Rethinking Attitudes Toward Christianity

When I first encountered Neopaganism, it was fairly common to see a harsh assessment of Christianity in much of the material. On an interpersonal level this was even more pronounced. Christianity was said to be misogynist, hierarchical, and generally everything that Pagans were against. As Paganism has become more prevalent, I have noted a change in the public attitude (though not generally amongst Pagans when encountered face to face). The approach seems to have shifted toward “playing nice.”

A sentiment I hear expressed so often I can’t help wondering if people are thinking when they say it is “If you want to be respected, you have to show respect.” Which is fine, as far as it goes. It just misses the point of talking about religious beliefs and their implications. The question is not whether one can relate socially to another human being without insulting them. This is basic courtesy. Most, if not all, Christians are ultimately caring individuals who want what they see as the best for their fellow human beings. What really needs to be asked is whether religious beliefs have social and ethical impacts, and whether these impacts can be evaluated as generally beneficial or generally harmful. In other words, is what a Christian sees as “the best” really the best, or a collection of insane nonsense that leads people to hurt one another.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I think the answer is a little bit of both, depending on the individual and the sect. “Christianity” as such is only identifiable by generalities. Some of these generalities are problematic on their own, but don’t become actual issues until someone decides to put a particularly pathological spin on them. For instance, focusing on an episode of extreme pain and mutilation as the center of ones religious beliefs seems, from where I sit, psychologically unhealthy. But it only becomes an ethical issue when people start actually nailing themselves to crosses in an effort to emulate it. We are, in such cases, a little too squeamish about saying “Moron, don’t nail yourself to a cross.” But then I’m of the “it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye” school of cultural relativism.

But it’s not as if Christianity is a foreign belief system for most of us. Even those who grew up in more “secular” environments still assimilated the assumptions that our collective metaphysic inherited from the dominant belief system. Atheism is basically addressed at those assumptions, as much as it would like to generalize its critique. Which is the main reason why I think we, as Pagans, still need to look critically at Christianity. Forget about what Christians think about us, or even what one type of Christianity teaches. We are the future and they, in the final analysis, are the past.

If we are to move forward into something like a civilization, we need to start looking at the mistakes our ancestors made. These mistakes generally arose from a Christian viewpoint. Yes, to a certain degree this does cast the religion in a negative light. But it is the light shone by their own actions, over centuries. The cumulative, historical effects of the religion and its God do not reflect well upon it.

“What’s done is done,” as they say. To blame modern Christians for these things is only partly just. To the extent that they maintain a literal belief in the Bible and an adherence to doctrines that denigrate the material world, sexuality, women, and the various cultural others, I think it fair to point this out. In the end, however, it is largely beside the point. It is very difficult to maintain beliefs which run counter to the evidence of ones senses and the prevailing tendencies of the age. These things are slowly being sloughed off, even if those holding on to the detritus are especially tenacious and bombastic about it.

What is really important is to look inside, and see how many of the old ghosts are still in our own machine. It is even possible that some may still be worth keeping around. But we’ll never know if we place ourselves in a corner where saying anything even remotely critical of Christianity is considered out of bounds and cause not to take someone seriously. That is simply silencing for political convenience. Something we have had a great deal too much of in the past, and which is beneath us.

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1 comment
  1. Very interesting post. Howard Zinn (author of A People’s History of the United States) once said, “History is important. If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.” The history of Paganism over the last 1700 years is a history of oppression, and the history of Christianity over the last 1700 years is a history of aggression and violence against all other religions, as well as a great deal of Christians-on-Christian violence. I believe that it is essential for Pagans, and everyone, to understand that all religions are not committed to world dominance, but that some are. Unless we know which is which then it’s “as if we were born yesterday.”

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