It’s been a while since I started my book book review of Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality by Catherine Edwards Sanders. As such, I decided to take the time to read through and review chapter two of the book, which the author gave the title, “Tired of Sitting in Pews.” In this chapter, Sanders attempts to look at the reasons that so many people are looking to find spirituality in Paganism rather than seeking it through Christianity. The four reasons that she compiles are as follows:
- Concern for the earth
- Empowerment for women
- Frustration with consumer culture
- The draw of the supernatural
What interests me here is that Sanders does not try to dismiss these reasons. In fact, she shows a certain amount of sensitivity towards these sentiments. She even goes so far as to admit that many Christians and churches do seem to ignore these matters, and can even be antagonistic towards them.
Once acknowledging these differences, she speaks of the complaint of hypocricy within “the Church” that many Pagans complain about. Again, she does not shy away from this and does not deny that these things happen. However, she does rightfully point out that not all Christians play the part of the hypocrite. She also rightfully points out that there are some less-than-perfect people within Paganism.
As she discusses the tensions between Christians and Pagans alike, as well as the preconceived notions each side has about the other, Sanders makes what is both one of the simplest and one of the most important observations about the whole affair:
Sadly, many Christians don’t take the time to get to know people like Ginny [one of the witches the author interviewed for this chapter]; instead, they judge her from afar. And, like Ginny, many Pagans judge Christians from afar. This only alienates neo-Pagans from Christians. It would be better if Christians defied the stereotypes by getting to know neo-Pagans, as the apostle Paul did.
I would add to Sanders’s thoughts that it would also be helpful if more Pagans took the time to temporarily “forget” the stereotypes when meeting a Christian for the first time and got to know that individual as a real person. Until we’re willing to stop filtering every experience through the stereotypes and our past experiences, no sincere attempt by Christians to get to know us better is likely to be all that successful.
One of the specific incidents that Sanders mentions where Christians have generated some “bad blood” involves an incident that happened three and a half years ago. (Incidentally, this is another area where Sanders demonstrates a need to be a bit more exacting in her research. The incident that she is describing did not occur at Midsummer, but during a ritual honoring the Spring equinox.) A small group of overly-zealous Christians attempted to interrupt a rite being performed outside a Craft store in Lancaster California and generally harassed those in attendance. This is one of those cases where Sanders certainly shows her willingness to look critically at some of the things adherents of her own faith have done.
Overall, I felt this chapter was a bit short and more than a little superficial. The author certainy did not cover the widh and breadth of reasons why people might leave Christianity, or what theological issues individual Pagans might have with Christianity. For example, she did not consider the fact that many Pagans question the need for “salvation,” or the fact that many find Christianity’s all too common focus on the afterlife to be rather life-negating in nature. It’s not clear to me whether Sanders just picked the “top four” reasons she ran across and chose to focus on them, or whether she really believes those four reasons actually “cover all the bases.”