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From Christianity to paganism and back again

14 April 2008

I came across this interesting post on The Website of Unknowing — a spiritual journey from Christianity to paganism and back again, described in 750 words.

I just kept getting angrier and angrier — at myself, at religion, at God (or the gods). In the midst of all that, an impulse that seemed utterly irrational kept presenting itself: for me to abandon Paganism and enter Catholicism — yes, Catholicism, the most sexist, patriarchal, oppressive, dogmatic and authoritarian religious structure I knew of. The absurdity of it all! I fought it for months, and yet the impulse wouldn’t go away. Becoming a Catholic would mean abandoning my rising star as a Pagan writer, and yet I felt that this was something I had to do, even if it meant trainwrecking my career.

That’s just a taste, but it’s really worth reading the whole thing, and the comments that follow. One of the more interesting comments was from Cat Chapin-Bishop, who has sometimes visited this blog too.

… while I can respect and appreciate the idea that _your_ subtitle might be “How Being a Pagan Made a Better Christian Out of Me,” I am reminded of how irritating it is when interfaith contacts with well-meaning Christians proceed under the assumption that it should be the subtitle for _all_ Pagans’ life stories; even those who attempt tolerance and open-mindedness so often behave as though the proper course for our journeys is completely obvious–to them, though not to us. That lack of humility in the face of the astonishing Mystery of lived spirituality (never mind the condescending attitude toward modern Paganism) is breathtaking!

Now I would like to suggest (humbly, I hope) that “lack of humility” is perhaps not the best term to use in such a context of interreligious dialogue, because its use betrays a certain lack of humility.

Let me try to explain.

I think I know what Cat means, and I hope Cat (or someone else) will correct me if I am wrong. In hoping that all pagans eventually end up as Christians, Christians display an arrogance and lack of humility in assuming that “my path is better than your path”, or “my lived spirituality is better than your lived spirituality”. And if that were so, it would of course indeed be a lack of humilty, and it is a lack of humility that Christians are often tempted with and into which they often fall.

But for Christians what is central is not “my path” or “spirituality”, but God.

“Paths” or “spirituality” are very important to modern pagans, and are, as far as I can see, an important part of the neopagan worldview, part of the underlying assumptions that many pagans make. Demanding that Christians make these same assumptions, or even unconsciously expecting that they will do so, and regarding failure to do so as ipso facto a lack of humility, can therefore itself be seen as a lack of humility.

For Christians the primary distinction is not between “natural” and “supernatural”, but between creator and creature. Therefore the creator is a “great king above all gods”, as the Psalmist puts it, and indeed the creator of all the gods and goddesses that there are. That may not be how pagans see it, but that’s one of the differences one becomes aware of in interreligious dialogue. If Christians take the attitude that “my religion is better than your religion, therefore I am better than you”, that is indeed a lack of humility, and they’ve blown it, not merely in pagan terms, but in their own. Christianity is not about being better than other people, but being more godly, that is, more like God, than one was before.

At this time of the year, the season of Lent, Orthodox Christians pray:

O Lord and Master of my life
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother
for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages.

Of course we usually lose it within five minutes of praying the prayer, but that, at any rate is the intention. We need a bit more humility all round.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. e4unity permalink
    14 April 2008 1:14 pm

    Steve,

    I’ve seen enough to sense your blog is one I need to link to. Anglican who is actively keeping up with Orthodoxy, from South Africa. Is that the right context ?

    And as definitely an insider, a christian working hard at speaking into the reality of our world that’s trying to self destruct, with a message that’s burning in your heart that there really is a Prince of Peace. I loved this line especially-

    “Christians take the attitude that “my religion is better than your religion, therefore I am better than you”, that is indeed a lack of humility, and they’ve blown it, not merely in pagan terms, but in their own. Christianity is not about being better than other people, but being more godly, that is, more like God, than one was before.”

    I would just add, since your talking so openly about the faith once delivered to the saints, that it is about being more godly through Christ alone, by grace alone.

    We have a lot to talk about.

    John Paul Todd
    e4unity

  2. Peter permalink
    14 April 2008 4:03 pm

    Thanks for this, Steve.

    I am a friend of Carl “Unknowing” McColman, and often make comments on his blog.

    I appreciate your clear descriptions here of assumptions and lack of humility. Surely the reality of the living God (and our progressive communion with Him) is the main Christian distinctive, in that order: who He is first, and our experience of Him (or our “path” or “spirituality”) second. The definitions on the part of many mystics of God as being “wholly other” come to mind here. I heard a conservative politician yesterday say that “I learned when I was about 10 years old that the world does not revolve around me and my needs–something some folks I know in their 60s have not yet learned.”

    I sincerely desire to avoid the lack of humility that assumes that my path is better or higher than that of anyone else, Christian or pagan (or whatever). But if my focus is on God as He is, with all the humility this engenders due to my massive ignorance of Him, then that may minimize my temptation to fall into that lack of humility.

    Thank you for considering my contribution,
    Peter

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