Last weekend I attended a gorgeous wedding. The church was beautiful, the reception truly over the top, and the bride was, well, she looked fabulous. Even the sermon was entertaining; the preacher was an excellent speaker who knew how to write. I didn’t agree with everything (okay, much of what) he said, but I expected that going in; the bride and groom are both conservative Christians, so it followed the sermon would espouse that worldview. I take what I can from these mini-lessons and leave the rest behind without complaint; it is their right in their church to say things such as, “Marriage was invented by [our] God,” and “In order for a marriage to succeed, God must be the center of it.”
I never realized until after I converted how definitively Christian preachers tend to phrase things.
I know many individual Christians who have reconciled a multi-faith society with their own religious views, however, the Christian Church* on the whole is not pluralist. It is built around the belief there is one God and they are His only church, so it makes sense, in their minds, to speak as if their beliefs and opinions are facts.
But as pagans, we are pluralists. We believe multiple paths can and should co-exist in relative harmony. What is true for me is not necessarily true for you, and that doesn’t have to make one of us “wrong.” Paganism isn’t an “either/or” faith.
How can this be applied in social situations? In a coven meeting or blót where the entire membership is of similar mind, it makes sense to use more definitive phrasing, but what about at a pagan wedding where guests from all over the religious map will be in attendance? Or a… holiday party? The truth of the matter is, people feel uncomfortable and slightly unwelcome – or at least not truly part of the festivities – when the host speaks as if his or her religious opinions are ideas with which we must agree.
My opinion? Don’t do it. Make every religious view – even ones you disagree with – welcome. We can disagree without hating, without evangelizing. This is something paganism excels at, and we need to show it off. I realize many monotheists will not use the same flexible language, but do we really want to behave like someone we disagree with because “they started it.”
So be yourself and throw your event the way you see fit. But if you are including people of a variety of faiths, remember that few of them know anything about our faith, and some have even been taught to fear us. We need to use language that is friendly and open – bridge-building. “In my faith, we set a chair for our ancestors to join in the celebration with us. It is a way of honoring them and ‘inviting their presence’ (a concept that is defined differently by different people). If you would like to participate in part or full, I will show you how and you are welcome to do so in whatever spirit you see fit. If you do not wish to, you are welcome to leave it alone.”
Does this diminish the meaning of the ritual? Not for me. Just as someone else’s definition of marriage does not change my relationship with my husband, someone else’s view of a ritual does not change my experience of it. We can co-exist. And that, I think, is the fine line between being yourself and forcing yourself on someone else.