What’s Patheos? Where did it come from?

Not too long ago, I did a radio show and the host struggled with the name of Patheos, “how do you pronounce, it; what does it mean? He asked.”

It’s PATH-eeohs. It’s a portmanteau: PATH and THEOS — think of it as Path-to-God. And the company’s origins make for very interesting reading in the Denver Westward News:

In 1989, U.S. Marine Leo Brunnick was in the jungle, training a group of Thai Royal Marines. He gestured to the top of a hill and told the Thais to run up there. It was the best position — easy to defend and difficult to invade — and a simple military strategy.

Except it wasn’t: The Thai soldiers refused to go up the hill with ammunition and guns because it was a sacred site. And sacred wasn’t something you messed with in a country where, on Bangkok’s sleek, elevated transit system, signs ask passengers to offer their seats to the pregnant, to the elderly and to monks.

When Brunnick least expected it, religion popped up. [. . .]

After getting out of the Marines in 1991, Brunnick got into the tech business. At one point he was working with Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu engineers in Hyderabad, India, on a project. The engineers spoke the same language, and all got along until one brought up his daughter’s upcoming marriage; the ensuing discussion opened up so many black holes about marriage and gender issues that they decided to stay away from any more talk about religion.

“There are a lot of people who would like to believe that here we are in the 2010s — modern world, Internet, yadda yadda — and can we just get past all this ancient religion muck,” Brunnick says. “But the world is so influenced by its religious traditions that we must have a better understanding of what they are and how they drive how people think and act.”

It’s a longish but really well-done and thorough piece — it even gets into our development efforts — and I think most will find it very informative, especially if you’re interested in that aspect of new media.

This is sort of a nice bookend of attention for Patheos; at the start of the year Newsweek included us in its 21 Ways to be Smarter feature (under “Smarter Religion”), and now the year closes with this. Very cool.

Since we’re on the subject, it’s a nice chance for me to say I’ve never worked with a better group of people than the folks at Patheos. Of course, the Headquarters are in Colorado, I’m in New York, others are in Atlanta and elsewhere; it could be the hermit in me that enjoys working with people from a distance, but jokes aside, this is a very thoughtful gang — always professional and optimistic; always ready to listen or to chase down an idea for feasibility, and never dismissive.

They’re all also whip-smart people and I’m still not sure why this feral peasant gets to play with them, but I don’t ask!

Anyway, from Leo, to the content managers, to the administrators, to the IT-folk and designers — everyone is ridiculously hard-working, focused and yet, somehow, always pleasant, always helpful and responsive. I think that’s because everyone on board is doing what they love and — perhaps more importantly — everyone functions within ethical and philosophical frameworks that they live out seriously. Everyone involved with Patheos understands that we all have to live with the world as it is, full of fellow humans holding a variety of beliefs, and entitled to respect for them. And since we each know who we are and are secure in what we believe, the respect remains, even when perspectives differ.

All of that is to the credit of people like Tim Dalrymple, who is an inspiring, non-stop thinker/builder/writer and Star Foster, who is something of a pink-haired, multi-tasking wonder-woman, and really everyone attached to Patheos.

But it’s also, of course, to Leo’s credit. If it’s true, as my Mother-in-Law says, that “the fish stinks from the head down,” it is equally true — as my Auntie Lillie used to say — that “the good whiskey pours from the strongest cask.”

And Auntie Lillie, of course, would know.

If you haven’t taken a look at the Catholic portal in a while, you should catch up. More new stuff on the way, and a new design will show up soon, too!

Patheos now publishing ebooks

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Oregon Catholic

    I would like to see more interfaith dialog here among the columnists and bloggers (not in the comboxes which tend to get nasty). There isn’t much crossover between the various portals and when I look around I see misconceptions about Catholicism and Christianity that doesn’t get clarified.

    [I'd like to see that too. Unfortunately I only have so much time in a day, and other things that I must attend to besides the blog and various comboxes. I'm sure some of the other blogs will say they see misconceptions about their traditions or philosophies, too, on other blogs...we're all really busy. I guess it's up to the readers to get that sort of thing going! ;-) admin]

  • Carl

    I think that this site has come a long way with the additions made. by the way, I saw snippets of Archbishop Dolan opening speech as the new president of the USCCB and would love to see the whole thing. Do you have a link anywhere to the actual video. I found a link to the text..


  • David F

    I worry about the inherent indifferentism in treating all religions, at least superficially, as equivalent paths to God. Further while I understand the missionary value of being on Patheos or similar places, as a convert, I’m much less interested in the opinions of religious thinkers from other religions. That’s in my rear-view mirror. So I’ll go the Patheos for Catholic content but unless there’s an exceptional reason why should other religions interest me- outside of an desire to promote conversion? Patheos could be a road out of the Church as easily as it is a road into it.

  • Bill M.

    Interesting about the portmanteau. I was always under the impression it was a combination of pathos (feeling) + theos — patheos, a feeling for God — but this works, too!

  • Sally Thomas

    Bill M., I’m glad it’s not just me. I invariably read the name as “Pathos, Misspelled.” Which isn’t a reflection on the site, just what my eye and brain make of the name.

  • amdg

    > think of it as Path-to-God.
    Then, Patheos, for a Catholic, can only be Christ, who formally declared to be “the way and the truth and the life”.
    And then it is impossible to understand a way to God that is shared with pagans, atheists and muslims. I do not think he can be pleased.
    Kyrie eleison.

    [I wouldn't presume to know the mind of God. I can only go my instincts and scripture, and Jesus Christ appeared to acknowledge that we must live in the world trying to understand those who share it with us, at least given his propensity to eat with sinners and talk with Samaritans and women. -admin]