Why I Can’t Quite Reject Jesus

I had originally planned to write about the god Pan today, and then I read Star Foster’s I Reject Jesus Christ column. I love Star as a writer (and person); she’s feisty, opinionated, and never scared to piss anyone off. Those are all qualities that I admire, yet don’t have the ability to emulate. I’m not someone who likes to piss people off, I always try to write with a sympathetic tone, even while writing about something I disagree with. I’m not scared of confrontation, I just think I’ve mellowed out in my middle age.

The “Jesus Question” is a difficult one for me. There was a time when I used to play around with the idea of Christo-Paganism, but as I’ve gotten older it’s become a concept I have trouble supporting. Jesus was designed to be worshipped a certain way (that way doesn’t involve churches either; it involves a table, fellowship, and the eating of bread and drinking of wine), and it involves a more monotheistic world-view. The Pagan gods I worship don’t demand such a limited interpretation and have no trouble coming to me in my Wiccan-style circle. In some ways not bringing Jesus into my ritual space is similar to why I don’t invite Shiva into my ritual space. Shiva is worshipped a particular way in India, and I have trouble believing he’s comfortable with the Westerness of Contemporary Paganism.

Part of my attraction to Paganism is that I believe all pathways lead to the divine, which is why I have trouble “rejecting Jesus.” I have no trouble rejecting his followers who don’t understand his message, or rejecting Christian doctrine, but to me he’s separate from that. Now I don’t have an overly romantic view of Jesus, I don’t think he was an ancient shaman or a witch. He was a guy I probably wouldn’t have seen eye to eye with on a number of issues, a trait he shares with many ancient pagans who were for more ascetic than I am.

Jesus doesn’t have to be a dick. “I like to think of Jesus like with giant eagles wings, and singin’ lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an angel band and I’m in the front row and I’m hammered drunk!”-Cal Naughton Jr.

It’s true that Jesus and I used to date during my teenage years. I was President of my church youth group, a Republican, and a mostly committed Christian (the issues and questions that would lead me to Paganism were already being asked during that period). I’ve never had issues with my family over Paganism. I’ll admit that my grandparents were a little freaked out about it, but I sent them the “I’m a Unitarian-Universalist” letter (which wasn’t quite true) and things settled down . I know a lot of Pagans have had seriously bad experiences with Christianity, but I was never one of them. (I’m sympathetic to those negative experiences too, I think Christianity has a whole host of problems, and many of its practitioners have even more issues.)

Baptism and Confirmation in the Methodist Church were amazing experiences for me. They lacked the power of my Pagan Dedication or Wiccan Initiation, but when I look back at them through my eleven year old eyes, they still hold legitimate power. We live in a society that often lacks real ritual and mystical experience. While I didn’t feel the touch of the gods (or Yahweh) that day, those ceremonies did lead me to believe that such a moment was possible. There was energy there, they contained something, and using the word “reject” seems to invalidate them. At no point in my Pagan religious experience have I ever been asked to reject or renounce a previously held belief. I once believed in the Tooth Fairy too, but I never rejected him/her, I simply moved forward with my life.

I don’t have it in me to tell someone that their god is not real or that their religious experiences are less real than mine. There’s a part of me that feels I’m not honoring the experiences of others if I reject the deityness of Jesus. I know that many of my favorite Pagan gods may have began their existence as mere-mortals (Orpheus, Hercules, Herne, Isis), if it’s true for Orpheus why can’t it be true for Jesus? I think of Jesus as a god in the same way I do Aphrodite and Dionysus, but the difference between Jesus and Big D is that I no longer have a relationship with Jesus. There’s no need for rejection, we’ve both just moved on. There are thousands of gods I don’t worship or honor, Jesus is just another one of those.

It’s easy to reject Christians who take all the fun out of life.

I’m not a Christian in Pagan robes, I just have trouble with the word reject. The word reject can be defined as “to discard as useless” and as “to refuse to recognize.” Those are steps I’m not willing to take. I don’t think worship of Jesus is useless, there are millions of people who do good things in his name on a daily basis. Not all Christians are homophobes or seeking to end the separation of church and state. Anything that makes someone a better person is not useless. It’s a shame that so many people have distorted the message over the centuries, but Jesus wasn’t a genocidal monster and he never mentioned homosexuality, abortion, or gun rights. I think Modern Christianity is a perversion of the original practice, but that’s not the fault of Jesus or even the Apostle Paul.

My grandmother was a committed Christian. She wasn’t a Christian in the Pat Robertson mold; she was comfortable with one of my brothers being gay and she read the first Harry Potter novel before she died. She was a good woman who followed a religious path that worked for her. She and my grandfather were married for over fifty years and loved each other in a way that I have seldom seen replicated. It’s hard for me to imagine that she’s not in heaven with my Gramps; perhaps suspended in a moment of eternal sunset with their love for one another a continual presence around them. Yes, I’m a believer in reincarnation and think I’m coming back to this blue marble, but perhaps my afterlife is meant to be different from theirs?

I don’t think Star is the type of person who would seek to invalidate someone else’s religious experience, she’s just a person who uses language in a different way than I do. If someone were to ask me if “I reject Jesus” I would answer in the negative, I’ve never rejected Jesus, I’ve just chosen a different road. This doesn’t make me a Protestant Pagan either. I practice Pagan Ritual, worship Pagan Gods, and hold a Pagan worldview, it’s just that to me, a Pagan Worldview is rather inclusive.

To Stand or to Sit in Ritual
Maybe I Don’t Need a Temple
Finding the Common Ground at PantheaCon
Paganism: A Tribe or Tribes?
About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    I like to think of Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt, because he wants to be formal, but he’s also here to party.

  • Aspenhypno

    Hey Jason. I resonate with both Star’s and your perspective, as I have experienced what each of you describe at one point or another. I am reading the Bible again looking for perspective on my Christian past and my current Pagan worldview. I have been surprised to see gods, goddesses, demons, veneration of nature, trance states, hero-god worship, and shamanic-like visionings. Though Yahweh is prominent, he is not the only deity, nor is he viewed as the only one in existence- just one that should, according to many of the writers, be attended exclusively. I actually see very little now which conflicts with polytheism, magick, earth-based worldview, or my general experience as a Pagan today. I think the Bible is just as ‘Pagan’ as any of the other mythos out there. The Christian institution, with it’s dogma’s and theologies, on the other hand seem to have taken the original teachings of Jesus to new contrived levels. 

    • http://twitter.com/Panmankey Jason Mankey

      I’ve always looked at the Yahweh of the Old Testament, especially as he’s written about in the First Temple period, as just the personal deity of a particular tribe.  He certainly wasn’t worshipped as “the only god” in Israel, he had a wife too.  This probably began to change during the Exile, but the Jews of antiquity certainly didn’t seek to convert anyone like their cousins the Christians.    

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I see the Holy Spirit as the feminine aspect of the trinity – the wife and mother figure.

        I am inclined to place her as the ‘Queen of Heaven’, as mentioned in Jeremiah (7:18 and 44:15-18)

        The early Jews were polytheistic and it is from this that I draw my stance on the god of Abraham.

  • Brian Rush

    I’m with you all the way here, Jason, and had something of the same reaction as you to Star’s post earlier. A lot of the things she spoke of rejecting in that bolded paragraph weren’t actually Jesus but some of that misguided Christian doctrine you spoke of, so I can’t disagree with her altogether (that crap needs rejecting all right). But like yourself, I have a relationship with Jesus that goes back a long way, and I wouldn’t say we’ve ever entirely moved on, either.

    I have a little different experience in spiritual development than a lot of Pagans in that I was raised, not in a Christian or Jewish family, but in an atheist one. I was never indoctrinated with any religion, nor for that matter with atheism, but only with free-thinking and critical thought, something I am very thankful for. When I turned twelve, I had my first spiritual experience (magic, politics, and sex hit me the same year, your basic triple-whammy) and Jesus was where I turned for a model for it because he was pretty much all that was close and available. I hung with Christians for a while and was even baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, but problems arose for me in terms of accepting the usual suspects in Christian doctrine. (I’m sure that requires no elaboration.) What cinched it for me, though, was that Jesus himself came to me in a vision and said, basically, “Dude, I’m not a Christian and I don’t see any reason for you to be, either. Go explore what’s out there and do some thinking. You have a lot to learn.”

    Since Jesus was the one who advised me to give Christianity the boot, I find it very easy to separate the two, and while he’s no longer the main model I have for divinity, I’ve never completely cut my ties to him and don’t see any reason to do that.

    As to what he is, god or man, that’s one of those fluid things in myth. In probable history he was a man and a spiritual teacher of some importance; in current Christian practice he’s a god. I can relate to him either way, but have a better link to the man, since as I said he’s not one of my usual deities. The universe of spiritual thought would be a LOT poorer without the teachings of Jesus.

    A final note, and here’s where I have strong disagreements with a lot of Pagans. I dislike labels. I especially dislike labeling ourselves in a narrow way and saying “this means you can’t believe or do that, because that’s what those other guys do and we’re not them.” This is distinct from saying “you can’t do that” because it’s morally wrong. I do believe that you can’t be a sexist or a despoiler of nature within Paganism. But that’s different from saying you can’t have a certain idea of the divine or a certain ritual practice because that’s what Christians or Muslims or Hindus or whoever do, not us. I just don’t believe in drawing that sort of boundary or in putting the mind in that kind of jail. It’s every bit as foolish when we do it as it is when they do. I don’t mind borrowing from them. Nor do I mind when they borrow from us. Nobody loses anything when that happens. Everyone gains. In the long run, we’re all going to be borrowing from each other and crafting religion continuously, and rigid doctrines, no matter whose they are, make for rigid minds.

  • Nicole Youngman

    I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable admiring particular things about various religions (and the people who follow them) without feeling any need to practice them or incorporate elements of them into my own practice, etc. It’s like admiring other places or cultures–fun and interesting to learn about or visit, but no need to stay. Fundamentalism still isn’t one I can deal with, though (and I have no desire to change that!), but that’s because its adherents won’t stop hassling people who are different.

  • Angus McMahan


  • http://www.facebook.com/andrewmaxson Andrew Edward Maxson

    “I’m not a Christian in Pagan robes.”
    We (your long-time LPC friends) used to think you were a Christian in Pagan robes.  You got better.  ;-)

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    “I don’t think Star is the type of person who would seek to invalidate someone else’s religious experience”
    If someone states that (the Christian) ‘God’ is ‘the One True God (TM, Pat.Pend.)’ and all others are either false or work of ‘the Deceiver’ and you believe otherwise, are you not automatically invalidating, on some level, that other persons belief?

    Unless you believe as they do, you are saying that you believe they are wrong.

    Any stance that makes the claim ‘mine is the ONLY way’ will be viewed as wrong (incorrect) by those who follow another way.

    • http://twitter.com/Panmankey Jason Mankey

      That’s one reason I could never be a Christ0-Pagan, monotheism by its very nature is limiting.  However, not all Christians follow the strict monotheist interpretation.  

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

         I never really ‘converted’ to Paganism, I must say.

        It was more organic progression from Anglican Christian to polytheistic Christian to Agnostic to Pagan…

  • http://www.paganawareness.net.au Gavin Andrew

    Personally I don’t see the point in stressing too much about one’s acceptance or rejection of someone who was, at best, a historically-composite figure.

    A more interesting question that springs from this, for me, concerns the nature of authenticity in spiritual matters, and where it resides.

  • Shakti_Luna

    Jesus never did anything to me, it’s SOME of his followers that tend to irk me from time to time.  The teachings of Christ are ones of love, tolerance, and selflessness.  Now, whether that is encompassed today is debatable as there are good and bad of any group of people.  Thank you for writing this counterargument, as I enjoyed yours and Star Foster’s blogs on the matter.

  • Steve

    I love your description of your grandparents afterlife and how your expectations about your own can be so different, but not at odds. Well done.