The recent horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Mali and parts of Nigeria have emphasised one thing in particular for me. That all of us who believe in the values that Daesh (a.k.a. “Islamic State”) hate – freedom, equality, education, justice, love – need to stay united in order to fight terrorism and extremism. For despite the differences we may have in nationality, race, political views and, yes, religion, it is these values that stand out above all others and what set us apart from the monsters that have slaughtered so many innocent people.
As a follower of a religion, I also believe that now, more than ever, it is vital that members of different religions come together, to share in each other’s views and to work together to fight against terrorism and radicalisation however we can. And this means that I believe members of the Pagan community have an important part to play – to not just tolerate members of other religions, but actively support them in any challenges they may be facing during this difficult times.
Here are a few reasons why I believe Pagans should support people of other religions:
- Pagans can easily empathise
Pagans are no strangers to intolerance and discrimination. Pagans represent the traditions practised by those who were systematically persecuted by the state, and even today, Pagans still face prejudice and hatred from others (only recently, a fundamentalist Christian group in Scotland attacked Pagans as one of “the biggest threats to Western civilisation.”). We therefore know and understand the frustration, hurt and fear that arises from being victims of religious discrimination, and we should help defend and stick up for members of other religions who are suffering from prejudice and misinformation.
- Paganism is an inclusive religion
Most Pagans pride themselves on the fact that their faith is a great big mish-mash of other traditions. In addition to adopting deities and traditions from the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Vikings, modern Paganism also borrows from religions not usually considered Pagan. Much of Paganism’s rituals and philosophies come from Christianity, as well as Asian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Some magical practises in Paganism originate from Middle Eastern mysticism. In addition to this, many Pagans are happy to accept that all deities are manifestations of one underlying entity, meaning that all religions are “true.” Because of this, Pagans should respect and support those of other religions, especially as modern Pagans owe other religions such a debt in terms of how much they have borrowed from them!
- Protecting others is protecting ourselves
When we allow members of other faiths to be bullied, misrepresented or discriminated against without taking action, we set a dangerous precedent for ourselves. The basic rights and freedoms afforded to religions should apply to ALL religions, and so if one religion faces a breach of those rights, it is inevitable that others will also fall victim to the same oppressors. Conversely, by speaking out for other members of the faith community, we are also speaking out for our own rights and freedoms. We are all much stronger if we stand shoulder to shoulder.
- It will change other religions’ attitudes towards Paganism
Some members of other religions think that, because Pagans can be rather secretive and because they use “occult” imagery associated with all things “unholy” in horror films and other media, Pagans are inherently opposed to Christianity and other monotheistic religions. While this may be true for some Pagans, it certainly isn’t for all of us, and this perception that people become Pagans in order to rebel against other religions is damaging to the Pagan faith. By standing together with members of other faiths and showing your support form them, we can demonstrate to the world that Paganism is not some kind of anti-Christian cult or anti-religious movement, but rather is an important and valuable asset to society that plays an important role in people’s lives.
- It will expand your mind.
Just as Pagans can influence those of other beliefs, so too can those of other beliefs influence Pagans. By making sure you’re not residing purely in a Pagan “bubble” by actively mixing with those of other religions, you will be exposed to many different viewpoints, attitudes and ways of life. And this is very good for intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual development. What’s more, by understanding the religions of others, you’ll also gain a greater understanding of what it really means to be Pagan.
- We can work together to solve issues related directly to religion
There are inevitably things that you, as a Pagan, will disagree with within different religions, such as attitudes to gender, sex and sexuality, treatment of animals and so forth. But what is important to realise is that there are members of those particular religions who also disagree with those aspects of that religion and are working to change them – and they need your help. For example, there are many Catholics who believe women should be afforded better status within the Catholic church, and Catholics who believe the Catholic church should change its views on contraception. By working together with like-minded Catholics, rather than solely against the Catholic church, Pagans can have a much greater impact in bringing about changes that will benefit everyone.
So as a Pagan, how can you show your support for people of other faiths? There’s plenty you can do!
1. Take an active interest in other religions. Read about them and their sacred texts, watch documentaries about them, and, of course, speak to members of those religions who are comfortable talking about their beliefs. This is the first step to understanding and appreciating other faiths.
2. Visit places of worship – even if you do not participate in prayers or a service, simply being there will show your support. Most churches are generally open to the public when mass is not in session, and many synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras and other places of worship hold open days specifically for those not of the faith to learn more about them. Check out the calendars of your local places of worship and see what they are up to.
3. Take part in local religious festivals. Where I live we have a large Sikh community, and so we are blessed with a variety of colourful and vibrant Sikh festivals in our town throughout the year. Coming along to festivals, even if you’re not sure what they’re all about, is a fantastic and highly enjoyable way to get to know others in your community, especially those of different faiths.
3. Join in with interfaith activities.
Interfaith is all about creating positive dialogue with members of other faiths, so if you join a local interfaith group you are bound to meet like-minded individuals with an open and welcoming attitude to all religions! UK residents can find local interfaith groups via the Inter Faith Network UK
4. Invite members of other faiths to observe or take part in Pagan ritual or gatherings. This could be as simple as having a friend of another religion over for a feast to commemorate a sabbat, or by inviting members of another faith-based organisation to come along to your moot. It should be an enjoyable and eye-opening experience for both parties!
5. Watch the words and attitudes of other Pagans in your community. How do other Pagans feel about those of different religions? Is there any kind of irrational animosity felt towards particular non-Pagan religions being expressed? If so, make sure you get your views heard too, and speak up for other religions. As you friends, other Pagans are likely to listen to you and, gradually, you may find their attitudes change.
6. Pray and make magic! Of course, Pagans shouldn’t forget to seek the help of the deities and forces of nature! Ask the deities, or if you are more witchcraft-inclined perform a spell or ritual, to help spread peace and tolerance in your community and throughout the world, and ask them to grant wisdom and clarity to people of all faiths so we can all understand and support each other better.