Living with the Enemy

Are you a real Pagan? I mean are you the sort of Pagan that stands
up for his or her rights to practice your religion? Do you insist
that if the Christians can wear their crosses you are going to wear
your pentacle or Thor’s hammer? Do you demand the right to hold
rituals in your garden? Or have a sacred space in the house? Are
your magic books on display and do you work magic?

Do you have a partner who is a Christian or Muslim or a member of
one of the other rather exclusive faiths?

You do? Oh dear! You are in for a rather bad time!

The simple, and somewhat unpleasant and difficult, fact is that
almost all modern Pagan faiths are totally incompatible with faiths
such as Christianity.

So now that I have managed to totally piss off almost my entire
potential readership, perhaps it might be helpful to look at why I
have come to the conclusion I have.

First off, I should say that far from talking simply from a
theoretical viewpoint I experience the difficulties of living in
what is euphemistically described as a `mixed marriage’ on a dally
basis. I am a Pagan, of a broadly Wiccan nature, married to a Roman
Catholic and unfortunately both of us take our faith seriously. For
both of us it is much more than simply a label.

This nature has led us to discuss our religions, our personal
religious beliefs and explore the theological implications of what
we believe. Far from sweeping our differences under the carpet and
looking the other way, we have talked about them to try and see if
there was any commonality or shared foundation. Unfortunately, while
there are most certainly similarities in the way that our religious
beliefs express themselves in daily life and their ethical teachings
at the core, they have basic axioms that are diametrically opposed.

Christianity and similar religions have two basic features that
simply are not compatible with Paganism. These features are that
deity for them is `Transcendent.’1 This implies that as their deity
exists outside its creation there can obviously be no other
Gods/Goddesses of equal status and no path other than the one laid
down by that deity is valid in any way.

If, like many Pagans, you believe in an immanent2 deity then your
belief is simply wrong; after all the Christian will say `God is
external to creation and master of it’ rather than being part of
creation and in all things.

If you follow a transcendent, but Pagan God or Gods, then sorry but
that is equally wrong, as the Christian will tell you that `there is
only one God, and its ours!’

This might not be such a problem if it weren’t for one thing. You
see, unfortunately, religions like Christianity also prescribe a
fate for those who do not believe, for those who do not follow the
true path. That fate is unpleasant to say the least. No matter how
Hell is conceived by followers of these religions it isn’t a place
you want to visit and certainly not a place to stay!

This is the core of the problem for Pagans in relationships with
Christians, or others of a similar faith. If your partner really
cares for you then he or she most certainly won’t want you to end up
in Hell and will get rather upset at any reminder that you are
heading that way. Every time you wear your pentacle, read your book
of magic or hold a midwinter ritual you are bringing you faith into
sharp focus and reminding your partner of your ultimate fate.
Seasons such as Easter, majoring on salvation through Christ as it
does, also reminds your partner that you simply are not following
the correct path.

Its easy to talk about `right to freedom of religion’
and `respecting different paths’ but the reality is that the
Christian partner simply doesn’t see it like that. He or she sees
you standing in the middle of the road with a 40 ton lorry
approaching at 80 MPH. It doesn’t matter if you believe in the lorry
or not – when it hits you it will be too late! In standing up for
your right to freedom to practice your religion you are causing pain
and hurt to your partner. How do you square that with `an it harm
none?’

All of this can make living with a person who truly believes in one
of the exclusive faiths very difficult. This is particularly true,
as I mentioned, if both of you are `serious’ about your faith and
beliefs.

For me, the problems started when my partner discovered that I
wasn’t a Christian, as she had assumed from our previous
conversations, but was in fact a Pagan. Fortunately, or not perhaps,
she had a limited understanding of what a Pagan was because her
sister is also a Pagan; Wiccan. Previously we had talked about
religion and faith and I had been very careful to not be explicit
about my faith and to gently steer the conversation away from areas
that would have made the fact that I wasn’t a Christian obvious.

This is the first of the problems: in living with a Christian, and
not wishing to hurt her, I had to make the decision whether or not
to let her know what I believed or to keep it quiet and `deceive’
her by omission. This was a big decision, as deception and falsehood
are most certainly frowned upon by my path, and in choosing to let
her continue to believe I was Christian I now think that I
eventually caused both of us more harm than if I had been open about
it right from the start.

The process of `coming out of the broom cupboard’ was particularly
difficult and my partner has described it as being a time when she
feels that she lost part of me. Even now I think that she feels a
sense of betrayal and loss.

Since then there have been better and worse times. I have to say
that living with a Christian is an exciting experience, and whilst
my partner tries with her conscious mind to accept that I am
following a different path, but one as valid as hers, her
unconscious mind, that part that in all of us is the core of our
belief, continues to tell her that that simply isn’t the case. As
she has put it: “I know that really your path and beliefs are good
and honourable and that God will smile on you; deep down I simply
don’t believe that.” It is this conflict between the rational
expression of belief and the reality of where that belief comes from
that causes the problems.

This is particularly true during the major events in the Christian
calendar. Easter in particular with its emphasis on salvation
through, and only through, Christ can cause her a lot of pain and
grief. The problem is that anything that causes her such pain also
causes me pain; it would indeed be much easier if I could simply sit
back and say, “Oh well, your religion, your problem, ” as I have
been advised by some Pagans. That however, if you really care about
your partner, simply isn’t an option.

We have been asked in this essay to think about whether such
relationships inevitable lead to conflict and whether or not they
are doomed to failure. I have to say that if both partners in the
relationship are serious about their faith and one, or perhaps
both , follow a path that sees itself as the only true way
to `salvation’ or `enlightenment’ or `the truth’ or whatever then
yes, unfortunately, conflict is pretty much inevitable. After all
you simply can’t have two people who truly care for each other both
believing that the other is doomed to Hell or such without causing
them both pain. The beliefs, and the concern for the other, will
cause conflict, it not between the two people then inside the
individuals themselves as they struggle to come to terms with the
situation.

What is the secret to success in this kind of relationship? Well I
wish I knew. I don’t have the answer and I suspect that I never
will. I have come to the conclusion that one of us has to become
less confrontational and to `back down.’ It simply isn’t going to be
possible for both of us to insist on our `rights’ and `freedoms’ and
for the relationship to continue. It would be too painful for us
both. In the end I have decided that it won’t compromise my faith to
sneak a little way back into the broom cupboard. Now, that isn’t to
deny my faith or to hide it, simply to be a little less open and
obvious about it, to refrain from demanding the right to wear my
pentacle openly or to loudly criticise the media for their pro-
Christian bias.

My books and ritual tools are kept in a small room away from
everyday sight and I don’t comment at every opportunity on the
rights or wrongs of certain belief structures. In fact I try to stay
away from conversations or situations that will make my belief
obvious.

Perhaps the biggest concession is that I no longer practice magic or
divination, though I still study and learn, as to do so openly would
be to throw an activity that is strictly banned in her faith in her
face. I don’t practice in secret as this would continue the
deception and, to my mind, be dishonourable. I never perform
rituals, not even simply ones of thanksgiving, in the house or
garden as this is shared space.

My partner, while she says that she doesn’t expect or want me to
hide my faith colludes in this. She doesn’t look at the books on the
shelf in `my room’ or open the drawers of the cabinet. She tends not
to bring up `divisive’ subjects and seems to understand when I steer
the conversation or simply don’t engage in talking about certain
things.

The whole process is very much like the concept of `Don’t ask, don’t
tell, ‘ and works in very much the same way. On the occasions when
this informal agreement breaks down and something happens to bring
the conflict between our two religious faiths into focus, then the
hurt and conflict can come to the surface.

Is our relationship doomed to fail? Again I don’t know. I don’t
believe it is and will continue to work at it, trying to find ways
and means for us to live with our differences. Unfortunately the
onus is on me rather than my partner, as it is my faith that allows
for there to be many paths to the truth and tells me that I am
responsible for the consequences of my actions and beliefs.

Every day there is a new challenge in keeping the relationship going
and new decisions to make about what to give way on and what to hold
dear. Every day the balance has to be struck between rights and
responsibilities. Every day the balance has to be struck between
being fully who I am and being a partner in a relationship.

Do I make the right decisions? Do I get the right balance? Probably
not! But I try my best and with the guidance of the Lady maybe, just
maybe, things might work out.

———————————————————————

Footnotes:
1 Transcendent Deity: This word `transcendent’ derives from the
Latin word meaning “to go beyond.” In essence it defines a deity
that exists outside of or beyond creation. Often the deity is
involved in the act of creation and is seen as a creature of a
different and higher order than humans or any other part of the
created universe.

2 Immanent Deity: Immanence is also derived from Latin but in this
case implies not an external or outside deity but one that is fully
within. An immanent deity is seen as completely within and
constrained by creation. An immanent deity would be thought of as
being part of creation in a literal sense, that is to say that every
part of creation is part of the deity and that the deity is found in
everything that has been created. Often an immanent deity is seen as
coming into being as part of the creation process.

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