Apologetics fascinates me. The rhetorical and written art of defending one’s religious or spiritual path with the focus of an archer. Now, I am not in the habit of attacking anyone’s religious path in life. I consider it to be arrogant and a huge waste of my time. I have, however, been the subject of attempts at conversion as well as occasional brushes with the press regarding the nature and character of paganism.
Paganism is spreading and growing all over the globe. And we are not the only ones aware of this fact. Christians are seeing the same phenomenon, paganism capturing the spiritual hearts and minds of many people all over the globe. This was made keenly apparent to me when I ran across this online course titled “Neo-Paganism: Is Dialogue Possible?”, written from a Christian (I believe a Catholic) perspective. I highly encourage a full reading of this text, as it really gives a number of good insights for the patient and debate loving pagan. The course is tolerant and not invective and because of this it stands out:
It is easy to parody another religion, and neopaganism is a parodist’s delight. One can easily brand its ritual as primitive or just plain weird. Yet serious apologetics requires that one exercise a hermeneutic of respect in the attempt to understand another faith. St. Paul obviously spent time with the Athenians, reading their poets and watching people at worship before daring to address them. Only in this way can Christians begin to dialogue with pagans. We need to put aside fifteen hundred years of offhanded dismissal and listen to pagans as having something intellectually serious and spiritually viable to say. This does not mean agreeing with them but having enough respect to listen and learn.
Some of you may already be aware of this course, some of you may not. What I find fascinating, and well worth consideration are the following critiques:
- “The apologist must ensure that if pagans reject Christianity it is because of the gospel and no human stumbling block.”
- “We need to present God’s ‘maternal’ qualities, likewise the immanence of God. God shares our flesh, becomes God with us’ and suffers. This God comes to us corporeally in worship! There is nothing more immanent than the consumption of Christ’s body and blood.”
The first point. Pagans when explaining and/or dialoguing with Christians need to keep in mind a few things. The indictment against the existence of God by many Atheists is the history of the Church. Now as much as many pagans would like to pretend that paganism has no blood on it’s hands from the past, this is a provable historic falsehood. I have done an earlier post about this. However, I do think it is fair to point out to Christians that the Bible was written down by humans and could contain many “human stumbling blocks” of it’s own. Regardless it fosters greater dialogue between Christians and pagans by discussing our present beliefs more than our past actions. Pointing out the past evils of the church (in this context anyway) will not work for long as Christians will eventually start pointing out the dark history that paganism has as well.
The second point. The immanence of God in Christianity is indeed shown in the Eucharist and the incarnation of the Nazarene. But, from my perspective, that immanence is limited to those particular incarnations. With the planet in as much peril as it is, this kind of artificial separation is a falsehood that could cause suffering on a scale that humanity has experienced before. Why is the body seen as corrupt? Why is sex seen as a barrier to knowing God rather than a key?
There are of course many juicy topics for debate when speaking with Christians or any other flavor of monotheism. I think it is going to become increasing important for pagans to genuinely prepare to defend and present their spirituality in an intelligent, kind, and direct way. Emotional reactions end up reflecting bad on all of us, and *will* be covered by the press when we do. One thing the press loves most? A fight.
I would recommend reading the following articles as food for thought if you are interested in pagan apologetics and or pagan public relations. The first is a treatise written by the the last pagan Roman Emperor, Julian. Called, “Against the Galilaeans“, it provides an excellent (if slightly more invective) overview of the differences between Christianity and paganism from an ancient pagans perspective. The other is a short but succinct essay called “Paganism as a Metagrid of the Future” by the impeccable scholar and pagan, Professor Lokesh Chandra. This poetic and thoughtful essay takes the very complicated belief structure of paganism and distills it in a way that is beautiful, easy to understand, and defend.