When Interfaith Gets Ugly

Patheos is a diverse place. I tend to think of it like a city with different quarters. There are good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, which shift depending on your point of view. There is the place I live, and the places I prefer to avoid. If Patheos is anything, it’s proof that, like patience, you should never pray to be more tolerant unless you wish to be tested. I believe having the tenets of your faith tested is a good thing. Makes you strong in your spiritual convictions. Writing here keeps me sharp.

Today this post went up on “Christianity’s triumph over Paganism.” I’m not here to rip apart the history. Other folks are far better equipped to do that, and have. Some are even Christian, like the always awesome Dr. James McGrath. No, I want to talk about being a decent human being in the face of hatred.

From "Prayers to the Gods of Hellas" Facebook page.

It’s not easy being a minority. For your own health and well being, you simply cannot be angry all the time. Even when your faith is mocked, ridiculed and slandered. Even when those who flippantly dismiss and attack you cannot see the complete irony of their own words:

Christmas means that Jesus has defeated the powers, the pagan gods that military rulers used to bring their peoples into subjection, to oppress all dissent, and to bring misery upon the masses of men and women.

You have to take a deep breath and weigh the situation. You remind yourself that virtue, honor, reason and piety are the birthright you received from your Pagan ancestors, and you take a deep breath. Maybe you respond. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you choose to remain silent while publicizing the bigotry, revealing the sneering hatred for all to see. Maybe you simply remain silent. You know that when you speak, as a minority, you will be dismissed as petulant, ridiculous and angry. Because in today’s hipster-colored world, there’s nothing more quick to be derided than anger. Than passion. Than faith.

Sometimes to walk in the difficult places you need to walk, to practice piety, to work deep magic, to bring honor to the ancestors, you have to deal with things that turn your stomach. Homophobia. Bigotry. Misogyny. Racism. You have to look them in the face. You have to know them in order to appreciate, respect, and fight for goodness, virtue and excellence.

I have a good Episcopalian friend who listens to extremely conservative, fundamentalist, Christian radio. She does it to remind herself of what danger lay out there, and to appreciate the beauty, love and charity of the faith she practices. I’ve come to see the wisdom of this over the years, and, in the process of remaining aware, I work hard to try not to become bitter, angry and hateful. I try not to become that which I criticize. I hope I succeed most of the time.

I am a Pagan. I claim Iamblichus, Hypatia, Sappho, Plato, Julian, Augustus, Cicero, Heraclitus, Plotinus and many other admirable intellects as my spiritual ancestors, and as my birthright. Virtue, piety, grace, studiousness, tolerance, humility, balance, excellence and honesty are my aims. Service to my community, Pagan and non-Pagan, is my duty and my calling. My walk of faith requires commitment, examination and action. I cannot fulfill my destiny if I become bitter. I cannot live out my fate if I turn hateful. I cannot honor the gift of my soul if I let anger consume me.

Having had time to reflect on Dr. Bird’s post, in calm thoughtfulness, here is my response:

Like my Pagan ancestors, I practice civic virtue. I am an American Pagan, who with her whole soul believes in religious freedom, social justice and human rights. My community, made up of big-hearted men and women, is growing. We advocate freedom, and do not crave power over another’s soul. Those you shun, we welcome with open arms, and your discarded become our artists, theologians, authors, activists and mystics.

When I see you attempt to rewrite history, to paint your anarchic, martyr-hungry ancestors as victims, I don’t get angry anymore. Perhaps you’re scared that we, along with the atheists, Jews and Muslims, might do to you what you have done to others for almost 1600 years. I cannot speak for other faiths, but Pagans are better than that. We grow on the basis of our virtue, on our love, our joy and our piety, not by coercion, violence or political coup. We thrive in spite of the hatred and adversity that is sent our way. We vote, we pay our taxes, we serve in the military and we defend the powerless. Our Gods live, even after all this time.

When you sneer from privilege, when you defame and abuse us, and when you dismiss us flippantly, we win. Because we are the children of the earth and our law is love.

To speak in Pagan terms, Dr. Bird’s behavior brings his faith no honor and much shame. It’s the reason churches are closing, pews remain empty and America is steadily becoming a post-Christian society. The problem with Dr. Bird’s uncharitable post can be summed up by one very wise Hindu:

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. – Mohandas Gandhi


Third Parties, Choices, and Our Place In Paganism (and the World)
Christians Acting Like Christians: Dissecting Tim Dalrymple’s Comments on Paganism
Mishap, Magic, Minneapolis and Mabon
So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish!
About Star Foster

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

  • GreenFlame

    Ahhhh….breathing deeply….your words are excellent and eloquent. And your Episcopalian friend is stronger than I am, bless her.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Star, this is a lovely and inspiring post.  Thank you for writing it.  I wonder if in this sentence:  “We thrive in spite of the hatred and diversity that is sent our way,” you mean in spite of the “divisiveness” that is thrown our way?  Because diversity seems to me to be one of our strengths.  

  • http://twitter.com/ashareem HRM

    Well said. 

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

    Good catch! Adversity, actually. There must always be at least one typo published in order to prove my humanity!

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    You know what Leonard Cohen said, “That’s how the light gets in.”  ;)

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    A response was needed, but a response from a place of strength and not from a place of victimhood.  This was such a response – brilliant.  Thank you.

  • http://wp.wiccanweb.ca/ Makarios

    Excelllent post, Star. Very well done indeed.

  • sindarintech

    Beautifully written, Star!

  • Ursyl

    Thank-you so much for saying all of this.

    I read that posting, and my mental wheels were just spinning.

  • http://www.myspace.com/kadynastar Khryseis_Astra

    Actually, IMO, Christmas is more of a failure for Christianity than a triumph. It’s very existence proves that even after killing off or forcibly converting most of their competition in the ancient world, desecrating Pagan temples and demonizing (or in some cases canonizing! LOL) their gods, in the end, they couldn’t stamp out Pagan traditions and celebrations. 

    Much as they would like to give everything a new, Christianized symbolism, the only thing Christian about Christmas is the name and some songs. The symbols still retain their ancient meaning, because to do otherwise would make them meaningless and empty. And they still keep the same appeal in the modern age as they did in ancient times, much of the time overpowering the false veneer of Christianity that has been painted on top of them.

    IMO there is a deep archetypal resonance in the human spirit with the true “meaning of the season” that will never be conquered, no matter how many cultures Christianity wants to conquer. Christmas is a just another reminder to me that Christianity “won” only by force, not by winning any “war of ideas.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=548883612 Flame Bridesdottir

    This is outstanding. I wanted to applaud, but you can’t hear me. So imagine it.

  • Sunweaver

    Tomorrow begins Chanukah. In the 2nd Century BCE, the Makkabaoi were threatened by the Seleucid Empire to conform or die. Their oppressors desecrated and destroyed their most holy Temple. In retaliation, they destroyed the altars of the Theoi and managed to reclaim and re-dedicate their Temple. Today, we (those who worship the Gods of Olympos) are no better off than the Jews. Our most holy temples are only ruins and most of us live far from these sacred sites.
    So, as I’ve done for several years, I’m going to light the Chanukah candles. Apollon is absent from the temple and Dionysos has taken his place in these dark and joyful months. Chanukah falls at the dark of the moon, the Noumenia, closest to the winter solstice – and this year on top of it.
    I celebrate Chanukah to honor those who refused to conform and remember that when times are darkest, when ignorance, war, famine, and all the ills of humanity run rampant, we have the ability to be the bearers of the divine light.

    …I can also really get behind a holiday where fried food is traditional.

    Blessed Solstice and Happy Chanukah

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    Well-written, Star. Thank you.

    Mr. Bird seems to be getting a pretty thorough (and well-deserved) drubbing from the Patheos readership in his own comment list.

  • BertramCabot

    Gotta hand it to the Greek Philosophers…boy loving advocates of Infanticide and Elitist Rule!

    Lets hear it for the Philosopher Kings!

  • Tina

    Oops, you are mistaken….it was the Catholics of whom you speak.

  • http://twitter.com/MrsBsConfession MrsB

    This post could not have come at a better time.  Though my anger and bitterness were being turned on by something completely different, a reminder of what I don’t want to turn into was much needed.  Thanks, Star!

  • Mike Bird

    Dear Star, 
    I think we live in different quarters of the city and probably speak a different language. I’m a historian of the early church and I read about martyr stories of Christians who were fed to lions because they refused to worship pagan gods including worship of the Roman emperor and the pagan crowds who cried for their blood.  I note how the Apostle Paul was put to death by Nero (who liked to be addressed as “divinity”) and now we live in an age when folks call their dogs “Nero” and their sons “Paul” (my aunt had a dog called Nero).  I also research into how Roman politics and power was said to be sanctioned by the pantheon of gods who chose the toga wearing Romans to dominate the world through violence (read Virgil’s Aeneid). As a historian I also note how eventually the pagan Roman empire became, for better and worse, a Christian one. There was a genuine “triumph” in that sense. For many Christians, Christmas is a celebration of that triumph, no more being thrown to the Lions, the powers that once destroyed churches is now building them. That was my point. The other problem is that my Aussie humor, often lost on American as flippant, does not seem to be understood. To be honest, I have no interest in contemporary paganism, but I’ve obviously hit a nerve, I thought I was writing for the choir, but voices have obviously echoed beyond.  

  • Mike Bird

    Okay I’ve re-read your  post and I really do take exception with your “martyr-hungry ancestors as victims.” Time for a history lesson: Christians were brutally, horribly, and malevolently butchered by pagan authorities and pagan crowds because they refused to be pagans. That’s not a re-write of history, that is history. If I get you correct, you are denying that Roman authorities persecuted and killed Christians or if they did so it was the Christian’s own fault. How can you say that? This is like denying the Holocaust or saying that the Jews went looking for it. Some may have looked for martyrdom (they are records of this), but I bet you a coke that most didn’t. You want to talk about myth writing, the myth of a tolerant paganism is one of them. Go ye and read some real  history and then you might actually know what you’re talking about. What is more, I would love to hear your perspective on contemporary persecutions and matyrdoms of Christian minorities in Egypt, Palestine, North Korea, and Nigeria. Are modern victims of religious persecutions also “martyr hungry”.? Would you call the Copts in Egypt martyr hungry? What about Mandeans or Catholics in Iraq – they are martyr hungry too? I’ve struck your nerve, you’ve certainly struck mine. I know many refugees who have fled their countries to escape persecution and I find your comments ill informed about Christian martyrs both modern and historical. 

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

    There are contemporary accounts that state that Christians were so certain that the end is near they became disturbers of the peace in order to seek martyrdom. Death-by-centurion if you like. It was due to this, and their refusal to do their civic duty, that they met with hostility. Rome’s thriving Jewish population had no problem with performing their civic duty or living with their non-Jewish neighbors. The ancient world was a religiously tolerant place. Thousands of religions lived side-by-side for thousands of years without a religious war or a crusade or a jihad.

    I suggest you read into the Inquisition, into King Olaf I, and into the church’s role in the Holocaust before you ask for sympathy. I believe in your parlance, this is attending to the beam in your own eye before the mote in your brother’s.

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

    They refused to do their civic duty. The Jews were able to do this by offering up prayers to the own God for the well-being of the Empire. The Christians adamantly insisted they were not Jews and that they would not compromise in this fashion. Apparently they missed the bit about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

    The triumph of Christianity came by bloodshed and duress, not by the light of reason. I cannot see why such a triumph would be worth celebrating.

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

    I think you are a bit confused. Julian the Philosopher was renowned for his virtue and strict morals. I don’t think I know of any instance of any philosopher advocating infanticide. Most philosophers supported the Republican ideals of democracy. As far as sexual inclination, King James of the famous Bible translation had a preference for young men himself, and that has no bearing on his achievements.

  • William

    Seriously, he apparently didn’t read his Christian histories too closely. Ever heard the expression, “There are no crimes for those who have Christ”? I’m just going to say it, many early Christians were no better than domestic terrorists. In ancient times they did not have Guantanamo, they just axed you. Also, why were Christians the only religious group being thrown to lions? Seriously, when Germans or Celts became citizens and kept their tribal gods they weren’t thrown to lions. Jews weren’t getting thrown to lions. So this idea that the Romans persecuted Christians simply because they chose to worship another god does not hold up to reason.

    Plus, you can’t act like the absolutist, exclusivist religion was somehow the bastion of tolerance here. Christians ran around tearing down temples to other peoples’ gods, lynching pagan priests, and then they want to cry “persecution” and “intolerance” when they get attacked back? Bull. Finally, there’s one simple test: look at religious diversity in the pagan Roman Republic/Empire. It was pretty widespread, with tons of different cults and religions allowed freedom to worship. Look at religious diversity when Christianity gained power. Oh wait, you can’t because Christianity destroyed all opposing viewpoints.

    This is why I don’t buy that it was power that corrupted Christianity. Power didn’t corrupt Roman paganism into destroying all opposing viewpoints and it is clear that many Christian groups were intolerant long before they gained power. Anyway, thanks for standing up and saying something Star, you’ve done/are doing great.

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

    Thanks. Well, I have to disagree with you a bit there. I think Pagan priests were corruptible, I think some did take bribes and I think some were charlatans. Generally in the area of divination and augury. Pagans are humans, humans are fallible. That said, it does seem that the extent of corruption in Pagan religions was in the purchase of omens, not in power over others.

  • William

    That was more what I was referring to, general corruption of course happened. I was more referring to the fallacious argument you always here that it wasn’t Christianity that was intolerant, it was just the power that Christianity got that made it intolerant. That falls apart when you look at pagan power in Rome and the fact that they didn’t use that power to destroy all other viewpoints. I’d rather have the problems of Augurs taking bribes than the problem of priests banning me from having religious freedom.

  • Kris

    I’m pretty sure those countries are NOT Pagan, nice try (sarcasm intended) mixing apples and oranges

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    @33985cd4f41e365813d809405f3d6acf:disqus –
    This is a general and (perhaps) excusable flaw in people who consider themselves historians, that they are focused on the past to the exclusion of the present: or more specifically, focused on their period of interest to the exclusion of all else.

    This Christian persecution you cite happened nearly two millennia ago. That’s roughly one-third the full expanse of human (written) history. And you’re still holding a grudge.

    Star, same thing. The massive early-Christian backlash against the eclectic Roman Pagans was sixteen centuries ago. The more-recent inquisitions — so far as I know — were mostly focused on Christian heretics: the Albigensians and the Protestants were the groups against whom the most bloody purges took place. In Spain, the state extended the inquisitions as a weapon to finish the expulsion of the Moors (Musselmen == early Muslims). All of those purges engendered a lot of “collateral damage,” which included odd Christian sects, Jews, whatever Pagans remained, alleged witches and sorcerers, and often just ordinary folks who were rounded up and burned with the rest. The Salem witch trials, according to the history promulgated by the Witch Museum in Salem, were part of a land-grab, and “witchcraft” was little more than a convenient legal loophole. All of those ended four centuries ago.

    And we gripe about Jews and Palestinians holding grudges. Right.

    Neither ecumenism nor interfaith dialogue can take place in the past.

    So Mike, if you truly have no interest in contemporary Paganism, you really shouldn’t comment on it. Particularly if you are so uninterested that you can’t be bothered to do anything more than spread demeaning “humor.” I mean, “French-kissing an oak tree?” I could make all kinds of lewd and “humorous” comments about the Bride of Christ that would be equally offensive to Christians. The difference is, I have some basic grasp of what constitutes bad taste in “humor,” and I’m not going to go there.

    A little courtesy, please.

    Which is what this really comes down to. It isn’t about the Christian suppression under Diocletian, nor is it about the papal inquisitions. It’s about practicing a higher level of civility than we find on Fox News.

    Mike, you don’t have to respect Pagan paths in your own mind, but if you want to speak on an interfaith site, you need to observe some civility. That requires taking enough interest in contemporary Paganism to understand that there are people who do take it seriously. If you are arrogant enough to simply think they are deluded fools, that’s your prerogative. Understand there are plenty of atheists and — yes — Pagans out here who think exactly the same of your beliefs.

    There are some formidably educated Pagans on this site who have a deep knowledge of the “other side” of the historical period you purport to be interested in. You have an opportunity to learn from them.

  • Donna

    I would like to first point out that Christians are not the only ones being persecuted in the modern world.  2011 has seen executions for sorcery and witchcraft in Saudi Arabia, literal witch hunts in Africa, and Shamans being murdered in Peru, to name a few. 

    The thing is, there will never be a time when one religion triumphs over all others, we have always and will always live in a spiritually and religiously diverse world.  Every time we turn on each other because of religion it flies in the face of the lessons history has to teach us.  I think it is fabulous that Christianity survived two thousand years (give or take) in spite of the fact that many first century Christians were martyred (whatever the politics involved, though I do think the comparison to the Holocaust in the above comment was in terrible taste) and early church leaders encouraged their flocks not to marry or have children because the end was surely near (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_marriage).  However, I think the lesson modern Christians should take away when looking at the perils the early Christians faced from their oppressors isn’t “Ha! we win so poo-poo on you!”, but rather “how NOT to behave when you’re in the religious majority”.  Because if we are to draw parallels between ancient society and modern society, modern Christians have the role in society that the ancient Romans held.  Modern Christians have the same power and the same opportunity to choose how to use it, and all too often they make the same mistakes. 

    Having read your article, I question the accuracy of your research, and really didn’t hear much of the humor you claim to have infused into your writing.  I don’t think that has anything to do with cultural differences.  I think you’re choosing your sources to tell the story you would like to hear, and in the process turning away from the most valuable lessons of history and the most basic message of nearly all of the holidays celebrated this time of year:  Peace on Earth, good will toward men.  Come together all, and rejoice in the Light. 

  • William

    Yes, and Christian judges using a Pagan’s faith as a reason to take custody of their children, Christian bosses firing Pagan employees, Christian airline workers harassing Pagan customers, Christian protesters disrupting Pagan events, etc. are going on in the present. The problem is that the intolerant stream in Christianity isn’t isolated to the past, we still have to deal with it today. And Christian revision of history is one of the tools used to hold up these institutions of prejudice and bigotry. Yeah, we aren’t being funnel-fed molten metal these days but it’s still a problem. So it isn’t just a case of holding some arcane, ancient grudge but keeping mindful of the actions of the past so we do not repeat the same mistakes and let ourselves be suppressed yet again.

  • Donna

    Actually, I’d like to change “nearly all of the holidays celebrated this time of year” to simply “a common theme this time of year”.  I don’t want to try to speak for everyone. 

    I will say that when my family celebrates the Solstice and Christmas this week, those themes will be prevalent, whether we’re burning a Yule log, welcoming back the newborn Sun, making and giving gifts to, or singing Christmas carols with friends and family while we eagerly await Santa and his magic reindeer.

  • http://www.tigerseyetemple.org Dan Miller

    I’m glad that Mr. Bird has such a fine grasp on “real history” and giving us poor pagans a “history lesson”. You know Mike, that last nail is always the hardest to pound in yourself. Just saying….

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    No argument, William. But those are things happening NOW, not four or sixteen or twenty centuries ago.

    Just as Christians are being beaten up, harassed, fired, deprived of children, etc., in other places where Christians are in the minority. Or all the places in the world where the issue has nothing to do with Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Pagans, but instead is between Hindus and Buddhists. Or Communists and Buddhists (e.g. Tibet). Or between the Zulus and Tutsis.

    I don’t think it has squat to do with religion, personally.

  • Sisterlisa

    Star, I follow Christ and appreciate your response and I stand with you. To know Christ is to see the world through his lens of grace and love. He wasn’t seeking to be at war with pagans.He was seeking to bring peace to earth. Please know that this man’s view is not the view of all Christians. I think we can all clearly see the horrid violence of some Christians and some pagans in the past, but we need to live in the present and stop repeating the violence of those misguided ancestors. Sir, if we, as Christians, continue to live how our ancestors did we will soon see another religious war and that is not the way of Christ. Christmas, for us, should be about bringing peace and good will to all mankind. Star, I value you and praise your courage to speak up for your pagan sisters and brothers.

  • Sam Webster, m.div PhD(c)

    Sorry Dr. Bird, but your history is deeply flawed. Go back to the original data and discover how few were those so oppressed. If you want to make your argument use numbers and state the crimes for which the Christians were punished. From today’s perspective they look a lot more like the Taliban than peaceful, law abiding citizens. And they wanted to be martyrs. Their judges begged them to renounce their obstinacy. You see, some of us have degrees and have read history too. I for one, don’t see history as you read it. So, as for me and my house, we will serve the Gods.

  • William

    “No argument, William. But those are things happening NOW, not four or sixteen or twenty centuries ago.”

    And those things happening now are bolstered by revisionist history, which is why what happened in the past is relevant to those matters. That is my point. 

    When people give purely religious reasons for their bigotry I think it’s irresponsible to act like religious groups can just ignore that. If all of the “good Christians” out there actually stood up and actively let it be known that they aren’t going to tolerate that representation of their religion, it just might help the situation. But instead we equivocate about how Christianity is innocent and only individuals are to blame. We spend so much time trying to give the “good Christians” a pass that we ignore the tacit approval given by many Christians’ inaction or ignorance of the situation.

    When white supremacists try to represent my religious group, I say something about it. Because even though there isn’t anything in my religion to support white supremacy, they are still giving religious reasons for their ideas and actions. By ignoring it and just saying, “Well I’M not like that, so it has nothing to with me or my religion” I’m basically letting them get away with that representation and I’m not about to do that.

  • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com/ Vermillion

    This is a wonderful rebuttal Star. Thank you.

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    Good point, and no argument there either, William. All history is revisionist — the winners write the histories — so it is very important to make sure the suppressed voices are heard, if only a thousand years later. I agree with you on that.

    Nor any argument with the proposition that Mr. Bird is engaged in revisionist history, and has deserved a drubbing over his article. IMO, he has come off like the religious equivalent of a racist, who first offends an entire roomful of other-race people, then tries to “lighten the mood” by telling a demeaning racist joke. Ha-ha. He simply doesn’t get it, and certainly deserves to get an earful. Whether it will teach him anything is out of our hands, but it needs to be said. No argument.

    My only point is that what happened in the past is in the past, and if there is any peace to be had, it doesn’t lie in the past, but in the present. And it starts with civility.

  • Jack Heron

    Just to throw something in here that I’ve been thinking about after P Sufenas Virius Lupus’ recent post on a similar subject – to what extent are we as either Christians or Pagans (or whatever else you might be, reading this) required to assume responsibility or a speaking role for those who shared many of our beliefs in past times? 

    Clearly there’s shared identity there, and the beliefs of those past people that we share influenced their actions and may influence the actions of their spiritual descendants today. And Christians certainly have benefited from the privileges gained in Rome at the expense of Pagans.

    But equally, none of us were alive in ancient Rome – none of us did anything to anyone then. Is it right to drag these up as personal rather than historical issues? And further, who today is the heir of the early Church? All Christians? What about eastern Christians who may never have had much contact with Rome and who parted company very early on? The Catholic Church, perhaps? But it didn’t exist in any form we might recognise back then – the Pope was one bishop among many. Does a modern Pagan who prays to Jove have to take responsibility for what Claudius did as Pontifex Maximus? What about the less savoury parts of some Pagan religions centuries ago? If human sacrifices really were used by a set of priests (I don’t know enough about that particular question to choose an example I’m sure of), does that forever tar the gods they prayed to with the name of murderer?
    But then back on the first hand, there is what William said in his comments that our view of history alters our actions today – if we don’t thrash out these issues in public debate, they might come back to haunt us in the courtroom. Perhaps we need to face up to our unpleasant histories in order to free ourselves from them.

  • William

    You are totally right. It is all in the past and we can’t treat actions of past Christians on a one for one basis with individual Christians today. I’m down with civility, too, believe it or not I just don’t have much patience with the kind of ignorance displayed by this guy.

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    William, just for the record, I don’t happen to think Christianity is innocent, and that only “bad Christians” are guilty. I have many reasons for being Pagan, but among those is an understanding of how Christianity is “bent” in a particular way that encourages violence and division even as it is preaching peace and unity. I think it was originally an honest effort to overcome this fundamental human hypocrisy. I think that effort failed, pretty much completely, and long before Constantine got hold of it.

  • William

    “Is it right to drag these up as personal rather than historical issues?”

    I don’t think that’s right, no. But when history is used in a bludgeoning fashion as it is by Mr. Bird, those issues should be confronted.

    “And further, who today is the heir of the early Church? All Christians?”

    In a general sense I don’t think we can really say. However, all Western Christians (and Eastern Orthodox) today enjoy their place of privilege and socio-cultural dominance due to the reprehensible actions of their forebears. I don’t hold them accountable for the specific actions of historical Christians, but I do hold them accountable for their refusal to recognize and own up to the aforementioned privilege and dominance.  That is a “crime” perpetrated in the here and now.  

  • William

    Sounds about right. :-)

  • Just Sayin’

    Why do you censor posts on your blog?

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

    I think you’re more in need of rereading history here. Of course, it’s been in the interest of Christians for the last two thousand years to present a constant narrative of persecution. A narrative that you’ve wholeheartedly bought into. Any honest historian will tell you the the reality of the religious environment of the ancient Mediterranean world was far more complex. ‘The evil, nasty pagans killed the poor, good Christians’ is a child’s view of history and belongs in Sunday school and not a grown up discussion of these things. The facts are that there is more than enough evidence to suggest that many early Christians welcomed martyrdom and Tertullian himself mentions Christians who “goaded, chided, belittled and insulted the crowds until they demanded their death”. It’s telling how quick you were to distance Christianity from that kind of thing in your comment. Also, as your post and the comments on it are about early Christianity and ancient Paganism, what’s going on with Christian minorities elsewhere in the world currently is irrelevant. Also, in none of the places you mentioned are Christians being persecuted by Pagans. Also, it’s very annoying for you to turn to the plight of those persecuted modern Christians when you exist in such a state of privilege.
    Lastly, this Jew is going to tell you, don’t bring the Shoah into this. The Holocaust was the culmination of two thousand years of Christian hatred of Jews (no matter how hard modern Christians try to distance themselves from it) and you have some nerve to try to appropriate suffering caused by the group of which you are a part to gain sympathy for the pseudo-history you’re trying to sell about ancient Christianity.

  • kenneth

    I had to put in my own two cents over there. I too believe that we ought not to let our own practice become defined by anger at these fools. On the other hand, since they worship nothing more than power, they read passivity as weakness, and that breeds contempt.  The balance I try to strike is do do my own thing and not go looking for a pointless fight with them. At the same time, I won’t shy when called out. :

    “Two facts reveal that Christianity has NOT triumphed over paganism. First, the raging insecurity of Christians like Mr. Bird are testament to the fact that they have conquered nothing. Like most Evangelicals these days, his words carry a tone of defensiveness. Of desperation. Of gratuitous mockery and bravado they hope we will mistake for true confidence. 

    Real victors don’t need to constantly remind people of their status. It speaks for itself. You don’t see infectious disease doctors crowing in journals about the triumph of germ theory over “miasmas” as the cause of infection. They simply don’t need to. You don’t see molecular biologists beating the drum about how the discoverers of DNA as the genetic code stomped those who advocated proteins as the carrier of inheritance. You don’t hear any AIDS experts yelling “Boo-Ya!” at the crackpots who still insist HIV is not the cause.  It wouldn’t be worth their time. The possessors of settled truth have a quiet confidence. 

    Evangelicals and similar Christians are more akin to the communists of the mid 1980s.  The more the world could see that their movement was a hollow crumbling stump, the louder they yelled they were winning and were history’s final and unchallengable product.  All of us who have ever seen the Wizard of Oz remember this phenomenon. Even as the Wizard was exposed as a man with a special effects machine, his voice rose in anger and indignation. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” (aka the lie).

    It’s too late, Mr. Bird. The culture at large has seen the man behind the curtain in the charade of literalist Christianity.  The assertion that Christianity has vanquished paganism, and that Christ was born on Dec. 25 is a bald-faced lie. We know it’s a lie, and you know that we know it’s a lie. Your own holy book lends no support to the idea of a mid-winter Nativity, and is more suggestive of early to mid September. You ought to just drop the charade. It may impress your own loyalist, but not anyone who can read and reason for themselves.

    Second, our continued existence as pagans gives the lie to your assertion of a complete and final Christian triumph. Your movement has spent 15 centuries of ceaseless effort trying to eradicate paganism. You have had at your disposal the full military and political might of every Western government and empire in that time. You have had, and taken, the latitude to use bribery, torture and genocide on a massive scale to achieve your ends. 

    All that advantage, and you failed, utterly. Not only is paganism still here, it is growing and attaining a critical mass and a mainstream status that is has not had since the 5th Century, at least. More than that, your own religious leaders are clearly in a panic over this. The Pope and many other high profile Christian leaders openly speak of America and Europe as missionary grounds these days. That’s a curious disconnect. On the one hand, you insist that our movement is dead and that we are all just a tiny handful of deluded Ren-Faire rejects and goth kids. At the same time, you’re marshalling massive resources to try once again to eradicate us and our influence in the culture. You’ve got 1500 plus years of a perfect track record of failure staring you in the face, but we pagans and our gods DO admire persistence. You’ll get ‘em next year! Go Team X-Mas!”

  • William

    Damn dude, awesome post. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Mike Bird

    Star, you don’t know what the smurf you’re talking about! You’re telling me that Christian martyrs got what they deserved for not doing their civic duty and they were disturbers of the peace who were justly punished. And this is the hallmark of a period of religious tolerance. Oh, BTW, Jews were persecuted by pagan authorities and attacked by pagan crowds, go read Josephus. For someone who claims to be informed of paganism your ignorance is truly amazing.

  • Hrugnir

    The point of “Render unto Caesar” story is in the continued quote: We render unto GOD what is his, which is ALL worship, ALL praise and ALL of ourselves. We render metal objects to Caesar. Not our allegiance or worship.

  • http://www.myspace.com/kadynastar Khryseis_Astra

    And lest anyone forget, the Christians did far worse when they came to power. The only reason Christianity is the majority religion today is due to their violence, destruction, desecration and theft of earlier Pagan cultures and the indoctrination of the children left behind. Most of the ancient world did not come to Christianity of their own free will. http://www.ysee.gr/index-eng.php?type=english&f=lovestories

    And so far as the tired old “Pagans threw the Christians to the lions!” meme, criminals of ANY religious persuasion could wind up in the arena. It wasn’t done as a form of religious persecution.

    At any rate, in the modern world, it’s still Christians doing most of the persecuting of those who will not follow their belief systems, and crying persecution anytime they themselves are not given favoritism or preferential treatment. The so-called “War on Christmas” is just one example of this ridiculousness…

  • DragonBreath

    Well said Star; my grand mother used to say it this way “Sweep in front of your door before you sweep in front of someone else s”.

  • cipher

    In the 2nd Century BCE, the Makkabaoi were threatened by the Seleucid Empire to conform or die. Their oppressors desecrated and destroyed their most holy Temple.

    Actually, that was the spin placed upon it by rabbis during the Talmudic period, centuries later. The Maccabees were, in fact, the rural fundamentalists of their day, who had a huge problem with the urbane, educated, increasingly Hellenized Jews. They were Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with weapons.

    And, after they decimated the opposition and swept into power, establishing the Hasmonean dynasty, they became Hellenized themselves. The whole thing is a lie.

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

    No Mike, I said they were actively seeking martyrdom and not meekly minding their own business. Debate me honestly without the hysterics, please.

    Josephus wrote about the political struggle over Jerusalem. It wasn’t a holy war. It wasn’t religiously motivated. Rome was known for allowing cultural diversity to flourish in it’s provinces, but it did not tolerate insurrection. Rome didn’t conquer Gaul for religious reasons, but when the Druids fought against them, they cut down the sacred groves. They didn’t have any religious objection to the groves. It wasn’t the order of anyone acting as a priest and by divine order, but a military strategy. Just as the Iraq war is about oil, and not about Islam.

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

    Well, that’s interesting, because in that vein that can be interpreted to mean that Christians place their religion before their civic duty, and therefore cannot be trusted to obey the laws of the land they live in.

  • Mike Bird

    Okay, debate is on. I’ve expounded the sources over at my blog which contradicts very clearly what you say.  I know the sources, you don’t. Christians were not, with only a few exceptions, actively seeking martyrdom.  The vast majority were minding their own business until they were denounced by neighbors, family, and enemies as Christians. BTW, do you really think that they deserved to ripped apart by wild beast for refusing to be pagans? Men and women, the elderly and children? 

  • Hrugnir

    Well, that could very well be the case, if it wasn’t that Christians are told to respect, serve and love even their enemies. The point is that we do not obey authorities besides God in order to do that. Our allegiance lies with the only King of the World, Jesus Christ. And he does not change. 

    If the law tells us to persecute our neighbours (say, ’30s Germany), we are told not to, like the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer did not. Because our morality or responsibilities are not totally relative to whatever the ruling powers of our area happens to believe is good at the time. But despite this, we are called to serve and love those around us whenever it does not go AGAINST our love for God and neighbour. And that means that we follow the law in almost all situations, and with our hearts, not just as “duty”.

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

    Then explain the Inquisition. The actions of King Olaf I. The actions of the Christian Roman Empire against Pagans, Jews and Muslims. The Crusades.

    It seems to me that Christians persecuting neighbors has little or nothing to do with the law of the land, except when it serves as a convenient excuse.

  • William

    Actually, the vast majority of early Christians were busy persecuting each other worse than the Empire was. So no, they weren’t just peacenik hippies minding their own business.

  • B_R_Deadite99

    Well said. It’s amazing that today’s Christians are still the same; either they have the right to oppress others and lord their holiness over everyone else, or they’re being “persecuted”. But, the apple never rots far from the garbage heap…

  • http://historybooksreview.blogspot.com/ Historyscientist

    Can I make an observation on the historical record as an atheist?  History is always written with an angle and the sources are full of bias, particularly when it comes to matters of religion.  But trying to give a roughly fair picture I would say that when it comes to religion and violence,  Christian on Christian conflict is really in a class of its own.  Christians started killing one another as soon as they had the power to do so and prosecuted those disputes with the most diligence.  The Roman field army was deployed against the Donatists in North Africa for example.  

    The Pagans’ persecution of the Christians was very mild indeed, almost to the point of negligence.  I don’t think they ever really grasped what they were dealing with.  In return, with the sole exception of Charlemagne’s bloodthirsty campaign against the pagan Saxons, Christians rarely used extreme coercion to spread their faith to non-believers.  

    In my personal opinion the Pagans’ reputation had a lucky escape with the early death of Julian the Apostate.  There is not much that he actually did that you can fault, but his plans for paganism might well have led to it becoming centralised and authoritarian.  I don’t think Julian himself would have done so, but that would have given the Pagans the capability to behave badly.  Humans of any religion or no religion at all rarely pass up on those opportunities.

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

    Olaf I? Extreme coercion as in death? Or extreme coercion as in destroying culture and withholding rights? Because the latter exists today, as any Hindu can tell you.

    Julian was a NeoPlatonist and his religious views were not those of the general Pagan population. However, he sponsored many projects which were not NeoPlatonic, and seemed to have no plans for creating a central authority. He did reinstate some of the state cult functions, but really his only controversial move was forbidding Christians to teach Pagan philosophy, which was his way of pointing out hypocrisy. I think Julian was one of the few in power who saw the real danger in Christianity, which is why he used legislation and not force against them.

  • http://historybooksreview.blogspot.com/ Historyscientist

    I was mainly responding to Dr Bird trotting out the idea that the early Christians suffered persecution and claiming it as history.  The reality is that Pagans and Christians rarely killed one another, while Christians regularly killed each other.  Obviously there was some violence.

    The point about Julian not being a regular pagan is really important.  As you will know he was brought up as a Christian and understood that religion extremely well.  I think that is why his ant-Christian policies would have had such a good chance of working.  We don’t know how this would have worked out and one thing Julian continually did was surprise everyone so there is no way of predicting what he would have come up with.  But if he tried to replicate Christian organisation too closely he could have created something nearly as bad as the Church.