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Author Topic: Wicca - Religion vs Lifestyle  (Read 10766 times)
AmberHeart
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« Topic Start: March 04, 2010, 08:09:10 am »


Over the years, I keep running into Wiccans who consider their 'faith' to be a lifestyle, not a religion. I recently walked away from one encounter going, 'what the heck does Wicca is a lifestyle not a religion actually mean?'

Part of my bewilderment I suspect is that while I am not Wiccan, I have a pretty good grounding in this religion thanks to a number of BTW friends down through the years. I can discuss with some degree of knowledge the actual and mythological histories of this religion, what makes it structured as a religion, what is and isn't usually considered part of the religion itself and so on. I have studied the progression of Wicca from a lineaged mystery faith (which it still is) in 20th century Britain to also including non-lineaged, non-mystery book-taught Trads and self-taught solitary practitioners. Anyone who incorporates enough of the recognisable core beliefs, regardless of whether they are lineaged or inititated properly, I would consider to be a Wiccan practicing this particular religion.

So the other part of that bewilderment then is how does someone who is practicing enough of the core beliefs recognised as this specific religion a) decide that they are NOT practicing a religion at all and b) describe being Wiccan as just a lifestyle.

Of course, having lifestyle actually defined would also be helpful in this context as well.

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« Reply #1: March 04, 2010, 08:24:53 am »

So the other part of that bewilderment then is how does someone who is practicing enough of the core beliefs recognised as this specific religion a) decide that they are NOT practicing a religion at all and b) describe being Wiccan as just a lifestyle.

I don't know about Wicca, but I've heard similar statements about other religions too.  My impression (possibly incorrect, so take with a grain of salt here) is that when people are saying this, they're thinking of "religion" as a collection of dogma and arbitrary practices that don't necessarily integrate with life.  That is, religion is going to church every Sunday and saying the Lord's Prayer and singing a hymn and hearing a sermon and whatever--and nothing else.  (I don't mean to pick on Christianity here; it's just the thing I've got the most context with for this religion/lifestyle division thing.)  When they say that they're engaging in a lifestyle rather than a religion, they're indicating that they don't just do the formal stuff and then leave it at that, but rather take the values and teachings of their religion into their daily life as well.  Live the faith, not just go through the motions of it.

Personally, I find that a false distinction.  I tend to see the values and daily-life stuff as part of the religion, not something added on that makes it more than a religion.  But that's what it seems, to me, like people are saying when they make "a lifestyle, not a religion" comments.

It occurs to me as I'm typing this that some pagans may also just plain have issues with the word "religion".  I more often hear people refer to what they're doing as a "path", "tradition", or even as "spirituality" rather than as "a lifestyle", but I could see issues with previous religious experience influencing word choice here in much the same way it influences some people to avoid the word "worship".  For some people, those sorts of words are very closely tied to a negative force in their life that they wish to leave behind them, so perhaps they try to distance themselves from it by using different words.
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« Reply #2: March 04, 2010, 08:35:14 am »


So the other part of that bewilderment then is how does someone who is practicing enough of the core beliefs recognised as this specific religion a) decide that they are NOT practicing a religion at all and b) describe being Wiccan as just a lifestyle.



I have run into this quite a few times myself and it has always been by people who have made this statement to somehow imply that I am less Wiccan than they because I don't follow their lifestyle. For example I have yet to meet a "Wicca is a lifestyle" person that wasn't vegetarian and I definitely appreciate a nice big steak Smiley. YMMV  of course but that is how I have encountered it.
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« Reply #3: March 05, 2010, 07:40:50 am »

I don't know about Wicca, but I've heard similar statements about other religions too.  My impression (possibly incorrect, so take with a grain of salt here) is that when people are saying this, they're thinking of "religion" as a collection of dogma and arbitrary practices that don't necessarily integrate with life.  That is, religion is going to church every Sunday and saying the Lord's Prayer and singing a hymn and hearing a sermon and whatever--and nothing else.  (I don't mean to pick on Christianity here; it's just the thing I've got the most context with for this religion/lifestyle division thing.)  When they say that they're engaging in a lifestyle rather than a religion, they're indicating that they don't just do the formal stuff and then leave it at that, but rather take the values and teachings of their religion into their daily life as well.  Live the faith, not just go through the motions of it.

Personally, I find that a false distinction.  I tend to see the values and daily-life stuff as part of the religion, not something added on that makes it more than a religion.  But that's what it seems, to me, like people are saying when they make "a lifestyle, not a religion" comments.

It occurs to me as I'm typing this that some pagans may also just plain have issues with the word "religion".  I more often hear people refer to what they're doing as a "path", "tradition", or even as "spirituality" rather than as "a lifestyle", but I could see issues with previous religious experience influencing word choice here in much the same way it influences some people to avoid the word "worship".  For some people, those sorts of words are very closely tied to a negative force in their life that they wish to leave behind them, so perhaps they try to distance themselves from it by using different words.

Star,

That hadn't occurred to me. Thank you. I come from a WASP background with parents so apathetic about Christianity that religion was just 'weddings and funerals the family gets together'. So I don't have that kind of baggage around the term religion and I wasn't 'religious' myself until I embraced my unique beliefs about Paganism as an adult.

I am a firm believer and practititoner that faith must be enacted and touches every part of daily-life. So for me, that distinction also doesn't work. If one puts it into the context you elaborated on, it does make sense, wouldn't it?

And your observation about informality vs formality also makes sense. I'm one of those Pagans who has always craved a structured faith. My understanding and experience of formality such as spiritual discipline and sacred repetition is that this can play a profound role in deepening one's faith - over sufficient time. The majority of those within my overall religion however, that of Dianic Paganism, tend to go with the informal. Spontaneous ritual far more valued than the repetitive practice. Each way has strengths as well as weaknesses of course. Yet it may be that your impressions relating to religion itself may also taint formality and explain why more than a few other Pagans that I have encountered dismiss that enacting and embracing a religion should be and is meant to be hard work. The latter not being a bad thing either!

Thank you again. I learned something new today..always good!  Smiley

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« Reply #4: March 05, 2010, 08:00:04 am »

I have run into this quite a few times myself and it has always been by people who have made this statement to somehow imply that I am less Wiccan than they because I don't follow their lifestyle. For example I have yet to meet a "Wicca is a lifestyle" person that wasn't vegetarian and I definitely appreciate a nice big steak Smiley. YMMV  of course but that is how I have encountered it.

Well being a vegetarian isn't part of the core beliefs of Wicca unless one wants to mangle the Rede into the popularized jingle of 'harm nothing, ever!' Given that the actual Rede doesn't even address not harming anything, vegetarianism remains a personal choice on their part.

They also sound like they are conflating. In other words, I'm Wiccan and I do this, therefore this is or has always been part of the Religion of Wicca. I've met that a lot, notably with those with a chip on their shoulder about BTW and how these oldest Trads are elitest and insist that nothing ever be changed. Which outside of certain individuals is not the case at all. A Gardnarian or Alexandrian for example won't recognize another Wiccan as being part of his or her specific Tradition just because of the core beliefs. BTW Trads also do change, they just do so meaningfully, knowing what came before, why this needs to be changed and doing so in a way that maintains the cohesion of the faith that they practice. So conflating can be driven by lack of knowledge and experience or hurt feelings and expectations of universal acceptance or sometimes just by blindly accepting the opinions of an author as gospel for all Wiccans. (SRW anyone?)

I've met a few vegetarian-is-Wicca/Pagan along the years too. Being a carnivore, I tend to roll my eyes and ask someone to pass the steak sauce... Grin

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« Reply #5: March 05, 2010, 05:38:02 pm »

Over the years, I keep running into Wiccans who consider their 'faith' to be a lifestyle, not a religion. I recently walked away from one encounter going, 'what the heck does Wicca is a lifestyle not a religion actually mean?'

I'm bewildered to hear of pagans who practise a religion but don't believe in Gods. Instead they regard Gods as archetypes or symbols and nothing else. I've thought about this a lot and currently I see their practice as just a lifestyle, not a religion. To me, Wiccans who don't believe in the Goddess and God as real entities fall into this category.

Then there are "Sabbat Wiccans" who practise their religion eight times a year. This I also find odd because I think religion should be a religon and a lifestyle. Though in truth I don't prefer to make that division because to me religion is essentially both. Otherwise, what's the point of rituals? Having eight fun parties a year? If so, religion just becomes something to boost one's social identity with. Anyway, I think that faith should be lived, otherwise it's just pretence. Does that sound too harsh?

I think that religion is in many ways like love. Expressing one's love is a natural part of love. Likewise, living one's faith should be a natural part of religion. It bewilders me when it isn't.
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« Reply #6: March 06, 2010, 03:43:32 pm »

I'm bewildered to hear of pagans who practise a religion but don't believe in Gods. Instead they regard Gods as archetypes or symbols and nothing else. I've thought about this a lot and currently I see their practice as just a lifestyle, not a religion. To me, Wiccans who don't believe in the Goddess and God as real entities fall into this category.

Then there are "Sabbat Wiccans" who practise their religion eight times a year. This I also find odd because I think religion should be a religon and a lifestyle. Though in truth I don't prefer to make that division because to me religion is essentially both. Otherwise, what's the point of rituals? Having eight fun parties a year? If so, religion just becomes something to boost one's social identity with. Anyway, I think that faith should be lived, otherwise it's just pretence. Does that sound too harsh?

I think that religion is in many ways like love. Expressing one's love is a natural part of love. Likewise, living one's faith should be a natural part of religion. It bewilders me when it isn't.

Lintu,

Harsh…no. Not to me. I firmly believe that a religion must be enacted and lived. I too get bewildered when it isn't.

However consider the following.

Religion historically seems to have been more about sharing and building community than everyone being on the same page religiously.

Up until about four centuries ago (based on my research to date), religion was a framework of mythos (not literally believed in itself) in which participation as part of one’s community led to personal epiphanies that were then brought back into one’s life to enrich and inform. Since then, religions seem to have transferred their validation into scientific/literalistic/logos rather than mythos. At the same time, community participation becomes more important even as it is being eroded spiritually. Spiritual social identity – being seen as part of a religious community – often seems to take precedence over intense participatory faith because the latter is being continually restricted and impoverished. This is the model that may be more familiar to those within Western cultures, so perhaps it is this model that ‘Sabbat Wiccans” think of as normal? It gives them a spiritual social identity within Wicca rather than intense participation within.

Another element here one may consider relevant with regard to the depth of commitment from “Sabbat Wiccans” is that they are book-taught. Now being book-taught doesn’t mean that a Tradition and/or an individual cannot have a profound relationship to the Gods of Wicca or to participating within and enacting that religion. That is not what I am saying here. Book-teaching about Wicca is however based on the non-oathbound basics about this religion that came to be published in the late 60’s. From that time on, other authors have customised what they had access to themselves and continue to do so to this day.

One result of this was the rise of that new type of Wiccan – the individual or solitary Wiccan that is not or has ever been part of a Tradition and/or a Coven-taught Tradition. When this religion was conceived in 1930’s-40’s Britain, this kind of participation was not originally part of how this religion was structured to be enacted. So the fit between solitary practitioners and celebrating the Sabbats has to be constantly re-invented.

Another result was all the new book-generated Traditions that arose that had no access to the oathbound information orally passed on in lineaged Traditions. Information that prepared Wiccans for participation within the specific Mysteries of Wicca. So for many, the Mysteries so spiritually central to being Wiccan vanished as part of how that religion was practised, replaced at least in essence by the Sabbats themselves as the most important participatory rites. 

Initiation is yet another result. This must be done to you by others and it is used within Traditions (old and new) to acknowledge either membership and/or achievement of levels of training and skill within that tradition specifically. It is not transferable. There is no such thing as being initiated into the Religion of Wicca as a whole, that I am aware of. Solitary practitioners on the other hand can only Dedicate themselves to the Gods, being neither a group nor having others to do such an initiation to them.

Even the Goddess and the God as the Gods of Wicca has been a result of publication vs oathbound. When Gardner was asked for a written comment on the two of the Pantheon of the Gods of Wicca that he considered to be the most important, he could not Name Them, this being oathbound information. So he simply wrote, The Lord and The Lady. So Un-Named with no information about Their roles within that pantheon itself, might that along with the habit of slotting global deities into these generic titles, might this influence the degree to which “Sabbat Wiccans” may relate profoundly to enacting Wicca itself? (or making them onto archetypes etc...)

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« Reply #7: March 08, 2010, 07:49:56 am »

Harsh…no. Not to me. I firmly believe that a religion must be enacted and lived. I too get bewildered when it isn't.

However consider the following.

Thank you loads for the valuable information, Amber! It's very enlightening to read where the model of spiritual social identity in Western cultures is derived. I suppose that belonging to a spiritual society has a profound meaning to individuals probably because Western cultures are so individualistic, even fragmented, and the sense of community as a whole has partly been driven down.

Also a very enlightening analysis from you regarding the emergence of book-taught solitaries and eclectic groups out of oath-bound Traditional Wicca, and how this influences the individual practices the subsequent group.

I belong to an eclectic Wiccan coven whose members are all book-taught. I often feel that it's somehow not enough for me, although I, too, believe that its possible to have a profound relationship with the Gods without being initiated into a Tradition. I miss guidance into the Mysteries and a teaching system, as I'm bound to miss some things when I self-train myself. Even some practical tips would be great at times, as well as philosophical insights. Traditions have the advantage of experience over a long time and a system of passing it down to new initiates. Sometimes I feel a bit disconnected as an eclectic. Though to be honest I don't know what it would really be like to practice Traditional Wicca. My knowledge of it is mostly derived from books, at least for the time being.
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« Reply #8: March 09, 2010, 07:46:59 am »

Thank you loads for the valuable information, Amber! It's very enlightening to read where the model of spiritual social identity in Western cultures is derived. I suppose that belonging to a spiritual society has a profound meaning to individuals probably because Western cultures are so individualistic, even fragmented, and the sense of community as a whole has partly been driven down.

Also a very enlightening analysis from you regarding the emergence of book-taught solitaries and eclectic groups out of oath-bound Traditional Wicca, and how this influences the individual practices the subsequent group.

I belong to an eclectic Wiccan coven whose members are all book-taught. I often feel that it's somehow not enough for me, although I, too, believe that its possible to have a profound relationship with the Gods without being initiated into a Tradition. I miss guidance into the Mysteries and a teaching system, as I'm bound to miss some things when I self-train myself. Even some practical tips would be great at times, as well as philosophical insights. Traditions have the advantage of experience over a long time and a system of passing it down to new initiates. Sometimes I feel a bit disconnected as an eclectic. Though to be honest I don't know what it would really be like to practice Traditional Wicca. My knowledge of it is mostly derived from books, at least for the time being.

Lintu,

You are welcome.

For the record, I am not Wiccan myself, belonging to a different part of the spectrum of Paganism. However, I am a Goddess Scholar in my Tradition, hence I study everything and anything and I have had the privilege and blessing of Wiccan friends down through the last thirty years, notably amongst the BTW trained. Hence my perception of the Religion of Wicca tends towards the more orthopraxic and conservative end. I’ve also known more than a few book-taught Wiccans, ranging from those on life-long wisdom walks to those content to just skim the surface.

Your occasional feeling of disconnection as an eclectic would be a welcome sign for a teacher of lineaged Wicca, at least the ones I know anyway. That says, I’m not complacent, I’m still learning and evolving spiritually. It is a good thing spiritually.  Smiley Not that you may ever end up at the lineaged core of this religion and that indeed might be a good thing spiritually or maybe just the better choice for you.

I myself describe any purposefully chosen path of spiritual learning as a wisdom walk, where the one walking has to constantly  - with each step - define what wisdom means and what that walk entails. A wisdom walk can be aligned to a faith or parallel to a faith’s general beliefs or even head towards the untrodden part of the forest to walk a unique path. If you think of your journey, self-taught/book-taught combined with your practice/experience as a Wiccan being your wisdom walk, then perhaps feeling disconnected may be the impetus that you need at any given point to take your next new step?

A book you might find interesting about spiritual social identity is called “Dancing in the Streets, A History of Collective Joy” by Barbara Ehrenreich. The book itself is not about paganism, it is about the Western spiritual traditions. Still after reading it, I actually found myself looking at modern Paganism itself from a different perspective.

Amber
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« Reply #9: March 09, 2010, 10:40:04 am »

Over the years, I keep running into Wiccans who consider their 'faith' to be a lifestyle, not a religion. I recently walked away from one encounter going, 'what the heck does Wicca is a lifestyle not a religion actually mean?'


Perhaps it is a case of many confusing Wicca with witchcraft.  One can easily practice witchcraft with no religious elements at all.

I think the word wiccan has become rather acceptable by mainstream folks as a way to describe a safe, non-threatening, non-satanic magic user. It is also being used by a host of eclectic witches as a simple way to describe their lifestyle choices without having to give a detailed account af what those choices are.

In this sense, there is no religious component to being Wiccan, it just means you are a witch that follows the rede.

Note that this is my take one what that lifestyle vs religion statement might mean; as a traditional BTW oathbound core practicing Gard.....well, my interpretation of Wicca is a little different Smiley
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« Reply #10: March 10, 2010, 05:10:20 am »

Your occasional feeling of disconnection as an eclectic would be a welcome sign for a teacher of lineaged Wicca, at least the ones I know anyway. That says, I’m not complacent, I’m still learning and evolving spiritually. It is a good thing spiritually.  Smiley Not that you may ever end up at the lineaged core of this religion and that indeed might be a good thing spiritually or maybe just the better choice for you.

I myself describe any purposefully chosen path of spiritual learning as a wisdom walk, where the one walking has to constantly  - with each step - define what wisdom means and what that walk entails. A wisdom walk can be aligned to a faith or parallel to a faith’s general beliefs or even head towards the untrodden part of the forest to walk a unique path. If you think of your journey, self-taught/book-taught combined with your practice/experience as a Wiccan being your wisdom walk, then perhaps feeling disconnected may be the impetus that you need at any given point to take your next new step?

Thank you AmberHeart, it's nice that you are so encouraging. Smiley

I want to learn to think more open-mindedly about Wiccans who are not committed to a life-long wisdom walk. Your thoughts have helped me broaden my perspective. Anyway, it's a personal choice and I may walk my path as it suits me regardless of what others may choose. Still, what sometimes dismays me is that because there are so many Wiccans who are content to just skim the surface, it creates stereotypes that all Wiccans are superficial and don't care to do research. Also that Wiccans don't really even believe in the Gods and it's just a lifestyle. It's not how I'd like to be seen. Some people have actually said to me that when they heard I'm a Wiccan, they thought I was superficial and ignorant. I'd like to prove otherwise and to show that there are even eclectic Wiccans who value do research, enact their faith on a daily basis and actually believe in the Gods and worship them. I think the faith is what makes Wicca a religion, not just a lifestyle.

I've actually heard a Wiccan say: "The great thing about Wicca is that you don't have to learn anything, you can just be a Wiccan. You can just call yourself a Wiccan if you believe in it."

This really bewilders me. She isn't a teen Wicca, she's in her early twenties. I also know other Wiccans who don't even celebrate the Sabbats. They do take notice of the Sabbats, but don't celebrate in any way, ritual or other special activity. Do you think a person can call themselves a Wiccan if they don't practice it? Doesn't "Wiccan" mean a practitioner of Wicca? What if you only believe in it? Perhaps then it could more accurately be called a philosophy, lifestyle or ideology instead of a religion, but some of these people do insist that it's their religion, perhaps because they need the spiritual social identity. What do you think makes Wicca (or any other path) a religion? This question is not specifically addressed to AmberHeart.
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« Reply #11: March 10, 2010, 05:36:00 am »

Still, what sometimes dismays me is that because there are so many Wiccans who are content to just skim the surface, it creates stereotypes

Another thing that dismays me is that some of these more surface-oriented Wiccans criticize my more serious approach. Some think that the Goddess and God are not meant to be taken literally as real entities, and that my studying and thinking distances me from real experiences. I'd like to think otherwise, that research helps me experience my religion more deeply because it helps me understand different aspects of my religion. I value study and practice equally. To me Wicca is all about balancing polarities and counterparts, including study and practice, knowledge and experience. Anyway, I found this really disheartening at some point and it actually caused me a crisis of faith. I felt very different from other Wiccans that I know, and thought that I was doing something wrong. Now I feel stronger and more confident about walking my path they way that suits me. Still, it feels good to be encouraged.
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« Reply #12: March 10, 2010, 05:40:28 am »

Another thing that dismays me is that some of these more surface-oriented Wiccans criticize my more serious approach. Some think that the Goddess and God are not meant to be taken literally as real entities, and that my studying and thinking distances me from real experiences. I'd like to think otherwise, that research helps me experience my religion more deeply because it helps me understand different aspects of my religion. I value study and practice equally. To me Wicca is all about balancing polarities and counterparts, including study and practice, knowledge and experience. Anyway, I found this really disheartening at some point and it actually caused me a crisis of faith. I felt very different from other Wiccans that I know, and thought that I was doing something wrong. Now I feel stronger and more confident about walking my path they way that suits me. Still, it feels good to be encouraged.

If that is the way you choose to take your religion, then all power to you. It is your religion, not anyone elses! It is all about what you believe to be true.
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« Reply #13: March 10, 2010, 08:16:58 am »

Perhaps it is a case of many confusing Wicca with witchcraft.  One can easily practice witchcraft with no religious elements at all.

I think the word wiccan has become rather acceptable by mainstream folks as a way to describe a safe, non-threatening, non-satanic magic user. It is also being used by a host of eclectic witches as a simple way to describe their lifestyle choices without having to give a detailed account af what those choices are.

In this sense, there is no religious component to being Wiccan, it just means you are a witch that follows the rede.

Note that this is my take one what that lifestyle vs religion statement might mean; as a traditional BTW oathbound core practicing Gard.....well, my interpretation of Wicca is a little different Smiley

Rowanfox,

A good point. Some modern authors have been perpetuating that confusion between mostly generic Pagan Witchcraft or indigenous folktypes of witchcraft and Wicca. Then there are those I keep encountering amongst the book-taught who consider Wiccans not to be Witches at all.  Roll Eyes

The success of 'wiccan' as a simple description I think entirely depends on the knowledge of the one hearing it. I for example, knowing what I do about the Religion of Wicca, instantly wonder what (if anything) such a self-described 'wiccan' actually knows about the Religion. Those who use the word 'wiccan' in the same way, then it might work as a simple descriptive. Still something I will take into consideration, thank you very much.

I suppose the safety factor is why they won't simply say Witch rather than wiccan? As one of the many Pagan Witches who was influenced by but is not Wiccan, I tend to wonder at those that wiggle about taking on the honorific of witch while practicing witchcraft. 

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« Reply #14: March 11, 2010, 01:51:35 pm »



This really bewilders me. She isn't a teen Wicca, she's in her early twenties. I also know other Wiccans who don't even celebrate the Sabbats. They do take notice of the Sabbats, but don't celebrate in any way, ritual or other special activity. Do you think a person can call themselves a Wiccan if they don't practice it? Doesn't "Wiccan" mean a practitioner of Wicca? What if you only believe in it?

Well, I know skads of Christians who don't go to church regularly......I suppose that non "practicing" Wiccans as still Wiccan in the way that non-practicing Christians are still Christian.

In all religions, it is very difficult to nail down "what makes you ....(insert name of religion here) ?"

I suspect that is why the Cauldron's description of what makes a pagan is better than most; it relies not on practice or beliefs, and just acknowledges that if you self identify as a pagan, you are one.

This all may also shed a little light on why interfaith relations can get strained sometimes.
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