Ire of Newt

One of Denver's most promising young Republicans defects to the pagans.

The former treasurer of the College Republicans on the Auraria campus became disenchanted with the party and has found a new campaign: He's organizing a student club for pagans.

These days, "I'm basically a conservative libertarian," says Nicholas Bull, a 21-year-old Metropolitan State College English major. "I had a problem with the Republicans."

Bull served actively as the treasurer for the campus group last year and answered the telephone in its Auraria office. But he was annoyed by the growing clout of religious conservatives in the party, both nationally and locally. A turning point came after the College Republicans' dispute with Metro State president Sheila Kaplan last year, when the club refused to sign a pledge stating it would not discriminate against gay students. Kaplan said that refusal violated college rules prohibiting discrimination. A Denver court upheld Kaplan's position earlier this fall, and the young Republicans lost their office space.

The episode troubled Bull, who saw it as another example of the power of religious fundamentalists in the party. He quit the College Republicans last year, at a time when he had also become disenchanted with Christianity in general. Bull, who was baptized as a Presbyterian and exposed to Catholicism through his stepfather, notes that he's discovered a wealth of information about paganism while cruising the Internet. "Thank God for the World Wide Web," he says, without a hint of irony. "Whatever you want, it's out there."

Many different beliefs fall under the rubric "pagan," but the term is generally used to refer to the ancient pre-Christian religions of Europe. Bull follows the Asatru religion, a modern-day revival of ancient Norse beliefs. That religion has multiple gods and goddesses, and its celebrations revolve around the seasons. Asatru places a high value on courage and "the warrior spirit," according to Bull. "One of the essences of Norse religion is that as long as you're not a coward, all is forgiven."

Since many Auraria students work as well as attend class, organizing a club isn't easy, and Bull says the anti-authoritarian nature of pagans makes it even more difficult. "Organizing pagans is an oxymoron," he says. "It's like trying to herd cats." The club's first meeting in October drew about fifteen people with a wide range of spiritual outlooks, including Hindus and people interested in Native American religions.

So far Bull hasn't run into any organized opposition from Christians on campus, although he says he has received a few angry phone calls from individuals who object to the potentially corrosive influence of his new club. To make matters worse, he says, many of the Auraria students interested in paganism are lapsed Christians. "That will horrify Ralph Reed and all those storm troopers down in Colorado Springs," says Bull.

The current president of the College Republicans, James Martinez, says his group regrets Bull's departure. "Nick was one of our strong Republican guys," says Martinez. "He was always there when we called him. He has a lot of conservative values."

But Martinez defends the religious element in the Republican party, which he sees as a reaction to the counterculture values of the 1960s. "If you look at what we believe in, it's all in the Bible," he says. "We're against homosexuals and abortion.

"The foundation of our country is morality," Martinez adds. "If our founding fathers came back today, they'd flip out."

So far, Bull's parents have avoided flipping over his newfound religion. His mother attends Catholic services, and Bull says she's still not comfortable with his new beliefs. "My mother is uneasy with it, but she hasn't tried to go to the cathedral and pray for my soul or anything," he says.

The former Republican operative is hoping to get his new group off to a strong start next semester, with plans for a lecture series and campus celebrations of pagan holidays such as the solstice. "Nick is trying to resurrect the club, if you'll pardon the term," says Theresa Crater, an English professor at Metro State who has agreed to be the club's faculty sponsor.

And while Bull's still-conservative politics aren't usually associated with offbeat spirituality, Crater believes it's a mistake to typecast pagans. Followers of Asatru, she says with a laugh, "are not all liberal Democrats.

 
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