Patricia Nell Warren

On Being a Pagan in America

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | February 19, 2013 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Fox News, Libertas, Liberty, pagans, Roman republic, stereotypes, Wiccan

The other day, three Fox reporters were blathering pompously about "pagans" and "Wiccans." Clearly they were just barfing stereotypes that they'd been fed by far-right Christians. One of them allowed that Wiccans "use lots of incense," which would also handily describe the Catholic Church. They might as well have been blathering allegations about some far-off country that they never visited. Ironically, many LGBT people like myself are refugees from Christianity, so we can speak with authority about that ideological "country" where Americans like the Fox trio are still "living."

A few years ago, I posted at Bilerico about my own journey to paganism. Classical paganism encourages people to question everything (which is how our ancients made so many key scientific discoveries). So my definition of paganism may differ from others. But I'm reposting it again, because I'd like to join the discussion that has exploded around the Fox misstep. Here it is, after the jump:

These days the religious right is on a roll with imposing conservative Christian belief in American life. Hence the liberty of Americans is now at risk if they want to publicly identify their personal belief or spiritual view as anything "non-Christian." In fact, the religious righters try to claim that their own "right to liberty" includes their perceived right to forcibly convert the rest of us.

Yet paganism is at the core of American history. Many of our American founders -- men like Jefferson and Franklin, women like Mercy Otis Warren -- had political ideas that were rooted in classical (i.e. Greek and Roman pagan) institutions of government. The very idea of an "American republic" was based on a pagan idea, created by ancient Roman tribes who threw off a cruel monarchy and took back the political power over their own lives. The word "re-public" traces to Latin words that mean "back to the people."

Many Americans are pathetically misinformed about what "paganism" is. They swallow everything that the religious right tells them -- that all pagans practiced human sacrifice, ate babies for breakfast, practiced devil worship and sex orgies, etc. etc.

Americans have also devoured PBS and History Channel shows alleging that Adolf Hitler was a "pagan." If PBS says this, it must be true, right? (The producers of these shows never explain why, if Hitler was a pagan, his rise to power was supported by so many Catholics and Protestants, not to mention the Vatican.)

The fact is -- the early Church warred against "pagans" because these people were the enduring masses who still followed the old pre-Christian ways. Latin pagensis means a person who lives in the country, not the city. By the closing days of the Roman Empire, Christianity had captured the empire's old urban centers and government bureaucracy, but country people were still largely untouched by this change. Every village still had its little temples and shrines and festivals to the old Gods and Goddesses. It took the Church nearly a thousand years of war and public executions to stamp out the lingering pockets of paganism across Europe.

I identify with these historical "pagans" because of the way that militant American Christianity is trying to stamp out everything non-Christian in this country.

Some Americans even believe that pagans are atheists. An old friend of mine, whom I've known since grade school, told me recently that she wished I would find the Lord someday. She's a devout Catholic and feels distressed by what she sees as my lack of belief in anything. I told her that I had found the Lord...and the Lordess.

How I Got There

A biography byte: I started out at age 6 in Presbyterian Sunday school, and went to Catholic convert at the age of 17. But I left the Catholic Church at age 20. From there I touched bases with agnosticism, existentialism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, but those didn't work for me. Around 1979, I reconnected with some of my First Nations relatives while working on my historical novel "One Is the Sun."

That time in the 1980s got my feet back on the ground and prompted me to re-examine everything I thought I knew. I constructed a new MO for myself that started with God and Goddess, and went on to constantly learn new things and question old things. I like the word "pagan" as a job title of where I'm at, because ancient pagan philosophy and science was based on asking courageous questions and following wherever the questions led. That included questions about sexual orientation and gender. The ancient Greeks and Romans lived the whole gamut of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and straight, and they addressed those questions with more courage than establishment Christianity ever did.

So as an American pagan, I find it amusing to see the religious right fuming about how "America was founded on the Bible."

One look at Liberty, chief symbol of the United States from our beginning, and you know that the righters are lying in their teeth. The Goddess of Liberty appeared on our earliest coins. She stands on top of the Capitol dome in Washington D.C. She holds a torch at the entrance to New York Harbor. She can be seen in ten thousand other places across our nation, in public buildings and in our arts. Under the name Libertas, She was beloved by the pagan Romans, and a symbol of freedom for slaves.

But you won't find Her anywhere in the Bible.


Copyright 2007 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved. First published in Echo Magazine.

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