A Pagan in a Christianized Society
We discussed many of the ideas in this post in this week’s episode of THE WONDER podcast–check it out!
Being a Pagan often isn’t easy–and especially being a naturalistic Pagan, in a world dominated by an Overculture that flies in the face of one’s values.
I live in the United States: a country deeply steeped in conservative Christianity and in which, as belief in more traditional religions wanes, the most reactionary of Christians–including a majority of our Supreme Court–are scrambling to enshrine their beliefs into laws we must all follow. On issues like sexual morality, gender equality, bodily autonomy, racial equality, environmental protection and reproductive rights, these Christians could not be more wrong-headed. They are harming people, and the most marginalized and vulnerable are suffering the most.
It’s all terribly backwards and wrong.
I should say: the critiques I am making here are not unique to Christianity, and they aren’t all true of every sect of Christianity. Generalizations are always somewhat inaccurate. But particularly, conservative flavors of other religions like Islam and Judaism share many of these elements as well. The global religions originating the Middle East all seem to spring from the same well.
Take, for example, the general posture of the Christian to their divinity: supplication and obedience. Even fear.
I find this unfathomable. I revere the Sacred (though I don’t imagine it as a personified god), find awe and wonder and beauty in it. My spirituality is one of agency, not cowed obedience. I have pride rather than shame, because I am a part of the Sacred. I am an extension of the Universe which is, itself, the Sacred.
Next: patriarchy. Christianity is a male-dominated religion with a domineering male god and tons of religious text directing men to rule and women to be meek and obedient.
Likewise racism. (White) American conservative Christianity and white supremacy are two sides of the same coin. Biblical verses are used to justify the enslaving of Africans to this day. Slavery, colonialism and genocide are the greatest of human evils, and all have been rationalized by Christians in the name of their “moral superiority”.
Now, the Black evangelical churches are something else: that is complicated and I don’t claim to understand it. But the internalized shame, homophobia and so forth that I call out here are present there, too.
These attitudes are utterly contrary to my values. As a naturalist Pagan, I see all humans as equal in value, no matter what their gender, color, sexual orientation, ability, body shape or ethnicity.
Even more pernicious, possibly, than the arrant bigotry is the Christian idea that humanity is “stained by sin” and needs “salvation”. What a horrible thing to inflict on people! I see people as worthy and each as uniquely beautiful: not perfect, but not inherently evil, either.
Specifically, the Christian characterization of the body as inherently “sinful” and of sexuality as “dirty” unless performed under the narrow set of rules they prescribe is simply appalling. It is the sine qua non of the miserable joylessness that characterizes the dominant religious model.
We Pagans disagree. We believe pleasure is good for us, and is our birthright. Our work in this life is to celebrate life and to be the best people we can be, not to mope about feeling broken and crawling on our knees to beg forgiveness from an imaginary potentate that evidently has ego problems. And that includes enthusiastic enjoyment of consensual sex of any kind the participants choose.
Ironically, even when they do wrong, it appears Christians don’t believe they are really responsible for it. It must be either a) a part of God’s plan; or b) the work of “the devil”, who plays the villain in their cosmology’s melodrama. And they can get out of any responsibility for their actions by bending a knee and asking their god’s forgiveness.
Convenient, eh? So Stalin and Hitler could be in the Christian heaven if they sought Jesus’ forgiveness on their deathbeds. Nice.
The extortionary racket that enforces the need for this salvation–heaven and hell–rather speaks for itself.
We Pagans don’t need to be threatened with eternal torture or offered cosmic sweeties in order to be good people. We live for this incredible life, not some imaginary afterlife of judgement and consequences. That means that if we do wrong, it’s on us to take responsibility and make amends NOW to those we have wronged, not to “pray the guilt away”.
Now, having said all this, let me say: in the abstract, I really don’t care what other people believe.
But I care about how they behave. And when people are being hurt, THEN I care plenty. And millions of people are being hurt by conservative Christianity in this country. By bigoted parents kicking their teenaged gay or trans kids onto the streets; by pregnant people who don’t want a child being denied abortion care; by the vast ranks of those suffering guilt and self-abuse over imaginary “sins”; by those oppressed by racism, homophobia and contempt for the poor. It is a poisonous worldview and its works in the world are not beneficial.
Finally, and most importantly, is the Christian relationship to nature. To “subdue the Earth and rule over the living” and grind it into money is the ideology that dominates my country.
I am so ashamed at how we relate to this world from which we spring and of which we are each a part. The idea that our creation and sustenance is credited to an ephemeral figure in the sky rather than to the obvious fact of our Earthly nature (that is, we survive by dint of food coming from the ground, oxygen coming from plants, etc.) is utterly, utterly wrong.
It is not easy to be a round peg in a landscape of square holes, and that is what the main of American Christian-informed culture offers us Pagans–particularly those Pagans who don’t believe in a supernatural dimension to existence at all. We don’t mind being nonconformists, but in some parts of this country it is becoming dangerous not to be Christian. Particularly if you have some fanatical preacher in your local community banging on about the evils of “witches”.
As a Pagan, I envision so much kinder, easier, and gentler a world. An affirming world where love matters and greed is a pathology. Where we lift one another up, help each other to heal and grow and thrive, and we understand our reciprocal, responsible relationship to the good planet Earth. And, as a naturalist Pagan, a world in which we are sensible, rational, and critically thinking: where we make decisions based on evidence and good, progressive values.
I walk through the world in this country, loving the fabric of Life despite the dour and miserable cultural context, joyous at the very fact of my existence, trying every day to wash more of the Overculture from me: to incorporate more openness, growth and kindness as I grow older. My rituals help me. My contemplation helps me. My community helps me.
We can be so much better than this. But honestly, the dominant model–the Christian model–has got to go in order for that to happen.
It can’t die off quickly enough, in my opinion.
We all deserve so much better than this.
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Good one , Mark.
Ya know its a bit of a shame that Jesus handed forth only on “commandment” and so very few of those that claim to be Cristian even know it much less live by it.. It’s so simple “Love one another as your self” I can only assume from the evidence that the majority of Cristians loath them selves, are ashamed of them selves. It’s very sad
I hear the indigenous communities, one by one, standing up and saying that the Western way of life in which each person has to have everything will soon leave everyone with nothing. “The more things you own, the more your things will own you.” The failure to understand this one simple concept is the reason why Christianity is so effective: any “want” creates a psychological lever, which Christian theology moves with concepts of guilt, shame, and fear. The stronger the want, the greater the manipulative hold, and few “wants” are as strong as the need for sex – thus few leave us so open to outside manipulation.
Greed is what “want” becomes when it becomes cancerous. Christian theology is not the same as how it was practiced 300 years ago, though the guilt-shame-fear complex renders it a horror at any stage. What we understand as “Christianity” today is Calvinism – no branch has escaped this, not even Catholicism. And Calvinism absolutely encourages greed (want-gone-cancerous) via the “Prosperity Gospel” crap. This would be the idea that God blesses and endows His chosen few with earthly riches (despite the Bible’s claim about rich men and camels and needles), concurrent with that the poor are poor because they are damned (or just “thinking wrong” as some recent lite versions put it) so they deserve to be poor and the rich are entitled to vacuum up everything they want, no matter who it hurts. This is also why Rapture theology is so popular in evangelical churches. It is “F— you all, I’m getting mine” given Divine blessing – in the minds of those already inclined to believe that. The rest of us (correctly) recognize such soulless greed and contempt as a pathology.
Once Calvinism came in swinging that mace, we saw the nationalistic tendencies of Europe explode into full-blown racism justified by religion, and the crimes against humanity and the environment that followed *have never stopped.* Now, that Prosperity Gospel has become Damocles’ sword, hanging over the necks of every human on the planet as the planet’s capacity to carry life more complex than a bacteria unravels for the sixth time. For the first time, that unraveling is the responsibility of humanity and, more than any other doctrine on earth, Christianity bears the responsibility of making such greed not only popular and powerful, but possible in the first place. (No, none of the others are innocent. But no other faiths have made such a virtue out of greed and contempt as Calvinist Christianity and its offshoots, including Evangelicalism, which are so friendly and justifying to industrial exploitation.)
Yes, agreed. This is the backstory of the conditions I write about here.
Conservative Christianity is indeed prevalent in the U.S. Very bad where I live. I hope the time comes that more people can broaden their perspectives, vs what they’ve been trained to think. Good article!
I understand your rage, but there are quite a few things that I disagree, or rather you are doing too much generalization.
Abrahamic faith is rooted in agriculture and civilization, hence private property and family legacies, so this faith provided a method for ensuring lineage: patriarchy. In this tradition, God Father represents the creative force that needs to be shaped, source for everything. it’s a masculine force in the sense that it gives rather than it takes. Since it is masculine, you might represent it as well as a human male figure, even though you know it is not human, that’s an allegory. Modern world has made all the need for patriarchy obsolete.
Slavery was not accepted by Catholic Church, even in Renaissance. Portuguese and Spanish traded slaves despite what the Church admonised. Maybe Calvinist Church was OK with it, but I don’t know the facts. Behind conquer and slavering there’s usually just men’s greed, it doesn’t mind what religion they adhere to. Confucist and Buddhist were no saints either. In other words, religions are not what drive people towards slavery or conquest, but what they think it is their cultural ‘manifesed destiny’. Then they can choose words from any book to justify anything they like.
Certainly, fear can be attached to how christians live their faith, as this is how Jewish represent their God in the first place, terrible and vengeful, but there are also christians that attach it to love, the same you usually love your father even if he’s not so loving always. Sometimes they love their god so much that they forget to love their neighbours, but if you go to a church, chances are that you will find some practical support for the needing. We may argue that this is public relationships brainwashing, but we can’t negate that they are doing something. Anyways, I am pretty sure that these people that love their God are also very very proud of it, to the point of letting everyone else know how proud they are. In fact, pride is their sin.
Does any of the above allow christians decide for all of us what is good and accepted? No, that’s why we like democracy: let the people decide what’s good or ill. Curiously, you americans have a few institutions that lag behind in terms of social evolution, and Justice is one of them. Judges don’t seem very democratic to me. Lifetime position? What are they, kings?
We disagree on the facts here. The bible heartily endorses slavery, for instance, and those passages were and are used to justify it until this day.
Evangelical Christians are characterized by rage and hatred much more than by love. This can be seen in their works.