Does environmentalism = neopaganism?

Or, as so many in the Catholic Church fear, does interest in mitigating environmental problems lead one to leave the Catholic Church and become a neopagan?  I’m reading this damnation of environmentalism more and more these days, on EWTN and elsewhere:  don’t dare turn off lights not in use, you might presto-chango become a neopagan.  Well, you can turn off lights not in use to save money, but for heaven’s sake don’t do it to save the environment or people’s lives, and certainly not to save animals’ or plants’ lives, except maybe the plants and animals we eat.

First of all what is neopaganism?  I’ve personally known about 4 or 5 professed witches.  The first run-in about 30 years ago was a shocker.  I was teaching about witchcraft in my Anthro 101 class, about how witchcraft tends to be found in tribal societies with less formal social control.  It’s not so much that fear of a hex keeps people in line, but that if something bad happens — a crop fails, a baby dies — people don’t want to be the one (the loner, the disgrunted, the one who can’t bury the hatchet or is anti-social and mean) to be accused of being a witch, and thereby get banned or killed, so they act friendly and obey the norms.  Well, as I lectured thusly on witchcraft, a student spoke out and said, “I’m a witch and I resent the way you are talking about us!” 

I had no idea there were still witches around — I thought they’d all been burned at the stake centuries ago or enlightened by science.  She was really angry and I feared she might put a hex on me — not that I believe in witchcraft. 

Later, mid-90s, when a group of us from various religions in the Fox Valley near Aurora, IL were establishing an Interfaith Council on Climate Change, I said I’d welcome any religion, except neopaganism (we had, for example, a very good Jain member, and Jainism seems to be one of the best religions suited to environmentalism and nonkilling, in general, so we were broadly interfaith).  But witches?  Not only had I had that one shocking witch experience, not only were rumors flying around at that time about child-abductions by witches for their bloody rituals (supposedly near O’Hare Airport — probably false urban legends), but there was already some inkling of concern being expressed in the Catholic Church about environmentalism and neopaganism.    To make matters worse, a member of our parish environmental committee had invited a disaffected Catholic woman to a meeting, and she did a little “environmental ritual” patching together Native American and other symbols, like feathers, water & fire, telling us that women were equal to men and God is our brother, and other such nonsense.  The other ICCC members, however, insisted that every religion was welcome, to which I responded that we should at least draw the line at the Church of Satan.  Anyway, no one knew of any neopagans, so none were ever invited, or came.

Some 15 years after my first witch-student, I had another student in the late 90s who informed me her neopagan belief was more like shamanism (the positive side of the witchcraft coin — the negative or positive power to heal being in the person).  She was very kind and friendly, so my opinion of neopagans improved.  (It seems curanderismo (shamanism) and brujeria (witchcraft) are also increasing among Hispanics, as well as neopaganism among Anglos….so we anthropologists should perhaps be studying these, and the causes…perhaps something to do with social control issues.)

However, regarding environmentalism=neopaganism, I never really thought of neopagans as being environmentalists or more environmentally inclined than myself or that Jain woman.  And I don’t think feathers necessarily help one to remember to turn off lights not in use.

Now a decade after that I have another student in myclass, but she is a pagan, not neopagan; she was reared by pagan parents, and their line goes back centuries.  And she tells of the great harm and discrimination she and her family and ancestors have had to face.  So let me make a statement here:  It is very unChristian to burn witches at the stake or other lesser forms of hate- and fear-based discrimination.  Trust in the Lord, and He will protect you from all threats, but keep a silver cross in your pocket, just in case.

I have not personally known of anyone to leave the Church over environmental issues and then become a neopagan.  I suppose there might be some cases, maybe even many.  But what is really causing them to leave the Church?  Could it be that mean, front-pew parishioners have scowled them away?  Could it be that Catholics on the whole have failed to heed the popes’ admonitions to mitigate environmental problems, and a small portion of Catholics concerned about environmental issues wrongly think that there is something intrinsically wrong with Catholicism, that it not fully pro-life, and they therefore they leave? 

Or is it the beckoning of witches and warlocks prancing naked in the woods?


2 Responses to “Does environmentalism = neopaganism?”

  1. annieelf Says:

    Very interesting read, Lynn. It is a mystery to me that witches, pagans, etc. are still harrassed by some Christians. It’s as though these people totally missed Christ’s message of loving all as you love Him.

    Re: retirement – I’m not just looking forward to it anymore. It’s rushing at me with the speed of a runaway train. June 17th is my last day at the university. I’m so mentally checked out right now, it’s ridiculous.

    Where did the time go, Lynn? We were 15 when we met.

    • lynnvinc Says:

      The Carmelite way is to just be good in our little ways in ordinary life, then hopefully peoples of other religions will form a positive impression of Christianity, or at least not hate us so much. We sometimes quote St. Francis, who said, “Go out and preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” 🙂

      I think it is a very good opportunity for “preaching the Gospel” that way to do things to help the environment. Actually that should be much more effective than talking about it on a stupid blog like this 🙂 Walking the walk.

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