Alumni visit their colleges to re-connect with old friends and relive memories of the good old days. Unless, of course, they graduated from Bible College and then left the faith. In that case, visiting the college feels more like being a stranger in a strange land.
Eight years after earning a BA in theology and biblical languages I returned to Multnomah University as a Pagan. After leaving my Christian faith, I lamented that my theological education was a “waste of time”. But with my embrace of Paganism my perspective changed. It didn’t take long for me to discover that my theological education was an invaluable asset for interfaith dialogue between Christians and Pagans.
So I went to Multnomah University to meet with Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, founder and director of New Wine, New Wineskins, author of Connecting Christ, and a Patheos blogger deeply engaged in interfaith dialogue. I had been following the growing dialogue between Pagans and Christians on Jason Pitzl-Water’s blog The Wild Hunt and was excited to meet with Paul.
Paul was very pleasant to speak with and time flew as I answered his deep and interesting questions. I hear the question “so how did you go from being a Christian to becoming a Pagan?” constantly and I rarely give the same answer. There are too many aspects and layers to my journey. Since Paul is a theologian and professor of doctrine, I figured I would provide a very short version of my journey and then talk about Christian versus Pagan theology.
That was the plan, but I surprised myself by talking primarily about my experience and practice. When Jason visited Paul’s class, he noticed that the students’ focus was on belief whereas his own focus was on practice. Evangelical Christianity puts emphasis on “right thinking” whereas paganism is more interested in how we practice and live.
Yes, I know this. I know the importance of theology and dogma in Christianity. I spend a lot of time thinking about the difference between Christian theology and my Pagan worldview. I thought I was prepared to offer a theological perspective. Just recently I had been thinking about Christian eschatology in relationship to Paganism. Why then did I not share my thoughts on eschatology or soteriology when asked for the theological reasons behind my conversion?
I would start with theology and suddenly shift into telling my experience at last year’s summer solstice. I would make an attempt to discuss gender, but found myself relating an encounter with the goddess Brigid. I tried to explain my understanding of universalism and told the story of how I re-discovered worship during a yule vigil.
In many ways I didn’t answer Metzger’s questions. I thought it would be easy to “talk theology” and explain my love for my Pagan path from an Christian perspective, but it wasn’t. I thought I could simply put myself back into my old mindset, but I only partially succeeded.
Theology just didn’t seem nearly as interesting or relevant as experience. Metzger concluded that Evangelicals should probably spend more time thinking about the importance of “phenomenology” in understanding other religions. I agreed, but was disappointed that I had not been able to stick to discussing theology.
I spent another hour on campus reflecting and writing notes. I made a list of theological reasons for my conversion. I tried to understand why I didn’t mention any of the points on my list. Then it struck me. I expected to turn back time and think like an Evangelical but underestimated how much my Pagan path has already changed me. And I realized that I gave the most important answer to Paul’s questions indirectly. This is the biggest reason I went from Evangelical Christian to Pagan: to experience the mystery, nature, the gods, and myself fully, ecstatically, and freely, without the boundaries of theology and the restrictions of dogma.
(You can find the original post over at witchesandpagans.com at my Cross and Pentacle blog)