Looking at Christianity With Pagan Eyes

One of the pitfalls of blogging is you tend to hear from your critics far more often than your fans. So it really made my day when I received a note from a 70-year-old retired pastor who told me my writing was helping him to build a bridge of understanding between his faith and Paganism. On those days when I wake up and wonder if it’s really worth it to crank out another post, notes like his lift me up and inspire me. I’m not going to mention his name, but this post is for you, friend.

Christians aren't really any more foreign to Paganism than the Mithraic cult is... CristianChirita CC

I didn’t leave Christianity because I had issues with religion. I think a good many do. They don’t want a spiritual authority, or a code of conduct, or expectations of behavior, or a spiritual community that is involved in their life. They want what I once described to my cousin as “spiritual anarchy” and that is ok. I’m becoming aware that I don’t have much useful to say to those folks, and planning ways to correct that here on the Pagan portal.

I consider myself a religious person. I have a religious outlook. My struggle with Christianity was with it’s doctrine, with it’s content, not with it’s form. I spent years in the struggle of conversion, moving from one worldview to another. Today I’ve reached a point where I can’t think as a Christian anymore. Christianity has become foreign to my soul, and because of that, it’s become novel. When I venture into the other faith portals on Patheos I find myself just as fascinated by the Christian writers as by the Muslim, Jewish and Hindu writers. They have become exotic and unusual. They are separate from me, and that distance between us has given me a fresh perspective on Christianity.

You see, if I view them as yet another Pagan religion, a cultus, a sect, they make a lot more sense than if I view them as the monotheistic Other. The Christian concept of the Devil isn’t so bizarre when I compare it to some Hellenics refusing to say the names of Persephone or Hades, in a speak of the devil sort of taboo. Some people have similar views of Eris, Loki, Baba Yaga,  the Wendigo and the Morrigan. There are energies we may not want in our lives, impurities or pollutants that may hinder us, or energetic forces, such as the Greek miasma, which may attach themselves to us and our loved ones.

The “foreignness” of Christianity also pushes me to examine my own Paganism more closely. I spent three hours on a plane with an Evangelical friend. During our long conversation, which likely annoyed the crap out of everyone around us, we discussed the meaning of life and the origin of the universe. These are questions he is profoundly interested in, yet I find them irrelevant. Life exists because it is good, and better than the alternative. The universe came out of chaos and void, evolved to it’s current state, and may return to chaos and void at the last. Why are the questions that concern him of no importance to me? And vice-versa?

Looking at Christianity from afar, they seem to be moving in two very different directions. Some of them seem to be digging deeper into their faith tradition, clinging to the customs, language and attitudes that seem anachronistic. Others seem to be paring down what Christianity means to a very general, broad, inclusive and modern faith. One side of the division seems to be becoming more religious, while the others become less religious and more broadly spiritual.

There are days when I look at this perceived schism in modern Christianity and wonder if it could be said this schism is present in modern Paganism? Are the more tribal types of Paganism moving towards becoming more religious, while the majority of Pagans are moving away from religion towards a broader spirituality? If this is so, do Heathens, Hellenics and Trad Craft have more in common with conservative Catholics and Evangelicals than with the progressive Christian movement underway among mainstream Protestants?

If you take away the One True Way perspective, are Christians just as prevalent, weird and comprehensible as Mithraics? Are there more chances to build bridges than we are aware of? Are we blinded by the blood-soaked rhetoric of small Christian sects, or are we forever destined to be separate and opposed?

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://profiles.google.com/stacylynnevans Stacy Evans

    You make a lot of wonderful points.  A lot of time time I find myself shocked to get along with a Christian counterpart, and then realize I shouldn’t be.  We should all be looking for the similarities between us, instead of the differences.  

    Great post, as usual! :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/stacylynnevans Stacy Evans

    You make a lot of wonderful points.  A lot of time time I find myself shocked to get along with a Christian counterpart, and then realize I shouldn’t be.  We should all be looking for the similarities between us, instead of the differences.  

    Great post, as usual! :)

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    When I hear about Christians building bridges to Paganism I think of Alexander’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    When I hear about Christians building bridges to Paganism I think of Alexander’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mhaoil-Lain/100000789234060 Mhaoil Lain

    Some good points, Star. Apuleius, old friend, you paint a vivid, if cynical picture! For a good example of seeing the similarities between us Pagans and our Christian friends, see Ali Ravenwood’s “In Defense of Christians”
    http://northerntribes.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/in-defense-of-christians/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mhaoil-Lain/100000789234060 Mhaoil Lain

    Some good points, Star. Apuleius, old friend, you paint a vivid, if cynical picture! For a good example of seeing the similarities between us Pagans and our Christian friends, see Ali Ravenwood’s “In Defense of Christians”
    http://northerntribes.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/in-defense-of-christians/

  • AnnaKorn

    Even henotheistic Pagan cults existed in a world of politheism.

    • AnnaKorn

      Polytheism. Fat fingers on small keys. Sorry.

  • AnnaKorn

    Even henotheistic Pagan cults existed in a world of politheism.

    • AnnaKorn

      Polytheism. Fat fingers on small keys. Sorry.

  • kenneth

    There’s an important difference between Christianity and the other monotheistic faiths and, say, Mithraic cults of old. Mithraism and many of the old pagan religions had an orthodoxy and a hierarchy, special castes of priests etc., much in common with say, Catholicism. The big difference is that no pagan movement that I know of took the view that all of humanity had to follow their belief or ELSE. Yes, Hellenics and Trad Craft people may like a higher degree of organization in their religion as do traditional Christian denominations, but that’s a preference about forms, not a deep similarity. There are no pagan Tea Party movements fielding candidates with an agenda of forcing the rest of their country to live by their religions.

     There are some loose similarities also in cosmology ie the devil, but that’s because Christianity imported all of those concepts from pagan progenitors and refined them to their own ends. Their central myth of a sacrificed god does not have a shred of originality to it (although their interpretation of it is wholly novel).

    As for the idea of building bridges, I’m skeptical, to say the least. You seem to be suggesting that our more structured pagan brethren can approach conservative Catholics or Protestants by saying “you guys like formal worship and we do also, so we have lots in common.”  That One True Way perspective will always stand as a mountain range in between us. There are, of course, many open minded Christians, but the reason we get along with them is precisely because they are more pagan in their worldview and religious practice.

    • Anna Korn

      One key difference in the way modern Paganism acts in contrast to Hellenistic Paganism is flavored by contact with Christianity. (I believe Robin Lane Fox in _Pagans and Christians_, his study of religions during Hellenistic times, pointed this out.)  There is a marked difference in how earlier Pagans responded to environmental crises compared with Christians. Classical Pagans would attempt to divine and spiritually set right whatever had gotten out of balance in the world to allow the disaster to take place. Early Christians would take up a collection and minister to the poor and those affected by the disaster. Modern Pagans do both. We have become affected by the Christian response.

      • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

        That is a load of hooey. All civilizations have always, and quite obviously, engaged in “disaster relief” in response to earthquakes, floods, etc. The idea that Christians invented this is pure lunacy. For example, all ancient cities stored up grain and other food in case of crop failure (or siege). Any city that didn’t simply disappeared very quickly.

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

          You could say they even had a form of Social Security in the grain dole.

          • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

            A Pagan Ponzi scheme, of course.  

        • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

          Apuleius, let’s add “disaster relief” to the long List of Things That Christianity Did Not Invent, along with morality, altruism, charity, civilization, and more.

  • kenneth

    There’s an important difference between Christianity and the other monotheistic faiths and, say, Mithraic cults of old. Mithraism and many of the old pagan religions had an orthodoxy and a hierarchy, special castes of priests etc., much in common with say, Catholicism. The big difference is that no pagan movement that I know of took the view that all of humanity had to follow their belief or ELSE. Yes, Hellenics and Trad Craft people may like a higher degree of organization in their religion as do traditional Christian denominations, but that’s a preference about forms, not a deep similarity. There are no pagan Tea Party movements fielding candidates with an agenda of forcing the rest of their country to live by their religions.

     There are some loose similarities also in cosmology ie the devil, but that’s because Christianity imported all of those concepts from pagan progenitors and refined them to their own ends. Their central myth of a sacrificed god does not have a shred of originality to it (although their interpretation of it is wholly novel).

    As for the idea of building bridges, I’m skeptical, to say the least. You seem to be suggesting that our more structured pagan brethren can approach conservative Catholics or Protestants by saying “you guys like formal worship and we do also, so we have lots in common.”  That One True Way perspective will always stand as a mountain range in between us. There are, of course, many open minded Christians, but the reason we get along with them is precisely because they are more pagan in their worldview and religious practice.

    • Anna Korn

      One key difference in the way modern Paganism acts in contrast to Hellenistic Paganism is flavored by contact with Christianity. (I believe Robin Lane Fox in _Pagans and Christians_, his study of religions during Hellenistic times, pointed this out.)  There is a marked difference in how earlier Pagans responded to environmental crises compared with Christians. Classical Pagans would attempt to divine and spiritually set right whatever had gotten out of balance in the world to allow the disaster to take place. Early Christians would take up a collection and minister to the poor and those affected by the disaster. Modern Pagans do both. We have become affected by the Christian response.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        That is a load of hooey. All civilizations have always, and quite obviously, engaged in “disaster relief” in response to earthquakes, floods, etc. The idea that Christians invented this is pure lunacy. For example, all ancient cities stored up grain and other food in case of crop failure (or siege). Any city that didn’t simply disappeared (or changed hands) very quickly.

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

          You could say they even had a form of Social Security in the grain dole.

          • http://sihathor.wordpress.com/ Sihathor

            A Pagan Ponzi scheme, of course.  

        • http://sihathor.wordpress.com/ Sihathor

          Apuleius, let’s add “disaster relief” to the long List of Things That Christianity Did Not Invent, along with morality, altruism, charity, civilization, and more.

  • John R Rackliffe

    “If you take away the One True Way perspective…”  You no longer have Christ and therefore no longer have Christianity only religion. 

    Blessings,
    John

    • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

      And it would not be missed.

  • John R Rackliffe

    “If you take away the One True Way perspective…”  You no longer have Christ and therefore no longer have Christianity only religion. 

    Blessings,
    John

    • http://sihathor.wordpress.com/ Sihathor

      And it would not be missed.

  • Olderguy

    Christians give Christianity a bad rep.   It ain’t the religion but the so-called believers that I have trouble with.  Avoidance is necessary to keep my cool.

  • Olderguy

    Christians give Christianity a bad rep.   It ain’t the religion but the so-called believers that I have trouble with.  Avoidance is necessary to keep my cool.


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