This has caused some problems, particularly in the US where religion is taken very much more seriously than in the UK and where prisoners have a particularly hard time of it. A Pagan prisoner believed that sweat lodges were a foundational practice of “Wiccans, Druids, or other European-based pagan religions....” but since they are not, the authorities were able to take away what had become an important practice for this person, causing him suffering.
A Catholic decided he was also a Pagan – something that many Pagans are totally content with – but his Catholic chaplain couldn’t reconcile the two and the inmate suffered. Is the Catholic priest spitefully withholding a service and denying basic human rights? Or has Paganism offered something that in fact isn’t possible and based on no good premise?
Websites say things along the line that
Our faith should be one of harmony and balance, where (regardless of path followed) we should aim live in harmony with ourselves and our surroundings.
Where does this fit in with Paganisms stance on lack of dogma? How does it respond to our Pagan Ancestors, most of whom lived totally out of balance with their environment, clearing forests for argriculture and construction, manipulating animals and plants for a greater yeild? If it is true why is it true? If it’s true, why has no Pagan organisation very seriously discussed limiting ourselves to one child, maximum, as the single most effective act we can make towards living in harmony with the world as it is now? Just how strongly do we believe our beliefs? And where do those beliefs come from?
The concept of Pagan chaplaincy is established. Now we need some good solid foundations to work from, other than ‘It’s a human right’ and ‘It’s good to have official recognition.’ Many services come into being from these oppositional basis’ and there’s no harm in that. Now we need to start afresh with what we believe and why, mainly for ourselves. I still don’t really know why I should visit people who have behaved in ways that are in direct opposition to my theology, which is, admittedly, shared by a decreasing number of Pagans. It's one reason I don't ask what patients have experienced to be in hospital.
I believe in a Goddess, not as a symbol or idea but as a matter of fact Deity and thus I understand sexual crimes to be particularly heinous. I understand the natural world to be an expression of the Goddess and so I’m more than happy to spend time with people who find themselves incarcerated for getting in the way of bulldozers. Having some understanding of the use and abuse of power I take the abuse of power very seriously, so anyone who’s harmed someone who is weaker than them isn’t going to get much sympathy from me let alone empathy. I simply don’t understand the current Pagan chaplaincy standpoint that someone who has pulled the fingernails from a toddler or tortured his wheelchair-bound father must be served. It’s very patronising.
My belief is that, even if they are desperately ill, my fellow human is an equal. They’ve not temporarily wandered from some path or other and need to be treated like a lost lamb; their soul is their own and doesn’t require me to ‘save’ it, that’s their own job. Too often, I’m hearing old-fashioned Christian theology being expressed as Paganism, and it bothers me. I’m not sure when the idea that Pagan chaplains exist to ‘save’ anyone at all came into being and I’m uncomfortable with it. Pagans are responsible for our own souls, aren’t we? What are we saving each other from? Soul Death? Or what? It seems to me that this impulse is based in a need to save people from having to admit what they’ve done, that is, to struggle with their demons.
There are some things that are unforgivable in the human world, for good reason. If everything a Pagan does is ultimately fine then who cares what anyone gets up to? I don’t know the mind of the Goddess and so don’t know what she feels on the matter of forgiveness, but the natural world is very unforgiving indeed.
Complexity runs throughout all these debates and ultimately we’ll find a way of being a Pagan chaplain that suits our particular personality, just as every religious person does. But unless our chaplaincy encompasses more than ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if everything was nice, because it’s my right’ we’re not really thinking very hard.