Caught In Another Faith’s Crisis

Caught In Another Faith’s Crisis April 5, 2012

The United States of America is a secular, pluralistic, nation that is home to hundreds of distinct faiths, philosophies, and traditions living, working, and playing side-by-side. Our diversity has often been touted as one of our great strengths, that we don’t succumb to endless internal wars, chaos, and strife, that the American experiment largely “works.” That said, no matter how “pagan” our democracy, our republic, is, we can’t but acknowledge that Christianity has been a driving force in our collective history, and in the history of Western civilization as a whole. Christian colonizers pushed out indigenous peoples and beliefs, and tried to build a new Jerusalem, a “city upon a hill.” However, partially due to the strife between Christian denominations, our nation on its founding erected “a wall of separation” between (Christian) church and state, and our history has experienced waves of disestablishment and religious “awakenings” ever since.

Today, despite the softening Christian character of our nation, our politics and culture are dominated by a Christian narrative (more than 3/4 of Americans identify as Christian), with almost mandatory public shows of Christian piety from the majority of our leaders.

In the cover story of this week’s Newsweek, Andrew Sullivan says that Christianity itself is in crisis, and that the “ability to be faithful in a religious space and reasonable in a political one has atrophied before our eyes.”

“All of which is to say something so obvious it is almost taboo: Christianity itself is in crisis. It seems no accident to me that so many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial—or that most Catholics, even regular churchgoers, have tuned out the hierarchy in embarrassment or disgust. Given this crisis, it is no surprise that the fastest-growing segment of belief among the young is atheism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward “spirituality,” co-opting or adapting the practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Catholics in an inquisitive spiritual desert. The thirst for God is still there. How could it not be, when the profoundest human questions—Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote blue speck of a planet? What happens to us after death?—remain as pressing and mysterious as they’ve always been? That’s why polls show a huge majority of Americans still believing in a Higher Power. But the need for new questioning—of Christian institutions as well as ideas and priorities—is as real as the crisis is deep.”

In a live-chat discussing the story, Sullivan explicitly links the crisis of our current political dysfunction with the crisis of Christianity.

I do not think the crisis of our politics can be resolved without addressing the crisis of American Christianity. Because the corruption of Christianity has corrupted American public life and we must be rid of it to move forward. Hence my coinage of the term Christianist. I use it out of respect for real Christianity, as much as concern about its current partisan politicization.”

Reading the article, and the live-chat, the question came to me: what about us? What about the 22% or so of Americans who aren’t Christian? The “others” and “nones” on those surveys. How do we live in a society where the dominant faith is experiencing a crisis? How do we make our voices heard in a landscape that has devolved into “Democrat Jesus” vs. “Republican Jesus,” where all moral arguments are couched in the language of Christianity?

Where once President Franklin D. Roosevelt might utter the now-unthinkable phrase  “the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance,” today the spirit of that epithet may as well be launched at Pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, and other faiths that are seen as odd, suspect, or foreign. Meanwhile, Christianity itself grows ever-more polarized and the ranks of those who claim no religion (“nones”) swell to over %15 of the population. The “pagan” answer to this problem might be a better pluralism, embracing that we are entering a new age, and provide more seats at the table for a variety of moral and religious perspectives. To remember a world where embracing many gods wasn’t seen as a weakness, but a strength.

Sadly, most Christians (right and left) see the answer to this crisis as a return to “true” Christianity (whatever that means to them). Sullivan writes the same prescription that hundreds, if not thousands, of Christ-following “doctors” have written before.

“This doesn’t imply, as some claim, the privatization of faith, or its relegation to a subordinate sphere. There are times when great injustices—slavery, imperialism, totalitarianism, segregation—require spiritual mobilization and public witness. But from Gandhi to King, the greatest examples of these movements renounce power as well. They embrace nonviolence as a moral example, and that paradox changes the world more than politics or violence ever can or will. When politics is necessary, as it is, the kind of Christianity I am describing seeks always to translate religious truths into reasoned, secular arguments that can appeal to those of other faiths and none at all. But it also means, at times, renouncing Caesar in favor of the Christ to whom Jefferson, Francis, my grandmother, and countless generations of believers have selflessly devoted themselves.”

I’m truly sympathetic to the version/vision of Christianity Sullivan describes, but no matter how eloquent the words, or how in tune with my personal morality it may be, it still comes down to fixing a problem by doing Christianity “better” (or “purer” if you prefer) in some fashion. The problem with this is the triumphalist thread that runs through the roots of all exclusionary monotheisms. Sullivan himself inadvertently touches that root when he approvingly quotes Catholic monk Thomas Merton (from the “New Seeds of Contemplation”), saying his words are “at the kernel of what I believe is the struggle we are all involved with.”

“Strong hate, the hate that takes joy in hating, is strong because it does not believe itself to be unworthy and alone. It feels the support of a justifying God, of an idol of war, an avenging and destroying spirit. From such blood-drinking gods the human race was once liberated, with great toil and terrible sorrow, by the death of a God Who delivered Himself to the Cross and suffered pathological cruelty of His own creatures out of pity for them. In conquering death He opened their eyes to the reality of a love which asks no questions about worthiness, a love which overcomes hatred and destroys death.

But men have now come to reject this divine revelation of pardons and they are consequently returning to the old war gods, the gods that insatiably drink blood and eat the flesh of men. It is easier to serve the hate-gods because they thrive on the worship of collective fanaticism. To serve the hate-gods, one has only to be blinded by collective passion. To serve the God of Love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbor.”

Even at its most poetic, its most refined, the ongoing slur within Christianity of gods that are not their God must always continue. I say that with sadness, because I greatly admire Merton, but even he was not immune to the notion that his faith was an evolutionary and moral step forward in religion. The idea that Christianity can be apolitical, except in times of great injustice, is a kind of folly as there will always be those who interpret the times as times of great injustice. For some, there will always be an “injustice” so long as other moral codes, other gods, dare to hold sway, or even stand their ground. When Sullivan endorses New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s new book (“Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics”), I can only remember that Douthat is also preoccupied with fighting “Dan Brown’s America” (because, you know, Paganism) and is very, very concerned about Hollywood’s rampant pantheism.

My greatest concern within this crisis is how we tiny communities and groups, we of the 22%, weather the contractions of a post-Christian world being born. So long as our voices, our solutions, are ignored, I fear that we’ll always return to a status quo of Christianity competing with itself in a paper-thin American secularism, thinking its theological and political poles represent diversity of opinion and thought. Only a future of coexistence, not Christian dominance, is tenable for those of us who fall outside that faith’s borders. As the generational plate tectonics shift, as the anxieties of those in power grow, we need more who are willing to reach out their hands, to avoid the worst realities of such shifts. Make no mistake, we are caught in another faith’s crisis, and how that faith treats the “others” and the “nones” will reveal the tenor of our republic for generations to come.

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77 responses to “Caught In Another Faith’s Crisis”

  1. Have you or anyone else sent this to Sullivan?  Whenever I e-mail him about paganism it’s ignored.  It tries not to be hateful but doesn’t see what he promotes is still just that; hate.  I doubt that he’ll open his eyes but it never hurts to try.

  2. Sullivan has loads to recommend him, but he is eminently privileged in that he simply does not feel the need to engage with opinions he deems unworthy. Ta-Nehisi Coates, over at the Atlantic, is the only blogger I’ve ever seen properly take Sullivan to task for this (regarding Ron Paul’s racist newsletters). 

  3. Yea I vaguely remember that exchange.  Sullivan’s bright and has a lot going for him, but with respect to his religious outlook he’s no better than those he criticizes in the Catholic Church IMO in terms of being close-minded.  

  4. “we are caught in another faith’s crisis”
    This sums up so much of my own problem with the current political and cultural landscape. 

  5. Christianity has been on a downward slide since the Enlightenment and its speed of decline is accelerating.  Those who feel their power – and more importantly, their identity – threatened are responding as creatures who feel threatened usually do:  by rising up and making a lot of noise.

    As Pagans, it’s not our job to challenge every instance of Christian privilege in this country or to demand a seat at every table – though when those seats are available we should take them. 

    It’s our job to mature and grow as a religion (or religions, if you prefer) so that as ever-increasing numbers of Americans find they no longer belong in Christianity, those who feel the call to a goddess as well as a god, to our ancestors and their stories, and to nature and the spirits of nature will have a viable religious home.

  6. I sent the link to him.  Let’s see if he responds or even starts reading this blog.  Would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath.

  7. This is one of the reasons I am involved in interfaith ministry; to remind the dominant monotheisms that there are other voices out there, and that those voices deserve to be heard, acknowledged, and welcomed.  It’s not easy; even the most welcoming of groups come with their own worldviews influenced by priviledge, and it can take a lot of patience to bring attention to that privilege constructively. 

    It seems to be making a difference, slowly but surely.  In the groups I work with we’re starting to see an increased awareness of other faith views such as Paganism, and a willingness to tune messages to become more welcoming and open to the “others” and even the “nones”.  I do think change is possible, even if we do have a long way to go!

  8. Great article, Jason.  Well reasoned and well linked.  I share your concerns for our (all of our) future and struggle with ways to make progress.  This is a step in the right direction.

  9. Perhaps our mission is to build a viable religious home in which all who wander are made welcome.  Do we not share some ancient code of hospitality we can stretch to cover our spiritual space?

  10. Sullivan’s view of everything that isn’t Christianity is painfully clear: 
    “Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from
    organized Christianity and toward “spirituality,” co-opting or adapting the
    practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Catholics in an
    inquisitive spiritual desert.”

    Spiritual desert, eh? At first I thought to myself, “No, it’s a jungle out here,” but came up with something better. It’s an inquisitive spiritual farm. We’re planting, growing and tending new ideas, new crops that will give sustenance and nourishment to any who see fit to leave their houses. Even better, we’ve been feeding them the whole time.

    Great article Jason, thanks.

  11. None of this is new. None.

    “Forget the church, follow Jesus” could have been coined in the Sixties and nobody would have noticed, it would have fit into the zeitgeist so well.

    And that’s just within my lifetime. Left and right in the US have supported duelling Jesuses since before the emergence of the current major parties. As it happens I’ve just finished reading a book on the topic, “Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition,” by Dan McKanan, a Unitarian Universalist prof at Harvard Divinity. I strongly recommend its cheerful effacement of the distinction between “religious” and “secular” radicalism from the early 19th Century to the present. (Starhawk features prominently in the recent stuff; McKanan treats Paganism as a peer of Christianity and Judaism, a religious tradition to which activists turn to embed the spiritual transformation that arises from personal encounters during efforts to effect basic change.) For people my age it is salutary to read in the history of American radicalism the fact that the Sixties invented nothing, just dramatically repackaged what was already present.

    We 22% (and that’s a big number, especially by historical standards) have always lived with a Christianity on the verge of self-dismemberment. The rantings of the Christian Right in all its incarnations have never been about the power and the glory, but about the pain and fear of coping with demands for social change and disestablishment.

    How do we cope? We have models. The Catholics in Protestant 19th Century America. The Jews in the Christian 20th Century. The BGLTs in the Judeo-Christian 21st Century. And we have Pagan models: Lady Liberty League, the Pentacle Headstone Quest, Pagans in prison ministry. Find what works and use it.

    Going back to McKanan’s book, he posits that conversion experiences arise from encountering the Other, eg, a white abolitionist’s first chance to speak with a real live slave. We Pagans are always encountering Others because to so many of our fellow citizens we are the Other. It’s a pain in the ass in the moment but it’s a source of our strength.

  12. I really should finish reading your article before responding, but I just want to point out that Newsweek is pushing xianity to such a degree that I wouldn’t believe them if they said the sun was in the sky at noon.  They have “accidentally” published pictures of the Koran upside down and stuff like that and that was back before 9/11. Religious bigots.

  13. Very well said. I think it would be a good idea if we stopped accepting Christianity as the “given” and stopped allowing ourselves to be defined as “Other”. Christianity is just another religion with its strong points and glaring weaknesses, not some kind of religious gold standard. I’m not a “non-Christian” (except insofar as I’m also a non-Buddhist, non-Rastafarian, and so forth), I’m a Wiccan Priest. 

    Their crisis is not my crisis.

  14. Blood-drinking gods are bad, but blood-drinking humans are a-ok?

    Alrighty then… :/

  15. Thanks for the wonderful post. I have said for years that Christianity is dying and we’re unlucky enough to be around during its death throws. It’s nice to see others agreeing. I’m just afraid its all going to get much worse before it gets better. 

  16. Thank you for a very lucid and well written article, Jason. 

    For myself, I think that Christianity, with American Christians in particular is / are having to come to grips with not having sole, hegemonic power within the cultural landscape of the Nation any longer.   Whether they like it or not, they have to share space, or to use that word “tolerate” the presence of faiths outside of their own.  To those who have believed in their inherent right to dominate the narrative of what America is and what it means to be Christian in America, that can be scary.  Waking up and realizing you aren’t the only show in town anymore, they feel threatened with having to “compete” in the marketplace of ideas about what it means to have a spiritual life.  I think that is why we hear so much from Christians about their being “persecuted” by the secular society.  Of course, it’s hard to be persecuted when you’re the dominant voice!

    It’s no different when American culture was dominated by white males. 
    We changed the society of the decades, even though racism and sexism, or
    whatever ‘isms’ you want to insert still do exist,  America has gotten more diverse and more inclusive. What we can do as Pagans or “other” is to make sure our narratives are out there and available. Having a network of very good pagan blogs, news services, films, podcasts, etc. is absolutely essential to insure that our voices don’t get lost in the din.

  17. Sullivan seems to have forgotten that the Judeo-Christian god was once part of an entire pantheon and that he too…was a war god.

    He also curiously overlooks the fact that Joshua of Nazareth is a blood-drinker and his followers are also cannibals.(oh wait…it doesn’t count if you say it’s wine and bread)

    Further, Sullivan seems purposefully blind to the overall theme of his own mythology which is….the ‘father god’ plans to have its son horrifically sacrificed and that the iconography of the church itself (wearing a crucifix) proclaims that a bloody, dead child of a war god is (for some reason) the perfect symbol “love and peace”

    (too soon?)

  18. I like that.  I could really dig* the Experimental Farm view of Paganism. 

    *Pun regretfully intentional.

  19. If faith-based identity culture wars shift focus away from behavior and onto identity as proof of worth and rightness, the obvious answer is to shift focus back to reading and valuing well examined logic and behavior and how these demonstrate to the world who we are far more reliably than any identity or label.

    After all, mutual courtesy and respect are two of the most important cornerstones of equality but it’s easy to forget that if you’re in the identity group that is supposedly superior and in power. Reciprocal ethics can give way to hatred, cruelty and violence very quickly and with today’s climate that’s so charged with racial, political and religious hatred, this is once again a growing concern.

    There’s a video on youtube that’s close to an hour long but it’s a good one. It’s called “Five Steps to Tyranny.” I think it’s very related to today’s topic and wish everyone would watch it.

  20.  Agreed. like a young willow we must bend with the storm until it has passed. We should only defend ourselves if the storm becomes an ax to strike at us.

  21. I love paganism. I know it was humanities faith before before the Isrialites were even a people, and that Christianity is just another religion. The only thing I’m having trouble getting past are those who’ve had near death expierences and say they’ve been to the Christian heaven/hell. It is so incongruous with history and how the religion developed. So what’s the deal with this and what does it mean as Christianity continues on it’s downward spiral? I truly believe that paganism will reemerge, I just want you’re opinions on Christian near death experiences.  

  22. I read Sully’s blog daily and enjoy much of what he writes on a number of topics. I sense (and perhaps identify) with his yearnings for meaning as I was raised Catholic and can remember some of the passions and satisfactions from that time.

    That said, I have since moved on to NeoPaganism and find much more satisfaction at the most deep and universal levels. However, the response to political and economic realities leaves me a bit at a loss and feel it’s time I work towards a more rounded theology that includes how best to live and contribute to society.

    I also find it annoying to hear religious bigots spout on about their religion and hide behind it with what seems like a “nyah nyah can’t catch me” attitude. I feel pretty strongly that Pagan values and beliefs are just a strong and even >>more<< aligned with American values (equality across gender/race/sexuality, acceptance, societal responsibility) as any of the Faiths of the Book. And we need to be able to verbalize that we too are energized by our Faith as much as the next one.

    Keep up the good work here, and we'll try to do more out here…

  23. As usual, great article, Jason. The Christianity meltdown has concerned me for several years now, and especially the hubris of the monotheistic faith.

     The corruption of basic human compassion in so many of the conservative denominations has led, in my opinion, to the corruption of basic human compassion in the larger society, and until the social corruption is dealt with this Nation cannot heal. I think we must reach out to the community at large on a secular level, and try to repair the terrible damage done to American ethics.

  24. I agree. I’ve said it before, they will NOT go gently into that goodnight. They will try to take everyone and everything they can down with them.

  25. He left out the things that xianity has given us such as the Crusades, the burning times, the Spanish inquisition, and the attempted eradication of all non-xian cultures.

  26. freedom from “From such blood-drinking gods the human race was once liberated”?
    To be enslaved by a god that asks it’s followers to partake in canabalistic rituals. 
    Yep. That’s a step up.

  27. Hotstreak, it’s been my fortune thus far never to be so close to dying as to have had a near-death experience, but the phenomenon has fascinated me. After some research, my “take” on it is that the dying brain has some kind of primal experience upon which it imposes its learned notions of the afterlife. The raw NDE experience reads more like the Tibetan Book of the Dead than the Christian afterlife.

    Some psychologists have likened the NDE to isolation psychosis. So it may be “all in one’s head,” or it may be actual contact with something external. YMMV.

  28. Reply to hotsreak12: in my readings of the “nde”, any religious entities one encounters are identified as congruent with one’s spiritual path. So buddhists see Buddha, christians see Jesus. We interpret such encounters according to our preconceived expectations.

  29.  I don’t know how many NDE’s are reported from non-Christians. Maybe they don’t get the press. But evidently the body is flooded with endorphins at death, which would account for the feelings of euphoria that most recount. Some may not, and perhaps those are the ones that report hell. Who knows?

    I do think that it is likely that at death, people’s expectations may play a role in the “dreams” that they have, just as our waking life influences our regular dreams.

    I don’t believe in either heaven or hell. I don’t believe in a “personal” afterlife, though I am open to the idea of reincarnation or a return to “the Oneness” of all energy. I think it is a construct of our ego, which makes us want to continue our personality past death, to assume an afterlife in which our actual self-consciousness continues.

  30. So, if Christianity is in a weakened state due to a prolonged crisis from which it has been suffering since at least the dawn of the Enlightenment, what should Pagans do? Hmmmm. I wonder ……

    For some reason I am reminded of one of my favorite passages from the Book of Five Rings, specifically from “The Fire Book“:

    To Know “Collapse”

    Everything can collapse. Houses, bodies, and enemies collapse when their rhythm becomes deranged.

    In large-scale strategy, when the enemy starts to collapse you must persue him without letting the chance go. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies’ collapse, they may recover.

    In single combat, the enemy sometimes loses timing and collapses. If you let this opportunity pass, he may recover and not be so negligent thereafter. Fix your eye on the enemy’s collapse, and chase him, attacking so that you do not let him recover. You must do this. The chasing attack is with a strong spirit.
    You must utterly cut the enemy down so that he does not recover his position.
    You must understand utterly how to cut down the enemy.

  31. Aye , especialy now we have to vigilant and as vocal as we can be . And by the gods , please vote pagans .The main fear i have is these monothiestic radicals coming into political power . The Republican party has taken a turn , hard right and at this point our government is broken . Other than being the sqeeky wheel , voting is the best way we can be involved . to make ourselves heard . But as much as it would hurt me , if the radicals gain power i may have to move to Canada . Those people don’t like us much , as can be seen from thier propaganda . Kilm 

  32. I personaly have had 2 near death experiences , the first one i was agnostic didn’t look at things though a Christian filter , the one thing i can say , was a near drowning, my life did pass b/f my eyes . Made me go on a big spiritual journey and did lead me to paganism . The secound one was within the last year , a heart attack i survived the widow maker . That  one deepened my pagan beliefs/convictions  …………i actualy became more active , joined a CR pagan faith. I am now a Sinnsreachd Warrior. NDE ‘s for me have been major game/life changers made me realise just how fragile life can be , our grasp on it actualy is . I now live my life fully , make no comprimises . Live how i think i should .  Kilm 

  33.  The ladies in the interfaith group that I co-lead are just wonderful. We were talking to a local reporter about the group and my Christian colleague speaks as easily about the effect of Christian privilege on Pagans as I do. She spoke up specifically on the fact that Pagans are turned away from volunteer opportunities with a voice that conveyed the injustice of it.
    Interfaith work is some of the most important work we can do.

  34. Jason’s blog/article fits like a puzzle piece with a flash of insight I had re. the anti-choice movement recently:  “The fetus” has become a metaphor for “the church” itself. 

    Anti-choicers (the overwhelming majority of whom I perceive are either conservative Catholics or evangelical Christians) are not really asking us to save the babies. After all, these are the same people who have no problem – are eager, in fact – to defund American social programs that help babies, and have soldiers drop bombs on Muslim babies.

    What they’re really trying to force and shame everyone into doing is *saving Christianity*. My own past experiences with the church have illustrated convincingly for me that these folks hate “spiritual choice” just as much as they hate “reproductive choice.”

    Follow Jesus instead of the church? The “problem” with statements like that is, people start actually *thinking* about what they mean. For myself, I realized that it’s utterly impossible to separate the “persona” of Jesus Christ from Christianity.

    If one likes the positive values that have become associated with Jesus, one might take the next step to realizing that those values actually *transcend* Christianity (or any organized religion for that matter).

    I remind Andrew Sullivan that “not all who wander are lost.” You can learn a great deal by wandering in the desert… if you are paying attention to the journey – such as, “all roads do NOT lead to Calvary.”

  35. Very interesting!  Your account is one of the few pagan NDEs I’ve ever read.

  36.  thank you for responding. Perhaps this is another reason to change peoples expectations. If they are excepting reincarnation rather than an uncertain salvation/damnation then perhaps we can take much of the fear out of death.

  37.  thank you for your reply. Perhaps all the christian NDE’s on television are another subtle way for monotheism to try and keep it’s grip on people.

  38.  You’re NDE is the only other Pagan NDE I have read about other than
    Z budapests as chronicled in drawing down the moon.

  39.  What would you have the more militant warrior based faiths, (like the norse faith that begins with and a, don’t know how to spell it) do.

  40. As far as specific actions go, I believe the two most effective weapons against Christianity are: 1. the truth, and 2. the freedom to speak the truth. This is why the Enliughtenment is often thought of as marking the beginning of the long, slow decline of Christianity is often.

    Telling the truth about the history of Christianity and the intrinsically intolerant nature of monotheism, while at the same time scrupulously defending freedom of religion (including the freedom to criticize any and all religions): there’s an action program for you.

  41.  That’s quite a generalization about the pro-Life movement.  I personally know many people who believe a pre-born baby is a human being, from all walks of life, all religions, even other Pagans.

  42. We put too much stock in the beliefs of those who’d invalidate our civil rights.  What we must look at is practices.  Whether Christian, Muslim, agnostic or “other”, if someone is attempting to violate our civil rights, invalidate our Constitutional rights, we must fight them in a court of law.  Protests bring awareness but are ineffectual in changing laws.  We must disregard individuals’ and groups’ belief systems and focus on our own goals… for instance the right to freedom of worship… and when our goals are disparate from others’, then we must act in a proactive manner… usually by bringing it to the attention of authorities.  If that doesn’t work, bringing it to the attention of the courts.  And the media.

  43. I stated my *perception* regarding a “movement” – not about individual beliefs.

    If you would like to present me some solid evidence that roving coreligionist bands of pagans or Buddhists or Ba’hai’s (for example) are standing on streetcorners loudly and offensively protesting a woman’s right to guide her own bodily processes as she sees fit, perhaps I will revise my perception.

    (Aside:  as a pagan, I believe in both life AND choice. These views coexist harmoniously in my worldview because I am willing to admit that I am only responsible for MY OWN thoughts and actions, not those of others.)

  44. The Judeo-Christian god has *never stopped* being a war god. If Yahweh the Father “trained up his child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6), then Jesus will not depart from Yahweh’s pattern. If Jesus *does* depart from the pattern, then Yahweh must admit he is not perfect. Of course, Yahweh already freely admits he is a sinful god, in that he is prone to jealousy (Exodus 20:5, et. al.), and jealousy has been the driver for many horrors in this world.

  45. Thank you for writing this Jason. This is one of the best things I have read on the internet in awhile. I don’t know if my praise is because the article itself is so well written and well thought out, or if it is because I fervently hope that we are indeed seeing Christianity in crisis. I don’t mean to be unkind to another’s faith, but my patience with what has come to feel like the majority of Christianity is at an all-time low. I hope that the extremities we are seeing are indeed the desperate graspings of a dying worlview, and that their monopoly on religion is coming to an end. I also hope they don’t hurt a whole lot of people on their way out. 

  46. Unitarian Universalism (UU) as a belief system I think can answer many of the questions posed by this article.  At its core UU does not profess any creed or system of orthodox belief, welcoming Christian, Atheist, Pagan, and all other belief systems equally.  It professes a system of principles based on one’s actions toward other people, and our environment.  Find out more from

  47. I wonder how fair it is to take Merton’s words, and push them as you have, from poetry to political science. Was he talking about “gods” as you and I, deeply embedded in a pluralistic world might understand as some kind of slam on paganism, or was he speaking to a predominately Christian environment to people who understood “gods” in the most symbolic way? I.e, “gods of war” or “gods of consumerism.” (He spoke this way often, as about the “idols” of patritotism.”)

    The book you quote of Merton’s, incidently, was published in 1961. To know something of the man’s career, his evolving fascination with the east (he died in Japan, while attending a conference on monasticism involving both Buddhist and Catholic monks — and decide that quote meant he was always and forever on some triumphalist Christian mission — I dunno. Doesn’t seem a fair or accurate read.

    Merton died in 1968. I think it is virtually impossible to know what he might have said in this time.

  48. Wow. wouldn’t that seem to be belied by the fact that Jesus never took up arms, and allowed himself to be crucified?

  49. With all due respect, there is no “cannablism.” I’m always curious as to why non-theists can be more literalistic than fundamentalists. At least take up the symbol-system as expressed and understood.

  50. for Trinitarian christians, the death of Jesus is not the death of a child-victim, but the death of God himself. It is self-sacrifice. And a rebuke of all scapegoating schemes.    

  51. “I wonder how fair it is to take Merton’s words, and push them as you have, from poetry to political science. ”

    Sullivan opened that door, I simply walked through it. 

    Also, please don’t assume, because I’m Pagan, that I haven’t studied Merton. I have. I find him quite admirable, but that doesn’t change the fact that he willingly used old Catholic slurs against polytheistic faiths to drive his metaphor.

  52. What is Christ without doctrine?  Nothing.  If Christ was not the exclusive way to salvation provided to us by his father, then Christ has nothing to say to us.  The message of Heaven and Hell is the primary message of Christianity, and secondary to that was a promise by Christ to return and take the saved to Heaven as the rest suffer.  Period.  I get that many people take issue with this, and I agree with their view.  This sort of narative reduces us to a largely childlike state where we can never grow up, where we always need to wait for an adult to grab us by the hand and pull us out of harms way.  But that actually is the main message of Christianity, and you cannot get around it just because you might have liberal or libertarian leanings.  Having your politics shape your faith or philosophy is the tail wagging the dog.

  53. I saw one television program about a little boy who had an NDE and talked about ‘going over the rainbow bridge’. The narrator didn’t make any reference to Pagan faiths, so it seemed pretty clear that this was not coming from the parents’ beliefs. Wish I could remember the name of that program.

  54.  Part of me is perpetually astonished at Andrew Sullivan’s insistence on coming back to a religion that has quite literally cursed and cast out gay people and intellectuals exactly like Sullivan, and has a history of killing such people outright. It is far too much like an abused person who continues to return to their abuser.

    It is hard to come to terms with the fact that your birth religion no longer has a place for you, and that their god is not your god. I understand that because I went through it. I do not understand consistently trying to go back to a church, and a religion, that has made it absolutely clear for centuries that they do not and will not tolerate divergence from the norm for very long. After a certain point I have to wonder about the masochism inherent in that.

    As someone who grew up in the Deep South and witnessed the most virulent forms of Evangelical Christianity, and as someone who once tried to follow that faith, I can’t see how those of us who do not believe are going to make peace and find unity with a religion which, at heart, is not going to accept us, ever. I also do not know how we can find peace with a religion that has so fused itself with a political movement that they can offer someone like Rick Santorum as a model for Christian manhood and as the proposed leader of the United States of America. There is no room in me for that kind of insanity.

  55. (Aside:  as a pagan, I believe in both life AND choice. These views
    coexist harmoniously in my worldview because I am willing to admit that I
    am only responsible for MY OWN thoughts and actions, not those of

    Well said. Being against choice is not just about fetuses, ever, or what opinion one happens to give regarding them, because there’s another life that’s always affected, and she has a right to choose.

  56. If Christ was not the exclusive way to salvation provided to us by his father, then Christ has nothing to say to us.

    Are you aware that this is a Pagan blog? The only issue we’re concerned with here vis-a-vis Christianity is how it interacts with our Pagan faith communities.

    Speaking for myself, the avatar you worship doesn’t have anything to say to me. However, even I can see that assuming he was not an avatar doesn’t strip the teachings attributed to him of meaning.

    That would be like saying “If Dionysos isn’t the son of Zeus, he has nothing to say to us”. Nonsense! He would still be the bringer of wine, the easer of cares, the father of freedom. Divine status emphasizes and elevates the teaching; absence of divinity does not negate them.

  57. Indeed.  As the man himself wrote: “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth… “

  58. “even I can see that assuming he was not an avatar doesn’t strip the teachings attributed to him of meaning”
    It sort of does. When a rational sane individual tells you he’s the son of God/ Human incarnation of God… either he is, or he’s a manipulative liar. When you’re talking about a God or other entity that lives in the clouds and has never interacted with a human, the teachings may have meaning with or without the divinity.
    When you talk about flesh and blood that did interact with the world and who’s teachings came from the same mouth that proclaimed divinity, there’s no room for fuzzy feel good.

  59. I think the problem for the 78% and the 22% is that we have taken that “wall of separation” comment and turned it into chains. I believe the intent was the coupling of the non-establishment and free excercise clases in order to make sure the government didn’t back a particular religion or prohibit another. The governments role comes in only when the differing religions can’t operate in the public square peacefully. The problem is we’ve become a nation of wimps. No one’s killing anyone in the public square, but they may “say things that offend me” It “hurts” my feelings, so government steps in and pushes religious though further and further back so we don’t have to see, hear or smell any opinion that might cause us to stress. And now instead of a wall around the government keeping it from interfering with religioius thought and expression… the walls are around each church keeping it’s members in, restricting expression and keeping the public square (ie anything outside of a sanctary door) as property of an emotionless, unspiritual, inhuman and secular government. This is bad for anyone of any faith.

  60. But we have not idea whether they “came from the same mouth.” The Gospels were writtent long after the ministry of Jesus (assuming that even happened) by people who weren’t there.

  61. I sense a critical lack of ironic perception here. A failure to appreciate how ludicrous it is for a representative of the majority faith, a faith whose oppressions of Pagan people/s is chronicled weekly if not daily on this blog, to visit said blog and argue for the lack of need for the separation of church and state. That’s rich.

  62. The difference between Catholicism and Evangelicalism is that the society of the former teems constantly with technically heretical reform movements, from liberation theology to ordination of women and everything in between. A major reason Ratzinger was elected Pope was his pledge to drain the swamp. Sullivan can find like company in what you call his masochism (which I think demeans honest, straightforward BDSM).

  63. Kristen writes:
    It sort of does. When a rational sane individual tells you he’s the son of God/ Human incarnation of God… either he is, or he’s a manipulative liar. 

    Oh, piffle.  Our paths have hundreds of demi-gods, and even some mortal-born gods – so what?

    God isn’t a name, its a job description.

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