A careful examination of the role that religion

American religion HaoDong LuoREL 321 11//10/2016 AMERICAN RELIGION 3 IntroductionA careful examination of the role that religion has played in the development of thehuman civilization will reveal that it has accompanied the human race since the dawn of thesociety. Indeed, primitive forms of religion go back as far as history can reach. Though thesecults different from each other to a certain extent, they had one aspect in common: they rarelytransgressed the boundaries of a certain ethnic social environment. Much later the world saw theemergence of a new kind of religion that was able to unite different people with the help of asingle idea. Needless to say, when the New World was discovered, representatives of differentreligious systems tried to expand their influence. Different denominations of Christianity wereable to claim the majority of the new believers. As a result, the United States of Americafeatures a considerable number of Christians. This paper will explore a different population ofthe believers, namely those who adhere to paganism and the extent to which they arediscriminated.Brief overview of paganism in the United StatesTo begin with, it may be beneficial to pay a considerable amount of attention to thisreligious movement. One should keep in mind that paganism is not a single religion. Quite theopposite, it is an umbrella term that is used to denote religious systems that were created by asingle ethnic community do not go beyond its boundaries and have a direct connection to theorigin of a certain ethnicity. It may sound surprising for some, but paganism does not alwaysinvolve personification of nature, though it can be an integral part of it. In addition to that, oneshould note that by no means paganism should be seen as the opposite or the opponent ofChristianity. AMERICAN RELIGION 4 If one considers the history of paganism in the United States, one might notice that priorto 1950s there was no significant interest in it among the population, excluding the NativeAmericans. Those who traveled to Europe noted the spiritual awakening of the people andbrought this interest back home. As a result, the first forms of paganism that were brought to theAmerican soil were Wicca and Neo-Druidism. The former is a variation of the European cult ofwitchcraft in its original meaning, a namely celebration of the forces of nature. Speaking of thelatter, one might note that it is a restoration of the old European tradition, spread primarily inthe West of Europe which focuses on rituals devoted to celebrating unity with nature.One would make no mistake suggesting that when these new religious movements wereintroduced to the American people, they did not find many supporters. The reason is obvious:they were dramatically different from the mainstream religion which dominated the socialenvironment at the time. Nevertheless, as time passed, the communities of the neo-pagans grewlarger and larger. People started practicing their rituals in the open and were not afraid to facethe opposition of the public. In addition to that, one should keep in mind that 1960s and 1970swere the decades when people were looking for new spiritual horizons and many felt that theycould try something new. What is really remarkable is that closer to the end of the century, theneo-pagans felt that they should protect their right to worship and started systematic oppositionto the oppression that they felt. In other words, they were no longer willing to accept the existingstatus quo. AMERICAN RELIGION 5 Discrimination of the neo-pagans in the United StatesDiscrimination in the militaryIt may be rather surprising to some to hear about the fact that neo-pagans arediscriminated against in the military. One should keep in mind that army is a rather peculiarsocial institute that unites different kinds of people. Given the fact that the communities of theneo-pagans grew larger over the decades, it was a matter of time until a representative of thisreligious movement joins the military. Another point that should be mentioned lies in the factthat being a part of the army can be closely connected to the religious life of a person. Thus, inthe case of an armed conflict, a person may face the risk of losing one’s life and quite naturallyone may be willing to address the divine forces (Issitt & Main, 2014). Furthermore, even if thereis no conflict, serving in the army is connected to the best values that are promoted in the societywhich is something that is very close to the religious beliefs. In addition to that, there is atradition of having priests in the army in order to help the soldiers keep their spirits high.The discrimination of the neo-pagans in the American military can be best shown in theexample of Don Larsen. He was an army officer who served as a priest. Prior to 2006 herepresented Pentecostal Christianity and was quite successful in his position. Nevertheless, thatyear he was sent to serve in Iraq. That assignment must have had a deep impact on him sinceupon his arrival he claimed that he could no longer serve as a Christian priest since he became afollower of Wicca. What is even more important is that he wanted to continue helping the armymen and women, but as a Wiccan priest. What is really shocking is that after offering this,Larsen was dismissed from the army. He claims that this was a retaliatory action because heabandoned the mainstream religion and promoted paganism. AMERICAN RELIGION 6 However, if one carefully monitors the recent developments in the United Stated Army onwill be able to see that two new symbols were added to the list of approved emblems of beliefs:they are the pentacle which represents Wicca and the hammer of Thor which represents Norsepaganism or Asatru. Some might suggest that this may be seen as a sign that the army officialshave reduced their discrimination. Nevertheless, a quick glance at the list will reveal that thepagan symbols are considerably outnumbered by the Christian symbols.Discrimination is prisonsThe next area which should be engaged in the analysis focuses on the prison system.Once again, this may be a rather unexpected perspective to take while examining discriminationof the neo-pagans. However, one should keep in mind the following aspects. First of all, whenpeople are sent to prison, they are able to maintain the majority of their rights, including the rightto worship. It is not uncommon for prisons to have chapels which means that the Christianinmates, namely those which belong to the mainstream religion, are able to exercise their rights.Moreover, one should also take into account that spending time in prison is often paralleled withdeep introspection (Merriman, 2007). That is why it is natural for people to seek their spiritualroots. So, denying the right to worship is able to have an extremely negative impact on one’spersonal development.The example that this paper will focus deals with the case Cutter v. Wilkinson. As wasmentioned in this document, four inmates filed a suit against their prison because theadministration denied their right to worship. To be more specific, they were denied the right tovisit places of worship since the administration thought that that would result in the breach ofsecurity. The suit was sent on behalf of people practicing Native American religion, Asatru and AMERICAN RELIGION 7 Satanism. The actual complaint focused on refusal to build a sweat lodge on the premises of theprison. The filling, in this case, is indeed a landmark one since the court ordered the prisonadministration to respect the rights of the inmates and satisfy their religious needs even thoughthey did not represent a mainstream religion.Once again, some might suggest that this may be seen as the fact that the society wants todiscriminate against the neo-pagans no more. Nevertheless, a careful examination of the rulingand the subsequent practice will show that no significant progress was achieved. Indeed, thecourt ruled that the prison administrations all over the country should build places of worship forthe inmates regardless of whether they represent the religion of the majority or the minority, butthere is a loophole that can be used against the neo-pagans. Thus, it was ruled that a place ofworship should be built as long as it does not compromise the security of the prison. However, itis possible that the administration will express its genuine desire to protect the rights of theinmates, but will claim that it is impossible to build a place of worship. That is why the casewhich was mentioned above does not solve the problem of discriminationDefamation of paganismFinally, it may be particularly beneficial to explore the manner in which paganism isperceived by the mainstream religion. A careful analysis of the contemporary discourse involvingreligious topics will see that there are two completely different views on paganism. On the onehand, it is seen as a better alternative to the world religions and is thought to be more spiritualand, therefore, beneficial for the believers. On the other hand, paganism is seen as the synonymof Satanism and all pagan rituals are described as Satanic rituals. It goes without saying that each AMERICAN RELIGION 8 of the approaches does not reflect the reality. Quite the opposite: it put emphasis on whatpaganism is not: it is not a single religion and it is not a theological rival of Christianity.Barney-Barry (2005) explored the reasons why the public had developed such negativeattitude towards paganism and found that this reason can be traced back to the medieval times.Indeed, as it has already been mentioned, when the colonies were set in the New World theChristian preachers thought that they could claim a new land and expand their influence as at thattime Christianity ruled over Europe in one way or another. However, before the dominance ofthis religion was established, the local national cults had been destroyed. Thus, every Europeannation had a strong pagan cult, but it ultimately surrendered to Christianity. A good example isGreece: many people know about the large pantheon of the Greek gods which suggests that thelocals were quite devoted to them. Nevertheless, today this country is the stronghold of OrthodoxChristianity. As a result, there is no wonder in the fact that the latter presented paganism assomething that is equal to Satanism and this line of reasoning was brought to the United States.All this leads to the understanding that many people today are not willing to reveal theirtrue religious beliefs because they will be afraid of a stigma that will be put on them. Forexample, a person who practices the Wiccan tradition may be mislabeled as a witch andassociated with the stereotypical image of a witch. To make things worse, the Wiccans usesymbols that are largely seen as Satanic by the public for no particular reason. Therefore, theneo-pagans face a considerable amount of discrimination in their daily lives simply because theychose a religious movement that is different from the one that the majority of the populationfollows. AMERICAN RELIGION 9 ConclusionHaving examined all the points which were mentioned in the paragraphs above, one isable to come to the following conclusion: there is a number of dimensions in whichdiscrimination against neo-pagans in the United States can be analyzed. To begin with, they arenot allowed to practice their religion freely in the military. Thus, when an army priest expressedhis desire to become a pagan priest, he was dismissed. Even the inclusion of the pagan symbolsin the list of the approved emblems of beliefs does not improve the situation. The second aspectto be mentioned focuses on discrimination in prisons. In spite of the fact that the court ruled thatthe prison administrations must build places of worship for non-mainstream religions, there is aloophole that makes discrimination possible. Finally, paganism is often mislabeled and presentedas Satanism. AMERICAN RELIGION10 ReferencesBarner-Barry, C. (2005). Contemporary paganism: Minority religions in a majoritarian America.New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Issitt, M. L., & Main, C. (2014). Hidden religion: The greatest mysteries and symbols of theworld’s religious beliefs. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.Merriman, S. A. (2007). Religion and the law in America: An encyclopedia of personal beliefand public policy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

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