Monday, January 30, 2012

"Pagan Christianity"

Ha. I bet you thought this was going to be a blogpost about ChristoPagans, didn't you?

That's what I thought when I saw the title of this blogpost by Dyfed Wyn Roberts, Pagan Christianity.

But no, it's about a pair of bigots who have written a book complaining about all the "pagan" bits in Christianity.

I find the notion of expunging "pagan" practices from Christianity really offensive - but then I am a Pagan.

The Orthodox Church at least has the sense to practice inculturation in its missionary activities, whereby it preserves the bits of the pre-Christian culture that do not conflict with Christianity (which is most things).

I don't approve of converting people of other religions to Christianity, but if you must do so, at least do it with some respect and sensitivity towards them, as the Orthodox Church does.

The early church preserved many aspects of pagan culture which might otherwise have been lost. Snorri Sturluson wrote down the Eddas (Norse legends). The Pantheon in Rome was converted into a church (can we have it back please?) St Paul quoted two pagan poets, Epimenides and Aratus, in his famous speech in the marketplace in Athens.

Many customs which are supposedly "pagan" actually turn out to be only pre-Reformation folk customs.

Other practices (such as Christmas trees) may have been pagan or Christian in origin - no-one is quite sure.

Doubtless there are "pagan" bits in Christianity - including the myth of the dying and resurrecting god so beloved of most Christians - but they should be celebrated, not expunged.


Steve Hayes said...

I may share this post on some Christian missiology forums, where some might find it interesting.

Tymofiy the Man said...

This accurately describes Orthodox Christian mission approaches, much like Jesus did. Jesus fulfilled the Jewish law, used Aramaic in Galilee, spoke Greek to Greeks, and in Latin to Pontius Pilate. Adapting to the people in each situation was followed by Apostle Paul. It appears following the Master, King and Lord nurtures the fulness of humanity. God becomes incarnate embraces all of humanity in Jesus Christ - active love. So must authentic mission work, out of love.
Real love frees people. For example people from untouchable castes in India who receive the love of God in Jesus Christ can rise out of bondage- should they be protected from their masters after they embrace faith in Christ. "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." John 8:36. Healthy Christianity makes pagan society better in some cases.

Yewtree said...

Hi Timofiy, thanks for your response. I got my knowledge of Orthodox missiology mainly from Steve, so naturally it's accurate :)

The untouchable castes in India have also been liberated by Buddhism. There is nothing special about Christianity.

Missionaries have done some good, but also harm. It's complicated.

I just don't think it's right to try to convert people of other religions, no matter how sensitively you do it.

Tymofiy the Man said...

Yewtree. It is true. Much harm can be done when sincere efforts are misguided, unskilled or simply naive and ignorant. Embracing people with love in any case is the Way to be.

Yewtree said...

"Embracing people with love in any case is the Way to be." -- Amen to that.

If I was to create a hierarchy of people I would rather be converted by, at the top would be "being left to decide for myself what spiritual path I want to follow". Next would be Buddhism, because they are not averse to people's original gods - they just consider them irrelevant to enlightenment (and I am inclined to think they are right, as the gods are on their own path). After that would come the Orthodox saint who went to convert Japan, built a church and waited. After that would come other Orthodox missionaries. Then the Jesuits, because they made the effort to understand the cultures they were visiting. Then Catholics who like liberation theology, and Catholics who practice inculturation. Then Anglicans (a respectable enough suburb of the Kingdom of Heaven). Then Methodists, because they were opposed to slavery. Then Baptists, because sometimes they can be persuaded to change their minds. Near the bottom of the list: Pentecostals and fundamentalists and anybody who wants to persecute witches. Right at the bottom of the list: those Catholics of the past who went around burning people who didn't agree with them.

Yewtree said...

I'm pleased to say that Unitarianism doesn't have missionaries in the sense of people who go and try to convert others. It is one of the many things I like about Unitarianism. Instead, Unitarians encourage religious freedom, and reasonable approaches to religion, through the International Association for Religious Freedom.

Where Unitarianism has taken root in countries other than those where it originated, it is because people have read about it and decided they liked it and founded their own Unitarian or UU churches.