I know. I’ve been really busy with the move and everything. For a quick recap: I am now working several jobs: teaching ballet, working in an office, and dancing for several companies. My social life is more active than it ever has been, my best friend from my childhood moved in with my whole big family of my sister, her boyfriend, and my husband, I met some local heathens and gone to a few events, and generally feel like my big move was the best thing ever for me.
Anyway, I’m here today because I want to write about a conversation I had with a new acquaintance of mine. We were at a Halloween party, and I told him I’m a pagan. He was interested and asked me some basic questions, and then got around to the one I always dread–“So, do you actually believe in this stuff?”
I don’t answer that question to people I’m not close to because the fact of the matter is that my definition of religious belief is so different from the common American I-literally-believe-every-word-of-the-bible definition that the only thing that can happen is that I come across like a crazy person. Especially considering that my social circles tend to be filled with either casual Christians or staunch atheists. So what I do instead when asked is tell the person all the reasons why it’s irrelevant whether or not the gods exist–my belief in them itself is a tangible force in the world regardless, that the human mind responds to metaphor and story and having gods whose stories relate to my own difficulties is incredibly healing, that having rituals to honor the dead fills a hole in our emotional needs that scientific society absolutely does not solve, etc. He was really interested in what I was saying, and said he understood where I was coming from that science and religion are for different aspects of life. He defined himself as an agnostic.
A couple of days ago, he brought it up again to my sister. He told her that I “claim to be a pagan” and that I want to believe in it, but don’t really, and that he can tell by my eyes.
Now, I’m a definitely frustrated that someone I barely know thinks he knows how religious I am more than I do. I’m annoyed that he thinks he gets to have a say in what my religion is. But what I really get out of this whole interaction is the ways that American religious rhetoric is so full of boxes that people want to put other people in, and then they get really confused when I don’t fit in them. No matter how many times I have this conversation about what my religion is, I can watch people put me in box after box after box trying to find where I fit. People I end up being close friends with finally just give up and let me be in my own radical place. But this guy decided that since I didn’t fit in a box, I must fit in one anyway, the box of the nonbeliever.
Normally, it goes like this. You’re religious? Crazy Christian box. You’re pagan? Oh, let me edit that to the Nutso New Agey Witchy box or else Satan Worshiping Devil box. You worship the Norse gods? Uhh…Girly Viking chick box. Do you really believe in them? Please say yes so I can put you in the “deluded” box. You won’t say yes? So you’re an atheist? No? An agnostic? No? Uhh…..Yep, I’m going with atheist who has deluded themselves into thinking they’re deluded. Or something.
It’s tiresome. But I do enjoy breaking down the boxes a bit. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that I’ve changed their perspectives of religious people because they’ve never met a religious person who is so logical and rational about their faith while still actually believing in something. But the longer I’m a pagan, the more I realize that I define pretty much everything differently than other people, and it can make it very difficult to have a conversation.