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Christian-Wiccan conflict

History & sources of the conflict in the U.S.


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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 Christians. 

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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:
    • Midwives, 
    • 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 torture.

    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, including:

    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 fear. 

  • 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. This was 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 remembered by co-author Michelle Smith. This book was followed by many similar fictional accounts, 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 of Satanism.
  • 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 details.
  • Hatred and misinformation: There are still a few Christian Internet web sites, which disseminate hatred and misinformation about the Wiccan religion. The 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 and 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.


Reference:

  1. Christian scriptures, (New Testament), King James Version, 1 Peter 5:8.

Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Wicca > Christian/Wicca conflict > here


Copyright © 2000 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-13
Latest update: 2008-NOV-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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