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Wes Isley

Wes Isley

Posted: September 22, 2010 09:58 PM

How many of you have "dabbled" in another religion? Perhaps the question should be: Does the word "dabble" bother you when referencing part of your spiritual quest, even if it was only short-lived? Well, I think we'd better get used to hearing that word because, thanks to comments made by U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell about her days dabbling in witchcraft, we're going to be hearing it for a while.

Others have replayed what she said, so I'll skip the details, which are few anyway. Suffice to say O'Donnell isn't a witch today. So why is this even a news story, you ask? Because O'Donnell carries her faith into her politics for everyone to see, and liberals are having a field day using her admission of exploring something as spooky-sounding as witchcraft as a weapon to bring her down: "See, we told you she's crazy!"

Although a liberal myself, I find I'm in the unlikely position of defending O'Donnell's spiritual experimentation. Don't we celebrate freedom of religion in this country? And with that comes the freedom not only to worship as we choose but also to check out how our neighbors worship and see if we like their way better. Obviously, O'Donnell's interest in witchcraft--or Wicca, as it is known today--didn't last, and it appears she was attracted to it because of a guy. I'm sure any number of us have visited a church or read a religious book because we wanted to impress a potential boyfriend or girlfriend.

But some people like Karl Rove are calling for O'Donnell to explain herself more thoroughly. What else can she say? And why should she say anything more? True, I'm not running for political office, but the twists and turns of our spiritual paths are really no one's business but our own. At least, that's the way it should be. But consider the troubles President Obama continues to face because of his father's Muslim faith and his own affiliation with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama has said over and over that he's a Christian, but some refuse to believe it and attribute nefarious motives to whatever religion he "truly" practices.

While O'Donnell's revelation may embarrass her staunchly conservative followers and fill her detractors with glee, there is more going on here. Check out the comments on pagan blogs like The Wild Hunt or Pantheon, and there's obviously more at stake than just O'Donnell's political future. Practicing Wiccans and other pagans--a group I loosely lump myself into--are upset at how their faith is once again being portrayed in the media. Ask yourself: Do you ever hear of anyone "dabbling" in Episcopalianism? Any Jewish "dabbler" stories out there? But whenever someone shows an interest in an alternative spiritual path, it's considered "dabbling," which carries dismissive connotations. But those who try out various Christian or other mainstream faiths are "soul searching."

Also implied in O'Donnell's statements about her brief Wiccan past and the media's treatment of those comments is the opinion that anyone who would practice witchcraft or something like it is simply too silly to be in public office. Someone might want to tell Dan Halloran, a pagan who represents New York City's 19th district. From my own perspective, Wiccan and pagan beliefs are only silly to those who don't know what they're talking about, which appears to be the case with O'Donnell herself. She may have, indeed, been hanging out with some "questionable people," and they may have told her they were witches and worshipped Satan, but her passing experience resembles nothing of what I know about Wicca. A friend of mine from high school is today a practicing witch, and I had the honor of conducting her wedding in 2009--no blood or Satan in sight.

And if pagans aren't considered "silly," then we're "dangerous" or "Satanic." But these weapons are used against other faiths as well. Currently, Muslims are everyone's favorite bogeyman. And don't forget the questions former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney faced about his own Mormon faith when he ran for President in 2008.

When I left Christianity and turned toward a pagan spiritual path, word got back to me that someone whom I admire had dismissed it as a phase. Perhaps he considered me a "dabbler." I seriously doubt he would've had the same reaction had I simply moved my membership to another Baptist church in town. And here I am today an interfaith minister, what some might consider the ultimate "dabbler." But that choice reflects the twists and turns my spiritual life has taken, and offers me a way to both express the appreciation I have for all faiths and to serve those with an alternative approach to spirit.

In the end, I don't know what motivated O'Donnell to explore witchcraft or why she eventually turned to a conservative form of Christianity. Perhaps she needed to "dabble" a bit in order to find her way, and ultimately, her choice of faith needs to be respected. That same respect should be demanded by every person of faith, regardless of our choice of theology or practice, for it is the path itself--and the "dabbling" along the way--that are sacred.