The Christian Shoulder Chip

I’ve been pondering becoming a Chiropractor. One that caters specifically to pagans.

I’d have plenty of business, because so many of us seem to be walking around carrying huge chips on our shoulders.

***

I’ve got a few issues with Christianity. There are some major theological concerns I have, some historical events that need answering for, and there are plenty of Christians that have problems with using their religion to be judgmental assholes.

But I’m pagan because it’s who I am. It’s natural to me. The Christianity I was raised with didn’t fit right. So I moved on.

And admittedly at first I moved away from Christianity. I blamed it for some of my problems, some of the world’s problems. But as time went on, and I became more comfortable with who I am, I was not repulsed by Christianity so much as pulled toward paganism. I settled where I am because it’s where I want to be, not because it’s the first place I landed away from where I didn’t want to be.

I’m a pagan. I’m not a non-Christian or anti-Christian. I worship the gods of Rome. I don’t worship whatever gods oppose Jesus and Yahweh. Being pagan does not mean I have to hate Christians or Christianity. The virtues of paganism include diversity and the tolerance of differing religious practice. Even if Christians don’t afford that to me (and more and more of them are), I should still extend that courtesy to them, especially if I’m going to criticize them when they don’t show those virtues.

We need to let go of the us-vs-them mentality. Are we pagan because we’re pagan, or because we’re bitter at Christianity?

Christianity is an interesting religion. It has a core of Judaism surrounded by layer upon layer of pagan thought and philosophy. Like a sticky Gobstopper, it tends to collect whatever bits it encounters, although it will also occasionally shed layers. And it is not one monolithic thing. It is a collection of thousands of different sects, which can vary widely in belief and practice. And those sects have different ways of interacting and dealing with us.

Yes, there was persecution and oppression in the past. Yes, there is still discrimination. But are we defining ourselves outside of that hostility? Are we creating an identity for ourselves other than “we’re not Christian”?

Because that’s what “pagan” really means. All of our efforts to define paganism, and to determine who should or should not be included, have brought us back to square one. Paganism pretty much includes anyone who isn’t Christian (really, who isn’t Abrahamic) and wants to play nice with us. We define ourselves as a negative. And that still makes Christianity central to our religion.

I have long maintained that paganism (Wicca in specific) needs its status as “other” to define itself. That many pagans cultivate it to help codify who they are and what they believe. And I am really starting to question how this helps us. Because I also believe that paganism is a natural philosophical state.

And I also recognize that many of the practices and beliefs of “paganism” are not opposed to Christianity. Christianity incorporates many of the virtues and philosophy of Classical Paganism, and has integrated many other “pagan” practices and beliefs. The central tenet of Christianity that most pagans don’t generally go for is the need for salvation and redemption, but there is otherwise plenty of common ground.

I’m not trying to defend Christianity here (although I’m sure I’ll be accused of just that). What I’m trying to point out is that there is no reason to assume an opposition between Christianity and Paganism. That assumption is rooted more in the fact that we chose a term that Christians have been using to describe anything they opposed to describe ourselves than anything else. We do not embody all they oppose. They do not embody all that is evil or bad or wrong with the world. And like it or not, we will have to co-exist with Christians. We might as well try to get along with them, even the assholes.

***

Jason at the Wild Hunt posted an article about Christians using the term “pagan” as a slur. As he frequently does, Jason conflated politics with religion, and painted a picture of evil intolerant Christians goose-stepping to your door to compel you to accept Christ. Because they’re out to get us all!

He asserts that the use of the term “pagan” by Christians as pejorative is becoming more common. I have seen no evidence of this. If anything, it is becoming less common, outside of a specific demographic of Christian denominations. But even so, it isn’t anything unusual: the term “pagan” has always been used pejoratively by Christians. We knew that when we took it as our own. So why the hype?

Because we’re White-Knighting. (White-Witching?) Neopaganism’s roots in the 60’s counterculture has left a legacy of feeling compelled to fight the system imposed by the oppressive mainstream. And that means taking aim at Christianity. And the comments of that post illustrated that, with references to the “Christian Taliban” and GOP nutjobs and equating Christianity with ignorance. Because they oppressed us, and they’re intolerant, and they hate us, and it’s wrong of them. So we should do it to them.

Apparently it’s okay to deride Christians for needing a boogeyman to defend themselves from while painting them in the same manner. Apparently it’s okay to criticize Christian intolerance and ignorance by misrepresenting their theology and assuming them to all be bigots and hatemongers. Apparently it’s okay to laugh at Christian claims of persecution while trumping up hype over minor slights. Apparently it’s okay to go on ad nauseum about Christian hypocrisy while excusing our own. Apparently it’s okay to mock Christianity’s assumption of manifest destiny while assuring ourselves we are meant to save the world – from Christianity.

I didn’t sign up for this. I just wanted to be able to connect to the divine and the environment around me in a way that made sense to me. I’m not here to fight a war.

***

New pagans often go through an anti-Christian phase. I think that’s natural, like holding some resentment over an ex or some anger over a boss that fired you. And let’s be honest, there are some pagans that did flee Christianity. It’s great to have a place where people won’t judge you for being gay, or having visions, or knowing things before they happen, or any other thing or trait that Christian groups have ostracized someone for. And some of those people move on from paganism to something else they’re more comfortable with. And Christians often do use us as scapegoats, so it’s somewhat natural for people leaving Christianity for whatever reason to come to us first.

But there’s a lot of cross-over as well. A lot. Wicca is founded on Golden Dawn theory and practice, which has an awful lot in common with Christianity. We borrow a lot of terms and idea from them, and they from us. A lot of pagan de-emphasis on money and concern for the environment has its roots in Christianity, and there are Christians that are more and more open to yoga and karma and reincarnation and all other sorts of things we stole borrowed from the East. Much of newage philosophy is taken from a Christan context and found its way into paganism. Even the dictum to avoid judging others is a Christian doctrine that many pagans assume without question, but which has no real basis in pagan thought.

And Christianity is going through its own changes. It’s not our job to help them along or tell them how to define themselves, any more than they should do the same to us. We resent the hell out of Christians who tell us how to be. Where do we get off ordering them around and challenging their theology?

Don’t get me wrong — I love a good argument constructive debate. I occasionally indulge in pointing out the holes in Christian theology, and questioning their assumptions. Knowing the history of Christianity helps a lot in this. I also enjoy pointing out to Christians (and atheists) that many of the problems inherent to Christian theology — issues Christians have debated for millennia — disappear along with the assumption of a singular all-powerful deity. I like pointing out the “pagan” origins of many Christian traditions and ideas. (And likewise, I like to remind my pagan friends that Christianity does have some good points as well — good points that we can and have borrowed from.)

But we’re still figuring out who we are. What we are as a religion, as a movement. And so far, we’re defining ourselves by conflating ourselves with select political movements and opposing ourselves from others. And screaming at the top of our lungs that we’re not Christian.

It’s time for us to get over it. It’s time for us to let the resentment of Christianity go. We need to grow on our own. We need to move past this notion that we are diametrically opposed to Christianity and obligated to fight it. It’s there. Deal with it. We need to do our own thing, and celebrate our own celebrations. And when Christians approach us and tell us we’re wrong, we can engage them and debate them, and hopefully in the end agree to disagree. And we can tolerate them and show them courtesy, and maybe even forgiveness.

It’s what a good Christian would do.

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8 responses to “The Christian Shoulder Chip

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  3. I’ll admit that I went through a very virulent anti-Christian stage myself- it’s almost necessary in order to shake off the chains of belief. I saw it as a flaming crucible that burned away the dogma, but then, I got past it. There isn’t an us/them paradigm in my worldview. It’s all ‘us’- but some of ‘us’ are still spiritually walled off and asleep. Some are Pagans, some are Christians.

    When I was a ‘young’ (and rather zealous) Pagan, I went through all the ‘smells and bells’ Hardwarian stuff that is part and parcel of an outsider view of Pagans, Wiccans and such. I could put on a ritual that was technically as good as any theatrical production. Then I realized that was exactly what a lot of what I was doing was- down to dealing with diva-esque high priests and priestesses, and realized that all I’d done was trade one set of rules, dogma, and rituals for another.

    I downed tools and walked away, and stayed for a while in atheist-land. Of course, the myriad Small Gods I’d gotten into touch with conspired to pull me out of ‘no belief’ mode, and I returned to my sort of spiritual equilibrium.

    I no longer utterly despise Christians. I’ve chosen to aim that weapon of contempt at zealots- no matter what their core belief- religious, political, or otherwise. Zealots are insufferable, walled-off, and impossible to reason with. (Like I said, I was one myself, for a while…) I finally understood that there are good Christians, and awful Pagans, and every flavor in between.

    I don’t need an ‘enemy’ to justify who or what I am spiritually. I am ‘me’, they are ‘them’ and ‘they’ are not bad, evil, etc- unless they aggressively choose to be. And should they choose to be (and sadly, I’ve been ‘chosen’ as their target more than a few times in my own overzealous Pagan youth), they can be really nasty. I had my life threatened, property damaged and destroyed, and their particularly virulent kind of ‘curse’ placed upon me. (Forgiving them will break such things, if you want to know…)

    Being a secular, agnostic Mage, I really no longer should be technically classified as “Pagan” since I’m the sole holder of what tradition I claim. But I prefer to stand with the Pagan camp. I can deal with their form of insufferability.

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