“Religion: Other”

As the Christian minority (and they are a minority- although I’m not sure they really count as Christian) pushes to impose their views on the legal codes of the United States, I have been reminded of the common experience for pagans when they hit bureaucratic forms. For some reason they ask not just your name, address, contact information, birth date, proof of ability to pay for whatever they want to charge you for, but also your religion. I am willing to accept that in a crisis, a lot of people get solace and strength from their religious beliefs, but in an attempt to be “equal” they generally make a long list of various Christian subgroups, then add “Jewish” and maybe “Muslim”, then put “Other” (or worse “none”). I’m not saying that none isn’t a valid option, but when there is no “other” to go with none, the implication is that if you don’t choose “one from column C”, you don’t have any religion. That’s a flawed premise!

Like my friend, it bugged me too, for a long time. I probably wasted a lot of hours (theirs and mine) telling bureaucrats that I wanted to put Pagan in that space- which didn’t exist. “The computer doesn’t have that option.”  I run into the same thing in phone polls where they gauge how religious you are by how often you go to church. Allow me to state that if you ask “how many times a day/week/month do you participate in an activity?” doesn’t mean your morals are aligned with the sponsoring group. (I’m also annoyed by those researching pagans who ask in pagan questionnaires, “how many festivals do you attend a year?’ This is like asking how many church suppers, or Christmas parties do you attend to figure out how Christian you are!) No, I don’t have a Church, but I do make decisions based on my spiritual beliefs several times a day. Our thoughts are limited by the language we speak, and information collected is restricted by the questions asked.

About the hospitals though, I discovered that the reason that they don’t put down “Pagan” or “Druid” or “Wiccan” on forms is that the reason for the question is so that they can call appropriate clergy if the patient asks. How many of us have called our local hospitals and offered to be on a call list for ANYONE (who filled in that blank that way) who needs help in the hospital? And if we offered, would the hospital accept our credentials? We often say that each pagan is clergy (since we talk to the gods directly, and the story is that the Christians have their clergy as intermediaries*), but do we really see ourselves as such servants of the gods and the community that we can drop everything and go talk to strangers about deeply personal problems? More importantly, should we?

Some people may see this post, and go out and offer- and that’s great. But really, we need to understand the position of the hospitals. They would love to have pagan clergy on call I bet, because there are a lot of us. In a perfect world they’d have a Wiccan HP, a Heathen Gothi, a Druid, and several other types of pagans on call; but where are they going to come from? When you were looking for other pagans in your community, or at least within driving distance, how easy were they to find? When you can find them, did your personalities mesh? If we can’t deal with each other over “cakes and ale”, how are we going to deal with a stranger when we’re in a physical, and probably financial, crisis?

There’s a reason established churches pass the plate- to pay for the building and the salary of those who work for them. We don’t have that. Their clergy also have training. Certain courses taken in seminary teach them how to help (and cope with) people in distress. I’d want to know that anyone showing up in anyone else’s hospital room had had solid training in grief counseling, and the many and various other things we hope religious representatives have been trained to handle. We aren’t invalidated as a religion by not having money, but we are handicapped- as all small, cash-poor churches are.

I will continue to try to get the pagan option on forms. At very least while trying to figure out which Christian box to check, they’ll see that we are indeed a valid faith in this country. We are not “Other” and Pagans are very much not “No Religion”.  But until we can offer what the hospitals need, we have to accept their lack of including us on their forms.

Post script- in a recent online discussion of this topic someone mentioned that when she put pagan on the form, she was besieged by a series of “Christian Nurses” who came to convince her of the “error of her way”, until the head nurse took it off the form to protect her. Until the Christians give up their view that we need to be saved from their devil, perhaps the broom closet is the place to be. When you’re sick or injured, you need to heal, not to educate those who don’t want to hear the truth.

*In my experience, a LOT of my Christian friends talk to their God all the time, and preference their direct experience over their clergies. Respect is a two-way street.