Monday, February 19, 2007

In Goddess We Trust

Via Xan at Corrente, comes the Washington Post story of the Army Chaplain who converted to Wicca and applied to become the first Wiccan chaplain. "By year's end, his superiors not only denied his request but also withdrew him from Iraq and removed him from the chaplain corps, despite an unblemished service record."

"Institutionalized bigotry and discriminatory actions . . . have crossed the line this time," says David L. Oringderff, a retired Army intelligence officer who is an elder in the Sacred Well Congregation, the Texas-based Wiccan group that Larsen joined.

Larsen, 44, blames only himself. He said he was naive to think he could switch from Pentecostalism to Wicca in the same way that chaplains routinely change from one Christian denomination to another.

Chaplain Kevin L. McGhee, Larsen's superior at Camp Anaconda, believes a "grave injustice" was done. McGhee, a Methodist, supervised 26 chaplains on the giant base near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. He says Larsen was the best.

"I could go on and on about how well he preached, the care he gave," McGhee says. "What happened to Chaplain Larsen -- to be honest, I think it's political. A lot of people think Wiccans are un-American, because they are ignorant about what Wiccans do."

...By the Pentagon's count, there are now 1,511 self-identified Wiccans in the Air Force and 354 in the Marines. No figures are available for the much larger Army and Navy. Wiccan groups estimate they have at least 4,000 followers in uniform, but they say many active-duty Wiccans hide their beliefs to avoid ridicule and discrimination. Two incidents may bear them out.

When a Texas newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, reported in 1999 that a circle of Wiccans was meeting regularly at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, then-Gov. George W. Bush told ABC's "Good Morning America": "I don't think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it."

Eight years later, the circle at Lackland is still going strong, and the military permits Wiccans to worship on U.S. bases around the world. But when Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005, the Department of Veterans' Affairs refused to allow a Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star inside a circle, to be inscribed on his memorial at the Fernley, Nev., veterans' cemetery. Ultimately, Nevada officials approved the pentacle anyway.

For Wiccans seeking public acceptance, obtaining a military chaplain is the next major goal. More than 130 religious groups have endorsed, or certified, chaplains to serve in uniform. But efforts by Wiccan organizations to join the list have repeatedly been denied by the Pentagon.

...According to Pentagon figures, however, some faiths with similarly small numbers in the ranks do have chaplains. Among the nearly 2,900 clergy on active duty are 41 Mormon chaplains for 17,513 Mormons in uniform, 22 rabbis for 4,038 Jews, 11 imams for 3,386 Muslims, six teachers for 636 Christian Scientists, and one Buddhist chaplain for 4,546 Buddhists.
You should read the whole thing. I've excerpted enough to show, I hope, that not only should the military reverse course on their decision not to allow Wiccan chaplains for fear of what the wingnut Christians will say, but they are obviously and unfairly singling out the Wiccan for that treatment based purely upon the uneducated bigotry of those wingnuts.

Full disclosure: Regular readers will know I'm a pagan myself. I'm not part of the group here in Texas that Larsen joined but I do belong to a British Wiccan group, the Red Alder, and hold the honor of being a High Priest of that group.

Far from being "Satanist", the Wiccan religion gives free expression to the soul in often poetic ways. There are no strictures on how one can worship, nor any heirachy which tells you how to worship. The Wiccan religion lets each approach the Divine in their own way.

Here's an example, one of the most beautiful passages from one of the most common Wiccan texts:

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, and whose body encircles the universe -

"I who am the beauty of the green Earth, and the white moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, and the desire of the heart of man, call unto thy soul. Arise and come unto me."

"For I am the soul of Nature, who gives life to the universe. From me all things proceed, and unto me all things must return; and before my face, beloved of Gods and of Men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite."

"Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within thee."

"And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know that thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless they knowest the mystery : that if that which thou seekest, thou findest not within thee, then thou shalt never find it without thee. For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire."

Update Jill from Brilliant At Breakfast adds her two cents and has a very perceptive comment on the religious Right:
I suspect that the people thumping the Bible most loudly are the ones who DO need the structure of an authoritarian father figure-based to keep them from being in touch with what must be an extremely foul true nature. The ones who don't see how someone can live a virtuous life without what they call "faith" (faith being synonymous with patriarchal religion) fear that without the retribution that Christianity offers, they would run completely amok.
Jill is absolutely spot on here. Rigorous belief in an extreme form of religious stricture is a common feature for many sociopaths for exactly that reason; it gives them an external threat by which they can modify their actions so as to appear more acceptable to society at large, who would otherwise quickly act to halt their predatory natures.

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