Jesus and Pagans: A Tired and Divisive Debate

I don’t worship Jesus, but I’ll always defend the rights of Pagans to do so if they so choose. I don’t have a stranglehold on truth, nor do any other Pagans I know. Certainly there are those who can define truth in their specific traditions, but in the general scheme of eclectic Paganism it’s just not possible. There are certain things that bind us together, and there are certainly things that also help to pull us apart.

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.

From the very start of the article I found myself disagreeing with Webster. To my eyes his definition of Paganism has serious issues. I realize that it’s near impossible to sum up Modern Paganism in just a few sentences, but if you are going to attempt it you have to do better. The definition of Contemporary Paganism is something I take very seriously, which is why I’ve dedicated over 1000 words to it here. Sam writes:

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.

Webster is right that the ancients did not call themselves “Pagans,” and I’d argue against calling Hindus or practitioners of Native American spiritualities “Pagans” as they wouldn’t use that term themselves. After that our disagreements begin. While I believe that Modern Paganism is mostly a modern construction, most Pagan faiths (especially Wicca) can trace their origins to the Western Magical Tradition as a whole. Many Pagan rituals and magical structures have evolved over thousands of years. There was no “dark age” for magic, and people were still writing and performing spells before the Renaissance.

The Western Magical Tradition shaped Modern Paganism, and it wasn’t a tradition that suddenly went underground in the year 381 CE and then bubbled up again during the Renaissance. The WMT transformed, hid some of its (ancient) pagan clothing and re-emerged as a practical tool within Christian traditions. As Owen Davies writes in Grimoires: A History of Magical Books:

While the Church was ultimately successful in defeating pagan worship it never managed to demarcate clearly and maintain a line of practice between religious devotion and magic. The medical manuals known as leechbooks, which were produced by clergy or monastic communities of late Anglo-Saxon England, are a good example. They were based principally on classical medicine but also contained spells for healing and protection. How else was one to deal with malicious elves for instance? Some of the charms were Christianized versions of pagan healing verses.” (emphasis by Mankey) (1)

I’m not arguing that everything in Modern Paganism comes from an unbroken chain of secret pagan religion, but I can show a line of thought from Gerald Gardner to Hermes Trismegistus.

Once we get past out differences on the definition of Modern Paganism, Webster writes:

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. (See Ex 22:20—”He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed”; also 1 Jn 5:21; 1 Cor 10:20; Dt 32:17; Ex 32:1-6; 1 Kgs 12:28-30.) . . . . . If, as a Christian, you think you can dodge this problem, you will have to answer to your God. He forbids the worship of other Gods, as well as magic, divination, astrology, and so forth, under pain of damnation. These scriptures dispose of the Christian side of the equation: You can’t be a Christian and do Pagan things.

This whole paragraph makes a rather simplistic inference; basically saying that Christianity and Judaism are completely static and do not progress or regress. Yahweh has a long history of being worshipped side by side with other deities, most specifically his wife Asherah. The blessings of “Yahweh and his Asherah” were things that ancient Hebrews asked for. There is also evidence to suggest that Asherah was worshipped side by side with her husband in the First Temple. If people can re-construct ancient Norse religion, why can’t they re-construct an ancient Judaism that has been mostly lost, a Judaism that included both a Lord and a Lady?

History is written by conquerors, I get that. The most common forms of Christianity look rather intolerant, but it wasn’t always that way. Sam is basically saying that if you are a Pagan who follows/worships Jesus you are limited to only the (canonical) New and Old Testaments. There were probably hundreds of gospels at one point in the development of Christianity, and many of them suggested radical and completely different cosmologies from what would become orthodox Christianity. It’s certainly difficult to be a Catholic Christian and a Pagan (though that doesn’t stop adherents of Santeria or Voudun from mixing the two faiths), but the tapestry of Christianity is far more complex than Webster is willing to admit. I’ve used the Gnostic text The Thunder, Perfect Mind in ritual for years:

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband
and he is my offspring.

Those words certainly work within the context of Modern Paganism and they come from sources that would have considered themselves Christian. Everything old is new again. As Elaine Pagels notes in her book the Gnostic Gospels:

“One group of gnostic sources claims to have received a secret tradition from Jesus through James and through Mary Magdalene. Members of this group prayed to the divine Father and Mother: ‘From Thee, Father, and through Thee, Mother, the two immortal names, Parents of the divine being, and thou, dweller in heaven, humanity, of the might name . . .’” (2)

Pagels offers even more examples like this in the chapter “God the Father/God the Mother.” Certainly not all Christians were limited to a worldview that only exalted three aspects of deity. Modern Paganism is not just “Wicca,” similarly Christianity is not just limited to the dominant Catholic and Protestant interpretations of 2013.

The Gnostic text The Creation of the World and the Demiurge Ialdabaoth makes references to a whole cosmology of deities. The book begins with the words “Since everyone-the gods of the world and men-” making an implicit reference to a world full of deity, and deity with separate consciousnesses. The author continues “After the nature of the immortals was completed out of the boundless one, then a likeness called Sophia flowed out of Pistis.” The text continues on and on, with more figures and more deities, until eventually there is an entire cosmic hierarchy of gods. This is pretty common in many texts that are referred today as “Gnostic Christian.”

As a hard-core polytheist I believe in the reality of many gods. Often times my interpretation of those gods does not match up exactly with someone else who worships those same gods. I once commented to someone that perhaps “there were many Pans?” By saying that I’m implying that the gods are not limited in the way we humans are. How deity chooses to reveal its self to you may not be the same way that deity reveals its self to me. To suggest that “all Jesus’s are the same Jesus” is limiting deity in a way that I don’t think deity can be limited. The Jesus of the Greek Orthodox Church is obviously not the same Jesus as that of The Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Why would a Pagan interpretation of Jesus have to be the same Jesus as that of the Baptist Church?

Webster writes:

Technically worship strengthens that which is worshiped (see my blog) both in the world and in the life of the worshiper. Thus worshiping any or all of the Trinity makes you more Christian and less Pagan. This looks good to Christians. Christianity and its God desire our (that is, Pagans and everybody else) elimination through ideological imperialism and ethnocide; all must be converted.

Perhaps worshipping a more tolerant view of Jesus will strengthen that version of the deity? I don’t understand why worshipping a “Universal Jesus” who expounds the Beatitudes helps the Jesus of the Tea Party. If a Pagan Christian interpretation of the Trinity includes “Mother, Father, and Tolerant Jesus” how is that hurting anyone? There are Christian traditions which suggest that Jesus might have had a homosexual relationship. Honoring that interpretation (or perhaps truth, who knows?) opens a door towards tolerance and modernity. I for one want to see that door open up, and that version of Christ rise triumphant.

It’s hard for me to even comment on lines like “Christianity and its God desire our (that is, Pagans and everybody else) elimination through ideological imperialism and ethnocide; all must be converted.” That turns Paganism into some sort of paranoid reactionary faith. I don’t think that Christianity and its God desire my elimination, certainly the majority of Christians I know aren’t towing that line. Lines like this again suggest a rigidness, that there is “one true Christianity” and “one true interpretation of Jesus” and apparently only Sam Webster and the Evangelical Wing of the Christian church possess it.

It’s a mistake to blame Christianity for greed and the human capacity for cruelty. There were wars in ancient paganism, and today there are people who I think are miserable, violent Pagans. There are bad guys in every religious group, just as there are tolerant and forgiving folks in nearly every religious group. Sam would label all of Christianity as destructive:

Some will ask, what’s wrong with mixing a bit of Christ in our Paganism? The Gospel story is not one of love and peace, that’s just the public relations. The history of Christianity shows the true character of Christianity and its Deity: the destruction of civilizations and cultures, and the slaughter of innumerable humans as savages, infidels, or simply heretics. Then there is the subtler problem of Missionary Paganism, destruction by infiltration and dilution. They come and preach the nice stuff, and so we include Christian worship with ours, but slowly they teach that the Old Ways should be abandoned for Christianity. Eventually, only the old people know the old ways, and when they die off only Christians are left: the old ways are destroyed. Just ask the Indians of the Americas, just ask the Hawaiians, just ask the Africans.

Monotheism has issues. It suggests a “one way or the high way” type of thinking, and it certainly has influenced thousands of human beings to act badly, but much of that bad behavior needs to be placed at the feet of human failures, failures such as racism, greed, and envy. I love the Roman Empire, it also enslaved and killed (tens of) thousands of people, it also had little tolerance for religions that it believed threatened the state (most notably that of Bacchus in the Second Century). Religion is easily corruptible, and at the beginning of the 20th Century there were a few faiths that might have been categorized as “Pagan” that most of us would have had massive disagreements with. Most Christians don’t give two shits what you or I do or think. They have their faith, and the majority of them want us to be free to have our own.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems. Christian intolerance in the Third World (and with those that journey out from it) is a very real problem. Virulent, judgmental, and violent strains of Christianity are taking root in places such as Africa and South America, but it could be argued that much of that isn’t the result so much of Christianity, but the result of ignorance and superstition. There are many cultures that are currently being drug into the 19th Century kicking and screaming, they don’t share 20th Century values, let alone 21st Century ones. Our role in such cases is to be vigilant, aware, and to apply pressure and education to see that such stupidity doesn’t continue. Webster is correct in his scorn for Christian missionaries, but there have also been many Christians who have taken an active role in preserving indigenous belief systems.

I think it’s also important to note that just because “Christians” have operated a certain way, that doesn’t mean that’s what Jesus would have intended. Just because his followers have forgotten the Beatitudes doesn’t make them any less relavent when discussing Christianity.


The Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Those don’t sound like the words of someone seeking to end my very existence.

One of my major pet peeves in Paganism comes from those Pagans who decry others for their lack of seriousness. Some people just want to practice an “Eclectic White Light Wicca,” and gods bless them! Who does that hurt? Who is to say that their gods aren’t completely happy with this arrangement? Sam says “I suggest you invoke more: the Gods will save you from this delusion,” I suggest you do the same thing, but I’m not going to tell you how they are going to answer. Only you and they know the answer, and only they and you know what’s right for you. I want to sing the praises of Pan everywhere I go, but that’s not a path that everyone is going to choose to be a part of.

Speaking of Pan, Jesus is partially responsible for his return to the Modern World. When people began to feel disconnected from the natural world the 19th Century they looked to Pan as a way to connect with it. As one writer put it “Pan is my earthly shepherd, and Jesus is my heavenly one.” There were no arguments between the gods over this arrangement. Pan was there with them as they ran through the woods, and Jesus touched their shoulders as they prayed to the heavens. That arrangement has worked for a whole bunch of people the last 200 years. It doesn’t have to work for you personally, and you are certainly free to judge it, but that’s only your opinion. I’m a Pagan, and there are no obstacles between myself and the divine. How I encounter that divine is my journey, and I’ll have whatever co-pilots I want.

Jesus and Pan ~ A Dream of Sarkis, an old Greek shepherd called ‘the madman’ ~ by Kahlil Gibran

In a dream I saw Jesus and My God Pan sitting together in the heart of the forest.
They laughed at each other’s speech, with the brook that ran near them, and the laughter of Jesus was the merrier. And they conversed long.
Pan spoke of earth and her secrets, and of his hoofed brothers and his horned sisters; and of dreams. And he spoke of roots and their nestlings, and of the sap that wakes and rises and sings to summer.
And Jesus told of the young shoots in the forest, and of flowers and fruit, and the seed that they shall bear in a season not yet come.
He spoke of birds in space and their singing in the upper world.
And He told of white harts in the desert wherein God shepherds them.
And Pan was pleased with the speech of the new God, and his nostrils quivered.
And in the same dream I beheld Pan and Jesus grow quiet and still in the stillness of the green shadows.
And then Pan took his reeds and played to Jesus.
The trees were shaken and the ferns trembled, and there was a fear upon me.
And Jesus said, “Good brother, you have the glade and the rocky height in your reeds.”
Then Pan gave the reeds to Jesus and said, “You play now. It is your turn.”
And Jesus said, “These reeds are too many for my mouth. I have this flute.”
And He took His flute and He played.
And I heard the sound of rain in the leaves, and the singing of streams among the hills, and the falling of snow on the mountain-top.
The pulse of my heart, that had once beaten with the wind, was restored again to the wind, and all the waves of my yesterdays were upon my shore, and I was again Sarkis the shepherd, and the flute of Jesus became the pipes of countless shepherds calling to countless flocks.
Then Pan said to Jesus, “Your youth is more kin to the reed than my years. And long ere this in my stillness I have heard your song and the murmur of your name.
“Your name has a goodly sound; well shall it rise with the sap to the branches, and well shall it run with the hoofs among the hills.
And it is not strange to me, though my father called me not by that name. It was your flute that brought it back to my memory.
“And now let us play our reeds together.”
And they played together.
And their music smote heaven and earth, and a terror struck all living things.
I heard the bellow of beasts and the hunger of the forest. And I heard the cry of lonely men, and the plaint of those who long for what they know not.
I heard the sighing of the maiden for her lover, and the panting of the luckless hunter for his prey.
And then there came peace into their music, and the heavens and the earth sang together.
All this I saw in my dream, and all this I heard.

1. Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies. pages 21-22
2. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. page 49.

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.celestinetarot.com/ Celestine Angel

    Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizabethmtanous Elizabeth Marie Tanous

    I deeply appreciate your response. Fundamentalism in all of its guises leads to ugly, lonely places that I do not wish to be associated with regardless of the source.

  • kenneth

    Not all of us who have a problem with including Jesus in Paganism do so out of a fundamentalist instinct to define the “right” way to worship or because we think of Christianity as the eternal enemy. For me, it’s simply a statement that I believe being “Pagan” means something more than “not dogmatic Christianity” or a catch-all term for any open-source spirituality. To me it involves worship or honoring of pagan gods and polytheism in one form or another. Islam, and Judaism, and Christianity are not polytheistic or pagan in any meaningful sense of the word.

    For all their variety, none of them have any significant tradition which condones worshiping Allah, or YHVH, or Christ, alongside other gods. Islam put people to the sword for that from day one, and still does. Asherah notwithstanding, Judaism has not been any sort of polytheism for the better part of 3,000 years.

    The PEOPLE that Jews arose from were polytheists, but for essentially all of the time they identified as Yahweh’s chosen, polytheism was regarded as backsliding, and punished severely by that deity. Christianity has many, many concepts of who Jesus was/is. No significant Christian tradition defines Jesus as a figure compatible with pagan worship. That is a New Age invention. It was mostly a device to help 19th and early 20th Century Europeans and Americans reconcile their occult practices with themselves or the social and political conventions of their day.

    My admittedly limited experience of Christo-Pagans has involved people who weren’t called to Paganism. They were people who were cheesed off with whatever rigid sectarian church they grew up in, and they thought something about pagan worship – the openness, the divine feminine, the spells, the clothes, were pretty cool. That’s flattering, but it doesn’t make someone a pagan anymore than an appreciation of Rumi or Ottoman architecture would make me a Muslim.

    I can’t know what someone else is called to on their spiritual path, and I have neither the time nor interest nor ability to police the bounds of what is “real” paganism. I can assert that Pagan religion, to me, is not just another way of stating “all paths are one.” I find that Christianity and Paganism are not natural fits theologically, and that attempts to hybridize them are inauthentic and disrespectful to the truths and deities of the respective systems. Of course the authority of this little ruling is only binding on one six-billionth of the worlds people!….

    • JasonMankey

      I’ve always thought that attempting to worship Jesus in a Pagan context was like trying to pound a square peg through a round hole; it can be done, but it’s not easy to do. I don’t have any need for Jesus in my own personal theology, but if someone I know worships the gods with me and then chooses to worship Jesus at home, what right do I have to question her Paganism? I have none. Do we kick atheist or humanist Pagans out of the tribe for choosing to worship no deities?

      I also think it’s limiting to look at the gods as incapable of evolving. Modern Pagans have all kinds of cosmologies in personal practice (and in specific traditions) involving gods who would have never been worshiped together in antiquity. There are Pagan deities being worshipped today that weren’t even seen as deities by ancient pagans. Jesus has been a continually evolving deity, so yeah maybe he was hard to worship in a Pagan context in the 1700′s, but with discoveries like the Nag Hammadi library perhaps it does get easier.

      When discussing the historical Jesus I think it’s dishonest to call him a “witch” or a “shaman,” but when discussing the Jesus of faith all options are on table, and have been for centuries. Jesus has been constantly reinterpreted over the centuries, by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and now some Pagans.

  • Amanda Morris

    Finally! a Pagan talking about the Gnostics! thank you thank you thank you!

  • Ursyl

    I can see his point in as much as how does one fit into one’s practices a deity who says he is the ONLY ONE TRUE way? For me, it’s a logical disconnect.

    Clearly others’ mileage varies.

    I think you make some good points here too. And I love that Kahlil Gibran piece you shared. I had not seen that one before. I bet you’d like the Peter Mayer song “The Birthday Party” too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/C-Bryan-King/100001510821435 C Bryan King

    The term “christ” existed before Christianity and was used to describe both Dionysos and Orpheus. There is a great book called The Jesus Mysteries which delves into this relationship. I used to be very anti-Christian myself and understand the impulse, but I now see how it only hurts ourselves and limits our own spiritual growth to be so close-minded. I have come to the understanding that Jesus’ teachings are metaphorical, even coded, like the mystery religions so prevalent throughout the Mediterranean at that time. When he says that He (Christ = annointed one) is the only way to the Father (Source), he meant that only through the Self can One reach the All.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-McNally/1037266528 Elizabeth McNally

      Amen/Awen

  • Piper

    Okay, first thanks Jason, you are a much better writer than I.

    Second, I am a gnostic priest of about 30 years. In my tradition, essenic, one of our base tenets is that all facets of deity are emanations of the unknowable creator. We, her creations, find that which brings us to the divine and follow that and begin to understand our relationship to that ultimate divinity and as we grow our needs and understanding of deity also grow. We bring other aspects of the divine in to our worship of him. I am now studying the Sophian Tradition and it is bringing me to a new understanding of old ideals. Jesua Ben Joseph is the Christ, the Logos and through the facet of deity that embodies the sacrifice and through my worship am able to walk in glory, or closer to the divine.

    Lastly, I do work with my polytheistic Wife and Heathen sons to keep the sacred in our household and lives. The Mode of worship is invented by people to feel comfortable as they approach the divine, not by the Divine to get close to us. I would never expect someone to follow my way exclusively, unless they chose to, and I would expect the same consideration and respect that I give, to be returned

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/C-Bryan-King/100001510821435 C Bryan King

      Amen Brother!
      Namaste, Aum Namah Shivaya!

      • Piper

        thank you

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/C-Bryan-King/100001510821435 C Bryan King

    Wasn’t one of the complaints of the Protestant reformers that Catholicism was too “pagan”, what with all it’s heirarchies of angels and saints, its Trinity and Holy Mother? After all, Rome didn’t fall, at least not completely, it just became the Church.

  • stevewhiteraven

    I cannot see how you can follow Jesus and pagan gods it doesn’t make sense to me but just because I don’t understand it doesn’t make it wrong and if you do well ok that’s good for you so maybe its in the end about relationships , we all see our gods differently in any religion/faith and one thing Christians like to say is the personal relationship between them and Jesus . so I have a relationship between me and my gods but especially with one specific goddess . in those terms I suppose if yaweh will have a relationship with someone who also worships other gods then that’s up to him and not for us to put down in the end none of us have the perfect answer to gods life and spirituality because we are all different and individual .

    there is a difference between following a doctrine and following a god but I can see I think where sam Webster is coming from and to an extent agree with him I have had bad experiences as a pagan from churches and individuals I bet we all have but that doesn’t mean I hate or despise in any way and I don’t tar the whole of Christianity with the same brush ,those who object to me can shout and pray as much as they like tbh because I am me and my gods are my gods

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/confessionsofapagansoccermom/ krisbradley

    I could not love this post more. Thank you.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol
  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    Jason, I thought about responding to Sam’s last column, but 1) I really don’t want to, and 2) you just covered everything I would have said, plus a lot more. Thank you.

    I no longer worship Jesus, but we’ve remained on speaking terms. Polytheism is good that way.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    I think the problem is that you two are talking past each other, or as the Mrs likes to say “Define your terms before you argue.” Sam suffers from the problem that he only alludes to, namely that he defines Christians through the Dominionist and fundamentalist prism of those attempting to conquer (you can’t tell me that they have any other goal) our government and society to usher in a theocratic state that would make the Holy Roman Empire look painfully secular. You, Jason, seem to view Christians through the prism of the majority population, those who have accepted the Beatitudes and core message of “Love thy neighbor”, while recognizing the archaic and uncontextual “laws” and admonishments for what they are.
    I can’t really pick a side in this debate, because I agree that the modern Jesus we see more and more of, with the accepting of others (without the burning need to convert that Sam references) is indeed a good thing, but then I look at things like the latest CPAC, and the AFA, and NOM, and…
    The issue is that Christianity is at war with itself ideologically, and while we certainly would like the Jesus that’s cool with the pagan folk to win, the fact of the matter is, that side is only now rousing to the battle call, while the other side has been steadily recruiting and closing ranks for nearly a generation. It’s difficult to interject into this war, as an outsider who once was an insider, but the end result will affect us all.
    For those pagans who choose to worship a non-fundamentalist version of Jesus, more power to them. I just wish they and their Christian brothers and sisters would recognize that unless a greater show of support and voice begins, things could become repressive very fast, and then we’ll all be in trouble.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

    I personally think it’s relatively easy for Pagans to absorb alternative (read, technically heretical) Christologies into their theology — but participating in mainline or orthodox Christianity has the problems Sam named. My suspicion based on other conversations I’ve had with Sam is that he simply considers non-exclusivist Christians to be irrelevant (few enough that they don’t significantly change the Pagan-Christian power dynamic he describes). I suspect it’s the progressive Christians he’s talking about at the end of the essay, when he suggests that some Christians, having learned from other of the world’s religious traditions, will return to their home tradition and attempt to be its salvation. Perhaps he will spell that out a bit more in subsequent conversations.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Christine, I think your analysis is accurate, but I think non-exclusivist Christians are far more populous than Sam thinks. Mainline and progressive Protestants (plus a lot of ordinary Catholics) tend to be very inclusive in practice, if not always in doctrine.

      While I’d be interested to hear Sam’s thoughts on the Christians he mentioned at the end of his column, I’m really hoping he drops this thread and starts writing about _Pagan_ practices and beliefs.

      • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

        > Christine, I think your analysis is accurate, but I think non-exclusivist Christians are far more populous than Sam thinks.

        I think you’re right about that, yes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

      You say subsequent conversations but I hear subsequent hate speech and I don’t think i’m the only one. I don’t know if he’s just doing it for the reaction or if he’s actually living in a place where he views Christianity with that kind of bile and hatred but I think people advancing this brand of filth as if it were a valid viewpoint is dangerous. He needs to leave the Christians alone. If a member of another faith painted us with those kind of broad and hate filled strokes the same folks who are patting him on the back right now would be rioting. The double standard and tolerance of bigotry and hatred for Christians in this community presents a much greater problem for us than those of us who worship Christ ever could or will.

      • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

        I don’t read this essay as encouraging hatred of Christians; quite the opposite. In Sam’s essay, I actually hear a lot of hatred of a particular god and ideology and very little that’s negative toward Christians themselves, whom he advocates supporting personally in two different points in the essay. The fact that he does attempt to separate the god from the worshippers is actually one of the more interesting parts of the essay (perhaps not one that’s logically sustainable, but the idea is worth thinking through). His characterization of Christians as abuse victims is certainly problematic, but it’s not the same as what you’re suggesting.

        I would be fascinated to read an article from a Christian talking about how a particular Pagan god had done the world terrible wrong and that, although we should be kind to his followers and perhaps even do honor to that god when in his temple, we should not worship him ourselves and should reject his ideology totally. (Perhaps written along the lines of the “Zeus is a rapist” theory…)

        I suggest rereading the article; I think its emphasis is somewhat different from what you got from it the first time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Happydog-Potatohead/780639610 Happydog Potatohead

      “My suspicion based on other conversations I’ve had with Sam is that he
      simply considers non-exclusivist Christians to be irrelevant (few enough
      that they don’t significantly change the Pagan-Christian power dynamic
      he describes).”

      That may or may not be what Sam believes, but that is definitely what I believe. I think that we are outnumbered and outgunned (literally) by Dominionist fundamentalist Christians, who essentially own and control one of our country’s two main political parties, and who are trying, openly, to turn their version of Christianity into the law of the land. They are not tolerant, they are not ecumenical, they are not friendly, and they are in control of modern Christianity.

      If there are moderate Christians, they need to rein the Dominionists in and make it abundantly clear, with actions and not just words, that they are committed to a live and let live philosophy when it comes to religion. I grew up in the Deep South and have lived here all my life, and I can tell you that the majority of Protestant Christians here are not kind, nice, ecumenical people wanting to shake hands with us and play nice. They kill people’s pets down here, have people fired from their jobs, have their kids taken away from them, get people bullied at school till they hang themselves, call them Satanists on TV and raise witch hunts. They pray for us to die. This is not fiction.

      Where are the moderate Christians when these things happen?

      A Pagan who worships Jesus is not a traitor, but a fool. It is of no use to argue what Gnostics thought or what Shaman Jesus might teach us. It makes no difference whatsoever. Those faiths are so minority that they do not exist, and the majority of the Christian mainstream consider them heretics anyway.

      Christianity must prove itself trustworthy before any real headway toward discussion can be made.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        How would a moderate Christian rein in a Dominionist? The fact is that Christianity is a scripture-based religion (or group of religions, depending on point of view) and that there is little support of inclusion in the Bible.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          By speaking just as loudly to counter the Dominionist claims with a more moderate message. The biggest problem right now is that the Doms get to claim they speak for the majority, because the majority is half-asleep and twice as apathetic. If the moderates would just speak up, I think things would shift quite nicely.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            They need to have a valid reason, though. Just shouting louder something along the lines of “Our way is better just because!” will ring pretty hollow when the other side have reams of scripture to back up their argument.

  • http://nuannaarpoq.wordpress.com/ thalassa

    One of the problems that I see in Paganism is something that I seen in Civil War reenacting…presentism. You can’t be consistent when you are cherry picking which cultures you apply modern morality to, and how you choose to do it–if Christianity is the big evil (alluded to in Sam’s piece) because of all the big bad its done throughout history, then one has to apply the same censure to ancient Pagan traditions as well–slavery, misogyny, human sacrifice, etc were present in a number of Pagan cultures to varying degrees (and the arguement can be made that they were brought to early Christianity in many cases). Furthermore, if the Bible and the Christian god is such a jerk, then we need to use the same sense of literalism and indignation and righteousness to examine our own mythologies and our own pantheons.

    I wrote (under the influence of cold meds) on my own blog that I couldn’t help but write off Sam’s entire post–fairly or unfairly, the only thing I got from it was a sense of the size of the chip on his shoulder for Christianity. And that while I think that there are valid discussions and conversations that we could be having about the relationship between Christianities and Paganisms, and people that choose to syncretically or simultaneously practice the two, the hostile environment he has created makes that impossible on his blog.

    I think you’ve done a much better job over here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mnemosyne3000 Mnemosyne Vermont

    Thank you Jason.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-McNally/1037266528 Elizabeth McNally

    Awen/Amen. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

    Thank you, you are to me a consistent voice of reason and I was hoping you would say something about this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

    While I don’t always agree with everything you write, I definitely agree with this. Well spoken and comprehensive. I liked your inclusion of Thunder, Perfect Mind too.
    Great job dude.

    • JasonMankey

      You don’t agree with everything I write!?!?! Sadness. :) In fairness, I’m not even sure I agree with everything I write.

      • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

        Writing helps you mash it out though, right? Thats how I mash out ideas that I’m uncertain of, I write about them. I think a lot of people who blog do that. Besides, someone who is 100 percent certain about everything isn’t very fun to read. Also, they run out of things to say, fast.

      • http://www.facebook.com/brian.m.shea Brian Michael Shea

        Funny, I usually agree with everything you write, but I have to say, you lost me with this one….Sorry…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1342175508 Michelle Hesse

    Thank you for putting in writing what I could not. I felt the same way after reading Sam’s article and did not know how to word it. Thank you!

  • lyradora

    Great article. :)

    On a related note, have you read The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne? In the first book, our heroic Druid points out that *every* God is real, but their ability to manifest in and effect the world is at least partially dependent on the view of that God held by his/her worshippers. Considering the many, oftentimes contradictory views of Jesus held by Christians, that poor God’s manifestations are scattershot and fragmented. (The Virgin Mary, on the other hand, is quite a powerful Goddess.)

    • Vision_From_Afar

      Love that series, excellent humor, insightful spiritual thoughts.
      Not a big fan of Hearne’s treatment of the Norse, though. It’s a rather narrow look at the pantheon, I think. I can look past that to enjoy the stories for what they are, however: excellent fiction with nuggets of insight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

    Jason:

    Great response to a tough issue! Here’s a couple examples I thought of as I read your discussion of the Gnostic integration of Christian and pagan myth. The Carpocratians were a sect of Gnostics founded by Carpocrates of Alexandria that claimed Christ derived the mysteries of his religion from the Temple of Isis in Egypt, where he was said to have studied for six years, and that he taught them to his apostles. The sect endured until the sixth century. (*The Arcane Schools* by John Yarker (2007)). Another group, the Collyridians were a group of Christian heretics in pagan Arabia who worshipped Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a goddess. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote that Collyridian women offered cakes to Mary, from which they take their name.

  • valleyview

    I am a devout Christian that strongly believes that God is married and that there are many, many gods and goddesses in Heaven. It makes sense when you think about it. Where did we all come from? You think God just whipped us out of the air? Hardly. We were all created through a God and a Goddess and this creation is what is carried on through this earth. That’s why we have man and woman united through marriage and why this union is so precious and so spiritual. Unfortunately, it has been defiled by people who treat this power so casually, even to the point of redefining marriage. That is why I admire Paganism because of the respect for Goddesses. Thank-you for this post.

    • Kullervo

      That’s called “Mormonism.”

    • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

      I really liked your comment until you expressed opposition to same-sex marriage.

      • valleyview

        Can you please tell me which parent to ignore? Every child needs a dad and a mom, otherwise there wouldn’t be a child. Simple biological fact. Same sex marriage is selfish because it ignores the needs of the children to have and desire two opposite gender parents.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          You don’t need a child to have a marriage.

          • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

            Very true, Lēoht

        • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

          Gender is more complicated than that.

          There are many genders, not just male and female, and it takes a village to bring up a child. Your view is based on a nuclear family model with two parents. Historically, an entire tribe of aunts and uncles, grandparents and siblings and foster-siblings would have been involved in bringing up a child.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ShadowDarkFyre Micah DarkFyre

    Well spoken, Jason… Blessed Be to you…

  • Russell Erwin

    :I don’t agree that the term P/pagan refers to non-Abrahamic spirituality. It comes from the _ancient_ term paganus, meaning basically a country dweller. As a pejorative it means a bumpkin, a hayseed. The meaning is similar to heathen. In our context it refers to unregulated or irregular spirituality, to relatively heretical or to something nature based rather than deriving from a religious hiearchy, etc. Pagans and those who may well have been called witches were persecuted well before Abrahamic faiths came on the scene. Early Christians may well have been called P/pagans. The term pagan in lower case doesn’t refer to a specific religion or tradition and comparable to using the term animism as a descriptor. I rather prefer to be called a pagan in the lower case, but this to is a contested notion. I have no wish to give offense who thinks that being a P/pagan specifically refers to their own religion such as Gardnerian Wicca and should there for be capitalized. If I use the term wicca without capitalization then that to me refers to a male witch (per the etymology of that word) and to no specific religion or tradition.

    Sam’s notion of the meaning of the term P/pagan is also incorrect in my vew. As is his conflation of mainstream Nicean Creedal Christianity with the broader aspects of that faith tradition.

    I do agree with your general emphasis on the diversity of Christian ideas, which is arguably more of the future of Christianity than its overall past would indicate.

    I’ve noticed that P/pagans primarily go in for rather mystical, open minded or relatively heretical or heterodox aspects of Abrahamic faiths: like Christo-paganism, the Hedge Church, K/Q/Cabala, Gnosticisms, Sufic influences, etc. All of that is of substantive value to me and I further have no issues with dual faith practice.

    I’m a Trad. Witch in the Bearwalker 1734 stream and a Unitarian Universalist. The former is not a religion, the latter is.

    Blessing to you and thanks for your posting, which I have reposted liberally at Facebook (I hope that you don’t mind).

    FFF&F, RAE

    • Russell Erwin

      Sorry for my typos, I’m in a rush.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=743407698 James ‘Ironhorse’ Morrow

    I love this post. The thought to not call native americans or hindus pagans I would not agree with though as that is like saying do not call wiccans or druids pagans. Other than that I love this article and will share it with others. Very good insight.

    • JasonMankey

      I don’t call Native Americans and Hindus “Pagan” because many followers of those faith traditions actively bristle at the label. I exclude out of respect, but I also understand the desire/impulse to include them in the Pagan umbrella.

  • Vegetarianwino

    This is beginning to look less like Patheos: Pagan and more like the ‘Federalist Papers’ where all of the smart Pagans have fantastic points and have chosen to debate in front of everybody. I have a great idea: everybody chill :-) Any moment now, I almost expect somebody to start attempting to explain their point in differential calculus!

    • JasonMankey

      I’m flattered to be called a “smart Pagan.” With a very diverse stable of writers coming from various backgrounds there are going to be disagreements around here, which is is much like Paganism as a whole. I’m just glad we can air our differences of opinion openly, honestly, and without it being personal.

      As for me presenting my arguments in differential calculus, never fear, I have to use the tip calculator on my phone to figure out gratuities.

  • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

    Hi Jason

    Great post. You rightly talk of the possibility of the worshippers of a deity changing the deity. But if that is the case, then if Jesus gets a lot of Dominionists worshipping him, he might lurch to the right; if a lot of Unitarian Universalists worship him, he will support same-sex marriage, doubt his own divinity, and develop a craving for coffee and committee meetings; and so on.

    Conversely, a deity’s worshippers are also affected by that deity – that’s why I try to achieve a balance in my personal collection of household deities, and why I don’t always invoke the same deities.

    So if the worshippers affect the deity, and the deity affects the worshippers, then the Dominionists could be indirectly having an effect on the other Jesus-worshippers (unless their influence is outweighed by the liberals – let’s hope so). If there are multiple Christs (and I think there are, just like there are multiple Buddhas and bodhisattvas), then the problem is lessened, of course.

    I do think Pagans can worship Jesus as a god, but worshipping him as the one and only Christ, saviour of the world, etc etc with all the meanings that go with that? I don’t want to police the boundaries of Paganism any more than you do (otherwise non-literalists like me would get the boot), but I’d want to put a different label on that (such as Christo-Pagan).

  • Tiffany Sapp

    Thank you for this. The whole article resonated with me, but when I saw the poem about Jesus and Pan, I wept. I have worked with them both separately, and seeing them in the same picture moved me deeply. Thanks again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/krogersm Kenny Rogers

    i laughed, i cried, i stood and cheered…….oh and i finished 2 cups of coffee…great job….:)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Macaghobhain Samuel Smith

    “Pan is my earthly shepherd, and Jesus is my heavenly one.” I really like that. It’s a pretty good explanation of my relationship with the divine. Do you have the source?

    I’m a Latter-Day Saint, and as such,I consider El and YHWH (the Father and the Son) the heads of my pantheon, but I’m a heretic within that tradition because I also honor the gods of my ancestors as well (Mostly the Irish and Welsh gods, but I’ve been known to pour out a libation for Odin and his kin and would have no problem joining in a rite to any other non-evil deity.

    Nathair /|

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      No offence intended, but define ‘evil’.

  • http://twitter.com/LilithsPriest Freeman

    Very well said, sir!


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