June 15, 2005

Letter to a Disgruntled Wiccan

Here's a reply I recently sent to a lady who emailed us some rather scathing criticism. Her complaints were in regards to this brief article on Wicca by Susie Shellenberger, editor of Brio magazine.
Dear (name withheld),

My name is Scott and I am the editor for the apologetics area of LifeWay.com. "Apologetics" is the branch of Christianity that is devoted to such things as defending it from criticism, showing evidences for its truth claims, and interacting with competing non-Christian beliefs and worldviews. Your emails have been forwarded to me, and, as you can imagine, I deal with many such questions and complaints as this -- it is right up my alley.

I hope you don't mind if I classify your original email as a "rant," and you'll forgive us if we are disinclined to answer these kinds of responses (though we often do anyway). It is my experience that such things are meant to vent steam, and little productive dialog is birthed from such a thing. However, you have won me through your second email by your self-analysis (seeing the irony in "judging" us for being "judgmental") and your willingness to admit your mistake.

I do not think there is any sin in "judging" in the sense of being discerning and sifting good ideas from bad, but when we condemn others for doing so we cast ourselves into a mire of contradiction. A truly "tolerant" and "non-judgmental" person must remain silent in all things if he is to be consistent. As it turns out, in order to practice "tolerance" one must first disagree with a person; we don't "tolerate" someone that we agree with.

My Christian worldview permits me to believe that other ideas can actually be mistaken (or closer to and farther from the truth). It also allows me to expect and understand that other people disagree with me and will challenge my beliefs. I can sympathize with you taking issue with my religion and any truth claims I may make, but I could not be sympathetic if you held to such ideas as, "we ought not judge others" or "all religions are equally true." If you wish to step into the battleground of ideas it does no good to first throw away your weapons.

The particular article that provoked your response is not one that happens to fall within my area of control (www.lifeway.com/apologetics). It was not specifically designed as a formal or detailed response to the Wiccan religion; it is more of an in-house Christian article, i.e., for those already persuaded of the truthfulness of Christianity. For this reason, it did not take great pains to frame itself in a way that would be acceptable to someone sympathetic to Wicca. But no matter how polite and affirming any article might be, from a Christian perspective there would always be the assumption that Wicca is a mistaken belief system. That in itself will be offense enough for some people. It seems that the mere idea that one thinks their beliefs are true is an affront in this postmodern age. But even the average Wiccan holds most of the key doctrines of Christianity (among other religions) to be false. As one high-profile Wiccan recently stated in an email exchange with me: "I have to admit that some claims within religions may be inaccurate. Christians believe that non-Christians are doomed to eternity in Hell. I'm pretty sure that's just wrong."

The most unfortunate thing that I see in this article is its mention of Satan in conjunction with Wicca. I understand that Wiccans despise and reject the Satan connection, and this article does indeed mention that "witches claim they don't even believe in Satan - let alone worship him." In my view, the primary mistake is making satanic connections to this religion over and above any other religion. In the world of non-Christian religions, paganism (if you'll allow me to use that in relation to Wicca) might be said to get a "bad rap." It is as though paganism is inferior to the other more populous world religions, which Christians, by the way, hold to be equally mistaken.

Please understand, it is not that we believe Wiccans to be consciously seeking "evil" (in the popular sense of the word), or intentionally serving Satan; it is that we believe all non-Christian religions are in some sense tools and products of satanic deception. Satan is not so much concerned about people consciously worshipping him (I'm sure that many who do so only bring him bad publicity); priority-one for him is any lie that will draw people away from the Truth. There are many ways to fall, but only one way to stand straight. We happen to believe Christianity to be that Truth. We believe that Jesus is Lord and that His sayings were accurately captured in Scripture, and Jesus made as many statements about such things as Satan, demons, judgment, and hell as He did about love, peace, and heaven. Now, we may theoretically be wrong, but our reactions to, and assessments of, such things as Wicca are at least consistent with our overall religion. The ultimate question is whether or not classical Christianity is indeed true, and if that is the case, then Wicca is a deception by logical necessity.

For you to defend Wicca you must first be willing to condemn the Bible and historic Christianity as a systematic whole. This is something that few are willing to directly do even if they believe it in their heart, since it disarms them of their ability to take the role of the inclusive and tolerant alternative to the narrow-mindedness and dogma of Christianity. In fact, your own comments did not address the truth claims of Christianity, only this particular article and the alleged behavior of some "Christians."

Very few of your comments were even relevant as a defense of the Wiccan religion, but were more in the nature of slander and stereotyping of Christian individuals. Claiming that Christians kill people who disagree with them, invoke wars and hate crimes, and throw bombs into mosques and Hindu temples is a bit excessive, and not at all relevant to the accuracy of the article in question. Since your implied purpose was to set the record straight regarding Wicca and not to take Christianity to task, I'll address only your relevant comments now.

You said: "You make cruel and unjust claims without any actual research"

I haven't discussed this with Susie to know how much exposure she's had to Wicca or how much time she's put into investigating it, but I think it is safe to say it is greater than zero effort, which is what your statement implies. The fact that she successfully relates it to goddess worship, earth reverence, witchcraft, and spell usage indicates that she is not just making blind and random claims.

You said: "All I saw were closed minded lies"

I think you must admit that she got a few things right, even by your own standards. If Susie claimed Wiccans were a retirement club for lawyers who liked to torture gerbils you would probably just react with a good laugh at our expense. It is the fact that the article comes within target range that gives you cause for concern.

As to "lies," I don't think Susie is intending to deliberately mislead her readers about Wicca. I'm sure she would like to address the genuine beliefs and their genuine problems. You might contend that she is off base in her assessment, but most of your case would be dependent on demonstrating that the Bible is a hopeless muddle from top to bottom; for it has much to say against pagan religion in every chapter. Unfortunately, this would leave you without any basis for attempting to clarify for us what Jesus really "wanted" or what He really "died for."

As to "closed minded," I wonder if your mind is made up (i.e., "closed") that Wicca is a valid religion and represents the way the spiritual world really is. I wonder if you are "open" to the possibility that God is a personal and triune being that has created the world and stands outside of space and time, and was uniquely incarnate into the person, Jesus of Nazareth. Imagine for a moment that biblical Christianity is true, as Susie does, and then consider what things cease to be error in her article from that framework of understanding.

You accused her of "Calling Wiccans devil lovers"

There was no explicit mention of "devil lovers" in her article. She, in fact, admits that Wiccans do not even acknowledge Satan. I think what she was really saying is that Wiccans are unwittingly pawns of Satan, but as I clarified earlier this could also be said of any number of other religions, or particular beliefs, that are opposed to the knowledge of God (Ephesians 6:12 & 2Corinthians 10:5).

You said: "Wicca is an open minded religion, in fact their one rule is 'an if it harm none, do what ye will'"

Ah yes, the "Wiccan Rede." I'll not descend into a discussion of the problematic nature of this minimalistic ethic. Your point is to show that Wiccans are not the evil pointy-hatted witches of fairy-tale fame. Point noted, but there's a lot more to virtue than simply not bashing others in the head, and when you ultimately get to define "harm" for yourself you can do no wrong by definition. No matter how benign you may take the rituals and beliefs of Wicca to be, if they run contrary to the nature and knowledge of the true God of the universe then they are of immeasurable "harm." Additionally, peacefulness or minding one's own business is an inadequate measure of the truth of a religion. If this were so then I'd be inclined to give the Amish the seat of honor.

I hope this letter has given you some understanding of where Susie is coming from. I'm sure you still take issue with the Christian assessment of Wicca, but I hope that you can at least appreciate that if we believe our Scriptures to be inspired by God, that we are logically justified in believing what it says about pagan beliefs and practices. Perhaps there is then room for a principled dispute between our opposing belief systems, practicing a view of "tolerance" in its classical sense, i.e., disagreement in a civil and respectful manner. Perhaps you might also be interested to see this article on Wicca, from our apologetics area, that is more precise and technical in nature.

Scott Pruett



At 8/19/2005 4:17 AM, Anonymous Mad Methodist said...

Nice job. After reading the article (that Susie wrote) and pretty much being able to assume what the wiccan wrote, I was curious as to what you would say. I'd say that was a darn near perfect reply, the overall tone of the letter was great. You must write these types of replies a lot.

At 8/19/2005 7:00 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Thanks. I do a lot of correspondence, but I don't always succeed in being as tactful as with this one. I have extra motivation when writing something on behalf of LifeWay though.


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