Let’s Talk About Us! (Not Them)

Periodically an article will catch fire in Pagan social media circles and get shared half to death. The current article coming up ad nauseam in my Facebook feed is one involving writer Joseph Atwill (author of Cesar’s Messiah) and his upcoming lecture about an “ancient confession” suggesting that Roman aristocrats “made up” Jesus and Christianity. This information is being shared with a great bit of glee in some Pagan (and atheist) circles, with very few folks pausing for a second to wonder why such an important development is being presented P.T. Barnum style and not in a serious academic journal (or even a book or magazine article).

There’s nothing wrong with writing about Jesus or being interested in Jesus, he’s impossible to escape, and Christianity has impacted many of our lives in various ways. I have a healthy interest in the origins of Christianity (that appetite extends to the origins of nearly all religious systems), and I’ve written about Jesus here a few times too. What bothers me about the excessive sharing of this one particular article is that many people certainly shared it out of spite. Would eighty people have shared an article entitled: “Ancient Confession Found: Judas Confesses to Betraying Jesus?” Of course not, because it would be pro-Christianity or at least a pro-Christian interpretation of history.

Seeing this kind of link shared again and again in the Pagan Community troubles me for other reasons as well. The biggest one is that it often feels as if we Pagans are far more likely to share an article that undermines Christianity than we are to share something written by Pagans for Pagans. That bothers me as a Pagan writer of course, but it also bothers me as a Pagan because I feel as if it hurts Pagandom long term.

When I mentioned this observation online today I had a few Facebook friends remark that when they go to Pagan festivals the campfire talk inevitably ends up about Jesus. As David Salisbury said “it just puzzles me and all I can do is think ‘wait..aren’t I at a PAGAN festival?’”

I understand the need to process the transition out of Christianity, but when you’ve been away from it for ten or fifteen years isn’t it time to let go? What good does it do to belittle another faith? Besides, stuff like “Roman aristocrats made up Christianity” is bad history, and you don’t have to take my word for it.

I had a friend remark that a Christianity based on a giant lie would give him a feeling of vindication, especially after having had a horrid and abusive experience growing up in a “Christian” family. I certainly sympathize with that, and I understand the emotion of payback, but people who believe in Christianity are going to continue to believe in Christianity. We could find a letter signed by Jesus denying that he’s the son of Yahweh, and it wouldn’t matter. Sharing something putting down Christianity might make you feel better, but it doesn’t solve any problems, and most likely increases tensions. I can’t expect someone to see my faith as legitimate if I’m telling them that theirs is false.

What bothers me the most about a Pagnadom far more interested in talking about Christianity than Paganism is that I feel we are losing a big opportunity. We’re losing a chance to better understand each other. Since the conversation is more about “why they are wrong” instead of “why this is right for me,” I’m missing the chance to hear my sisters and brothers talking about how they experience ritual and the gods. Think of all the new traditions and rites that we might come up with if we were more focused on us instead of them! When I’m around the campfire I desperately want to talk about Pagan things! I want to discuss The Long Lost Friend, magick, Gerald Gardner, Aphrodite, and a whole host of other topics far removed from Christianity.

Not even making its way into this plea is the fact that we’d rather share the propaganda of someone outside of our tribe than the writing of someone who is a part of it! We should all spend more time supporting Pagan writing and helping our authors (and *cough* *cough* bloggers). I’m not upset with the idea of sharing information about the origins of a religious movement separate from our own, I just wish we’d spend a little more time sharing information about us!

Finding the Common Ground at PantheaCon
Paganism: A Tribe or Tribes?
Finding the Common Ground at PantheaCon
Maybe I Don’t Need a Temple
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.

  • David Demarest

    Well said, Jason! I think you hit the metaphysical nail on the head by identifying one of the main reasons that paganism remains a slowly evolving religious path today. More energy is spent hating and baiting Christianity and Christians than is spent on moving our conversations, writings, and beliefs forward. I’m with you and tired of the negativity associated with the current state of paganism. Let’s embrace and expand on our pagan similarities rather than waste valuable energy bashing Christianity.

    • Griffin

      I agree, David. Pagans seem to spend more time and energy talking about what they aren’t, whether it’s comparing to Christianity or even another pagan path (or a minor deviation within their own path). I feel like our descriptors should first be Pagan for spiritual practices, then Witch for optional magical practices, THEN a persons particular path. Instead, it’s a war of “I am different”.

      Most upsetting, to me, is that the vocal minority becomes the status quo. A person new to paganism is inclined to judge the whole by self proclaimed religious leaders, rather than the well adjusted person quietly being spiritual – even though, when they share, I find they have the most worth sharing.

  • Taliesin Govannon

    OK, one: this is epically on mark! I am SO tired of people talking about what they’re NOT… i.e. “I’m not Christian, I’m not a Satanist, etc…” At some point back in the 90′s, I got tired of talking about what I’m not, and instead started talking about what I AM… namely, a polytheistic British Traditional Wiccan Witch.

    One big issue we have with talking Paganism with each other is how prickly some Pagans can be… it’s far too often that, whenever I try to talk about MY path, that someone takes offence. They seem to think that if *I* talk about MY path, that I’m somehow dogging THEIR path. People have to understand that everything’s NOT about them, that I can talk about my path without it being a slap at everything else out there. I fear that, until the insecure stop freaking out whenever someone says something nice about a path that’s not theirs, that dialogue about our own paths will be difficult…

  • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    Odin’s Beard, thank you! I ALWAYS feel uncomfortable at events precisely because this always happens – Christian bashing, Christianity bashing, blah blah blah…

    I am not Christian. I never have been, wasn’t brought up with it, etc. so I don’t have a lot of the baggage that others do with it. Is it important for understanding the dominant paradigms of our culture? Yes. But when we gather to be with others who also follow the Old Ways, I really don’t care to talk about Yesu or his followers. They are not what I am interested in – I am interested in learning from others who walk as I do.

  • Carrie Tuttle

    I totally agree! I get pretty tired of all the defensive talk we do, against Christianity, when we should be focusing on ourselves. That is how we will move forward in our respective traditions. Way too much time is being spent on anti Christian posts. Can I tell you how many times I have disliked someone on a certain social networking site because darn near all their posts are something to the effect of “Christians are wrong.” or “I am a _____(witch, pagan, etc etc) deal with it!” in reference to Christian oppression.This is not where we need to be spending our energy. I would much rather have conversations about our gods.

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    Couldn’t agree more. Anti-christian bigotry is the bane of the pagan movement.

  • Amalia Dillin

    Thank you for writing this. It’s something I noticed, too, particularly when I was looking for my own place outside of the Church. There is so much time and energy being wasted on tearing down Christianity that is just so unnecessary, and completely unhelpful. It isn’t about whose faith is RIGHT or WRONG and it totally isn’t even remotely our place to judge that about anyone else, anyway. I can’t speak about anyone else’s personal experience and spirituality, I can only speak about my own. But What it SHOULD BE about is enriching our lives and our relationship with those aspects of divinity which are relevant to us and speak to us, and then building bridges between faiths which allow us to see how we are THE SAME, and the things we share in common, as opposed to dividing ourselves further from one another.

  • Melissa Hill

    Personally, Christian stuff just bores me. I don’t really care if it’s articles or bashing. I’d far rather talk about pagan things as well. However I think people like controversy. Pagan versus Christian is controversy. Maybe you should engineer a flame war between you and some Asatru person, or start calling Reclaiming Witches poopheads. You’d probably get hits then too. But it wouldn’t further our traditions as a whole. You do a great job of getting quality information out there. Just keep writing.

    (Look! I figured out how to post on your blog!)

  • http://spinningofthewheel.wordpress.com/ Áine Órga

    Bravo! I am far more interested in hearing about what people practice and believe than what they don’t. Defining ourselves by what we’re not is a particularly bad habit amongst Pagans, and I feel that it may have something to do with a lack of conviction in the credibility of our paths. If this is the root of the problem, then more focus on Paganism and less on why we’re not Christian would be much more helpful.

  • thelettuceman

    People focus on Christian articles primarily because it’s a relatable experience for many people and, frankly, it drums up (or reacts to) sometimes serious controversy. I think it’s probably because it’s a very accessible topic for anyone in alternative religions/raging against the establishment scene. But that is just my thought.

    As to why people don’t want to focus on exclusive Pagan-themed articles, it could be because Paganism doesn’t have an atmosphere that’s conducive for reasonable discourse or debate. Too many posts are considered attacks (or are), or they’re written off as “one voice of many” and ignored and drowned out because Paganism tries to be so inclusive that nothing gets spoken about. I very rarely see blog posts focusing on what is right for people, because so many OTHER people will come down on them with a million ways they’re wrong. Okay, that one was exaggerated, slightly.

    Or it is because people are less vested in actual development of Pagan foundations than they are ragging on their teenage-angst years against Christianity. I can think of a few prominent bloggers that do not seem to have gotten over that larger issue.

    The reasons are many, but it is a perennial topic for the communities and I don’t think that is going to honestly change.

    I feature Christian issues in my writings when it is appropriate, often in response to other prevailing trends in the community, or as it APPLIES to the community. But that’s also because I’ve probably done enough studies of the religious history of that movement (Being a late Antiquities/early Medieval historian it tends to come up) that I could have a minor degree in it.

    I actually have a blog post in the works inspired by Atwell. But mostly ragging on pseudoscholarship in our own community (Which I had the misfortune of running in to a few days prior to the “startling reveal” of Atwell’s “scholarship”).

    Ah well.

  • kenofken

    I was underwhelmed by the Atwill business and didn’t share it with anyone. I couldn’t care less what Christianity believes or practices so long as separation of church and state is maintained.

  • Sarah

    This is a wonderful, and well-written essay. I’m bracing myself for impact as I write this, but…I’m a Pagan who returned to (progressive) Christianity, who would LOVE to have a discourse with her local Pagan groups – to do nothing other than *gasp* talk about things that aren’t even remotely Christian. My path took me away from where I was – and I’m peace with that, my best friends are all still Pagan and we are as happily involved in the rituals and spiritual practices of each other’s lives as ever – but it’s hard to reach a hand of friendship outside of my own circle. And I would love to – I would love to have an ecumenical discussion with the Pagans in my area. I would love to support them and encourage healthy, constructive conversation between our faiths. I would love to be an agent of positive healing. But, I have an equally strong fear of being “bashed” and rejected before I can even speak farther than, “Well, I’m personally Christian, but…!” But, wait! Let’s fight this fight together, of strong, respectful ecumenical discussion, against ignorance and injustice for ALL of us. From the other side, speaking in, it seems like you can’t get very far with a lot of people, before your own personal spiritual choices are used against you…by people who claim to live by “and ye harm none, do what ye will.”

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I think that the reason that Christianity is so easy to talk about it because of all the set dogma and orthodoxy.

    Paganisms, on the other hand, have a very heterodoxic inclination. To the point that I am not even sure if all people communing with Cernunnos (as an example) are even talking to the same guy.

    People often worry about being called out on their personal beliefs, especially when they do not mirror others.

    The obvious mention is UPG. The U makes it very difficult to have meaningful discourse about a god, since many Pagans will become defensive when their perception of that god does not match another person’s perception.

    Of course, if more people did discuss their experiences with the gods, we could easily see the rise of Pagan orthodoxy, as people start to congregate around shared belief.