The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

American Pagans Battle Discrimination by Christian Fundamentalists

Sunday, October 16, 2005
BY MONICA VON DOBENECK
Of Our Palmyra Bureau
The Patriot News

Michael Nebroski said he sees the divine everywhere. It's in the trees on his Christmas tree farm, the birds flying overhead and his neighbors. It's in Jesus, Buddha and the Hindu god Shiva.

Nebroski, owner of the Divine Light new age bookstore in Steelton, calls himself "an eclectic pagan." He also goes by the names Sir Michael Divine and Shiva Prushna, which means "the questioner."

For pagans, the Halloween season represents the new year and the time when the veil between our world and the spiritual world is thinnest, he said. Halloween has its roots in the pagan holiday of Samhain, or summer's end, which pre-dates Christianity.

During a time when Christianity seems to be dominating the news, there are still local people practicing pagan religions such as Wicca. The Internet site Meetup.com lists several pagan and Wiccan groups meeting in the area.

Local pagans said they made their spiritual decisions in different ways.

Cynthia King of Harrisburg said reading about quantum physics led her to a connection with the metaphysical.

Her spiritual path has led her to some "wonderful intellectual discussions" with her father, a Baptist minister, she said.

Lynne Kassirer, also known as Oona Divine, was drawn to paganism through her anger at Christianity after her father died when she was 16. She feels that Wicca helps her feel "gratitude that I am here."

"A major part of Wiccan belief is that things need to be healed," she said. "I don't see the difference between a Wiccan act of charity and a Christian act of charity."

Nebroski said he was led to paganism while recovering from alcoholism and looking for "positive affirmation." He opened the Divine Light Bookstore almost 17 years ago but now wants to sell it to "pursue my spirituality more deeply," he said.

Some pagans said they have felt discrimination.

King said her beliefs were brought up in a custody battle several years ago. Kassirer said an employer backed out of a job offer after he found out she reads Tarot cards.

Pagans said there is no need to fear their beliefs. Wiccan religion's major tenet is "harm none." Most followers do not proselytize and believe people should be free to choose their own spiritual paths, they said.

The Rev. Kathleen Hamling of Lancaster, head of the pagan Red Rose Assembly, is participating in the "Stop the Hate" rally in Lancaster to promote diversity and understanding of different religious beliefs and lifestyles, including homosexuality.

With the rise of fundamental Christianity, "it's more important than ever for pagans to come out of the closet," she said.

As Halloween approaches, pagans say they will celebrate in different ways.

Nebroski will participate in a ritual of healing for the war in Iraq, he said. Hamling plans a protection ritual for her neighborhood that has been riddled with vandalism and crime. King said she might join friends around a fire to share memories and look forward to the new year.

"It's the best time to look back to our roots, then look to the future," Kassirer said.

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