Let's clear something up here, once and, hopefully, for all.
Faith is involuntary. Religion is a choice.
That's all there is to it. You can have one without the other, so it is important to realize that they are not the same.
I bring this up because, although I don't like to go on and on about my religion on this blog*, I am noticing a disturbing trend as far as the general public's spiritual awareness, and if I address it here, then whenever I run into it, I can post a link and not have to repeat myself. Also, traffic, yay.
As most of you already know, I am a practicing Pagan. Some people would call me a witch, which I don't mind, and is also technically correct. Some people would call me a Wiccan, which I also don't mind, although I would correct those people and point out that I don't follow all the tenets of Wicca, so I don't like to use the term. It's like when people who aren't even remotely interested in following Christ's teachings call themselves Christians.
Following an alternative religion is a choice, but I notice that a lot of people seem to think believing in alternative tenets is also a choice. I don't think that it is.
To be more specific, I present to you a typical conversation.
Person Whose Business It Is Decidely Not: So, you're like a witch? What does that mean?
Me: Well, basically, it means I believe in the duality of nature and god. Everything has a light and dark side, a male and female side, etc. Also, I believe everything in the world is connected to everything else, and that what you send out along that web is what you're going to get back.
Person Whose Business It Is Decidely Not: Huh. And when did you decide all that?
Listen. I didn't decide that these things were true. It's not like I made a chart and weighed out whether it would be best to believe in the Christian God versus the God/dess form. It's not like I thought, "You know what would be neat? Karma. Karma would be neat, I should make sure I believe in that." I believe in a light and dark side to all things, because that's what I see, that's what makes sense to me, that's how I have always observed the world to work, and that's the only way to view the situation that sits properly in my mind. I believe in the web and the Wheel of the Year because I see them represented in every aspect of my life. I observe the world's cyclic nature, and because it has never once wavered, I believe in it like I believe in water. It just is.
This is not to say that my beliefs are right, and yours are wrong. If you believe in a single god, awesome. I would never ask you to try not to. I would never ask you what made you believe in the Christian god, because if you were any kind of Christian, you just would. You would believe because you feel that benevolent or righteous presence in your life. You wouldn't choose it consciously. You would close your eyes, fold your hands, and reach out to whatever form of deity feels natural and right to you. Just like I do.
I choose to be a witch because I cannot choose what I believe.
I believe what I believe. Trying not to believe something you know in your heart and soul is true, in something you feel right down to your very bones, is like trying not to breath. Or trying to convince yourself the sky is orange. I believe what I believe because I can't not. I have always held these beliefs; I just didn't know there was a name for them until I discovered witchcraft.
Believing in something doesn't necessarily mean you have to make it your religion. Religion is a choice where belief is an instinct. Because my beliefs line up with witchcraft, I have made the choice to pursue it. If I packed up my candles, sold my stones, donated my books, and stopped marking the lunar highlights on the calendar, I might not be a practicing witch any longer. But I would still be what I am, by nature of what I believe.
I'm not a witch because I think it's trendy or because I'm desperate to belong to something or because I look good in black.** I'm a witch (whether or not I practice a religion) because when I was a kid, I used to talk to the wind in the trees. Because I love the feel of wind in my hair, sun on my skin, grass under my bare feet, riding ocean waves. Because I think anything we owe to ourselves, we owe to others. Because I think everything looks better by moonlight.
I choose my path based on my beliefs, and I can't turn those on and off like I'm throwing a lightswitch rave.
Long story short, I'm a witch because I'm a witch, and y'all can either get with that program, or get the fuck out.
*Note to all bloggers: nobody gives a shit.
**Although I do. Hot damn.