On the Education of Pagan Clergy

We have a real need for people with theological training within our ranks. Anyone who believes otherwise clearly has a “pie in the sky” attitude about Paganism and its place in the modern world.

It seems to me that modern-day Paganism, as well as Hellenism, is almost hopelessly divided and essentially dysfunctional because of this division. We are not likely to ever be able to truly achieve any sort of unity of organization and belief under such conditions. That leaves us in a weakened position as compared to other religions. That is partly why most people do not consider us to be a “real religion”. Still, we ought to be able to achieve some level of unity of purpose and there are certainly those who are trying to achieve this within our overall community.

As a formally educated member of said community with extensive theological training, it cannot be expected of me that I would respect and accept others as “theologians” unless they have acquired sufficient theological training (a bachelor’s degree plus seminary training and/or an M.Div.) as well. One, in response, may say that some education is better than none, for many claim “some” education, mostly via reading things they find on-line. But this type of response actually emanates from false reasoning in that it is often actually dangerous. The fact of the matter is that those with a smattering of education, and little or no formal training, have a great tendency to proceed as if they already know enough; indeed, all they need to know. This is exactly why we, as a society, have schools to train people to become theologians. If you don’t complete a given degree program in a specified, satisfactory, manner, you don’t graduate – you don’t get the degree. It’s really that straightforward. It’s really that simple. As well it should be.

Even history teaches us that the lack of formal education can be dangerous. During medieval times Protestantism began to emerge from the decrepit Roman Catholic Church. This occurred because literacy along with new translations of the Bible came into being at about the same time, resulting in many reading the Bible for the very first time. Naturally, they proceeded to read the Bible quite literally. Over time, all sorts of Protestant groups emerged because of this, some with more firm basis in teaching than others. Few were established and/or led by formally trained theologians. These people decided that they could read and interpret the Bible to their own liking and gather followings as such. Thus, although this is not an endorsement of the Roman Catholic Church, as such, it is an illustration of the fact that, because of these factors, Christianity became hopelessly divided and dysfunctional.

I am a formally-trained theologian; educated in the Christian way but having “converted” to Paganism, with additional military experience. I have directly seen the need for Pagan clergy within the military. Those who question this need have not seen it directly as I have.

This really isn’t, and should not be, a negotiation. To that effort, either we meet the standard or we don’t. No one is going to make exceptions for us, most especially the military. We are generally, as I see it, going about this thing with the completely wrong attitude. We want to say that our clergy (priests/priestesses, etc.) don’t need higher, formal education to function because this was not the case in ancient times, an idea that is actually incorrect. In fact, in ancient Greece and Roma a priest or priestess served in a position of social status, naturally held by someone with whatever formal education available at the time. These positions were not held by persons with low social status with no education.

Frankly, if we can accomplish the establishment of a system of formal training equivalent to that which other religious bodies have and can also place a Chaplain into today’s US military it will be a clear indication that we have “made it”. We will have succeeded in becoming the equivalent to the clergy of any other religious body in this nation. It will mean that we HAVE to be accepted and recognized by others as a “real religion” (for, believe me, they don’t see us as such at this time).

This is really my main mission. I want very much to see some sort of Pagan Chaplain (at least one) – Wiccan. Hellene, Asatru –anything, before I die, preferably during the reign of Donald Trump. The Christians very much want to keep a virtual monopoly on military chaplaincy! Oh, we have a few Jewish and Muslim Chaplains. We have even had a Buddhist Chaplain in the past. But, for the most part, the military Chaplaincy is very much dominated by Christians, most notably the Southern Baptists. And even Chaplain Assistants of faiths other than Christianity, especially Pagans of any type, are few and far between.

The real truth is that those who do not want educated, professional Pagan clergy are cheating our people out of having someone to represent them in the wider world, and especially in the military, among other clergy. Frankly, the whole purpose in producing an educational program for Pagan clergy is to actually produce qualified, professional, clergy. That point seems to have been lost in the debate that some are having. If we are not going to produce a qualified, professional clergy who are capable of representing us in the wider world and in the military then there really is no point in developing such a program in the first place. To produce such a program just so that those who go through it can claim that they know something is ultimately of no value.

Obviously, our definition of “qualified” varies, with many seeking only very minimal qualifications. That sort of process will ultimately leave us pretty much where we already are in the near future, not to mention the distant future. Our situation already is that we are having to try to establish local groups with no one truly qualified to lead them. But logic dictates that we must do one or the other first. Certainly there are those who seem to think that recognition should come automatically just because they claim they are this or that. I cannot agree with this.

Shall we continue, then, to debate the issue and to deny OUR service members the right to be represented by one of their own? Shall we continue to deny them the dignity of being able to go to some like-minded Chaplain with their issues and concerns? I know for a fact that many Pagan service members will NOT go to the Christian Chaplain unless it is for an issue said Chaplain must, by virtue of his position, address.

As for the additional concept, as I have seen it expressed, of ancient Hellenism, etc., being a private matter practiced privately by the individual or the family, there is some merit to this. Indeed, the life-cycle events were more often than not presided over by family or government officials (because all Pagan religions were really state religions, after all). But some seem to miss the wider picture in that Pagan rites and holidays were more often than not practiced by the community at large in the form of great festivals accompanied by the requisite sacrifices and prayers performed by priests and priestesses. Paganism was a community religion, not really a private one. It was a community effort that all could, and usually did, take part in. But it became more private and went essentially underground due to severe Christian persecution during late Roman/early Byzantine times. This is simply a historical fact. But it was NOT meant to be that way even though this has become its survival mode. The question must be asked, then – do we want to remain in survival mode? If so, why are we trying to revive it at all?

If we are going to continue to disagree on the point of formal education, then the best we can hope for is to draw people over from other faiths who have the requisite formal education and provide them with some additional basics and ordain them. In that event, we need to develop a viable ordination process. But I would like to see this unproductive debate come to an end so that we can focus on an educational program that will satisfy the requisite need.

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