‘I later learned the term that went with my beliefs: pagan.’
Steve and Andrew are old high school friends with a lot in common. Both have a parent who is a college professor. Both went on to become doctors: Steve an M.D. and Andrew a D.Min. Steve has traveled the world in his role in the U.S. Air Force; Andrew has done the same as a missionary. Both are happily married with three children apiece. In the area of faith, however, they are worlds apart. Andrew is a Christian and Steve is affiliated with two neo-pagan movements: the ADF
(Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship) and The Troth (a Germanic “heathen” association). They have agreed to share with The Lookout how they maintain a thriving friendship despite their radically different perspectives.
The Lookout: Steve, could you walk us through the main points of what you believe?
Steve: “I believe that we are responsible for our own actions and that a life well lived is its own reward. The gods are individual, distinct entities, and the reciprocal interactions between the gods, the spirits, and the ancestors are real and important. I also believe that religion is a personal and individual matter and what is theologically right for one person may not be the right path for another.”
How did you arrive at the beliefs you have today?
Steve: “I was raised ‘un-churched,’ although I did not know that term until fairly recently. We had no stated faith when I was growing up. Certain things were important and were stressed. Things like hard work, right action, and reciprocity of gifts. We spent a lot of time outdoors, often hunting and fishing. In these wild places, which were frequently remote, my father would tell me, ‘This is our temple. This is our cathedral. These are the places we make our pilgrimage.’ I was raised with a respect for our ancestors and I read and was told old myths from a very young age. I later learned the term that went with my beliefs: pagan.”
Andrew, what was your reaction when you found out Steve is a pagan?
Andrew: “I actually didn’t find out until a couple of years ago. We lost touch after school and then reconnected online. When he mentioned it, I was a little surprised but then thought it made sense considering his interests in mythology and fantasy gaming in high school. I teach a class in world religions so I was intrigued to find out more about what he believes and why. I just started asking a lot of questions.”
So Steve, was this typical of the reactions you get when you tell people about your faith?
Steve: “Actually, no. Most of the time, when the issue comes up and I tell people I am Pagan or Heathen they will first look at me like I’ve just made a bad joke. Then they’ll change the subject, get angry, run away, or some combination of all of those.”
Andrew said he found your beliefs intriguing. Do you feel the same way about Christianity?
Steve: “Intriguing in the sense of something that I became curious about, yes. Having not been raised Christian, nor having had any significant exposure to Christianity growing up, aside from the culture in general, after talking with Andrew I realized there was more to Christianity than I had thought, and I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about it.”
Andrew: “When Steve gets interested in something he reads everything he can get his hands on. Over the past year he has read the entire Bible and a stack of Christian books, including the texts for most of the classes I teach. He’s watched podcasts online of church services and explored our college website. I think at one time he was even toying with the idea of taking a Bible college class.”
That sounds like you’re considering becoming a Christian.
Steve: ”No. I wanted to know more about the underlying beliefs, the foundations of the faith, and the associated theological outlook and worldview. I was really motivated by wanting to learn more about something that was important to my friend. I wondered, as I began, if I might feel a deeper, spiritual interest or a desire to convert, but I never did.”
Andrew: “At first I got really excited about Steve’s questions and thought he might be interested in converting. After a while I realized this is just the kind of person he is—he wants to understand things, and our friendship makes it possible for him to explore Christianity without a high pressure sales pitch.”
So you aren’t trying to convert him?
Andrew: “That’s a question we’ve talked about very openly. I let Steve know up front that our friendship isn’t conditional on him changing his faith. I told him I would be glad if he came to the same convictions as me, but I respect his freedom to move at his own pace and make his own choices.”
Steve: “I have a friend who is a devout atheist, if you will. When I told him about these discussions he warned me that Andrew wasn’t interested in me as a person, only as a target for conversion. Knowing that Andrew felt that I needed to convert, that he wanted me to come to accept his faith, gave that one comment, which I would otherwise have dismissed as just cynicism, some traction. Frankly, it’s taken a long time for me to overcome that suspicion once it was there.”
Would you like to see Andrew become a pagan?
Steve: “Actually, no. People should choose their own paths, and I accept and respect Andrew’s choice. As a matter of fact, Christianity has been, I think, an integral part of his life and very, very important to him. To see him give up something that important to him would make me more sad than anything.”
Andrew: “Honestly this has created a bit of a dilemma for me. I feel like Steve accepts me exactly as I am, while I do have a desire to see a change in him. But I would compare it to someone who has the cure for a fatal illness but doesn’t share it with a person who he believes needs it. That wouldn’t be much of a friend.”
Andrew, has associating with Steve ever tempted you to abandon your faith?
Andrew: “Not to abandon it, but it has raised questions about it that defy easy answers. I’ve had to do a bit of research at times to offer a reasonable explanation for some of the practices described in the Old Testament in particular. I even audited a class to fill in some gaps in my knowledge. I have had to come to grips with the fact that there are some areas that we must take on faith. I believe that faith is reasonable, but by its very nature faith goes beyond the direct evidence.”
It will surprise some of our readers to know that a Doctor of Ministry would struggle to answer questions about the Bible.
Andrew: “I’ve heard the Bible described as being like a swimming pool with a shallow end and a deep end. The essentials we need to know are easy enough for a child to grasp, but its depths are deep enough to challenge even the person who has dedicated his life to it. Steve’s questions are like asking ‘What’s at the bottom of the deep end?’”
Steve, have Andrew’s answers been satisfying?
Steve: “Most of my questions, maybe all of them, were really trying to find out why Andrew believed what he did, how certain theological issues that seemed to me to be irreconcilable could be resolved by someone who was a devout believer. I have come, I think, to understand more about the Christian faith and more about how the foundational document of the faith is viewed by a true believer.”
What would you say is the number one question that still troubles you about Christianity?
Steve: “I still find the Great Commission, the notion that people should be converted from whatever they currently believe to Christianity, both disturbing and troubling. There is, for me, an element of hubris in this that I find disquieting.”
Do you have any plans to visit one another’s places of worship?
Steve: “Yes, and I plan on bringing my children with me so they can learn as well. I have made a couple of trips to Cincinnati to talk with Andrew’s classes, once with one of my daughters. I have to say I was shown great hospitality and enjoyed the visits. I have watched and listened to over a year’s worth of sermons from Andrew’s church and am looking forward to visiting in person.”
Andrew: “My wife and I observed one of Steve’s ADF ‘grove’ meetings. It was really helpful in understanding Steve’s attraction to this faith. They met outdoors by a campfire. They sang some songs about their faith and made plans for a festival, then spent the evening talking about what was going on in their lives. The people were interesting and clearly had a strong friendship. I think the grove provides them with a sense of community and a connection with nature. There was not as much religious ritual involved as I was expecting.”
Did you hesitate at all to visit a pagan gathering?
Andrew: “Yes, but mainly for concern of how it might be misunderstood by other Christians in my life. I talked with my minister and several friends about it and didn’t get a clear consensus. Some thought it was a good way to build understanding and a relationship with my friend. Others were afraid there would be some kind of demonic influence. What I ultimately came down to was that God is greater than any other spiritual force and he understands my motivations are to reach out to my friend. I made sure to understand from Steve ahead of time what to expect and took my wife along for support.”
Where do you see your friendship going from here?
Andrew: “I think we’ve established a solid trust and respect. We’ve been able to dialog very openly about our beliefs and will continue to do so. I think we’ll keep on exploring other areas of common interest, doing things together as families, sharing our lives with one another. My desire is for this to be a lifelong friendship. As we go through a lot of experiences together, both of our perspectives will change somewhat, hopefully for the better.”
Steve: “I agree. Andrew and I are, I feel, friends who just happen to have different faiths. This is not the center of our relationship, but one facet, one that has generated unexpected trust and understanding.”
Any last words of advice for our readers?
Steve: “Don’t be afraid to step outside of your usual comfort zone from time to time. I did in just talking about this issue with Andrew and found a great friend.”
Andrew: “Steve has given me an outsider’s perspective on Christianity that has challenged me to think through more clearly what I believe and why. He’s also challenged my notions of evangelism. I’ve realized that I need to stop treating people like short-term projects and invest in building lifelong relationships. And the reason for doing this is not to manipulate them, but because they are human beings who are worth knowing and loving.”
Andrew Wood is a professor and freelance writer in Cincinnati, Ohio. Stephen Ausband is a physician and an Air Force reservist in Bedford, Virginia.
Like Andrew, you may have had concerns about the gaps in your biblical knowledge as you share Jesus with your friends. Each of these six-week Bible studies encourages groups to delve into questions many people have about Christianity:
Good Questions on Belief & Doubt
• Whose truth is true?
• Why won’t God heal me?
• What Scriptures still apply today?
Good Questions on Right & Wrong
• Are all sins equal?
• Is lying always wrong?
• Is judging people always bad?
Good Questions on Heaven & Hell
• What happens after death?
• What is Heaven?
• Why would a loving God allow Hell?
Find out more: www.standardpub.com