Pagans and Jesus

I’m apparently lagging quite a bit behind in commenting on this issue, but I don’t mind swaggering my way up to topics as my own whimsey dictates. (I’ve been working a lot – sue me.) But about a month ago Sam Webster at Patheos penned and article entitled “Why You Can’t Worship Jesus Christ and Be Pagan.”  There has been a lot of chat amongst the pagan blogosphere regarding “christo-paganism” and t his seems to address it, but it goes a bit farther, for the tagline aggressively states “A Pagan who worships the Christian God is rendering aid and comfort to an enemy: a Being who wishes Pagans destroyed or to have their religions and culture removed by conversion.”

Them’s fightin’ words.

Since this article is already a bit old, there are already a few responses, so I will consider them as well.

The first issue that comes up is one of definitions. How do we define religion, worship, Christianity, and paganism? All of those things are important. There has been much hand-wringing over how paganism is defined, and really this is part of that conversation.

I focus on worship in this discussion because worship is the living act of religion. Belief is just thinking about religion, and in healthy persons it changes with their development. Only in Christianity is belief central. (Islam, for example, may be creedal, but it is not belief-based; it is submission-based. Perhaps there are other religions that make belief central, but in my view it would do them no credit.) If you are focused on what you believe, not what you do, you are thinking like a Christian. If you want to be a better Pagan, stop worrying about what you or anyone else believes, but get to work and practice your variety of Paganism. Mostly you need to invoke and get to know your Gods. Then you will know, and not need to believe.

I agree with the orthodoxy/orthopraxy issue. But them Webster steps in the big pile of conflating paganism and theism, and we know how messy that can get. Still, paganism is about practice, which translates as action.

I have a very distinct definition of Paganism that I have covered elsewhere and which gives context to my view. In short, the term “Pagan” only applies to that complex of religions that develop starting with the Renaissance and eventually call themselves Pagan. It does not apply to the ancients, or to cultures outside the European, Mediterranean, and Mesopotamian region. Neither the ancient pre-Christian religions nor those foreign to the aforesaid region call themselves “pagan,” and while they have much in common, they are each distinct and should be referred to by their proper names. Contemporary Paganism is derived from the occult revival that began with the Florentine Renaissance and is a uniquely modern phenomenon. We are a very different people from the ancients and do not share their worldview even as we reconstruct their religions.

Interesting perspective. I have considered this distinction to be the difference between “paganism” and “neopaganism” (even though I generally use the terms interchangeably), but Webster is correct that ancient religions did not call themselves “pagan.” Unfortunately, the whole concept of “religion” as a distinct component of “culture” was an invention of the enlightenment, and those ancient societies didn’t really have names for their religions at all, expect maybe “tradition.”

Fundamentally, Paganism is disjunct from Christianity. A person can only be one or the other. While technically a Pagan is not forbidden to worship Jesus Christ (but shouldn’t or wouldn’t, see below), Christians are condemned to eternal punishment if they worship anyone other than the persons of the Trinity. If you are Christian, worshiping other Gods is one of the most massive sins you can commit.

The title of the post is not “You Can’t Be a Christian and Also Be Pagan.” The restrictions of Christianity don’t apply to pagans. This is my issue with “Christo-paganism”: if you are Christian, you cannot engage in pagan worship within the confines of your religion. Christo-Paganism cannot be a thing. Now, you can be Christian and practice witchcraft, because there are forms or witchcraft and magic that use Christian symbols and draw from Christian myth, traditions, and practices. But that’s not paganism, it’s just magic.

As for being a pagan and worshiping Jesus, there is not reason why it can’t happen (The ancient Romans did it). It just can’t happen if you hold certain ideas of what paganism is and what Jesus teaches. Notions of salvation are not common in paganism, but there’s no reason you can’t have it. I have worked with Jesus as a healer god to great effect. How I see Jesus is far different than how the vast majority of Christians would, but that’s between me and him, isn’t it?

(We’ll gloss over the misunderstanding that all forms of Christianity view God as a Trinity, although I think it illustrates that Webster has a very specific idea in mind of what Christianity is.)

Christianity and its God desire our (that is, Pagans and everybody else) elimination through ideological imperialism and ethnocide; all must be converted. If you want a good solid Christian vision of this, read the Revelation of John. Jesus promises to throw us all in the Lake of Fire, in other words to destroy us or torment us for all eternity if we do not bend the knee and confess that he is our Lord and Savior.

That’s pretty harsh there. I think there is a bit of conflation here between what the primary texts of the religion say and how those texts have been interpreted over time. I know several Christians that are just fine with not killing me because I’m pagan. Last I checked, the primary goal of Christianity is salvation and redemption.

The main problem is that Yahweh & Co., and Their followers, have declared themselves our enemies. We don’t need to be out to destroy them to be enemies, because they already seek our destruction; that’s what makes them our enemies. Worshiping any of the Three of Them is supporting the Deity that seeks to eliminate all of us “idolators” and “demon” worshipers. Ever been witnessed to? Have you seen the theocratic and Dominionist movements within Christianity? These are not aberrations attributable to a few bad apples, but central to the system of Christianity.

Um, no.  See above, the redemption thing.

This also ignores several historical facts. 1) Jesus was a Jew, and preached Judaism. The whole point of his movement was that he wanted to be left along to be Jewish. 2) Most of Christian doctrine comes from Paul, who was a Greek philosopher. All the non-Jewish parts of Christianity are pagan Greek (and there are a lot of non-Jewish parts). 3) Much of the conflict between Christianity and paganism was political, not religious. Religion was used as an excuse, but most of what was going on involved tribes, kingdoms, and governments using any means of legitimating their expansion.

And the conflation of “Christianity at large” with “the divine person of Jesus” is kind of disingenuine. Interacting with Jesus, even worshiping him, does not mean that you are contributing to or participating in any of the structure or actions of  “Christianity” and more than my worshiping Jove means that I support the practice of slavery because the ancient Romans did.

So, if you are Pagan, why would you worship Jesus Christ?

Because he was a potent healer of both the mind, spirit, and body? Because he taught forgiveness and compassion? There’s plenty of gods that do those things, and (I presume) worshiping them is okay. Plus, he’s a very familiar figure to most people in our culture; there is much materials available on his teachings, symbols, stories, and associations.

Why be Christian (i.e., worship Jesus Christ) at all? Besides its awful theology, to which we will return in a future post, worshiping YHWH or Son is a great way of having or retaining Christian privilege in our society.

Yes, because being a pagan who worships Jesus bestows “privilege” upon you. I’m sorry, but that’s just sloppy politicizing. Because that’s the only reason he gives for worshiping Jesus. The only one.

I have a friend who was struggling very severely with alcoholism and an abusive relationship. I prayed to a lot of gods to help. Jesus was one of them. She moved away from her abuser and began to treat her alcoholism. If a candle to Jesus helped, so be it. But yeah, I did it because I’m without honor and desire privilege. Gag me.

Those of us who are actually Pagan have reason to resent this behavior. If you don’t live our life, if you are unwilling to face the consequences and bear the burdens of being Pagan, don’t call yourself one.

Hey, isn’t that the kind of elitism, and One true Path thinking that is supposed to make Xtians so eeevil? Here I’ve got someone telling me I’m Not Pagan Enough because of what gods I might entreat with? I don’t face the “burdens” of being pagan? Because the kinds of Christians that violently condemn pagans would embrace me as one of them because of a few votive candles?

Sam, I know a great chiropractor that can help adjust your spine. You might need it, what with the weight from that huge chip on your shoulder.

Magically, one might say we were invoked into being by the harmful actions of Christianity and its God as Their Nemesis. We are deeply entwined with the development of science and our technological culture, that culture which finally permits us to feed, clothe, shelter, etc., everyone on the planet (should we choose to). We are deeply entwined with the cultural transformation called the European Enlightenment by which the values of equality and democracy were established as central to our civilization.

I would avoid mentioning Nemesis whilst making grand statements such as the above. I understand she is not too fond of hubris.

Therefore I can only conclude that those of you who are still including Christianity in any manner in your Paganism are either Christians coming to be fed what your own religion can’t provide or infiltrators diluting and destroying our religion. Or, perhaps, you are a Pagan who has not yet committed yourself to your religion sufficiently to jettison the God who wishes to destroy it. Sadly, you don’t even have to be conscious of this to be doing it.

I shall be blunt: you need to get conscious and make your choice. I have. I am Pagan.

I love the false dilemma here. And the paranoid hatred of Christianity. And the condemnation of anyone who doesn’t agree as not really pagan.

A while back on Twitter I asked a simple question. Are we pagan because we’re pagan, or because we’re Not Christian? This is a person who is more concerned about being Not Christian that being pagan. It’s immature and a bit sad.

So, on to a few of the other responses.

Taylor Ellwood sympathizes with Webster, but is considerably more flexible:

I understood and appreciated where Sam is coming from, because my experiences with Christianity do not make me feel that my beliefs and choice of lifestyle is welcomed by people who adhere to that particular religion.

I am frankly skeptical as to how Jesus can be integrated into magical practices or into Paganism, especially given the commandments of his father, that there should be no other gods other than him. At the same time, I don’t know that I can blame Jesus the deity for the faults of his worshippers. Indeed, having read the new and old testament a few times through, what has always struck me is that the parables of Jesus and the golden rule are actually insightful lessons that anyone, Christian or otherwise, could benefit from. And I’m also of the mind that if something calls to you and there is a meaningful experience there that contributes to your life, you need to honor it. So if someone tells me that Jesus is part of their pantheon, I can accept that it works for them. It would never work for me, but fortunately as long as they can accept that, we’ll get along just fine.

[…]

But you know, it doesn’t matter what Sam, or I, or some Christian thinks about what you believe. What matters is what you think and how you choose to accept it (or not). I learned long ago that looking for acceptance from others was not a fruitful path. There will always be someone who will say what you believe is wrong, heretical, etc. And you can argue against them, but likely no one will budge. So share your own opinion and perspective, like I’m doing here, and then leave it at that. In the end, the only person who’s opinion matters is yourself, and the relationship you have with your pantheon of choice.

Indeed.

Frater Barrabbas addresses some of the historical and denominational considerations:

The chief problem that I have with what Sam Webster is saying is that he is holding up a model of Christianity and saying that it is a religion of oppression, and that its Triple Deity is somehow malevolently disposed towards non-believers. Christianity is not a monolithic religion, and its various spiritual attributes are defined quite differently, depending on the sect, organization, time-period, geographic location, etc. The Roman Catholics of antiquity, or the middle ages, or the Reformation are not the same Catholics of today; these are different groups of people operating under different time-periods who espoused a different set of overall values. While the majority of people in the U.S. today are mainstream Christians, a much smaller percentage belongs to what would be considered the most conservative and fundamentalist of religionists. To equate the whole population of Christians with the beliefs and activities of this small minority is analogous to making prejudicial judgments about Islam based on the actions of a handful of Salafi jihadists.
Time changes everything, including very orthodox religious organizations. If anything, the religions functioning in the world today are actually a lot more tolerant and peaceful than they have been for quite some time, despite the villainous activities of a small minority. There are heinous crimes committed by religious groups and institutions that go against the sentiments of world justice, just as there are with nations and their actions. The world is not perfect and religious persecution still exists in pockets of our world, although it has diminished considerably over the centuries. Mr. Webster seems to have taken the slights and the inconvenient events of living and working in a nominally Christian U.S. society and amplified them to point where it would seem that we are living in a nation that is persecuting and is overtly hostile to non-Christians. Are there certain levels of discrimination experienced by Pagans and Witches living in the U.S.? Yes, but what they have endured hardly matches what Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, Women or the LGBT community have experienced over the course of the last several decades.
In regards to my own religious and magical practices, I am not a Christian. I don’t, for instance, worship Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, or pay homage to any of the Saints. However, I have appropriated Christian liturgical rites and adapted them for my own use. I also work extensively with the Qabalah and the entire hierarchy of Angels, as well as Demons and other spirits, although certainly not in the same manner as either Christians or Jews. So, Sam Webster could judge that I am behaving like a creditable Pagan should behave, but he would have to overlook the borrowing and appropriation that I have made from Christian beliefs and practices. Since I happen to know that he is a Thelemite then I wonder if he is also against the Gnostic Mass, since its basic structure and function was also appropriated by Crowley from the Christian Mass.
John Halstead  discusses the many crossovers and borrowings between Christianity and paganism, and warns of the scary f-word:

You can worship Jesus and be Pagan, just not the way that I am Pagan.  Webster would have been better off titling his post “Why You Can’t Worship Jesus Christ and Be My Kind of  Pagan“.

And the fact that Webster doesn’t qualify his statements in this way justifies, I think, Jason’s characterization of him as a “Pagan fundamentalist.”  It’s worth noting that at least some of the issues Webster has with Christianity, like imperialism and intolerance, are really products of fundamentalism, the same kind of fundamentalism that he is himself guilty of.

And Jason Mankey thoroughly considers Webster’s position, while also warning of fundamentalism:

One of the most damning forces in Modern Paganism is the fundamentalist Pagan whose definitions exclude and limit rather than include and open. Sam Webster who writes here on Patheos Pagan falls into the more fundamentalist camp. He writes as if his truths are the only ones that matter, and are universal to all of Paganism. One of the reasons I write at Patheos Pagan and not on an island is because I believe I can be a constructive voice not just amont Pagans, but among a variety of faiths. When writing about Christianity I try to do so with respect, and sometimes even admiration. There are certainly many Christians out there who support us as Pagans. Writing that all of Christianity wants to destroy my faith doesn’t just block paths to understanding, it blows up bridges.

It was with great sadness that I read Sam’s “Why You Can’t Worship Jesus Christ and Be Pagan.” It saddened me because it expressed such a small view of not just Jesus and Christianity, but Paganism as well. I love the sacred no matter its source, and I value the experiences of my Sisters and Brothers in Paganism, even when we worship different deities or use different ritual structures.

 

What this all boils down for me are to are two basic things. As a hard polytheist, it is not up to me to question the divinity of someone else’s gods. And I am a pagan because of what I do and the gods I honor, not because of what I am not or the gods I oppose.

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2 responses to “Pagans and Jesus

  1. Pingback: The Best of Chirotus: HPF, the Return | Blacklight Metaphysics

  2. Pingback: On Being Pagan | Blacklight Metaphysics

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