From Christianity to paganism and back again
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.