The “centralization” thing seems fishy to me. Who’s the central authority for Jews and Muslims? If the VA does have single organizations in mind that it believes represent all Jews or all Muslims, how do the other Jews and Muslims feel about that?
True, there is no “one” centralized authority for all Jews, or all Muslims, or all Christians. But there is The Episcopal Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and so forth. Of course, there are Wiccan religious organizations, as well.
Notice the former requirements for a religion in order for its emblem to be recognized by the VA:
1. A written request from the recognized head of the religious group,
2. A list of national officers, and
3. A membership tally.
A religion like Wicca, even though it does possess some level of organizational structure, is not dependent upon such structure. It is commonly accepted among Wiccans that one can be a Wiccan without joining a coven, or without being initiated by a priestess or priest. In a nation broadly pervaded by Christianity, where Christianity serves as the model of what a real religion entails (community, belief, sacred text, particular ideas of divinity, etc.), Wicca can certainly appear not “really” a religion, as something people just “make up”. And, indeed, there is tremendous potential for Wiccan creativity in the construction of their Book of Shadows and magickal rituals. Within a Christian framework, that’s not “religion” — religion has a defined Deity (preferably masculine), a defined founder (preferably male), a defined doctrine (preferably written in sacred texts and conciliar documents); religion, moreover, does not involve nudity, or sex, or invoking spirits — things Wiccans have been known to include in their rituals.(By contrast, even Scientologists and Eckankarists are not known for engaging in such distinctive behavior!) From a historically Christian perspective held by many Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, Wicca might be “spiritual”, but it’s not “religious”.
The definitions that the VA formerly used to define what counts as a religion, originated out of a Christian matrix. I’m not saying that’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’, just that in 21st-century America, governmental administrations have to be aware of the tendency to judge all religious and spiritual paths, in terms of how much they fit into traditionally Christian notions of organizational and ritual characteristics of what “religion” really is.
Without having read all 30,000 documents created by the VA, I would just have to strongly suspect that some of the VA decision-making process involved a conscious and unconscious comparison (and not just at the level of centralized organization, I agree!) of Wicca with Christianity and other formally recognized religions, with Wicca coming up with the short end of the stick.
25 April 2007
Is Wicca a Religion?
One reason that the VA gave for refusing the Wiccan request for grave-site symbology, invoked the lacked of centralized authority within Wicca. That might have been part of the answer, but I suspect other factors played a part, factors centered on other aspects of Wiccan practice, aspects that many people refuse to see as being really "religious". On another blog (GetReligion), I posted further thoughts on the "centralized authority" excuse: