Writing About Religion, Mine and Others

A few days ago, the following comment showed up on my being-retooled Wicca site:

One thing I find very interesting to observe about your postings is that you’re very much a defender of Christianity. And I’m uncertain why that religion gets so much face-time on a site dedicated to Wicca. I get the impression that you’re trying to send a message to Christians of, “Hey Wiccans aren’t all haters of your religion. See I defended you here.” It’s just…kinda weird and something I’ve noticed. Christians have their own champions and on a site dedicated to Wicca, I just find championing their beliefs out of place if not jarring.

Ironically, it’s on the page Why Bad History Matters.

The page isn’t about Christianity, much less championing it, although it links to a couple pages on this blog discussing Christian holidays such as Christmas and Eostre.  It’s about why I am so passionate about debunking historical misinformation, regardless of topic.  The examples I give are:

  1.  In fact, examples.
  2.  Unfortunately, fairly common in neopagan (including Wiccan) circles.

There’s no ulterior motive here, no attempt to suck up to people who are unlikely to be reading that website anyway.  Bad history is bad.  It misdirects, misinforms, and makes its champions (and sometimes the community in which they are members) look ignorant and hateful.

Conflict When No Conflict in Needed

Theologically, Wicca and Christianity are most certainly at odds, as previously discussed about Christian Wicca.  But that doesn’t mean Wiccans and Christians have to be at odds.  Nothing in either religion says members have to be awful to one another.

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But a lot of Wiccans are former Christians, and Christianity is the majority religion in the US, so when a Wiccan is angry at a religion or religions in general, Christianity often bears the brunt of it.

Why?  Partially because of bad historyThe Christian Church gets blamed for all sorts of things that happened hundreds of years ago, didn’t happen at all, or happened in a context quite different from modern Western society.

Bad history matters.

The Curious Student

Last semester, one of my students looked me up online as she does with all her professors.  She found my work at About.com, which included mention of my online Wiccan project.  She was curious what I believed.

To remain professional and subdue an awkwardness in discussing this with a student, I rephrased the question in my head to “What do Wiccans believe?” and answered that.

She appreciated how I debunked various things in class but now wondered how I could do it.  “Isn’t it hard, with your religion and all?”

Nope, not in the slightest. Debunking is easy.  Facts are facts.  And I stick to clearly arguable issues, not ones debated on problematic evidence.  I don’t care if it’s about Wicca, Christianity, Islam, Scientology, Satanism or Pastafarianism. Bad info is bad, causes confusion, and often creates tension where no tension is necessary.

And there’s just no reason why my faith should bias me against Christianity.

The Weird Evaluation

My first semester as a teaching assistant at UW-Milwaukee generated two student evaluations of note.  One was offended by my obviously militant atheism.  The second objected to me forcing my evangelical Christian views on the class.

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Slow clap, guys.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I brought it to the attention of my supervising professor, who nonchalantly responded, “Sounds like you’re doing it right.”

I suspect she’s encountered this before.

I’m confident most students didn’t see my teaching as militant anything.  Some probably made presumptions of my personal beliefs.  People do that.  The fact they can’t agree is the important bit, the bit that highlights such presumptions as highly subjective.

The Professional Devil’s Advocate

I wrote for the “alternative religion” section of About.com for five years.  That means I got all the religions too small to get their own section, some of which you’ve never heard of and some of which you might feel very negatively about.

Oh, Scientology, what a delightful topic to cover.

People are interested in the controversies surrounding Scientology, so I did quite a bit of work on it, but I got tired of consistently unpleasant feedback, primarily about my “clear” bias in favor of Scientology.  What proved this bias?  I didn’t trash them.  I stuck to facts: what Scientology teaches, what opposing sides say on certain topics, and so on.  In short, because I was doing my job.

Religious discussion doesn’t have to be biased.  Being unbiased is a basic part of what academics do.

10 comments

  • Jason Owen

    “Religious discussion doesn’t have to be biased. Being unbiased is a basic part of what academics do.”

    I liked the quote especially the first part but I have not encountered too many ‘academics’ that were unbiased. They may not for a specific religion but they certainly brought their politics to every discussion.

  • Dea

    Here, here! This is exactly why I follow your blog. I appreciate that neutrality greatly! Just the facts, M’am. Granted, once in a while an issue needs a little ‘opinion’ thrown in to thwart stupidity, and in the instances you’ve done it, it was done with the facts in mind. I figure once you’ve got critics, you’ve arrived!

    • Dea

      I mean – Hear, hear. Darn English.

    • Dani

      Dea: I followed Cassie for years at about.com and I always found her posts to be very well crafted and full of objective information. And yeah, there were the handful of nuts from any faith (or lack of faith, remember that woman named “Borsia” I think, Cassie?) that would go off on a post that in their mind was either 1) not being critical enough of religion X (like Scientology) or 2) proved that Cassie was a shill for some established religion as it was too critical of religion X. It was amusing when those two views would appear in comments in the same post! I was really glad to find her blog, here! 🙂

  • Different contexts have different requirements. This is a blog. It is full of both academic facts and opinions. But I don’t confuse the two. You can have opinions *about* facts. That’s what debate is all about. If you don’t have facts behind your opinion, you’re pretty much just making stuff up.

    When writing an article at About.com, that was all about facts. In my blog at about.com, that could include opinion. In my own personal blog, I’m going to talk about whatever I like, but I still know the difference between facts and my opinions of those facts.

  • Dani

    I’ve faced many of the same things you mention in this blog, but sometimes the other way around. As an example, I teach in an area that has a fairly high LDS (Mormon) population, and I always have a few LDS in my Intro to Sociology class. When we talk about family we always talk about polygamy, and the moment I mention the word I hear a few people blurt out “Oh, the Mormons!” I then explain that the LDS Church does not practice polygamy today and excommunicates anyone found doing it. I always get emails of thanks from my LDS students, along with at least one copy of the Book of Mormon and sometimes offers to go to Church with them or to arrange visits with the Missionaries to learn about the “Restored Gospel.” I appreciate their zeal,but I always tell them that while I want to teach facts about their faith, that translate to wanting to join up! They seem to get it, but I usually get a “well at least read the Book” or “pray about it! And contact me if you want more information.” Hee hee. They are nice folks!

    • I’ve only had positive interactions with both Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. They offer info but accept polite decline.

      I did have one born-again student who thought it was appropriate to evangelize on the class discussion board and refused to accept my explanation of why that was inappropriate. He was a problem student throughout class, and I don’t take him to characterize any particular group. I get it that students don’t always understand boundaries, but they need to learn them when it’s explained.

  • I appreciate it when Christian websites are honest and gracious enough to present Wicca and paganism in a factual, respectful, non-hysterical light (they do exist, thankfully!).

    Does that mean Christians who defend us against ignorant stereotypes and misinformation are sucking up to pagans or endorsing our beliefs? Hell, no. Usually those websites are mostly interested in helping Christians understand other faiths more accurately in the hopes that they’ll be more effective at converting people. But hey, it’s nice to run into Christians who don’t literally think I’m a baby eating devil-worshipper.

    • I once had a man who described himself as a “bible thumper” congratulate me on my site about Wicca. He was part of an interfaith group. Strong conviction in your own belief does not come hand-in-hand with bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance. Those things are choices. (Ignorance is not originally a choice, but choosing to remain ignorant is. They’re what I call the “deliberately ignorant.”)

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