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Religious conflicts - Wicca/Witchcraft

Part 1 of 2: Wiccans & military preparedness:
An analysis of a historical fundamentalist
Christian attack on Wicca.

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Overview

Circa the year 2000, Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis (U.S. Army, Ret.) wrote a paper for the fundamentalist 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 fundamentalist Christian organization, under the leadership of Gary Bauer, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the U.S. in the year 2000. 

The paper concluded 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 he views Wiccans as a threat to unit cohesion, morale, and efficiency in the Army. 

The following is our interpretation of Maginnis' paper. Unfortunately, FRC has deleted it from their web site, so you can no longer read its entire text and get the full flavor of his objections. 1 However, The Sacred Well Congregation also wrote a rebuttal to Maginnis' paper, which contains many direct quotations from his paper.

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 mentioned 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 included a section on 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 appears to contain a number of errors:

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Wicca is not a fringe religion. Wiccans 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 hundreds of thousands of 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 decades ago:

  • They have allowed women into an increasing range of assignments.

  • At the time that this essay was originally written, they did not reject gay and lesbian service members who stayed "in the closet." Since then, they have repealed their "Don't ask, don't tell" policy and have allowed members of the LGBT community to be open with their sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • 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. Armies are sometimes directed at peace keeping. A force that is racially, sexually and religiously diverse sends a powerful message to the people being helped.


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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, Hindus, Humanists, Wiccans and other Neo-pagan faith groups, and followers of Native American spirituality from serving. 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 type of monotheism that is quite different from that found in Islam and Judaism: they believe in a single God formed of three separate persons: 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 very similar to that of Christianity. They are generally Binitarian - many 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 requiring 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 and cooperation. 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 biblical texts that condemn "Witchcraft" and "Sorcery."
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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 3 and do no harm to others. The terms "Witch" and "Witchcraft" in English are hopelessly ambiguous. They 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 the activities of "m'khaseph." They were evil female sorcerers who used 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 a person who is 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 centuries ago 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 Protestant Christians, who also have non-sexist policies and beliefs.

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today. 

  1. R. L. Maginnis, "Brewing up trouble: Wicca and the U.S. Military," Family Research Council, at: http://www.frc.org/ The article is no longer available on their web site.

  2. David L. Oringderff,"Wiccans and the Military: Often caught in the middle," Sacred Well Congregation, 2000, at: http://www.sacredwell.org/

  3. 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 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-JUL-29
Author: B.A. Robinson
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