A Christian Take on Contemporary Paganism

I was extremely gratified to read Paul Louis Metzger’s recent post about contemporary Paganism at Patheos, entitled “Idol Makers”.

Metzger succinctly, but accurately (in my opinion), tackles such issues as the Pagan materiality (i.e., idolatry), the spectrum of beliefs about the ontological nature of divinity, and the gendering of divinity.  Addressing himself to fellow Christians, Metzger warns against an overly simplistic understanding of contemporary Paganism.

“We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately.”

He also suggests that Christians may be at least as prone to the charge of idolatry as Pagans: “While we Christians would not wish to divinize the creation, we should also guard against turning our own creations into idolatrous machines that wreak havoc on what God himself as made.”  Definitely go check out his post.

  • http://wheelgunner.wordpress.com/ Zendo Deb

    He says “don’t lump them all together” then he goes on to do exactly that.

    At least it is a pleasant change from the cries of “Devil Worship” found on a lot of Pathoes.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      He distinguishes “pantheists and panentheists” from “hard polytheists” and then goes on to describe a spectrum ranging from “hard polytheism involving distinct deities on one end of the spectrum and a completely metaphorical account of divinity on the other end” with a variety of understandings in between. How is that lumping them all together?

      • http://wheelgunner.wordpress.com/ Zendo Deb

        He enumerates some categories early on, but he then abandons them in terms of general platitudes about what is important to all pagans.

        ” As the contemporary discussion on the environment developed, it shaped Paganism as a nature religion”

        While it is certainly true for a lot of pagans, it isn’t true for all. Not every pagan religion is a nature religion. While some the Vanir of Asatur are sort of representative of various natural forces, the Asir are more involved with war – and the technology of war. The sword. the spear. the hammer. Is Asatru a nature religion? Since I don’t practice it I won’t say definitively, but it doesn’t appear to be nature-focused to me. (This isn’t to say that a radically different view of ecological concerns hold sway than do for the average Christian.)

        And his final sentence… ” Pagans old and new are charged with worshiping God’s creation (Romans 1:18-25), not our own” Are all pagan religions nature religions? (Hint – that is an insult coming from a Christian anyway. They worship the cause behind nature.)

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          I think he did pretty good considering that most of his audience will not be interested in reading about the nuanced differences between pantheistic earth-centered Paganism and deity-centered polytheistic Paganism.

    • http://wheelgunner.wordpress.com/ Zendo Deb

      And in a previous post ( http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uncommongodcommongood/2013/05/dont-squeeze-the-charmin-on-comparing-religions/ ) he makes it pretty clear at the end that his aim is to “win people over.” i.e. convert everyone to believing exactly what he does.

      • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

        I don’t think a belief in objective truth or an acceptance of the Great Commission ipso facto invalidates everything that person has to say. See my post about the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2013/04/09/lets-agree-to-disagree-this-is-not-your-fathers-interfaith/

        In that same post he writes: “In preloading our comparisons of religions, we also often bring assumptions about other religions to the table that are framed by our own traditions’ values. These assumptions and perspectives can distort or misconstrue what the adherents of other religions say about their traditions, or can simply be misinformed. By opening ourselves to truly inquisitive conversations with the religious other we refine our presuppositions so that we can engage more meaningfully in comparative analysis.” To hear that from anyone is applaudable. To hear it from someone who is not committed to absolute religious relativism is truly remarkable.

  • http://dgmattichakjr.wordpress.com dgmattichakjr

    Just the fact that he tries to comprehend Pagans as a single entity shows that he really doesn’t understand the nature of modern Neo-Paganism at all. There is no idolatry in Paganism, modern Pagans don’t ‘worship’ trees, they have a reverence for the Mother that nurtures those trees. It seems that he can’t see the forest for those trees!
    He also misses the point that Paganism is merely one manifestation of a new spiritual age in which we have learned to look within ourselves rather than in a book for the answers to life’s mysteries. His article shows that he is clinging to the last vestiges of a faith that is increasingly losing its meaning in a modern world and so he is only able to measure the spiritual beliefs and practices by his own yardstick.
    I find it interesting that the Christian mindset posits Paganism as being in some sort of opposition to Christianity when, on a fundamental level, the basic philosophies are so similar- a reverence for the living world. Still, in his myopic way I suppose that he is attempting to break with his paradigm and to see things from another perspective.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      >”Just the fact that he tries to comprehend Pagans as a single entity …”

      The way I read the post was precisely the opposite. He’s explaining to Christians that Pagans are not a single entity, but exist along a spectrum.

      >”… modern Pagans don’t ‘worship’ trees, they have a reverence for the Mother that nurtures those trees.”

      That is almost exactly what he says: “Contemporary Paganism doesn’t generally see a tree as a god, but as an extension of the divine pantheistically or panentheistically conceived (but pantheists and panentheists are not all Pagans).”

      >”There is no idolatry in Paganism …”

      Metzger’s point is that Paganism is not really idolatry in the simplistic sense that many Christians understand. In any case, I don’t think you can say there is no idolatry in Paganism, if idolatry is understood as worshiping creation and not the Creator.

      >”His article shows that he is clinging to the last vestiges of a faith that is increasingly losing its meaning in a modern world …”

      He is speaking to a Christian audience, so I don’t know why anyone would expect him to speak in any way except from within that context. I find it fascinating how Pagans so often hypocritically refuse to apply the same tolerance and commitment to pluralism that we Pagans demand of Christians.

      >”I find it interesting that the Christian mindset posits Paganism as being in some sort of opposition to Christianity when, on a fundamental level, the basic philosophies are so similar- a reverence for the living world.”

      There is a fundamental difference between directing the focus of your reverence to the material world versus a transcendent creator — a fact which many Pagans are very quick to point out. If Paganism and Christianity are not so different in your mind, then why the animosity toward Christianity?

      • http://dgmattichakjr.wordpress.com dgmattichakjr

        At the beginning of his article he talks about the Pagan world as a broad spectrum and then goes on to make a lot of generalizations about Paganism. He quotes Romans:

        For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
        against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who
        hold the truth in unrighteousness; {1:19} Because that
        which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God
        hath shewed [it] unto them. {1:20} For the invisible things
        of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being
        understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal
        power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: {1:21}
        Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not
        as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their
        imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. {1:22}
        Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
        {1:23} And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into
        an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and
        fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

        which is exactly the simplistic context that Pagans do not see themselves in. I think that he is paying lip service to accepting other’s beliefs but only as long as he can interpret them from within his own narrow perspective of what is right and wrong.

        I am not a Pagan, nor do I have any animosity towards Christianity- Christians may be another matter though. If speaking to a Christian audience means being small minded and clinging to your own perspective then it is a conversation of limited value as it isn’t tryiong to explain what Paganism means just how to interpret it from a particular type of Christian standpoint.

        There is a vast difference between the teachings of Christ and the practice of Christianity. I find the greatest difference between Pagans and Christians is that the Pagan folk are far more likely to accept your spiritual beliefs as being valid while Christians will look for reasons why they are not.

      • http://kmhnsc.wordpress.com Kel H

        <>

        What you said and what the previous commenter said are very different. The tree isn’t divine. And pagans, the ones I know and myself included, don’t see the tree as divine. We see it as created by the divine and then we worship that who created it.

        <>

        Again, the pagans I know and myself included don’t worship creation. We worship the divine. I haven’t heard a single pagan I know say they are going to worship something man made. They may have images of their gods, but I know many Christians who have images of Jesus. They don’t worship the images, they worship what that image represents: god the son.

        <>

        I don’t know what pagans are quick to point out that they worship the material world. I know I don’t. My god is just different from the Christian god. That’s all there really is to it.

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          >” And pagans, the ones I know and myself included, don’t see the tree as divine. We see it as created by the divine and then we worship that who created it.”

          Many Pagans I know do see the tree as divine and worship the natural process manifested in the tree. I don’t think Metzger’s point was that all Pagans worship nature or that we are all earth-centered, but rather that, those who do worship nature are not idolizing it in the way that some Christians may think.

          >”They may have images of their gods, but I know many Christians who have images of Jesus. They don’t worship the images, they worship what that image represents:…”

          I think that was Metzger’s point about Pagans too.

          >”I don’t know what pagans are quick to point out that they worship the material world. I know I don’t.”

          For what it’s worth, I am and I do. I am quick to point out that I worship the material world. See my post, “I worship the blind god” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2013/01/19/i-worship-the-blind-god/ For me, Neopaganism “is in essence the worship of the powers of this world. Beautiful or terrible, but all in a circle under the turning sky above, which is One.” — C.A. Burland, Echoes of Magic (1972).

    • http://www.peacockfairy.com Ruadhán

      There is no idolatry in Paganism…

      Except that for some, there is.
      But hey, good on you for lumping all of paganism into your own idea of what it “should be”! :-D

      • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

        When Christians say “idolatry,” they mean worshiping something that is not god. PSVL does not mean that when he uses the word. As he explains in the post, the objects he worships “share in the divinity of the being that they represent”. And that is part of what Metzger is trying to educate his fellow Christians about.

        I am so tired of hearing Pagans who are so anti-Christian that they are incapable of hearing a single positive thing come out of the mouth of a Christian. And I am also so sick of Pagans being so invested in their diversity that they cannot hear someone talk about Paganism even when that someone is trying to describe the diversity of Paganism.

  • Brigid Aednat

    Being a minority/ Pagan in an otherwise “Christian dominated society” I have found many truly doubt their own faith. Time and time again I have asked them to explain the hypocrisy; in how certain things can be justified with no thought to another. Each time I was met with similar responses “Stop trying to convert me” “You will burn for all eternity” “I will pray for you”

    It is something I have learned to accept that religion (while at the core is the same); many fear the dark side. As pagans, we have accepted that nature can both sustain and destroy; accept that those traits exist within us and that the intent is what defines the soul. We all took an oath to “Harm none” and yet I have seen more “God fearing people” do more harm and believe it is justified.

    Whether or not this met with the actual initial post, it is something that has been observed over the years and many assume the surface is the answer refusing to look deeper.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kapple6364 Kenneth Apple

    Wow John, tough crowd.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      No doubt. I thought I had issues with Christianity.

      • Brigid Aednat

        It isn’t as much as an issue with Christianity, it is the people. Every religion has them, one almost just has to get to a point of agreeing to disagree and trying to coexist peacefully while accepting another belief that is unknown. Joseph Campbell speaks of various cultures and the similarities between them, with only facts. All Gods one God, all Goddesses one Goddess.


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