S.A. Pagans excluded from interfaith initiatives

The South African Pagan Council says its being ignored by the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM), National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF) and National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC). An Asatruar and Strega argue for the inclusion of Paganism [0] in national multi-faith organizations.

In South Africa religion and politics are far from separate. Our constitution does not prevent religious organizations from becoming political parties and encourages multi-religious participation in the business of government. The obvious dangers of permitting one predominant religion to dictate social policies for a multi-religious nation that includes agnostics and atheists are self-evident. Religion and the state should, like religious studies and education, be kept far apart. But when in Rome, South African Pagans have no reservation adding their religious values to the inter-faith cauldron.

Last year the Mail & Guardian incorrectly reported [1] that the National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC) formed by Ray McCauley in July 2009, already included representatives of Paganism alongside those of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and traditional African beliefs, leading many to believe that Pagans were in support of the expressed position of the NILC on same-sex marriage and abortion. On the contrary, to date no Pagan religious organization is represented on the NILC, and not for lack of trying either.

Asatruar [2] Charles van Bergen, the representative of the South African Pagan Council (SAPC) tasked with negotiating the inclusion of Pagan religious leaders to both the NILC and its forerunner the National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF), thinks South Africa is not achieving its stated intention to facilitate cooperative inter-religious participation. “Organizations such as Home Affairs and SARS have been forced to abide by the laws pertaining to such things, but other than that an active policy of passive-aggressive exclusion of Pagans is the status quo countrywide.”

The SAPC is recognized by the Department of Home Affairs as a religious organization in terms of section 5 of the Civil Union Act (Act 17 of 2006) and appointed Pagan marriage officers may solemnize marriages and civil partnerships. The Council is also registered with the South African Revenue Service as a Section 21 Public Benefit Organization. “We are attempting to claim our rightful place in the NILC and NRLF but we find these efforts stonewalled by largely Christian members who form a majority in both of these groups,” said Van Bergen.

Many Christians and Christian organizations (with exceptions) still view emerging Paganism as a threat to their religious hegemony and assumed moral influence on South African society. This attitude is motivated in part by numerous Biblical and theological injunctions that encourage prejudice against foresworn religious practices and beliefs held by pre-Christian pagan cultures, now being revived by Pagans.

Strega [3] and General Secretary of the SAPC, Morgause Fonteleve explained “After an initial acknowledgment of our request in July 2009 both the NILC and the NRLF have resorted to stalling techniques and have failed to report back to us as promised with a final decision or written declaration of inclusion. We have for over two years also knocked on the doors of the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM). It appears that our politically correct approach has not paid off. It’s made it easier for these organizations to continue ignoring us. Other religious minorities have also been sidelined, so it is not only Paganism that has sadly been excluded from interfaith participation.”

I asked Fontleve why adherents of Paganism would be interested in participating in these obviously biased interfaith initiatives. Does the SAPC support the revision of legalized abortion and same-sex marriages as proposed by the current NILC membership? “The Constitution grants us the right to inclusion and equal treatment. I believe the SAPC’s presence on both the NILC and the NRLF will ensure that religious policies and dialogue maintain respect for the rights of minorities who do not necessarily agree with the conservative views and positions expressed by members of these organizations. We’d like the right to participate and contribute constructively to our Nation’s spiritual and moral values.”

The diversity of re-emerging and new religious expressions that constructively co-exist under the banner of modern Paganism should serve as a lesson in religious tolerance; Pagans are not afraid of religious diversity. Their deliberate exclusion from national interfaith initiatives such as the MRM, NRLF and NILC must be seen as contrary to the spirit and letter of not only the Bill of Rights, but also of the expressed intent and purpose of the very movements, forums and councils that in practice exclude South African citizens on the basis of their religious affiliation. Pagans say excluding Pagan religious leaders from inter-religious participation amounts to religious discrimination. In the words of the Greek pagan philosopher Aristotle, “all virtue is summed up in dealing justly” with Pagans.

The Moral Regeneration Movement, National Interfaith Leaders Council and National Religious Leaders Forum were given an opportunity to respond to this article but declined comment.


[0] Paganism, with a capital ‘P’, refers to the modern renewal and revival of the ancient religious, spiritual and ritual practices of pre-Christian European peoples. Modern Pagans have reclaimed the term ‘Paganism’ as an over-arching definition for reconstructed pre-Christian, and largely European religions (also referred to by some as Ethnic European Religions), that includes some post-Christian neo-Pagan syncretic religions. Modern Paganism is characterized by a diversity of spirituality, belief and religious practice, and by tolerance of religious and theological diversity.

paganism, with a small ‘p’, is a generalized term used by Christians from the fourth century to refer to pre-Christian religious belief systems and practices. Today the term is commonly used to collectively define very diverse and divergent pre-Christian cultures and religions, cultures and religions which did not, or do not necessarily identify themselves as ‘pagan’.

[1] Journalist Mmanaledi Mataboge and the Mail & Guardian editor was informed of the incorrect report on NILC religious membership in ‘Why ANC dumped council of churches’ (18 September 2009) in September 2009. The request for correction was ignored. Pagans were not given an opportunity for comment.

[2] Asatru, which translates as “faith in the gods”, is one of many religions that are collectively referred to as Paganism. Asatru is a re-emerging polytheistic faith that finds its pre-Christian origins in the faiths of Nordic and Germanic peoples.

[3] Stregheria is Italian Witchcraft. A Strega is a Witch. Modern Stregheria is a witchcraft-based religion that incorporates ancestral veneration and a pantheon of pre-Christian Etruscan and Roman Gods and Goddesses.


This article was first published on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 on Newstime.co.za

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