Yesterday, I posted a link to a syncrhoblogging event focused on dialogue between Paganism and Christianity. Today, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite posts among the excellent collection. I’ve chosen to highlight Paul Walker’s contribution on the grounds that in my book, the man deserves a medal for bravery (and quite possibly a second one for his steallar integrity).
Paul admits at the outset of his post that as he discovered what the topic for this month’s synchroblog (the first he planned to participate in, no less) was something he knew nothing about. However, he chose to press on anyway, which in itself takes guts. Talking about a topic you know nothing or very little about can be a frightening thought, as it opens yourself up to the possibility that a large group of people will happily point out just how little you know about the subject (and not always nicely, no less).
What impresses me more than that, however, is how Paul chose to alleviate his lack of knowledge in order to write his post. He didn’t choose to simply move on based on what he thinks Paganism might be. Nor did he choose to ask fellow Christians about Paganism. Instead, Paul chose a much more direct approach. Consider his own account:
Here’s what I decided to do : since I know pretty well nothing about paganism, I decided to try and find out more. I searched around to find one of the larger pagan forums on the Net, created a user account, announced to the members that I was writing a piece for my blog on Christian-Pagan dialogue, asked if anyone there would help me out, and sat back to wait for the fur to fly….
He found a group of Pagans and asked them questions. In my book, that shows a great deal of integrity. He didn’t want second-hand knowledge, but direct communication. Information from the horse’s mouth, if you will.
It also took courage, because based on Paul’s own statement, he expected there to be something of a negative reaction to his inquiries. Now, I will admit forthrightly that I don’t blame Paul for that expectation because when I got to this point in his narrative, I became worried about what kind of response he might report getting.
Truth be told, we Pagans sometimes have a tendency to respond to inquiries from Christians with a certain amount of hostility. (I know I’ve been guilty of it to some degree at various times.) And while I can certainly point out that this is because many Christians tend to make their inquiries disrespectfully or often are only making them to start an argument in order to prove us wrong, I think that only explains our tendency for a negative response. It does not excuse it, however.
Of course, even when Pagan’s don’t respond with hostility, we can sometimes be rather condescending and even arrogant in our attempts to “educate” the inquirer. Too often, we tend to like to think of ourselves as more learned or “spiritually advanced,” and it comes through in our dealings with people who honestly want to understand us better.
Unfortunately, this can have an unfortunate effect, as such condescension is far too often counter-productive to our stated goals of fostering mutual understanding. Such an attitude more often creates a further rift and resentment between the two groups. After all, who wants to enter into dialogue with someone who doesn’t treat you with the respect deserved by a fellow equal?
While I admire Paul’s courage, I do have to admit that his post and concerns about what kind of reception he might receive continues to give me pause. Based on some of my own past experiences with exchanges between Pagans and Christians, I do find myself wondering how well prepared Pagans as a whole are for sincere dialogue. In the past, Pagans have accused many Christians (and in some cases, rightfully) of not being open to sincere dialouge. But I have seen cases where some Pagans (myself included, in some instances) use that fact to hide our own lack of willingness to converse civilly. I hope that Paul’s very positive experience is a sign that we’re more open to such dialogue now than some of my own past experiences might suggest.