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Religious conflicts - Wicca/Witchcraft

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

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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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 of the ethic are:

bullet Baha'i: "And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself."

bullet Christianity: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." (From the King James Version, Matthew 7:12)

bullet Buddhism: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."

bullet Islam: "Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself."

bullet Judaism & Christianity: "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

bullet Native 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: the sixth 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 override their religion's teachings. Others simply avoid joining the armed forces. During times of warfare, many Quakers (members of the Society of Friends) and others have 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 should not be a special concern to the army.

His references to Isaac Bonewits and the faith group 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 all abortions involve the murder of a human being, no matter what the gestational age of the embryo or fetus; still others believe that an fetus becomes a person late in pregnancy. This 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:

bullet Wiccans have no reserved words that must not be spoken, like the name of G-d in Judaism. But Wicca is no different from Christianity in this respect; neither faith have reserved words.
 
bullet Wiccans do not generally object to safe, consensual sexual acts between mature people, particularly if they are done within a committed, dedicated, monogamous relationship. They typically condemn sexual activity between individuals that are unsafe or where manipulation, coercion, force, or undue influence are involved. But religious liberals, many religious moderates, and the laws in most of North America also agree with this belief.
 
bullet Rarely, Wiccans will knowingly break laws that they know to be unjust or unconstitutional. For example, some Wiccans 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 even when 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 restricts that freedom, some Wiccans will willingly break the unjust law in order to be charged and have a court rule that the law is unconstitutional and unenforcable. 

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Concerns over Wiccan magical practices:

Magic is definitely part of some Wiccans' religious practice:
bullet Most 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. Spells are not much different from a Christian's blessing and prayer.

bullet Some 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 married or in a committed relationship.
 
bullet Some 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.

bullet There is no "basic Wiccan dedication ritual" as stated in Maginnis' paper. Different Wiccan traditions have various rituals for dedication and initiation. There is probably a very large number in existence because many are unique to a Wiccan coven and some to an individual Wiccan.

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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 of them seem to be valid:

bullet Wiccans 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. This could be an advantage in today's armed forces.

bullet Wiccans approve of consensual acts by persons of minority sexual orientation. This is certainly true for most Wiccans, although we are unaware of any surveys that would confirm that. This was also the policy of the DOD during the time that they followed their "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) guidelines. It is also policy now that DADT has been discontinued and service members can be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Thus, all soldiers are required to support this policy.

bullet Wiccans 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.

bullet All that Wiccans have asked for is to be allowed to practice their religion like service members who are 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. 

bullet It is true that many English versions of the Bible refer to "witchcraft as an abomination." Eating cheeseburgers, eating shrimp, wearing shirts made of polyester-cotton blends, etc. are also abominations, according to the Bible. But  the Bible's original Hebrew and Greek do not mention Wicca. As noted above, the words mistranslated as "Witch" and "Witchcraft" in many English translations of the Bible are totally unrelated to Wiccans and Wicca. 

bullet Many conservative Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant. The New Testament contains passages that imply 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 among Hindus, Muslims, etc. in their midst, there should be no difficulty for them to accept Wiccans.

bullet The 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 within the country. 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. More recently they have accepted persons with minority sexual orientations. And now, they are accepting transgender persons and transsexuals. 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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This webmaster's comments [possible bias alert]:

Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis' paper contained a number of positive items that are infrequently found in Christian essays: 

bullet He 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 do not capitalize the names of Neopagan religions.

bullet He mentioned bisexuality as a sexual orientation.  Most conservative Christian web sites 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.

bullet Perhaps the main encouraging sign in Maginnis' paper is that he consulted some Neopagan sources to find descriptions of Wiccan beliefs and practices. He describes Wicca fairly accurately. He does not describe Wiccans as evil people, murderers who barbeque babies for breakfast, abortion providers who consider abortion to be a religious ritual, etc. as so many other Christian web sites have done, particularly in the early years of the Internet. 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 Witches who it regarded to be heretics. For what we believe may have been the first time, an American conservative Christian writer has criticized Wiccans 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 reference when they are trying to convince conservative Christians that they are not kidnappers, torturers, and murderers of children, or Satan worshipers.

Unfortunately, Maginnis obviously did not have his paper reviewed by someone familiar with the Wiccan religion -- ideally a Wiccan. As a result many common misconceptions about Wicca were incorporated into his essay. These drastically lowered its credibility.

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Related essays on this web site:

bullet

Wicca


bullet

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


bullet

Excerpt from the U.S. Army Chaplains' Handbook
 

bullet

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


bullet

U.S. Army boycotted by Conservative Christians.


bullet

What the Bible says about Wicca/Witchcraft


bullet

The Ten Commandments


bullet

Wiccan spells and charms

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

  2. "Circle Sanctuary - A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality," at:http://www.circlesanctuary.org/

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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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