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Religious conflicts - Wicca/Witchcraft

Wiccans and military preparedness

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Overview

Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis (U.S. Army, Ret.) has written a paper for the conservative Christian group, the Family Research Council (FRC). 1,2 He is the director of their Military Readiness Project. The paper seems to have been triggered by a boycott of some conservative Christian groups against the U.S. Army.

The FRC was initially organized by Focus on the Family, another conservative Christian organization, under the leadership of Gary Bauer, a candidate for the presidency of the U.S. in the year 2000. 

The conclusion of the paper is that the "Pentagon should withdraw recognition of Wicca for readiness reasons." Maginnis feels that certain religious rights of Wiccans in the army should be terminated, because Wiccans are a threat to unit cohesion, morale, and efficiency in the Army. 

The following is our interpretation of Maginnis' paper. You should read the entire text of his paper to get the full flavor of his objections. 1 Maginnis raised the following points: 

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Wicca is a valid religion:

He recognizes that Wicca has been formally recognized as a valid religion by the Army since 1996. He did mention that many Wiccan groups have been given tax exempt status. Unfortunately he did not mention that:

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The Army actually recognized Wicca much earlier. Since 1978, various editions of its chaplains' guide which deals with minority religions, have including Wicca.

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Various U.S. courts have also recognized Wicca as a valid religion (e.g. a 1988 decision by a U.S. district court). 

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Wicca is a fringe religion receiving special benefits:

He is concerned that, because of the recognition of Wicca, that "any fringe religion will now have to be granted special benefits by DOD." This statement concerns a number of errors:

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Wicca is not a fringe religion. It has been active in the U.S. for about 5 decades. Wiccans have taken part in many inter-faith conferences, such as the World's Parliament of Religions. They have about 200,000 members in the U.S.

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Each religion that asks to be recognized by the US military is not automatically accepted. Religions are considered on their own merits, and must meet military requirements. For example, the Wiccans at Ft. Hood TX had to agree to requirements governing ritual clothing and restrictions on the use of their ritual athames before they were accepted by the DOD.

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Wiccans and other minority religions have not been "granted special benefits." They have merely been allowed to use base facilities for their rituals. It is the larger religions which have been granted special privileges. For example, the military hires chaplains, provides office support, and usually provides an on-base religious meeting place for its Christian, Jewish and often Muslim soldiers.

Even if the DOD spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to hire Wiccan priests and priestesses to act as army chaplains, the Army would not be giving special privileges to Wiccans; they would only be giving the standard privileges that Christians, Jews and Muslims have enjoyed for years.

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Concern over military readiness:

He is concerned that if the Army allows Wiccans to hold their services on-base, then non-Wiccan soldiers' "readiness factors such as military values, adherence to norms, willingness to kill, and recruitment and retention..." will be undermined. This is because he believes that most soldiers regard "witchcraft as an abomination."

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Diversity: It is quite possible to maintain an army that is totally male, totally white, totally heterosexual and totally monotheistic. However, in its wisdom, the U.S. army became integrated a few decades ago; they have allowed women into an increasing range of assignments. They do not reject those gays and lesbians who stay in the closet. Finally, they are now formally recognizing small minority religions. At each step of the way, doomsayers raised the specter of damaged military preparedness. History has shown their concerns to be without merit. As armies are increasingly directed at peace keeping, an force that is racially, sexually and religiously diverse sends a powerful message to the people being helped. Kosovo and Bosnia are two potent examples of the power of religious diversity in the military.

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Monotheism: Maginnis apparently wants to add a new religious requirement for joining the U.S. army: the belief in monotheism. This would exclude Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Ethical Culturalists, Humanists, and a few others from serving, but would allow Wiccans, Hindus and followers of all of the large religions in America:
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Muslims and Jews are the only large religions in U.S. society that believe in a God who is a single entity, indivisible. 

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Christians are generally Trinitarian - they follow a form of monotheism that is quite different from Islam and Judaism: they believe in a single God who has three aspects: a Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some even have a pantheons of supernatural entities to whom their members pray, including the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, and  hundreds of saints. 

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Wiccans hold a belief that is almost identical to Christianity. They are generally Binitarian - they follow a form of monotheism: they believe in a single deity who has two aspects: a female Goddess and a male God.

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Religious intolerance: He implies that religious intolerance by Christians and Jews towards Wiccans is a valid reason for eliminating Wiccans from the armed forces.
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There remains even today in the armed forces some racial bigotry. But the DOD chooses to fight this by teaching and reqiring tolerance, rather than allowing discrimination against minority races.

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Some degree of sexism remains. Again, the DOD teaches tolerance rather than expel female soldiers.

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There will always be religious bigotry intolerance and hatred. But the DOD is teaching acceptance. Their only other option is to expel, or limit the religious rights, of followers of minority religions. And this is clearly unconstitutional.

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Confusing Wicca and Witchcraft: 

He implies that Wicca is not only un-Christian and un-Judaic, but is a "direct affront" to those religions. He links Wicca in America with condemnations of "Witchcraft" and "Sorcery" in the Bible.
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Even if modern-day Wicca were similar to the practices translated as "Witchcraft" and "Sorcery" in some English translations of the Bible, the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that the government and its agencies not discriminate against religious groups.

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Although various English translations of the Bible do condemn Witchcraft, these references clearly have nothing to do with Wicca:
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The term "Wiccan" is well defined. It refers to a follower of a NeoPagan religion, who is specifically required to follow the Wiccan Rede and do no harm to others. "Witch" and "Witchcraft" have so many mutually conflicting meanings that they should never be used in essays, reports -- and particularly in English translations of the Bible

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In order to understand what the Exodus 22:18 and Deuteronomy 18:10-11 really mean, it is necessary to consult the original Hebrew. The passages condemn m'khaseph who are evil sorcerers using spoken spells to harm others. Wiccans are specifically prohibited from hurting others by their Wiccan Rede. Similarly Galatians 5:19 is often translated as condemning sorcery and/or witchcraft. The original Greek word here is pharmakia from which the English word "pharmacy" is derived. It refers to the practice of preparing poisonous potions to harm or kill others. Again, Wiccans are prohibited from following this or any other practices that harms people. The Bible clearly condemns evil sorcerers, not benign Wiccans.

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Maginnis writes that "Witchcraft, also known as Wicca, the craft, or the craft of the wise, is a religion." He is correct in stating that Wicca is often called "the craft," and "the craft of the wise." But "Witchcraft" is in no way a synonym for "Wicca." The terms "Witch" and "Witchcraft" have been used to refer to African native healers, evil sorcerers, Satanists, very beautiful women, very ugly women, a person who searches for water, a follower of syncretistic Caribbean religions such as Santeria, Vodun, a male magician, a wife who is not submissive to her husband, and an expert in their field. Many Wiccans avoid associating the term "Witchcraft" with their religion because of the mass confusion that it causes. Others wish to retain the term because to abandon it would be disrespectful for the innocent people slaughtered by the Christian church during the Burning Times. We feel that writers should avoid the term, unless they wish to project hatred, misunderstanding and intolerance.

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The phrase: "A witch holds pagan beliefs, but not all pagans are witches." is, by itself, meaningless. That is because the term "witch" has so many mutually contradictory meanings. The statement "A Wiccan holds Neopagan beliefs, but not all Neopagans are Wiccans" is valid. 

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Maginnis makes the common Christian error of equating Wicca with Druidism and other Neopagan religions. The term "Neopagan" describes a class of religions; it is similar to the term "Eastern religions." Within Neopaganism is a number of different religions, including Asatru, Druidism, and Wicca. Within Wicca are a number of traditions, which resemble the denominations of Christianity. 

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Background of Wicca

Maginnis correctly describes the origin and some of the basic beliefs of Wiccans. Wiccans do stress the importance of the feminine in society. Most are accepting of persons of all sexual orientations. Many feminists have indeed been attracted to Wicca because it lacks the patriarchal beliefs of most monotheistic religions.

He quotes Probe Ministries, a counter-cult group  which is opposed to new or small religious movements which differ from historical Christianity. They state: "The rise of the goddess is a direct assault on the patriarchal foundation of Christianity." Probe Ministries seems to confuse religions which are un-Christian with religions that are anti-Christian. Most Wiccans view women and men as equals. This is unlike the status of women as described in much of the Bible. However, Wicca is no more of an "assault on...Christianity" than are liberal and mainline Christians, who also have non-sexist policies and beliefs.

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Sponsored link:

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Concerns over Pacifism

Wiccans who wish to join the armed forces must come to terms with their main rule of behavior: the Wiccan Rede "An ye harm none, do what ye will." (in modern English, "do whatever you wish, as long as it does not harm anybody including yourself"). Picking up an assault rifle, charging an enemy position. and trying to kill everyone there certainly does harm to others. 

However, Wiccans are not unique in this problem. All but a very few religions teach an ethic of reciprocity that prohibits harming or killing others. In Christianity, this is called the Golden Rule. A few examples are:

bulletBaha'i: "And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself."
bulletChristianity: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
bulletBuddhism: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
bulletIslam: "Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself."
bulletJudaism & Christianity: "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
bulletNative American Spirituality: "Respect for all life is the foundation."

Followers of all of these religions who wish to enter the army must decide how to handle their faith's teaching to not harm others. In fact, Christians have an additional hurdle not shared by Wiccans: one of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:13 specifically says "Thou shalt not kill." (KJV) Most individuals come to terms with their faith by citing self-defense and protecting one's country as considerations which over-ride their religion's teachings. Others simply avoid joining the armed forces. During warfare, many Quakers (members of the Society of Friends) and others became conscientious objectors. 

One might assume that all applicants to the armed forces have come to terms with this religious conflict. Wiccans in no way differ from followers of other religions on this matter. Pacifism within Wicca is not a concern to the army.

His references to Isaac Bonewits and the Arn Draiocht Fein (ADF) are not particularly meaningful, because Bonewits is a Druid. Druidism is a different religion from Wicca.

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Concerns over ethical relativism:

Maginnis quotes The Covenant of the Goddess as saying  "[W]hat is good for one may be evil for another and vice versa." 3  This, of course, is merely a reflection of ethical diversity within of American society. Some people believe that wives should be submissive to their husbands and that equal power sharing in marriage is forbidden; others believe the opposite. Some believe that an early abortion is the least unethical action for a woman in some circumstances; others believe that abortion involves the murder of a human being. The list goes on endlessly. 

He quotes the Circle Sanctuary's web site that says: "Witches have no specific taboos against speaking any particular words, consensual sexual acts among individuals capable of rational consent, or breaking laws they know to be unjust." This statement is generally true:

bulletWiccans have no reserved words that must not be spoken, like the name of G-d in Judaism. Christianity does not have reserved words either. 
bulletWiccans do not generally object to consensual sexual acts between mature people, particularly if they are done within a committed, dedicated, monogamous relationship. They typically condemn sexual activity between individuals where manipulation, coercion, force, or undue influence are involved. But religious liberals, many religious moderates, and the laws in most of North America agree with this stance. 
bulletRarely, Wiccans will knowingly break laws that they know to be unjust or unconstitutional. Some held a demonstration in North Carolina against an obviously unconstitutional state law which prohibits reading of palms, use of tarot cards, casting runes, etc - whether for money, done as an amateur, or done alone in the privacy of one's home. Quiet protest against unethical laws is an established American practice for those brave souls who are willing to accept the consequences. Faced with a constitution that guarantees personal religious freedom and a state law that eliminates that freedom, some Wiccans will willingly break the unjust law in order to be charged and have the law declared unconstitutional. 

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Concerns over Wiccan magical practices:

Magic is definitely part of some witches' religious practice:
bulletMost Wiccans do cast spells. But they are normally prohibited unless they are done with the prior consent of the recipient of the spell. And they are never done if the spell is manipulative, coercive or may harm anyone. Love spells which are designed to influence a person to fall in love with another individual are not allowed. These are not particularly different from a Christian's blessing and prayer.
bulletSome forms of sex magic involve actual sexual activities. These are occasionally performed by some Wiccans. However, the ritual is done in private by a couple who are in a committed relationship. 
bulletSome witches "believe that the dead join the Blessed Ancestors, who watch over, protect and advise their descendants." 3 This is very similar to some Christians who pray for support and guidance from dead saints.
bulletThere is no "basic Wiccan dedication ritual" as stated in Maginnis' paper. Different Wiccan traditions have various rituals for dedication and initiation. There are probably thousands of them in existence.

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Concerns over Military Readiness:

Maginnis cites a number of concerns about the adverse effect that Wiccans would have over military readiness. None seem to be valid:

bulletWiccans are "noted for their ethical relativism." This is common among all Neopagans, religious liberals and religious moderates. It results in a person carefully considering their decisions - an advantage in today's army.
bulletWiccans approve of consensual acts by persons of minority sexual orientation. This is probably true, although we are unaware of any surveys that would confirm that. This is also the policy of the DOD ever since they implemented their "don't ask, don't tell" guidelines. Thus, all soldiers are required to support this policy.
bulletWiccans in the armed forces are not pacifists. If they were pacifists then, like most Quakers, they never would have joined the army. Wiccans in the army have come to terms with the Wiccan Rede, just as the majority Christians have come to terms with their Golden Rule and 10 commandments.
bulletAll that Wiccans have asked for is to be allowed to practice their religion like the Christians, Jews and Muslims. They do not ask for special religious facilities; they do not ask for professional chaplains. In fact, if the majority of soldiers were Wiccans, the armed forces' task of providing for the spiritual need of its soldiers would be significantly simplified. There would be no need for chaplains and supporting facilities. All Wiccans ask for is access to existing rooms and permission to hold their rituals on the base. 
bulletIt is true that many English versions of the Bible label "witchcraft as
an abomination.
" Eating cheeseburgers or wearing shirts made of polyester-cotton blends is also an abomination, according to the Bible. But  the Bible's original Hebrew and Greek do not mention Wicca. The words mistranslated as "Witch" and "Witchcraft" are totally unrelated to Wiccans and Wicca. 
bulletMany conservative Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant. The New Testament contains passages that state that the Gods and Goddesses of non-Judeo-Christians are really Satan or his demons. Since conservative Christian soldiers have to accept what they regard as Satan worshipers in their midst, there should be no difficulty for them to accept Wiccans.
bulletThe Army has stated that Wiccans do not represent a discipline problem or adversely affect military readiness.

For many decades, the armed forces have made major contributions towards diminishing internal hatred, bigotry and intolerance. Society has benefited greatly from these policies. Decades ago, they racially integrated the military. Over the past decade, they have greatly reduced sexism in the military by allowing women to accept an increasing range of combat positions. Recently they have learned to accept persons with minority sexual orientations, as long as they "don't tell." And now, they are formally recognizing small minority religions. The result is an armed forces that fully reflects the diversity of American culture. This will become increasingly important in the future, as military roles evolve.

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Positive aspects of Maginnis' paper

Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis' paper contained a number of positive items that are infrequently found in Christian essays: 
bulletHe capitalized references to Wicca and Wiccans. This is a small item, but an encouraging one. Although most writers capitalize the names of religions and their followers (e.g. Christianity, Christian) out of respect, many Christian web sites omit this when referring to Neopagan religions.
bulletHe mentioned bisexuality as a sexual behavior.  Most conservative Christian websites basically recognize only one sexual orientation: heterosexuality. Homosexuality is usually described as an addiction or a deviate behavior, rather than as an orientation. Bisexuality is rarely mentioned at all.
bulletPerhaps the main encouraging sign in Maginnis' paper is that he consulted Neopagan sources to find descriptions of Wiccan beliefs and practices. He describes Wicca fairly accurately. He does not describe them as evil people, murderers who barbeque babies for breakfast, abortion providers who consider abortion to be a religious ritual, etc. as in so many other Christian web sites. For decades, conservative Christians have written books, given lectures, and (recently) created web sites attacking Wiccans as profoundly evil people. They have based almost all of their writings, directly or indirectly, on Christian propaganda from the 15th to 18th centuries. These were the burning times when the church was actively exterminating what it regarded as heretics. For what we believe is the first time, Wiccans are being criticized on a conservative Christian website for being too gentle and nice, not willing to kill other human beings. Maginnis' paper will be a useful essay for Wiccans to use as a refernce when they are trying to convince conservative Christians that they are not kidnappers, torturers, and murderers of children, or Satan worshipers.

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Related essays on this web site:

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Wicca

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Excerpts from a U.S. district court decision recognizing Wicca

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Excerpt from the U.S. Army Chaplains' Handbook 

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U.S. church-state separation and religious freedom issues

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U.S. Army boycotted by Conservative Christians.

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What the Bible says about Wicca/Witchcraft

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The Ten Commandments

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Wiccan spells and charms

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References: 

  1. R. L. Maginnis, "Brewing up trouble: Wicca and the U.S. Military," Family Research Council, at: http://www.frc.org/papers/milred/

  2. Printed copies of the essay can be requested from the Family Research Council at (800) 225-4008. This is a toll-free number accessible from the U.S. and Canada.

  3. "Witchcraft: Commonly-Asked Questions, Straightforward Answers,"
    Covenant of the Goddess, at: http://www.cog.org/wicca/faq.html

  4. "Circle Sanctuary - A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality," at:
    http://www.circlesanctuary.org/contact/PSApledge.html

  5. The term "Wiccan Rede" is sometimes used to refer to the short phrase which defines Wicca's main rule of behavior. Other times it is used to refer to a poem which includes the behavior rule and the Threefold Law.

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Copyright 1996 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-JUL-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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