More Thoughts About Christianity and Paganism

Judy’s comment on my post yesterday concerning Quaker Pagans got me to thinking.

Paganism and Christianity make for two very interesting spiritual cultures. In some ways they are practically mirror images of one another, in other ways they are so different from each other that they are like night and day. But what night and day and mirror images have in common is that each is somehow linked to the other.

I have long felt that, on at least some levels, Neopaganism represents a new religious reformation. Just as the Protestant reformers appealed to their consciously created alternative to Catholicism by appealing to the wisdom and history of an earlier time (i.e., the first century church); so do today’s Neopagans often give a voice to their religious and spiritual identity as something that is simultaneously not-Christian (and not-Jewish and not-Muslim, etc) and not-secular, by appealing to the wisdom and history of pre-Christian Europe, or other shamanistic/magical cultures. The 16th-century reformers pushed against Catholicism to create the new spiritual worldspace that became what we now know as Protestantism (and its subsidiaries, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, and so forth). Likewise, today’s Pagans push against Christianity as the dominant religious worldview at least in North America, as at least one of the dynamics at work in their efforts to (re)create a new, magical, Earth-centric, Goddess and/or polytheistic and/or pantheistic religious consciousness.

It’s so easy to fall into a dualistic kind of thinking where “Christianity is blessed by God while Paganism represents sheer superstition” or “Paganism honors the earth while Christianity colludes in destroying her.” But frankly, these kinds of positions, embedded as they are in mythic-membership consciousness where “my” tribe is holy while all “other” tribes are damned, is simply not useful here in the postmodern world. What seems to be far more interesting, worthy of investigation, and hopeful, would be to simply acknowledge that Christianity and Paganism are both spiritual systems with profound blessings — as well as shadow energies and spiritual blindspots — and very often, the blessings of one seem to be keyed in to th weaknesses of the other, and vice versa. If Christianity’s sexism bothers you, Neopaganism offers a post-patriarchal alternative. If you find the emphasis on magic and spellcraft within Paganism to be a bit too superstitious and naive, the contemplative mysticism within Christianity might be a much more palatable alternative.

Quaker Pagans, like Celtic Christians or Zen Catholics or others who are making efforts at religious syncretism, appeal to me because they are people who see religion not as an impenetrable guardian of truth, but rather as a fluid constellation of cultural and spiritual meaning, where both blessings and liabilities can be found. Interreligious dialogue and spiritual practice is not meant to dilute any one religious tradition, but rather offers the promise of strengthening our faith identities, by sharing the blessings and, hopefully, healing the wounds.

More to come later. But for now: it’s dinner time, and I’m hungry. :-)

Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
Five Approaches to InterSpirituality
Pentecost and Ecstasy
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat Chapin-Bishop

    “…Sharing the blessings and, hopefully, healing the wounds…”

    I like that.

    I’m sure that it is an offensive idea, all this cross-pollination, to those who believe that religions are received whole and perfect, directly from God/the gods. But for those who, like me, see religion as an artifact of the human interaction with the sacred, there will always be strengths and flaws in each set of religious teachings. And though it’s certainly not my goal to see the identity of religions be washed away until all look alike, I think that there is a place of Spirit that is reaching out to all of us, regardless of the labels we use to identify ourselves.

    I like the Reformation idea, too. As I remarked in comments on my own blog today, I’m reminded of an exploration of the idea of how one religion can aid in the development of another that Christian Druid blogger Ali undertook in her blog, Meadowsweet and Myrrh, some time ago. Ali was asking whether there weren’t some ways in which even non-Christian religious traditions have grown and deepened in response to some of the insights of Christianity; I think there are. And perhaps Christianity may grow and deepen further in response to some trends within modern Paganism.

    It’s an interesting thing to think about, anyway. And if the only thing such thoughts achieve is to get us all to listen a little more deeply to one another and to Spirit, than that’s not so shabby, either.