What does “ecumenism” mean when you don’t “all worship the same god”?
Elizabeth Scalia, a/k/a The Anchoress, a Roman Catholic blogger at Patheos, comments simultaneously on posts by another Patheos Catholic blogger and by Star Foster, who manages the site’s Pagan portal. Both of the latter, in Star’s words, hold that “My faith is not a matter of style. It’s not like shoes or purses. It’s not a matter of deciding if I want tacos or pasta for dinner. It’s not something I can change on a whim.”
Scalia’s verdict: “Ecumenism has not been able to say that [not all religions are the same]; it’s been too busy trying to be all things to all people and placing equal values to things that are not equal in anyone’s mind. It’s been a lie.”
She ends up admiring Star for her honesty, at least. But her commenters, many of them, are not convinced. “I couldn’t call myself a Catholic and not tell you that the practice of Witchcraft is evil,” notes one.
Which is why I sometimes wonder why we — Pagans in particular — bother with ecumenical and interfaith activities.
It’s true that I do often feel that religious professionals have more in common with each other and are more able to relate to one another than their congregants and followers are.
We Pagans do not seek unity with the same fervor that the Christians do (even as they splinter more and more). “Ecumenicism” refers to a promotion of unity, of purpose if not of organization, between different Christian bodies.
“Interfaith” has a somewhat different meaning. At times the two words are used interchangeably, but they should not be. Were it not for the American constitutional tradition of religious freedom (and similar traditions in some other Western nations), I do not think that the Pagans would get a seat at the interfaith luncheon table. (Resolutions passed by the United Nations have no effect that I have ever seen.)
So my title is an editorial rather than a rhetorical question. I have just been going over some material related to the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group in the American Academy of Religion — the 2012 call for papers has not yet been posted but soon will be. I don’t know if that topic would fit the “call” perfectly, but a creative person could make it fit. Or write an article for The Pomegranate.
7 thoughts on “What Do Pagans Get from Interfaith Activities?”
The Interfaith of Topeka currently has a Wiccan as President. We recently talked about at our last meeting about how many of the more conservative Christian churches dropped out of the group the moment he joined. It gave legitimacy to a religion they felt didn’t deserve it. The problem I find is that, while it helps to promote Pagan faiths as “real” religions, it tends to act as a wedge for others. It is hard to help people see your religion as another faith choice/tradition if they won’t even join you at the table, let alone talk with you.
We are living in a time in which fundamentalists of all varieties are using religion as a wedge to drive people apart. This tactic of fomenting dualism—of dividing the world into “us” and “them”—is being exploited, as it has been for centuries, in various contexts, by people who are hungry for power and who will do whatever it takes to get it. If the rest of us do not take the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue—if we content ourselves with living in our separate silos, with self-segregation and mutual condemnation—then, by default, the forces of division, discord, and destruction, will have the final word. This is an outcome that I, for one, would not want to see.
I was brought up Jewish, and many years ago I went to a teen ecumenical meeting. The Jewish kids I talked with on the bus to the meeting wanted to share their beliefs and learn about the beliefs of other religions. Had the Christian groups done the same, I feel it would have been of value. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that they (and their parents and leaders) did not want either a conversation or to learn about Jewish beliefs. Their only goal was conversion.
There was great silence on the way back to our Synagogue. I have never taken part in such an ecumenical meeting since.
However, I have taken part in groups where people could simply present their beliefs. These are ones with no attempt at agreement, just presentation. The reason I still take part in these events is not for the purpose of trying to open the minds of those who will not listen, but to allow those with minds that are already open to have factual information.
I do believe that knowledge brings understanding and understanding brings acceptance—not agreement, just acknowledgement and acceptance. If one person listening gains a bit of understanding, it may not help anyone today, but it is my hope that it will help all in the future.
I would call that teen meeting “interfaith” rather than “ecumenical,” but yes to the rest.
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Ack. Thanks to Ecumenicon, I have been happily using “ecumenical” improperly for 20 years. *sigh*
Well, thank you for the correction & clarification. It’s really too bad, “ecumenical” sounds so rich & abundant.
In my mid-sized, Middle Western community, the Peaceniks, the Social Justice people, the environmentalists, the labor rights folks, and the Interfaith folks all form overlapping circles. I’ve volunteered in the Fair Trade Movement for eight years, and I’ve been a member of the local chapter of the Interfaith Alliance for a year and half. I’ve worked on the program committee for most of that time, and I have just been elected to a 2 year term on the board of directors. I helped plan a very popular interfaith festival last spring.
What do I get out of my interfaith activities? Well, I am getting to work with a bunch of liberal-leaning, extremely bright, curious, professional people–clergy, school teachers, professors, not-for-profit types–who are genuinely interested in learning something about Paganism. But more importantly, I hope, I am building social equity in my community. I am afraid there are darker days–socially and economically ahead of us–and I’m concerned about a backlash against the religious rights Pagans have earned. Perhaps I’m hopelessly naive, but I want to build a safety net for Pagans within this larger activist community. And to do that, I have to let the Interfaith people, the Social Justice people, the environmentalists, etc. get to know me as a person and a Pagan.
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