,
After this they’ll want to change city names that harken back to the days of the Spanish missions to something less offensive to non-Catholics: Los Angeles … Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Bruno, San Carlos, Santa Clara, San Clemente, Santa Cruz, Santa Clarita, San Diego, San Dimas, San Francisco, San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Joaquin, San Juan Bautista, San Jacinto, San Juan Capistrano, San Jose, San Anselmo, San Leandro, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Monica, San Marcos, Santa Maria, San Marino, Santa Paula, San Pablo, San Rafael, San Ramon, Santa Rosa….Ah, I luve the smell of litigation in the morning!
It’s stupid crap like this cross case that will keep me from ever donating money to the ACLU.
Equally as dumb, however, was Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly is like the conservative clone of Al Franken. If he’s got a good point, it’s not enough to make that point and move on. No, he has to stretch the point past the breaking point and into sheer lunacy. Here’s O’Reilly on the ACLU’s threatened lawsuit (emphasis added),
“Talking Points” wants you to know that we are rapidly losing freedom in America. Judges are overruling the will of the people, and fascist organizations like the ACLU are imposing their secular will.
Fascist organizations like the ACLU? What an idiot.
The O’Reilly Factor Transcript. June 2, 2004.
Back on November 26, Jim Towey — Director of the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives — held an online chat to answer questions about the faith-based projects which President Bush championed before and after his election.
Towey really flubbed a rather simple question seeking to find out if non-Christian groups would have an equal footing in seeking funding for Faith Based and Community Initiatives monies,
Colby, from Centralia MO writes:
Do you feel that Pagan faith based groups should be given the same considerations as any other group that seeks aid?
I haven’t run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can’t be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it.
That’s a rather abusive answer for what is a straightforward question, and of course Towey avoids actually addressing the main issue of the question — would Pagan/Wiccan groups applying for money be treated in the same manner as Christian groups?
It’s also extremely insulting for Towey to imply that pagans would only be interested in promoting ideology and don’t have the heart for helping the poor.
Later in the interview, he gives the correct answer to this question when the very same thing is asked about Muslims,
Rob, from Chicago writes:
Why can’t my Muslim brothers and sisters participate as easily in this Administration’s faith based initiatives? Most of the people I know who have any association with the Muslim faith are being harrassed, not helped or supported, at this time.
Muslims are welcomed to participate in this initiative. The issue isn’t whether a group believes in God or not but whether their program works. So the faith-based initiative isn’t faith-specific. I think America needs to do all it can to avoid religious rivalry and competition -that is the beauty of our heritage of pluralism.
Why couldn’t he have just said something like that in answer to the pagan question? (And what’s more religiously pluralistic than pagans/wiccans with their odd mix of poly/pantheism?)
In Focus: Thanksgiving. White House chat transcript, November 26, 2003.
Like everything else religious, I am equally repulsed and fascinated by all things Wicca. My wife recently pointed me to Wren’s Nest which is basically a blog devoted to highlighting news stories related to Wicca.
For example, I didn’t see anyone else link to this story that the ASPCA a couple years ago finally dropped its nonsensical recommendation that animal shelters not allow adoption of black cats around Halloween, and that shelters around the country are starting to get the message and drop such bans. As the article notes, not only are there no statistics backing up claims that people would adopt black cats just to torture or kill them for God(dess)-knows-what, if you want to find a black cat it’s not that hard to find one on the streets in most parts of the country.