January 10, 2006

The Problem with "Christian Wicca" : A Question of Integrity

There has been a great deal of debate among certain circles, recently, about the relationship among Christianity, Wicca, and witchcraft or magic in a more general sense. After an article of mine was posted on WitchVox.com, I received a number of emails, most of which were from people thanking me for exploring alternative methods for the practice of grounding and centering. Few of them realized that the inspiration for my "flame" imagery came not from Wiccan or pagan symbolism, but from my Christian background, stemming directly from the Catholic concept of the Divine Trinity (specifically, the Holy Spirit manifesting as tongues of flame). One woman did email me, however, to ask me why I called myself a "Christian witch" and how I thought it was possible to combine what seem to be two different belief systems.

Now, there are a number of websites about Christian witchcraft that detail the common objections to a Christian practicing magic (most of which grow out of questions of Biblical interpretation). For me, the question of whether or not a Christian is "allowed" to practice magic is not simply a matter of some rule forbidding it (or, as the case may be, the absence of such a rule). Like most things, this issue is much more complicated, and is even more confused when people conflate the terms "witchcraft" and "Wicca" to claim that either can be "Christian." My practice is not a matter of rule-breaking, but a matter of internal theological consistency. I demand a high degree of integrity from my religious faith--after all, I seek to become most fully human, most fully myself and thus most deeply connected to and unified with the Divine. In order to be unified, I must seek personal and spiritual integrity. How can I achieve this if the path I pursue is not itself integrated and whole?

Below is a long excerpt from several letters I exchanged with my inquiring email friend, in which I explain my personal feelings:

Most people who argue against blending Wicca and Christianity make one of two arguments. Either (a) that Christianity is a corrupt and warped, overly-dogmatic and intolerant religion that cannot be reconciled with Wiccan precepts (and anyone trying to blend them is really just on their way to completely rejecting Christianity). Or, (b) the more reasonable argument, that both Wicca and Christianity are distinct religions and that attempting to blend them shows disrespect to both by undermining their internal integrity as systems of belief. If you are Christian, then argument A probably doesn't impress you--I never found it convincing, even though I can easily acknowledge plenty of negative aspects of the Christian religion, like any other religion. Argument B is harder to address. (Here is an excellent website addressing this very issue.)

The view of incompatibility may not seem like such a problem from the Christian side if you take for granted a lot of what "fluffy bunny" books out there claim, that Wicca is "do what works for you" and has no formal structure or "rules." In that case, if "what works for you" is being Christian with some Wiccan beliefs, in theory you should be fine. Personally, I think this approach wears away at the integrity of both religions, turning them into flexible (and thus, conveniently for Llewellyn Publications, more marketable) systems that hang together only loosely and don't have any real spiritual insight at their core. Part of being a spiritual seeker is holding on to your high standards and not abandoning a path when it grows difficult. Picking and choosing from various religions and cultures is what my advisor called "flea market" or "cafeteria" religion. It is an easy way to feel like you are making progress in your spiritual evolution when you're really just treading water. I like the metaphor of the mountain, with its many paths to the top. You have many options about which path to follow, or even if you want to strike out on a new, uncut path (the most difficult of all), but eventually, you must choose one and follow it deeply and faithfully in order to make progress. To continually backtrack and jump from one path to another, looking for the perfect one, will keep you firmly at the foot of the mountain.

All that said, it does sound like I'm arguing that you cannot blend Wicca and Christianity. And, in a way, that is what I am saying. However, there is a big difference between that claim, and the issue of Christian witchcraft. My commitment to Christianity kept me away from any notion of witchcraft for a long time, until I realized this fundamental distinction. While Wicca is a religion, witchcraft is a way of being religious. In short, for me, becoming a Christian witch was an extension of having already been a Christian poet (that is, a human being whose art was intimately intertwined with her religious faith). Once I made that step, things fell into place, and it was no longer a matter of "blending," but merely of allowing myself access to the full scope, nature and potential of my religion. I decided to give myself permission to pursue my spiritual path in this way, and not to restrict myself to the more passive "mysticism" already well-known in Christianity, which I found ill-suited to my own inclinations towards the creative, active processes natural to my spiritual life.

Right now in Wicca's development as an organized religion, we see a vast number of rival beliefs and thoughts on the topics of magic, the gods, the self and its nature, the cycles of life and death (and rebirth), the seasonal cycles, the best methods of practice, etc. Wicca is, in truth, still in its infancy, and reflects a great deal of the same debate that early Christianity reflected in the decades after the death of Jesus. To make a simplified comparison, Paul's letters to various fledgeling Christian communities during the first century are an ancient version of our modern online message boards, blogs and websites, as well as some of the classic Wicca 101 books. In both, leaders of a new spiritual path attempt to give advice and case-by-case consideration for the unique needs and difficulties particular groups and individuals face when confronting their new faith. They are the fertile soil in which future theologies and whole systems of belief will grow.

But no matter how inspired, well-intentioned or Divinely guided they may be, they are not, in themselves, whole and exhaustive in their theological considerations. Wicca is simply not old enough to have undergone the kind of intense scrutiny and purging process that takes both intense devotion and the passing of years, in order to strengthen those ideas and practices which hang together and produce real spiritual growth, and those which, in the end, do not. Is this a drawback for Wicca? Certainly not! But it is a fact that must not be forgotten. The real question is, where are Wicca's theologians, scholars and philosophers? Where are the spiritual leaders with the insight to delve deeply into the human condition and write works with the depth and complexity shown in the later writings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.? It is true that Wicca is unique in breaking away from many modern (and even pre-modern) conceptions of what a "religion" must be, embracing postmodern social structures and aesthetics. Tolerance and postmodernism must not be confused, however, with chaos and lack of integrity.

By contrast, Christianity has undergone theological evolution for two millennia, and is still in the process of evolving. This, too, is a burden. For a system, no matter its internal consistency, can be damaging or alienating if its conclusions and surface-level doctrines are ill-suited to the current age. A truth, even if arrived at over centuries of contemplation and deep spiritual conversation with the Divine, can ring as trite and false as any cliche if repeated mindlessly too often. And yet, after two thousand years of history, many followers of Christianity may honestly believe that there is nothing more to be worked out and that one can simply flip to the back of the book for the answers, so to speak. When an organized religion has outlasted the passing of time, it runs the risk of confusing organizational evolution with personal evolution. It may become too easy to forget that individuals still need to engage in their faith deeply, to acknowledge and address their own doubts and questions in a personal, relevant way. When one's spiritual path ceases to be about personal evolution and growth, and stultifies as a place to look for short, easy answers, the religion itself suffers.

After all, what if those answers do not suit them? Many Christians feel isolated from a connection to nature, restricted to vague, impersonal and confusing ideas about God; or, the opposite extreme, highly anthropomorphized, almost idolatrous concepts of Christ as a kind of ancient superhero. Those Christians who do not take the time to explore the depths of their own faith may give up easily after a few stumbling blocks, a few uneasy answers to what they perceive as straight-forward questions. Wicca, in this case, may provide a shallow alternative to an already shallow faith. One positive aspect of Wicca is that, because it is still new and relatively undeveloped, it can force its practitioners to do the work of personal growth on their own. Wicca does not provide well-rehearsed answers for the very reason that it does not really have any. The danger is that neophytes may mistake this lack of answers as preferable, and use it as an excuse to stagnate. To languish in the comfort of a tiny oasis instead of acknowledging the desert which must be passed through in order to reach the ocean. Their spirituality, although comfortable and happy, may never reach the depth and expanse of the open waters, waters that connect us all and refresh the entire world. They may know comfort, but not awe. Happiness, but not joy. Fondness, but not Love.

This is the problem of integrity. In a complex, diverse culture, integrity is never easy, but it never ceases to be necessary. Christianity and Wicca, as religions, each have their flaws. But neither should be abandoned, or both will falter. With the destruction of the physical Temple and the establishment and evolution of the Rabbinical order, Judaism continued to evolve along side Christianity, overcoming many of its own flaws just as Christianity developed and addressed its own constraints and problems, so that both are now fruitful, unique, integrated paths to God. Let that be an example to those now addressing the modern split between Christianity and Wicca. Do not deny to Christians the magic and craft of which Wicca has reminded us and which need not be inconsistent with our own beliefs; and do not relegate Wicca to the realm of meaninglessness by denying its ability to define and structure its beliefs and practices so that it might better evolve into an ever more complex, fulfilling and fruitful path.

The problem of "Christian Wicca" is that it tends to do both--denying that magic can be consistent with "mere Christianity" (as C.S. Lewis called it), while denying that Wicca has its own integrity which cannot be so easily mixed with the precepts and doctrines of Christianity. It does a disservice to both while failing even in its attempt to reconcile them each to the other. "Christian Wicca" may indeed be a fruitful path, but it is neither Christianity, nor Wicca, and it deserves the same theological scrutiny that these other two religions must go through. Picking and choosing from the two to "blend" these belief systems actually relies on demeaning both religions to last-page answer sheets, denying that religion must essentially remain a process of growth, to be experienced both individually and as a culture. Such a thing does not encourage paradox, but forces contradiction; instead of leading to insight and challenging one to grow, it stuns and disables the mind, discouraging it from any attempt to unravel conflicting and confusing views.

I do believe that the sudden and increasing popularity of "Christian Wicca," as well as Christian witchcraft, is actually a good sign. It means that more Christians are finding their own cultural and religious roots fruitful and compatible with ideals that, for a long time, may have been assumed to be outside the reach of Christianity. It also means that Wiccans and other pagans are staying true to their word and remaining tolerant, accepting and encouraging to many different pantheons and systems of belief, even when those systems are not truly Wiccan in the strictest sense. This is postivie growth, on the part of Wiccans and Christians alike. But it is important for us to hold on to those ideals which first committed us to our respective paths. Commitment and responsibility are the first steps out of infancy and towards maturity, and they remain vital if we hope for each of these religions to continue to mature.

To offer a wide variety of opinions on this matter, I've listed below some helpful links regarding the "Christian Wicca" debate [NB: I do not necessarily agree with any or all of the arguments made in some of these links, but I wanted to share the various online sources that I have come across in my own considerations, so that others might have the opportunity to judge the weaknesses and strengths of the arguments for themselves]:

  • "Isn't Witchcraft a Pagan Religion?" and "What is a Christian Witch?", as well as "Doesn't the Bible Forbid Witchcraft?"

  • What is a Witch? and Witch, not Wiccan, as well as Biblical Interpretation and the Word "Witch"

  • "Can a person be both a Christian and a Wiccan?"

  • The Problem with Christian Wicca

  • Christian Wicca: The Ultimate Oxymoron

  • "Can I be both a Christian and a Wiccan?"

  • Christian Wicca: The Oxymoron Syndrome


    At 10.1.06, Anonymous libramoon said...

    I hope you don't mind, I sent this on to Seers and Seekers (the Yahoo Group).



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