History & sources of the conflict in the U.S.
History of inter-religious conflict in the U.S.:
For the past five centuries, there has been a series of conflicts between the
dominant religion in the U.S. and its minority religions. Fortunately, they have
decreased in intensity:
- Against Natives: Starting with the arrival of Christopher
Columbus in 1492, Europeans attempted to destroy the culture and religion
of the indigenous Native population. This trend was only reversed
in recent decades when the U.S. government started to allow Native
Americans to worship freely.
- Against Mormons: During the early 19th century,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were
repeatedly attacked and almost wiped out by mobs. The LDS
church is now an established and generally respected denomination.
- Against Roman Catholics and Jews: During the 19th
century, there were periods of riots and vandalism by the American
public against both Roman Catholics and Jews. Although antisemitic
attacks continue today at a low level, both faith groups are now
largely respected. Evidence of this was the election of a Roman
Catholic, John F. Kennedy (D) to the presidency and the nomination of an
Orthodox Jew, J. Lieberman (D-CT), to the vice-presidency.
- Against new religious movements: From the 1970's to the
1990's the anti-cult movement (ACM) raised
public hysteria against new religious movements, a.k.a. "cults."
The ACM's concepts of brainwashing and mind control have been shown to
be groundless. Criminal activities by the ACM have weakened the
movement considerably and seriously damaged their credibility. The counter-cult
movement (CCM) continues. However it is mainly effective only
within conservative Christianity.
- Against Satanists: Starting In the early 1980s an
underground, international, generational cult of Satanists was accused
of widespread, horrendous Satanic Ritual Abuse.
They were believed to sexually and physically abuse children, murder
them, and even eat them. The belief finally dissipated with no hard
evidence of abuse having existed.
- Against Wiccans: Driven by a number of factors, verbal and
physical attacks against Wiccans appear to have risen precipitously,
starting in mid-1999. To date, where the religious faith of
perpetrators can be identified, they all appear to be conservative
Sources of the conflict:
Many factors have contributed to Wiccan - Christian conflict:
- The "burning times" From about 1450 to 1792 CE, approximately
50,000 innocent Europeans, mostly women, were found guilty of
"witchcraft" and burned alive (in Roman Catholic countries),
or hanged (in Protestant countries). They were primarily convicted by civil courts, not by the
Inquisition as is commonly believed. However, the Christian church is
indirectly responsible for the genocide because it supplied the
theological justification for the persecution. The church developed and
disseminated the false belief that large
many citizens had sold their soul
to Satan and were committing evil and homicidal acts. Most victims of the
burning times seem to have been:
- Followers of ancient Pagan faiths,
- Native healers,
- Single women who lived alone, and/or who owned valuable property,
- People against whom neighbors had a grudge, and
- Individuals who were accused by other victims, often under
It is generally known that the Witch burning times involved the
execution of persons accused of Witchcraft. However, the term "Witchcraft" has now grown
to cover over a dozen more or less unrelated practices,
The North American public relates the term "Witchcraft"
to a strange amalgam of unrelated activities, mostly evil. Meanwhile, many Wiccans continue to
openly and proudly refer to themselves as Witches, Pagans
and Neopagans. Thus, they bear the brunt of much irrational public
- Satanic Ritual Abuse: The Satanic Ritual Abuse
(SRA) hoax gathered momentum in North America in 1980. It was largely
triggered by the appearance of a book: Michelle Remembers.
actually a novel -- partly based on fictional events, and partly based on
spiced-up West African Aboriginal rituals. But, it was largely accepted by the
public as a documentary of the horrible childhood abuse
co-author Michelle Smith. This book was followed by many similar fictional
by lawsuits based on recovered memories and by a
series of witch hunts into sexual abuse in nursery
and pre-schools. By 1995, belief in SRA had largely dissipated due to:
- The lack of any hard evidence that SRA actually happened anywhere.
- The discovery that some of the medical tests that helped convict
alleged perpetrators were worthless.
- The discovery that interview techniques used by child investigators
guaranteed that at least some of the children would create real-sounding stories of
abuse events that never happened.
- The finding that most images created during recovered memory
therapy were unrelated to real events.
Belief in SRA continues today at a very low ebb. It is rarely mentioned in
the media. It still exists particularly among a small percentage of
feminists and conservative Christians. They place responsibility for the the abuse on many small groups.
New religious movements are most
often blamed --particularly Wicca.
- Belief in Satan: Although about 60% of adult Americans view
Satan as only a symbol of evil, another 35% regards him as a living
being who "walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.
1 Most born-again adults and Evangelical Christians regard Satan to be the
latter -- a
supernatural being with incredible magical powers. This belief can create a high level of anxiety among
conservative Christians. Many view Satan as an ever-present threat to them,
their families and friends. Some believe that Satan has human helpers to perpetrate his evil deeds.
Since Wiccans outnumber religious Satanists by perhaps 50 or 100 to
1, and because many conservative Christians do not differentiate
between Satanists and Wiccans, the Wiccans again bear the brunt of
Evangelical Christians' fear.
- Religious intolerance in the
Bible: The Hebrew scriptures (Old
Testament) contain many passages requiring the death penalty for persons who follow other
religions. The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) states
that when non-Christians worship their own god(s), they are actually
sacrificing to "devils and not to God." Liberal
Christians generally ignore these passages and accept non-Christian
religions to be valid spiritual paths. However, many conservative Christians interpret these passages literally. (More
details) Some Christian leaders refer to Hinduism, other
Eastern Religions, Wicca, and many other non-Christian religions as forms
- Attitude towards other religions: A poll by Barna
Research Ltd. circa 2000 revealed that 24%, 22%, 30% and 50% of American non-Christians
viewed the overall impact on society of Islam, Buddhism,
Scientology and Atheism
as negative. However, for born-again Christians, those values rose to 71%,
76%, 81% and 92%! It is likely that the vast majority born-again
Christians would still view Wicca negatively. More
- Hatred and misinformation: There are
still a few
web sites, which disseminate hatred and misinformation about the Wiccan religion.
Watchman Fellowship and many other Christian web sites disseminate a mostly
accurate picture of Wicca.
- Sex: Many Wiccans
regard sexual pleasure as a gift of the Goddess and her consort, the
Horned God. They affirm consensual, responsible, safe sexual activity, by
persons of all sexual orientations: heterosexual, homosexual
bisexual. Some have even integrated the Great Rite into their
religious practices. This involves private, ritual sex between two
Wiccans who are already in a committed relationship. Many Christians
are unfamiliar with the long association of ritual sex and religion. They
find this to be odd behavior at best and abhorrent at worst. Most conservative
Christians find these beliefs and practices blasphemous, and totally unacceptable.
- Halloween: This secular festival has rapidly grown in popularity
in recent years. Sales during this season are a second only to those
at Christmas. Increasingly, public schools are celebrating Halloween
and encouraging students to participate. The public is generally aware
of the Pagan origins of the festival. Many conservative Christians are
vocal in their opposition to the celebration of Halloween because of
its Pagan roots.
These various factors
had contributed greatly to Christian mistrust and suspicion of Wiccans. However
increased publicity about Wicca and the openness of many Wiccans to freely
discuss their faith have led to a great reduction in animosity. Hopefully, this
will continue into the future.
- Christian scriptures, (New Testament), King James Version, 1 Peter 5:8.
Copyright © 2000 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-OCT-13
Latest update: 2008-NOV-17
Author: B.A. Robinson