Tips for conversations with Pagans

I am often amazed when Christians find it so amazing that I converse so readily and easily with Pagans. I gather many assume conversations with Pagans are unavoidably adversarial and therefore scary and best left to “experts”. But this need not be the case. It helps though if you follow a few simple do’s and don’ts:

Do … focus on relationship

God is about relationship so relationship is where we should begin. Instead of charging in with an adversarial stance (or alternatively, a timid and fearful stance) in anticipation of an adversarial response, why not dare to anticipate the opposite? Funny enough I find that works 90% of the time. Pagans are people, just like us, and they appreciate a personable approach.

Do … listen in order to understand 

Have you every had one of those conversations where the other person was more interested in what they were about to say next than what you had to say? Not pleasant is it. Well, the tip here is, let’s not be that “other person”. Let’s actively listen. But less obviously, also be mindful that 80% of communication is nonverbal and the average Pagan is far more sensitive and attuned to symbolic communications than the average Evangelical. Don’t just listen to what they say; listen also to what they do.

Do … clarify what are the most important questions

Conversations can easily ramble on all over the place if we’re not careful, never getting to the meaty stuff. Try to go deeper. Find out what really divides each of you, not just what seems to. I’ve had many pagans say to me, “Oh I could never be a Christian because I love experiencing divinity in nature and expressing my spirituality through creative arts, incense burning and meditation.” I’ve said, “That’s curious, because I love those things too, as a Christian.” Going deeper however, I might find that they find polytheism more compelling and plausible than monotheism, or find Messianic particularity offensive. Then we’ve found some more substantial issues.

Do … focus on Jesus

Focus on Christ, not church; on Jesus, not Genesis; on the Messiah, not the wars of Moses and Joshua, on the Lord, not abortion. Or where we must focus on such things, make sure we link it back to the life and teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus in the course of the conversation. Christianity is centred on Christ, so lets keep Christ-centred as we communicate what it means to be a Christian.

Do … share your own story

Your story is what makes the good news real, plausible, and hopefully even attractive. Your story is what takes grounds the resurrection story in lived (and liveable) experience. Share yourself as you share God; share God as you share yourself.

Don’t … be so quick to demonize

There is nothing worse than confusing witchcraft with Satanism, or reciting urban legends about child sacrifices, or demonizing practices you understanding nothing about. It destroys conversations. If you do something so stupid, give up now. And while you’re at it maybe refresh yourself on that commandment about not bearing false witness. Yes, there are some things Pagans do which are incompatable with Christianity, but please, please, please, check between real things and imagined things before you launch into critiques. If you don’t know the difference: ask first.

Don’t … dump on women or gays or the environment

Pagans venerate nature goddesses as well as gods and tend to be strongly eco-feminist. You may not agree with their values in every respect, but a bit of tact and diplomacy goes a long way. And consider, even when you consider them unbalanced, who created the imbalance that necessitated this counterbalance? Yes, us! So maybe we can learn a thing or two from them here.

Don’t … expect others to find the Bible as authoritative as you

Not only should you not expect Pagans to take the bible as authoritative as you do, you should not expect them to take any scripture as authoritative as you do. Pagans tend to take experience as more authoritative than scripture and the Wiccan “Book of Shadows” so many have heard of is closer in function and form to Anglican prayer books and Catholic missals than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Don’t … expect every Pagan to be the same

Given the priority of experience over scripture (or should I say general revelation over special revelation) Paganism is consequently very diverse, even in terms of which goddesses and gods are worshipped. Not only are there many different traditions (such as Wicca, Druidism and various forms of Pagan Reconstructionism) but even within each tradition there is much variety. Don’t assume one Pagan speaks for all Pagans.

Don’t … be afraid to challenge, as long as you’re respectful

Through many years of experience I’ve found Pagans aren’t beyond being challenged, provided the challenge is respectful, and preferably within the context of relationship. The words of Peter are very pertinent here: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

So I hope you find this helpful. Nothing is guaranteed. With such a history of bad blood between Pagans and Christians I can’t promise you won’t have a bad experience, that you won’t ever experience rejection, even following these tips. But I can say that most the time, if you approach Pagans with the right attitude, you’ll find them quite open to conversation about things of the Spirit.

Postscript: In this article I have focussed on “how” we might improve conversations with Pagans, from a Christian perspective. But in the conversation that followed, here and elsewhere, many have challenged “why” I would seek such a thing, having made huge assumptions about my intent, presuming it to be myopically focussed on evangelism (which I assure you it is not). If that describes you, before rushing to judgement I would ask you review John Morehead’s article on eleven reasons for dialogue, which closely reflects my own view, which you’ll find here and here. I would also ask, that where you feel critique is still necessary, to please keep it “constructive” rather than “destructive” and model that which you would ask of others.

164 Comments

  1. Hi Katie and anyone else interested in exploring stuff – I don’t want to hijack Matt’s blog, so this is a link to my blog, please join me over there and give me something to think about!!!
    Just one thing – I would appreciate it if you didn’t refer to me as Helen on it – I go by “pastasmissus” to try to stay relatively anonymous (if you read the very first post you will see why)
    Thanks, am anticipating some interesting conversations
    Helen

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  2. I understand where you come from I really do. But why does it always have to be about conversion? Can’t a Christian just sit down and have a civil conversation about Religion for the sake of knowledge?! I am all for telling people about my personal beliefs under the huge “umbrella” of Paganism. But the second anyone thinks that pretending to care and understand will make me “change my ways”, their wrong. And I don’t do it to anyone else. My goal when speaking about my beliefs(which is rarely), is to banish the misunderstandings that person has for Paganism. I’ve studied numerous religions for the sake of knowledge and understanding. I love to hear about what others believe, it’s very interesting. But you won’t find me hell bent on turning everyone Tom, Dick and Harry on the street to Paganism. I could care less if I was the last one on this planet that practiced what I believe. And the nice thing about Paganism is…I just may be the only person on this planet that does believe what I do.
    Many Blessings!
    P.S. The small comment not to be misguided into believing that all Pagans are Satanist is right. But I have met some very very wonderful Satanists. And under the Webster’s definition of Pagan, many Satanist do fit under that very category. So don’t be surprised if you end up talking to a Satanist who calls themselves Pagan.

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  3. “…does it always have to be about conversion?”
    It doesn’t. It’s the critics who have been bringing the conversation down to conversion, not me. You’re quite welcome to join me in exploring other reasons for conversation.

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  4. Matt Stone- I was sent here by Jason at Wild Hunt, and I want to thank you for this post. It sounds like you’ve got a really good view on the subject. Just wanted to say thanks! As a Pagan, I love to discuss religion with Christians. Especially ones who will listen. Thanks for getting the word out.

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  5. As a pagan (and former Christian) I would first like to say that I loved this article, it was informative and respectful. That said I would like to add that most Pagans are comfortable with their religion and and don’t want to be changed. It is fine to tell us about your religion as a lesson in theology, but don’t try to change us unless we ask. A large number (like you said) have had hard times in the Christen church and looked for other ways to live their lives. Again I really enjoyed this article and thank you for being so respectful and trying to get others to act the same!

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  6. As an ex-Catholic Irish Reconstructionist Pagan, I thank the gods that someone’s finally figured out common sense.
    Other people have mentioned the sticking points about the undercurrent of “AND NOW LET’S CONVERT THEM,” but I’ll get to the part that made me raise a brow.
    Pagans venerate nature goddesses as well as gods and tend to be strongly eco-feminist. You may not agree with their values in every respect, but a bit of tact and diplomacy goes a long way. And consider, even when you consider them unbalanced, who created the imbalance that necessitated this counterbalance? Yes, us! So maybe we can learn a thing or two from them here.
    Time to learn something else.
    Though there is a tendency for many pagans to start out worshiping goddesses exclusively, even Wicca is notable for viewing the God and Goddess as equal. And that’s what most of us want–equality. However long it takes, the imbalance towards excessive contact with the female divinity will be rebalanced with more of the male side.
    I started out following the Morrigan, because she called me to the Irish path. After eight years of being fine with her exclusively, one day I ended up praying to Aengus Og, the god of love. While he couldn’t help me with my actual request (help me find a guy), he came back a week afterward and told me that I could talk to him if I wanted to.
    I didn’t really know why he was doing it, so I was either reluctant to talk to him or I kept apologizing for doing so. He constantly, constantly, CONSTANTLY told me that “I said you could talk to me if you needed it–stop apologizing.” Eventually I noticed that I kept starting out on the subject of romance but going back to my shaky relationship with my family, and I realized that my initial request had been an unconscious attempt to alleviate how trapped I felt with my family. Not only are they nearly all Catholic (my sister is the only one who knows about my current belief system), they disagree vehemently about my choice to pursue theater. Aengus’ response to my realization was “Yeah, you didn’t need a guy–you needed acceptance and someone to vent to. And the Morrigan doesn’t deal with emotions very well.”
    Several weeks later, I was on the last leg of a very confusing spiritual crisis and ended up meeting Ogma, the god of education. He said I needed a teacher to deal with all the questions I couldn’t find answers to, and after I asked one too many questions about the extent of his help (which was familial as well as mentorial), he exploded and went “Because that’s what a GOOD father does!” (Aaaand cue the need to give me a couple days to deal with the sudden realization that my father’s ten-year absence has affected me quite a bit, if a god feels the need to step in as my father-figure.)
    After I asked the Morrigan for financial aid, she informed me that money is not her sphere of influence and took me to meet the Dagda, chief god of the Irish pantheon. He’s probably THE fatherly-provider figure, although he’s rather too loud and boisterous for my quiet-actor personality.
    Basically: If we’ve been pagan long enough to find a comfort-zone in our path, there’s a good chance we’ll move past our “EEEEEVIL PATRIARCHY” feelings and start contacting male deities at some point. (Or they’ll contact us, as in my case.)
    The nature of polytheism means that we have many gods, and that means our pantheons have plenty of menfolk.

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  7. You’re right, the judgement needs to stop. and I can tell you, a lot of pagans don’t WANT to be converted or to find jesus. We belong to a different belief structure, and that’s all there is to it. It is against my beliefs to try to convert anyone… and I wish people would afford me the same respect.
    It is just another belief system, and people are entitled to believe what they wish.
    to each their own.

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  8. I don’t see my previous comment, so I’ll say it again.
    Pagans don’t WANT to be converted. We are perfectly happy with our system of beliefs, and believe you have a right to yours, so why can’t this respect be returned?
    To each their own. I won’t try to convert you to witchcraft, it is against my beliefs to interfere with free will. Please accord me the same respect.

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  9. Not sure why you’re shocked. I never delete comments apart from spam and flame posts. This is a space for open debate. As long as you keep it polite you can debate as vigourously as you like.

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  10. Curious Christian….. I am crying right now. Like BAWLING. I found this website by looking online to find how to communicate with a Christian when you are Pagan, but this is the opposite, but I’m so grateful. This is the most BEAUTIFUL thing I’ve ever seen. And sometimes Christians don’t believe me when I say this, but I believe Christianity is a BEAUTIFUL religion; it’s just not for me. Its the CHRISTIANS who can be the ugly ones. I copied and pasted this to my Aunt on facebook, but she won’t read it, even though it’s written by a Christian. But I am messaging her each of these do’s and don’ts, and she agrees with everything you have said. Any way, THANK YOU, and peace be with you. Blessed be. )0(

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  11. Same. But I don’t feel like that is what Curious Christian is trying to do. It feels to me that he has respect to Pagans for being just another human being. In truth, no one knows where they will go, what will happen, or who will be their after they die. Anyway, peace be with you, brother or sister. Blessed be. )0(

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  12. This is awesome, thankyou for your story. I’m at the point in my spirituality where I’m confused. Nyx is my Patron Goddess. I’ve always felt a connection with Pan, the God, but had a connection with darkness, which would be Erebus, Nyx’s consort. But I’ve never felt a connection to the God. Now, I know they are just personifications of the elements that we see, but the darkness, and the God that I have communicated with and learned about, always felt different to me. Though night and Nyx always was the same for me. It’s weird. So for right now, I am a Dianic, but am not a feminist bitch. I just don’t know who my God is, though I think Pan chose me, because when I had a stack of paper and burned it, what was left was Pan’s picture that I had. Though I don’t feel as comfortable and comforted by any God as much as I am with Nyx.

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  13. You’re welcome Nyxia Night. I am touched that you found it so helpful. I know how awful, and frankly unChristlike, Christians can be sometimes. I aspire to be otherwise although I’m far from perfect. And I do agree it’s important to recognize our common humanity, which according to my tradition is a reflection of divinity, and thus an expression of exquisite beauty, each and every one of us. If you are interested in engaging deeper in Christian-Pagan conversation I think you’d be welcome at the Pagan and Christian Moot. You’ll find it easy enough on Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/129973193855508/) and there are some long standing members, both Pagan and Christian, who’ll treat newcomers with respect.You’ll find me there too (www.facebook.com/matthew.l.stone)
    Blessed be 🙂

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