Dogma. It sounds kind of bad, doesn't it? It kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth, like you just bit into an onion as if it were an apple.
Many people, including myself, feel infected by the word's negative connotation whenever it comes out. It just brings to mind such wonderful illustrations of legalism such as the Inquisition, the puritan culture as portrayed by The Scarlet Letter, bible thumping holy-rollers, abortion clinic bombers etc.
(Now just as a disclaimer, I am not speaking about the word's denotation or of it's classical sense. I am simply addressing the legalistic, pharisaic nature of religion that it has come to represent.)
What is it about dogma that turns so many (including myself) off to religion in general? I believe that because dogma has the tendency to sterilize the beauty of what could be in order to make it clean and tidy. It pours out a bottle of bleach onto the garden of religion. It turns oil painting into painting by numbers. It turns improv. jazz into a musician's mechanical warm-up.
If someone were to have asked me a year ago if Witches and Christians had anything in common I would have given a very general answer: "Well, uh...they're both people, and...uh...they both love and...uh...hate, uh..." and I think you get the picture. Lately though, I've been reading Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler. It's basically a look at the sociology of Neo-paganism and it's written by a Pagan. (Which I think is really cool!). Anyway, with that added to my experiences here in Salem, it seems that we have more things in common than I thought. One of which is our longing for freedom.
Now, to make generalities about either religious groups is very difficult because of their great diversities. Not only from each other, but also within themselves. Nonetheless, both love freedom. Both seek for freedom from religion and both often see dogma as an enemy to that freedom, or more directly, freedom in worship. (Some Christians may not, but they can at least relate to the longing for the freedom the Jesus gives through His death).
Both seek to be free from extra rules and laws that keep them from intimate communication and worship of their deities. For Christians it may be more so that the relationship between us and God may be closer. For Pagans it may be more so that they may have a better and more personal interaction and/or revelation from whomever they deem to worship. However you phrase it, it sounds pretty similar to me. Obviously there are a myriad of differences as to the who, what, when, why's, and how's of their worldviews, but they both have this common factor.
The other day Pastor Phil and I met with a local solitary Witch named Krista at Beerworks. (Who will be on the panel of Witches at the Gathering's conference "God For People Who Hate Church" on May 4-6). Anyway we were talking over burgers and soup (she was really cool and let me mooch off of her fries) about how she decided to become a solitary and what worship for her looked like. She described how she would create the circle, call the four corners, etc., and then she described how she would sit in quiet with incense (not burning because it makes her sneeze), keeping her mind clear of distractions. She would let her mind go over the day (how could she have handled a conflict better, etc.), pray for help on certain issues, and be still for the presence of the Goddess and/or God.
Besides the ritual aspects and the fact that we worship different deities, the meditation sounds almost identical to mine. Though in mine I actually burn the incense (isn't that funny).
So, all this to say, I realize that I share a lot in common with these people (especially in our desire for freedom and irritation with dogmatic legalism) and I think I will love it here.