Pagan Theology

The Christians and the Pagans


Something that tends to distinguish me from my fellow Pagans is that I do not believe that “Christo-Pagans” are possible.  That goes against the general openness of Paganism.  And it flies in the face of our Pagan historical and cultural norms, which tell us to accept just about as many Gods and Goddesses as we can cram into a theology and still have room.  Thus a theological bias against Christians in general and Christo-Pagans in particular tends to irritate the Christo-Pagans and embarrass the regular Pagans (it has no effect on the observant Christians, they think we’re all crazy).   So now you are either irritated or embarrassed, and for that I apologize.


Unfortunately now I have to tell you I’m halfway wrong.  In considering this rather complicated problem I believe there is a place for those who follow Jesus to find a place within Paganism.   I don’t believe that makes any sense, but it is not a theological fallacy either.


Let me explain.


The biggest misunderstanding of my criticism of Christo-Pagans is the tendency to believe that I am saying that followers of Jesus cannot or should not be Pagans.  That is not what I claim.  Instead I claim that they cannot be Christians, nor can they identify with Jesus as the Christ who has fulfilled the Jewish prophecies [1].  The idea of being both “Pagan” and “Christian,” or “Jewish” or “Muslim” for that matter, just does not make any sense.


Of course compatibility is all in how you define things.  My definition of “Christian” is the one commonly used by those (Christians) who have large organizations devoted to the subject.  Sure, you can define Christianity as something completely different, the art of kicking a ball around a field perhaps, but then we have a disagreement about semantics and not religion.  The thing that is typically referred to with the denotation “Christianity” cannot be Pagan, not because Pagan’s won’t have it, but because Christians won’t have us.


The argument separating Paganism and standard Christianity can be made very quickly.  We do not have an apocalyptic eschatology, we view time as cyclical not linear, we do not believe in salvation, sin, or that the Gods and Goddesses are all perfect.


Most importantly:  Paganism by definition does not claim exclusivity for its Gods and Goddesses [2].  Abrahamic religions do.


I could also argue that we should be careful about blurring the lines between Christianity and Paganism.  But that is a political, not theological, argument.


The problem with Christians as Pagans is that there is a fundamental, theological, clash between the two faiths.  In fact the clash applies to any Abrahamic religion.  These religions all share a unique and radically important concept:  exclusivity.  The Hebrews first hit on the concept early in their history.  However their exclusivity was a tribal one, unless you were born as part of the chosen people, born into the tribe of God, you were not in the faith.  While this was somewhat unusual at the time it was mostly harmless as the Jews were a relatively small tribe that lacked power.  And their exclusivity meant that they would have a hard time growing anyway.


But in the 1st – 3rd centuries a new idea, Christianity, emerged out of Judaism.  It said that, while anyone could join, it was the god that was exclusive.  All other religions were invalidated by Christianity.  This is the Pauline interpretation of Christ’s teachings, one that eventually “won” the long (400 year) struggle between the other various Christ following sects of the time.


So my objection has to do with a desire not to intermingle Pauline Christianity with Paganism rather than a desire to exclude Christo-Pagans.


Once you break free of the Pauline concept of Christianity you can begin to see how Jesus and his teachings could be included as an element in Paganism.  An exclusive view towards Christo-Pagans is both narrow and divisive. A real Pagan (whatever that is) would ask “how do we include followers of Christ as Pagans?”  Instead of seeking to exclude, perhaps we should seek to include.  In other words, perhaps a Pagan theology could help define some elements of the Christian faith that are compatible with Paganism.  And I’m not talking about Santa and Christmas trees and candles at Imbolc, I mean real inclusion.


At the most basic level we have to confront the issue of magic and witchcraft.  Both modern high magic and witchcraft have been clearly influenced by Christianity.  In fact I believe one would have been very hard pressed to find anything but a Christian witch or magician in Europe between the years 500 and 1800.  Magical practices have clearly been claimed as part of the Pagan community, whether they are derived from Christian or other sources.


We must include the Christian Witch, and Magician, because their practices are so fundamental to ours.  That sort of inclusion goes almost without saying.


Moving beyond magic we come to Judaism, of which Christianity is a part and a derivative faith.  The Jewish religion grew out of the religion of the Hebrew tribe, which is believed to have been Pagan long before it went with just one god.  Remember, the admonition not to have any other Gods before me is a plural one, accepting the idea that there are Gods other than Jehovah, just that Jehovah is the most important one.  Eventually this got ground down to the idea of a unitary God, but in the early days of Judaism there was the possibility of multiple deities.  In fact the idea of Sophia, the female Goddess of the Hebrews provides a great pivot point for many Christo-Pagans to begin to explore the polytheistic aspects of both Christianity and Judaism.


Next comes the question of exactly who was Jesus of Nazareth?


Bart Ehrman in his book the Lost Christianities:  The Battle for Scripture, says that Jesus could have been many different things:  rabbi, Jewish holy man with extraordinary powers, social radial and promoter of counter-cultural lifestyles, a Jewish magician capable of manipulating the forces of nature, a feminist, or a prophet warning of a coming kingdom (apocalypse) where evil would be overthrown?   Jesus as magician, feminist, or counter-cultural rebel fits right in with modern concepts of Paganism.


There is also the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Canonical Gospels.  For Pagans the idea of a transcendental place beyond this world is incompatible with the immanence of magic and deity.  Pauline Christianity developed the claim of a transcendental Kingdom of Heaven that we occupied after death or the apocalypse.  However much depends on which Jesus you listen to.  The radical Jesus preached the Kingdom of God was within you, and many of those at the time he preached expected the kingdom to arrive within a few years.  It was later that the idea got changed to a transcendent kingdom removed from this earth.


While modern Christians place an emphasis on Jesus as apocalyptic prophet and savior, we could easily change that emphasis to magician, feminist, trickster, and social radical to bring him more in line with Pagan concepts of deity.   We could see the kingdom of heaven as a place here on earth, that we create within us and around us, instead of a long-held promise that depends on redemption.


Instead of thinking about Pagans who follow Jesus as a thin wedge of Christianity into Paganism, we could turn this around and think of them as expanding the idea of what Jesus was and how he fits in with a radically different theology than Pauline Christianity.  When you say “Christo-Pagan” there are a lot of facile impressions and ideas that come up, such as the vision of blending Pat Robertson with Starhawk.  While that theology just won’t work, what may work is the idea of Jesus as the trickster prophet who had a vision that was both magical as well as radically inclusive.  While Jesus was clearly a Jew, there is also nothing incompatible about a polytheistic Judaism being included in the broad range of Pagan religious paths.


That said, I still don’t think that I’ll be calling on any Christian or Jewish deities anytime soon.  Christians have spilled too much of our blood, cut too many groves, and turned too many temples into churches.  Christians seek to convert everyone to their way, which results in their being aggressive about disrupting and destroying other religions in the name of salvation.  While our Christo-Pagans do not fall into this category, it makes it hard to fully embrace the concept.


The idea of a new, Pagan, interpretation of Jesus and Judaism is both interesting and something that is compatible with Paganism.  But for me Paganism is a true religion.  The Gods and Goddess are real and have been shoved aside by modern culture and Christianity before that.  We need to restore them, their worship, and their presence in our lives.  Any Christian influences corrupt that work with ideas and theologies that remove it from the magical, physical, world where our Gods and Goddesses exist.  In the future I’ll be careful to listen to the Christo-Pagans and the case they make for inclusivity, but I still may not embrace it.


[1]  Paganism is quite accepting of many of the parameters of early Judaism.  Monotheism has a very long history in Pagan religions, so the idea of one, overriding, God is in no way foreign (e.g. Mithras, Ra of Akhenaten).  The Gnostic idea of secret knowledge is pretty much the foundation of modern magic, and Gnostic concepts run through much of modern high magic (and Paganism, I avoid a discussion of Gnosticism because that is a book in itself).  Jesus as a dying and reborn God can also be seen as simply another version of a common Pagan concept of cycles of deity.

[2]  Though you might be able to argue that by claiming inclusivity that we subjugate all Gods and Goddesses to Paganism.  Sort of like my Catholic friends who say my Gods and Goddesses are just an imperfect manifestation of theirs, we too can claim that Jehovah, Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are all simply other Gods within our broad and inclusive Pantheon.  This then becomes essentially a linguistic/semantic problem.  It comes down to how we define what we are talking about, and how we use our ability to name things to structure and make sense out of the world.  If everything is everything else and the names we use do not distinguish one thing from another, then it becomes very difficult to have a sensible discussion.  Thus, Pagans are what we are, and Abrahamic religions are monotheistic exclusivists.  There is a difference because there is a difference.  (And I know Houston Smith’s arguments about all religions are merely branches of one root, at some level that is probably true, but here I’m working well up the trunk and not at the root).