Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Religion Debate

Christian practices as diametrically opposed as Quakerism and Evangelical churches, Pentecostalism and contemplative nuns all happily fall under the banner of Christianity. Buddhism has no deity and remains a religion. Hinduism is so close to Paganism as makes no difference, and is a religion.

There are some Pagans who get very heated when Paganism is described as a religion. This is certainly an interesting theological or semantic debate for the pub or internet discussion boards. For the purposes of Pagan chaplaincy - bearing in mind that we are providing a service to vulnerable people - it makes everything simple to describe Paganism, if you don't already, as a religion.

The alternative is to open up a can of worms.

Whilst Paganism has become much more recognised and understood it is still a minority practice. A Pagan in hospital doesn't need the added stress of feeling that their spiritual needs are not going to be taken seriously by non-Pagan staff because there's confusion about the status of Paganism. They certainly don't need Christian Evangelical staff telling them that Paganism isn't a religion because Pagans say it isn't. This has happened 3 times in three years in my own experience.

My understanding of the 'no religion' debate is that Pagan practice is so varied that Paganism can't be defined. And yet, people who go to Pagan events, join Pagan discussion boards, use Pagan shops, read and write books, magasines and websites about Paganism, join Pagan organisations generally understand themselves to be Pagan! It's also my experience that many Pagans define themselves by what they reject; organised religion, hierarchy, feelings of obligation and submission. Each of us is on our own journey of understanding. When our choices affect the wellbeing of others we might need to reconsider them.

Whatever the case, hospitals and all other public (and many private) services that Pagans have come into contact with recognise Paganism as a religion and positively look to help Pagan patients fulfil their religious needs.
It's difficult to know how to be a Pagan Chaplain. Pagans, like other groups of friends, have always visited each other in hospital and historically, the way Pagans have had their spiritual needs met by their friends on the ward is by naming on of them as a Spiritual Advisor. This term was suggested in 1995 in the booklet 'Caring for the Pagan Patient: A handbook for Healthcare Professionals' to acknowledge the experience of (largely) Christian hospital chaplains.

13 years on Paganism has evolved to a stage where the description of Chaplain is now more applicable to many of the people who volunteer to support the spiritual needs of Pagans - and non-Pagans who find that our philosophy sits better with them that other spiritualities. But it's still a role that's under construction and one that will never ossify, if only because every individual Chaplain brings their own flavour to the job.

The purpose of this site is to offer some thoughts about issues that directly affect Pagans going into hospitals either as patients or as Chaplains, people who are more likely to be attached to the hospital rather than visiting a friend.