Welcome to a more or less Celtic Reconstructionist blog, where love of the Old Gods is still strong

Freitag, 3. Februar 2012

Christian Paganism

For today’s post I’d like to address quite a controversial topic: that of Christian Paganism, i.e. people who feel connected to or practice both a form of Christianity as well as a form of paganism.
While I have quite a strong opinion on the topic myself, I by no means want to offend anyone, especially those who actually practice Christian Paganism. Instead, I’m very interested in others’ opinions.

Looking at the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary; as a linguist, this is where I turn for definitions), we find that paganism means:
“A religion other than one of the main religions of the world; spec. a non-Christian or pre-Christian religion, esp. considered as ancient or primitive. Also: the religious beliefs and practices of such a religion; the state or condition of non-Christian people; heathenism.”
Add to this my own understanding of paganism, i.e. belief in multiple gods (not necessarily of a polytheistic nature) and concepts of magic or such diverse ones as blood offerings (which, I know, you don’t have to practice to be pagan).
For me, this sounds very different from – and quite contradictory to – the Christian concept of monotheism and the acceptance of Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. So my question is how these two different belief systems can go together at all.

From a CR perspective that is mainly informed by Alexei Kondratiev’s work, I can actually see a way of how this could be accomplished. For once, Kondratiev saw himself as a Christian despite writing about topics that are distinctly pagan in nature. And apart from this personal perspective, Freeman (2001: 203) quotes poems from Irish monks and hermits in the early Irish church, which express a deep love and one-ness of nature; these sentiments for me make up part of my pagan practice.

“Glen of the sleek brown round-faced otters
that are pleasant and active in fishing;
many are the white-winged stately swans,
and salmon breeding along the rocky brink.”

One could also argue that Christianity, especially in Ireland, builds on existing belief structures; compare, for example, a story in which St Patrick turns into a deer to escape capture (Freeman 2001: 74). A better example, perhaps, can be found in Brighid, who lives on as a Christian saint with quite the same attributes as her pagan counterpart: at least in Scotland, both reigned over fire and art, as well as the birth of spring (Freeman 2011: 55). Here, it would be interesting to see whether worshipping the saints does not indeed come close to a form of polytheistic practice. 
Also in other countries, old customs live on next to (but at times contrary to) Christian ideology; just take the maypole as a fertility symbol, or the well-known fact that many religions have a saviour or son of the light born at or around the time of the Winter Solstice.

However, if we follow the Bible, God does not seem to want His followers worship other gods beside Him. I have to stress here that I’m currently reading the Bible, but have only progressed as far as Deuteronomy. Yet what I’ve read so far speaks very strongly for a certain position (but if you’re more informed than I am, please feel free to point out flaws in my argumentation!).

The Bible indeed seems to acknowledge the existence of other gods, as stressed in Exodus: “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15: 11). However, the Judeo-Christian God doesn’t seem to like these other gods much, as He stresses that “thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20: 3), and says: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Exodus 20: 5).
And in a later passage, the existence of other gods is negated: “Unto you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD he is God; there is none else besides him” (Deuteronomy 4: 35). Hence, when Jesus is asked which commandments one should keep, the one pertaining to other gods is not among the ones He names – He just refers to commandments like ‘thou shalt not murder,’ (Matthew 19: 16) which any morally sound person should follow, be they Christian or not.
So in my understanding, if you accept the whole Bible as true (for you), then being a pagan at the same time does not seem to be possible.

And there are other areas apart from worship of other gods where I see difficulties.
First, there’s the Bible’s attitude towards divination, witchcraft etc. I don’t have to quote the famous passage for you to understand my point.
Also, the brand of Catholicism I was raised in postulated quite a different relationship of humans and God, since the priest acted as a negotiator between God and the congregation to the extend that we weren’t even allowed to partake of the wine during Mass. But then again I guess you could put this down to my town’s priest and simply different requirements, so to speak, of the Christian and pagan god(s). 
And finally, I wonder how the concept of original sin (as well as the fact that Jesus died for our sins) and the concept of going to hell can be integrated into a pagan perspective. I’ll leave out the concept of Satan here since I know quite a lot of Christians myself who don’t have a strict concept of the devil.

To finish this off, I’d really like to know if one of you either is a Christian Pagan or knows someone who practices it. How does it work out for your personal practice, and also for your relationship(s) with those of either faith? Which ritual formats do you use? And how does the perspective of two (at least in my point of view) fairly different religions inform your relationship towards deity?
Also, if you think that the concept is not for you, at all, I’d like to know your reasons why.

Blessed be,

The Bible. King James version.
Freeman, Mara. 2001. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. New York: HarperCollins.
poem originally in: Jackson, Kenneth. 1951. A Celtic Miscellany. London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul.
for Kondratiev’s views, see e.g. Kondratiev, Alexei. 2003. The Apple Branch. A Path to Celtic Ritual. New York: Kensington.

7 Kommentare:

  1. Great topic, and great post!

    I know a few Christian Pagans. In fact, a few were my fellow students at seminary. While it's true that parts of the Bible speak against worshiping other gods, it's also true that not all Christians hold the Bible to be the completely accurate Word of God applicable to all times and people. Certainly this is the traditional and commonly expressed belief, and many Christians are very vocal about making it known. But there are other groups who don't see things the same way.

    To start, the Bible itself is made of books written and selected by human beings. It may have been inspired by God, but Christians differ in their interpretations of what that means. To some, it may mean that some things were applicable at one time but no longer (such as eating shellfish), to others it might even mean that people did their best to write what they thought God wanted, but that they were limited in their understanding as all people are. It's certainly not a new practice for Christians (or members of other religions) to pick and choose a little according to what their experience and understanding tells them God really values. It's pretty rare to walk into a church and find all the women with their heads covered, for example.

    One friend of mine believes that anything good is God. Therefore, while she doesn't identify as Pagan, she has had many Pagan friends and feels comfortable taking part in Pagan ceremonies because she believes that in worshiping our gods, she is really worshiping hers under a different name.

    There is also Gnostic Christianity, which tends to see the Old Testament God as a force of evil, and Christ as overcoming that influence. The explanation I saw from a Gnostic Christian I know was that he does only worship Christ, but that worship in his tradition means imitation, and so he can make prayers and offerings to other gods without straying from his worship of only Christ.

    Along the same lines, Christianity has many similarities to mystery religions in ancient Greco-Roman culture, and so many of the movements the mainstream church (the victors who got to choose who to keep out of their group) likely had some elements of Greco-Roman paganism. They were only described as heretical and anti-Biblical because the men who gained power and chose what books to include in the Bible made sure to take out anything that supported those movements. When you look at how the Bible was formed and the debates that led to the creed, it's all very political, and what winds up making the cut has at least as much to do with meeting their own interests and agendas as it does providing a resource for the early Christian community.

  2. Hey Ho, let me chime in too. I was baptized Catholic, but am now pretty eclectic. To boil it down on how it works for me is:
    1) The Old Testament worshipped yahweh, a vengeful God.
    2) The New Testament is about Jesus Christ and his followers.
    3) The Old Testament said 'thou shalt not have any Gods BEFORE me...to which my reasoning is, mention Jesus first and then you can be as polyamorous to as many other Gods as you wish :)
    4) The Bible, while a wonderful book and full of great advice and counseling, can be a misogynistic book of men hating women..
    5) Jesus was a kewl example of a perfect being. He LOVED. He gave multiple chances to people. He was not prejudiced.

    I love Jesus. Jesus ROCKS. I also love Zeus, Hera, Vesta, Aphrodite, Pan, Diana, Mary Magdalene, Poseidon and Kwan Yin...It really depends on what I am hoping for and feeling...

    It's ALL Good, if you have an open mind.

  3. There are two other Witches in my family (in the closest, so to speak): One is an Atheist Witch and the other is a Christian Witch. The CW has:

    1) read the Bible (old and new) but it isn't law for her because it was written by Man with their own agendas, not by God.
    2) Her trinity is God, Goddess Mary, and Jesus. She says that there's no way God alone could've created everything, unless he used magik.
    3) Miracles = Magik
    5)She acknowledges many flaws in Christianity and the relationships that many of the stories have with other cultures, especially Greek Mythology.
    6) She acknowledges energy that exists everywhere; she practices Stone, Herbal, and Kitchen Magik, just as her/our ancestors did.
    7) Doesn't attend church because God, Mary, and Jesus exist everywhere--she finds her divinity in Nature, instead of man-made structures.
    8) She doesn't fear God, "how can you love and respect someone you're afraid of?"
    9) Unlike a lot of Christians out there, she knows she's responsible for her own actions. No one's influencing her misdeeds or guiding her good ones.
    10) Etc.

    This is a woman who knows her path, and can back them all up with facts and faith. She is a good Christian woman. I've only met one other was who a genuinely good Christian (my SIL). I really admire her. And unlike some other Pagans/Witches, when I see someone who's a Christian Pagan or Witch, I admire their courage for standing up.

  4. Thank you for sharing your (personal) stories and for bringing so many interesting facts to my attention!

  5. 93

    I find it depends very much on the background of a pagan path. Many forms of Pagan Witchcraft have an anti-Christian mythos, or at least make reference to persecution in their mythological identifications. I would find it hard to reconcile such with Christianity as a PRACTICE (philosophically one can perhaps more easily find peace). Druidry is born out of a druidic movement which included masonic and Christian druidic orders since the revival.
    Celtic reconstructionalism is based on good scholarship and a recognition must be made of the relatively equaniminous passage from Celtic Paganism to Celtic Christianity, in which the customs and beliefs were transposed. Conflicts come only with the later arrival of Roman Christianity and a cultural disregard for a living and growing Celtic tradition (inclusive of Christ).
    My thoughts on the matter anyway,


    Frater Docet Umbra

  6. @ Frater Docet Umbra: Yes, I agree with recognizing Celtic Christianity as a continuation of Pagan beliefs, and with what you said about the myth of the Burning Times.

    @ Merlyn: I checked my German translation of the Bible, where God says you shall not have any other gods "next to" Him; I understand this not as worshipping any gods you wish as long as the Christian god/Jesus comes first, but as "do not worship anyone apart from me," which, considering the context in which it was uttered, makes perfect sense (e.g. God's wrath when His people built a golden idol). I guess we'd have to check the original text - which, however, I'm unable to read - to see what God really wanted ;-)

    I guess I'm starting to see how Christian Paganism can work - but it seems to require getting rid of some tenants that I thought are crucial to Christianity, like the First Commandment.

  7. Thank you for such a wonderful post, and to all the commenters! I think I learned just as much from them as I did the original post!