The blog Circle of Moms deals with the usual range of topics on motherhood, most being harmless, but its recent “best blog” competition ruffled more than a few feathers when a pagan member by the name of Mrs B decided to submit her charmingly tongue-in-cheek blog, Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom, in the competition. Ironically, it was Mrs B who won, thanks in part to the support of non-pagans who came to her defense. While such stories show interfaith camaraderie, they also suggest a growing backlash from a Protestant America which is gradually shrinking in power and influence.
It was not long before the competition became embroiled in a dispute over faith. Even though Circle of Moms is not explicitly religious, and even though the “Faith Blog” category, to which Mrs B’s entry belonged, was ostensibly open to all faiths, it soon became dominated by topics such as “Biblical womanhood”, “Biblical patriarchy”, and home-schooling. Soon Mrs B’s blog received criticism from evangelical Protestant Christians for the pagan, earth-centred nature of her spiritual tradition. According to religious studies professor Julie Ingersoll of Religion Dispatch, these mothers became shocked and horrified at the mention of witches and pagans and organized an effort to vote only for Christians—and not in the most Christ-like fashion. (Ingersoll states that the links to some of the nastier post and comments against Mrs B have been removed, so unfortunately we can only imagine what was said and why.) A competition over insightful, quality blog material soon turned into a religious spat between pagans and Christians.
But not all of Circle of Mom’s Christian members attacked Mrs B—a sizeable contingent actually came to her aid, disgusted by the way the pagan mother was being treated by their supposed “sisters in Christ”. These Christian mothers, Ingolls states, decided to counteract the negativity of the others by responding to Mrs B’s blog with posts of encouragement, apologies on behalf of the others, and even votes in support of her and other pagan blogs. In the end, Ingersoll says, six of the top ten blogs in the competition were related to paganism, Wicca, and other earth-centered religions—the top twenty-five were related to a variety of other faiths. Noting this ironic twist of fate, Ingolls asks, “Isn’t it nice when the girls get together to tell the bullies they’re not in charge?”
The tension in America between evangelical Christians on one hand, and everybody else on the other, can be summed up in one of the comments on Ingersoll’s story on the issue. That comment reads, “This is another sign that male, [middle-class], [P]rotestant conservative Christianity is losing its position as the arbiter of moral and spiritual rectitude” and, “The Reformation’s grip on Europe began to loosen in the eighteenth century. It’s taken longer in the US. But prepare for the backlash. They aren’t going to give in easily.” As this comment suggests, conservative, fundamentalist Christians are wary of religious pluralism, because they have a great deal to lose in terms of social control if other faiths gain in influence.
There may be good reason to believe that this ideological conflict is getting underway in the United States (while it has already cooled off in Europe). According to Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times, Texas governor and potential Republican presidential contender Rick Perry recently made a statement summoning governors from across America to join him on 6 August in a national day of prayer and fasting: “Given the trials that beset our nation and world, from the global economic downturn to natural disasters”, Rutten quotes him as saying, “the lingering danger of terrorism and continued debasement of our culture, I believe it is time to convene the leaders from each of our United States in a day of prayer and fasting, like that described in the book of Joel”. For Perry, prayer and religious faith—in particular, the beliefs and practices of the Judeo-Christian tradition—should be invoked in a public display to combat moral dissipation. (In addition, Perry’s event’s Web site formally endorses the statement of faith of Rev. Don Wildmon’s American Family Assn., which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-gay bigotry. In the 1980s, Wildmon, a sponsor of Perry’s event, was denounced as an anti-Semite by the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Atlanta office of the Anti-Defamation League for alleging that Jews were encoding anti-Christian messages on to film and television.)
Perry’s sentiment contrasts starkly with a speech made by John F. Kennedy during his campaign for the presidency. In that speech, reports Rutten, Kennedy, a Catholic from Massachusetts, revealed his views on religion and government:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him…. I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
What is so surprising is the fact that Kennedy made this speech in 1960 to the Greater Houston Ministerial Assn., a body of devout Protestants from deep within the Bible-belt. Perry’s comments were made in 2011 in an invitation for a Republican presidential campaign event later that year, yet the two speeches could not be more opposite.
So, what do the remarks of people like Gov. Perry have to do with pagan soccer moms? In his statement, Perry describes a need to invoke the Christian faith to defeat moral debasement in America; he is also associated with accused homophobes and anti-Semites. At the same time, a group of Christian mothers have criticized a pagan mother for her association with witchcraft and other pagan practices. In both cases, we see a fear among some Christians of losing ground to the growing number of non-Christians, who are becoming more accepted and influential. At the same time, however, other Christians are coming to the support of the underdog. The knee-jerk reaction of the shrinking majority is to boost their evangelization efforts, combating what they see as an influx of sin and corruption.
The position of the Universal Life Church Monastery is that we are all children of the same universe, and that more people need to understand one another’s religion as part of a global, nondenominational fellowship that aims to secure peace and happiness for all. Given this, and seeing what happened on the Circle of Moms blog, it is pleasantly surprising to discover that pagans and Christians were able to come together in solidarity and defend one another despite their theological differences. Hopefully the growing backlash in America against religious pluralism will soon subside, and we can get back to being good human beings.