The Christo-Pagan Conflict

Last night, after our Full Moon ritual, I wound up in a conversation with a Wiccan Priest about Christo-Pagans.

“Those two things are mutually exclusive,” he said adamantly.

Something about his tone drew me in. I’m not a conflict junkie, but I felt like this was territory I should explore.

The ritual, which he had partly officiated, was focussed on the idea of being “in balance” or “out of balance,” with an emphasis placed on communication. This opportunity to explore how some people bring elements of Christian and Pagan spirituality into balance within themselves felt like an appropriate extension of our rite.

[A disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be a “Christo-Pagan,” but I did spend the early part of my life and much of my late teens and early twenties identifying as a Christian. I don’t feel any trauma around that. Some of the most important spiritual experiences of my life took place in the safety and familiarity of an Episcopal worship service, even if at the time I couldn’t align with the beliefs laid out in the creeds or doctrines. There is a line of continuity which runs from my early experiences as an acolyte all the way to this morning’s ADF-styled ritual before my very pagan altar, and I’m ok with the existence of that line. I’m not a Pagan who feels he must make a clean break with his past. In truth, I believe that one never makes that sort of clean break; the past is always with us.]

The conversation rose steadily in tone and intensity, but it did not become hateful or mean. At least, I didn’t feel any meanness directed my way. Christians, on the other hand… well, it was probably good that there were none of them with us in the courtyard.

“Christian” was, for my Wiccan friend, synonymous with Christian Institution, or Christian Doctrine, or any number of Christian atrocities that have been dealt out over the centuries. The terms, for him, seemed to be inseparable.

This troubled me.

An unwillingness to see any distinction between the damage done by the Christian Empire and the revelatory, mystical experiences of a Christian sage seems intellectually weak to me. I wouldn’t want my Druid traditions to be painted over in such broad and careless brush strokes.

There is talk in Pagan circles about the decline of Christianity, the role of Christians in Western society (some pointing out rightly that Christians have little room to claim “minority” or “victim” status in America), not to mention the responsibility that some would say that modern Pagans have to resist the influence of Abrahamic traditions at all costs. I’ve heard a few of my Pagan kin even using war language to describe how Pagans should approach Christians.

We are in a battle, they affirm. Take up your spiritual arms.

This, too, troubles me.

In the conversation, I tried to justify and defend the validity of a person finding spiritual sustenance from both Christian and Pagan traditions. I was seeking to have a discussion about the inner realms and their inherent mystery. It does seem paradoxical that a person could find a way to identify as both Pagan and Christian. But, paradox aside, these people exist.

The more we spoke, the more it became clear that my friend wasn’t having a conversation with me about anything spiritual. We weren’t two mystics talking about the Invisible, or the Mystery, or the Divine in any of It’s manifestations. I was reaching for that place, but he was talking to me about the social and the political components of religion, and very little else.

There are plenty of reasonable arguments against Christianity’s dominance in the social and political landscape. Any religion that claims itself to be the sole authority on all-things-spiritual, or that it is the only “True Religion,” is dangerous. Pagans have cause to be on alert about the growing movement of politically backed, hard-core fundamentalist, far right-wing Christians making inroads into office. One of them could end up in the White House before long, and that would mean bad things for American Pagans.

But again, I wasn’t making those arguments, or countering them. I was just suggesting that it would be a mistake for us to dismiss the spiritual experiences of any person — even a Christian.

I may turn out to be a Unitarian Universalist before it’s all said and done. A movement that is built around the principal that all of our spiritual traditions have validity, and that none of us can claim supremacy over the other, speaks to me.

I should be able to explore the ways that my study of Druidry and Paganism through OBOD and ADF have informed my perspective about Deity, Nature, and our interconnectedness without shutting myself off to the ways that Christianity informed my attitudes toward charity, love, and forgiveness.

I worry that Pagans, in our quest to gain equal footing in society, will employ some of the same exclusionary techniques and tactics used against us by the fundi-Christians. I see us speaking out defensively, and I don’t think we can have constructive dialogue with people of other faith traditions when taking that approach.

Of course, there are some in our midst who have no desire for dialogue; some who would have monotheism wiped out completely if they had the power to do so. In my opinion, this is reckless and shortsighted thinking, and it adds nothing to the movement towards a truly pluralistic society.

The victims can become the victimizers, if given the power and opportunity. I feel we must avoid making that mistake.

I recognize that this is a hot-button issue for many Pagans. Please know that I have respect for those of you who feel that you’ve been damaged by Christians, or the Christian Church. I’m in no way invalidating your experience.

I am, however, hoping that you might engage with me, perhaps in the comment section, about what this subject looks like from your perspective. I ask that you be as respectful as you can of the thoughts and opinions of others, and that you feel free to be open and honest about your concerns.

I look forward to reading what you have to say, and if you feel this post was worth reading please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.


26 responses to “The Christo-Pagan Conflict”

  1. BHG Avatar

    Bit of a late post,   but I was catching up,  and I thought I’d mention there seem to be two major varieties of ‘Christo-Pagans:’   there are Pagans who may see Christian divine figures as …more divine figures in a basically-Pagan worldview,  and there’s those who appropriate elements of Paganism or try and conform Paganism itself to a Christian worldview and often some of the very same prejudices,   (they may just like the ‘witchy’  stuff or have some idea the Lord and Lady of Wicca are somehow demanding homophobia,  ….Or otherwise generate a lot of friction.  ) 

    I think one thing the many forms of modern Pagan culture have had in common is in fact a reexamination of the prejudices and assumptions of the Christianized culture:  when ‘Christo-Pagans’  come along and claim they ‘don’t have to,’  but also to be speaking as or for Pagans,  *that’s* where there can be a fair amount of that friction.  Especially if they play the ‘If you were harmed by Christianity,  that means you’re unqualified to challenge my opinion  of Christian superiority,’  question my behavior,  etc,’  card.

  2. […] line of their creed — “We believe in One God.”I may be wrong, though.My post, The Christo-Pagan Conflict, continues to stir up comments from Pagans and Christians alike, the most recent of which was from […]

  3. Guest Avatar

    I’m a progressive, emergent Christian with many pagan friends whom I enjoy and respect. Thanks for a thoughtful post. I’ll be reading your blog regularly now.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you so much for you comment. I’m glad the post resonated with you, and I hope you continue to lend your voice to the dialogue.

  4. Rua Lupa Avatar
    Rua Lupa

    “The victims can become the victimizers, if given the power and opportunity. I feel we must avoid making that mistake.”

    Isn’t that exactly the case with Christianity with its early beginnings being the victims and later being the victimizers? And to this day are usually referencing their origins to promote victimization of their beliefs today. I know its not across the board and know many kind good willed Christians and Churches. Yet politically, they are having a huge say in how government should be run.  Maybe it is only the age of majority thing right now and we’ll see a huge shift after the Baby Boomers have gone?

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Your post affirms what I’m saying, Rua. We all must be careful not to become the victimizers. And yes, Christians are vocal in government, and effective at organizing to initial political change. Perhaps that will be different in 10 or 20 years, but perhaps it would be more important for Pagans, and other people of minority faith traditions, to work at organizing and becoming more vocal, too; not to smite the Christians, but to stand for the sake of being better represented in culture and society. Does that make sense?

  5. Siribear Avatar

    My own split from the Christian faith of my ancestors and movement to a Pagan identity has been a cause for much heartburn.  I’m grateful to see the topic discussed.

    I learned Christianity at the knee of my Methodist minister grandfather.  On vacations in north Wisconsin I learned, from him, how to see divinity in nature, and learned a moral code that places love for each other, and the works of God’s creation at its very core.

    50 years later, I find Christianity has become a thing my Grandfather would not recognize. Nor would he countenance current doctrines of hatred for those who believe differently, or movements that view nature as disposable ‘because Christ is about to come, so there’s no need to preserve it.’

    In tracing my own dislike of Christianity, I have concluded that my distaste for its current face stems — not from Evangelical opposition to Paganism–but from the Evangelical and Dominionist twisting and warpage of was once a benign and lovely faith. 

    Effectively, Pat Robertson and his ilk sin against the memory of my Grandfather – the Christian who showed me the wonders of the divine in the natural world.

    Paganism (especially UU Paganism) is closer to my Grandfather’s trancendentalist leanings than what passes for Christianity as seen in the media today.

    IMHO, the reason Paganism is ‘the fastest growing religion in the U.S.’ is because it has picked up the torch of openness, tolerance, diversity and love dropped by Christianity in the 80’s.  That tolerance  is why Paganism has increasing traction in a pluralistic world.

    That is also why Christianity is rapidly becoming the appendix in the body of U.S. beliefs – a little pocket of trapped poisons making the body politic quite ill at the present.  To survive, Christianity needs to flush out those who speak hate speech, and pick up the torch of tolerance and love. 

    If it fails to do so — it will be excised by history.

    1. Hans J Avatar

      I enjoyed reading your comment, and wanted to respond to part of it, as a friend and I were speaking of this very thing the other day. There are Christian groups that respect the earth and which display tolerance and love, so I don’t think the absence of these things in some Christian spheres is indicative of a problem that is entrenched in all of Christianity.  Several popes for example have spoken of the need to respect the earth and to not exploit its resources. “Christianity” is no more a single entity than is Paganism.

      I would respectfully point out that Christians don’t have a copyright on disrespect for the earth. Pagans and Heathens were slashing and burning long before Christians were, their prayers to the spirits of the land notwithstanding. Greenland, for example – named for the forests that once covered it – now has no trees, and this deforestation began in the Heathen era.

      I would also respectfully point out that modern Pagans have various and sometimes eclectic beliefs, that are removed from what our pre-Christian ancestors believed. Ancient Pagans and Heathens may have been tolerant of the Gods of others, but they did draw lines. In ancient Rome for example, eastern cults were tolerated, but were considered inferior to the Religio Romano, and some cults in Rome, like that of Dionysus, were down right frowned upon. 

      The Romans were always identifying their deities with those of other peoples, but in other parts of the world, “our Gods” were NOT seen as being the same as the Gods of “the people who lived on the other side of the hill”. The “other” Gods may have been tolerated, but they were not regarded as “equal” or the same. “Tolerance” does not imply that all Gods and religions are equal or that they say or mean the same thing, yet some modern Pagans believe just that.

      Our Pagan or Heathen ancestors likewise did not have the modern Pagan notion of “love” in their vocabulary. They waged war, sought retribution, enslaved peoples, and did all this with prayers said, charms made, and priestly sacrifices made to their Gods.

      The point of all this isn’t to negate the thoughtful and heartfelt comment that you made, but to suggest that failings in the tolerance and love department are HUMAN failings, irrespective of religion. Our ancestors, Pagan, heathen or Christian,  could have done better. So must we.

      1. Rua Lupa Avatar
        Rua Lupa

        *applause* I’ve been saying this sort of thing many a time on other blogs in response to the suggestion that all our pagan ancestors were wonderful people to be revered. Most people seem to forget how prevalent slavery, racism and sexism was, among other things.

        1. Teo Bishop Avatar

          Thank you, Rua, for joining in the conversation. I can’t tell you how glad I am to see this rich dialogue taking place around this post.

      2. Siribear Avatar

        Hi, Hans:  In response, I’d like to say that despite the failings of our Pagan and Heathen ancestors to develop a systems understanding of nature, and thus they failed to understand the negative effects of gold mining or timber harvesting – they did have a basic understanding of nature as sacred that Christianity in its early formulations lacked.

        Pagans and Heathens understood that they were in and of nature.  My favorite example of this is that Norse Heathens understood that when you died, you ‘died INTO the land.’  Your spirit became one with your ancestral land.

        Many a Pagan god began life as the ‘genius loci’ or tutelary spirit of a natural place. This understanding of nature as the font and wellspring of the sacred is fundamental to the theology of Paganism.

        Contrast this with the Early Christian (Augustinian) formulation that Nature ‘fell’ at the same time that Adam and Eve ‘fell,’ and is therefore inherently sinful. 

        Not sacred.  Evil, and the realm of Satan.

        It seems post-Enlightenment Christianity through to Post-Modernism was able to shake off Augustinian concepts of nature as evil.  And, yes, there are many mainline Christians who still hold that ‘The Creation’ should be handled kindly, as God gave it to us.

        What is problematic are retrogressive fundamentalisms that seek to erase Enlightenment and Modern theological advances.  They’re the little ‘pocket of poison’ I would exhort mainstream Christianity to clean up.

        They own ’em, it’s mainstream Christianity’s job to clean up the Fundamentalist’s mess. 

        It’s our job to be exemplars of tolerance, diversity, and right relationship to Nature.

      3. Teo Bishop Avatar

        This is great, Hans. Thank you for this comment. You’re bringing up things that I hadn’t considered, and I appreciate the perspective. 

    2. Rua Lupa Avatar
      Rua Lupa

      Wow, that was such a beautiful read. I felt so much love from this post for fellow man and our home. I agree with your entire post whole heartedly. My grandfather was similar, but I was too young when he passed away to remember much of him. But what I do remember and what was spoken of him sings the same tune your grandfather seems to speak. Nature was an everyday part of his life and much of what was handed down was not doctrine, but how to read Nature and understand it better to live a good a full life.

    3. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Siribear, for sharing your personal story. I’m grateful that you’re a part of this dialogue. It’s clear that others feel the same way, too.

      Blessings to you.

  6. Hans Avatar

    article. I was raised Roman Catholic, have several issues with
    Christian teachings, but still connect aesthetically, emotionally, and
    spiritually with that church. I also feel connected to my Germanic
    Heathen heritage, but have had negative experiences with Heathens who
    honor only their Heathen ancestors, and who fail to see that
    Christianity is as much a part of their cultural heritage as is anything
    else. My tendency now is to combine elements of the two traditions, as
    did my ancestors at one point in time. There is nothing “new age” about
    this, and there is historical precedent.Some
    early Christians saw their faith as being, not the enemy of the Pagan
    world, but the fulfillment or logical conclusion to it. They saw Pagan
    deities as being foreshadowers of the Christ via the good qualities that
    they embodied. Concepts of baptism, “sin”, sacramental communion, etc.
    are Pagan in origin, and I find it ironic that our Heathen/Pagan
    ancestors had LESS of a problem with honoring Gods from other faiths
    than do many modern Heathens!As
    a Christo-Heathen, I would not be (for some) a “good Heathen” or a
    “good Christian”, but I most certainly WOULD be in line with ancestors
    who honored their old deities, in tune with the cycle of the seasons,
    while also honoring in some capacity, the “new” God. Christianity didn’t
    evolve in a vacuum. It was nourished and informed by the Pagan world.
    Heathenism likewise, as a living, organic thing, was informed by
    Christianity. Anglo-Saxon kings had altars to the Christ and to the
    Gods. They saw no contradiction in this, and Jesus and His apostles were
    seen by many European Heathens as being a chieftan with his warriors. (
    Even the God of the Old Testament didn’t say that He was the ONLY God.
    He told His followers to honor him FIRST, not “only”.Many
    pre-Christians had concepts akin to monothesim, though the word
    “henotheism” is sometimes more accurately used. The Roman Emperor
    Aurelian for example instituted the cult of Deus Sol Invictus (not to be
    confused with Mithras or Baal, who also had this title.) Sol Invictus
    reigned as celestial emperor over the other Gods, and his cult became
    the official cult of the empire. The Greeks believed in many Gods, but
    also believed that they acted in concert, with an underlying unity. Dual
    concepts of a “one” and “many” were NOT conflicting for the ancient
    peoples, but are for MODERN Christians and Heathens or Pagans.

  7. Sanil Avatar

    I can identify with a lot of this. I get tired of seeing the hatred a lot of pagans seem to have towards Christians and Christianity. I also wouldn't consider myself a Christo-Pagan, but my Christian days meant a lot to me, and parts of Christianity (especially Catholicism) speak to me and are very meaningful to me even now. A big part of why I still consider myself a UU and am working towards UU ministry is that I think it's important to have this beacon of actual acceptance and dialog. Of course, that's the ideal, not necessarily the reality, and I've heard stories of some UU congregations that can be very disdainful of Christians as well.

    At the same time, I can understand why people have difficulty with Christianity. For maybe the first year I identified as pagan, I held a lot of resentment towards Christianity. It took me quite awhile to face up to it and start working on my attitude, finally realizing it didn't make sense to accept that there is truth and meaning in every religion except Christianity. When I got to that point, it became very important for me to try to understand why Christianity bothered me so I could move past it, and also to try to understand Christianity in a more inclusive way. Since I've started on that process, it's easy for me to believe that Christo-Paganism is possible and valid. Once you separate Christianity from the dogma that has grown around it and strip it down to the basics, there's really no reason it can't interact and even mesh well with other faiths.

  8. LaTrice Avatar

    Thank you for another insightful, thought provoking post.

    This topic is one I struggle with, how do I keep from painting what I like to call True Christians with the same brush as the Rick Perrys, and Cindy Jacobs of the world. Fortunately, my social circle consists for folks on different spiritual paths. W have very indepth, thought provoking discussions about religion quite often and while we may not always agree about dogma and such, we do agree that our goals are the same. These friends help remind me that a few bad Perry and Jacob-like, apples don't spoil the whole barrel.

    Peace and Blessing

  9. Alyss Avatar

    I self identify as a Quaker Pagan, but not a Christian. My Quaker meeting IS a christ centered community, though, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about Christianity's role in my own spirituality. I really do believe that we are all talking about the same thing – God, Allah, the Goddess, Tao, the Mystery, Love, Light, Lugh, the Horned God, Thor, Osiris… just different names and aspects of something our human brain can not understand. Most people throughout history know that there is something divine out there, and we've made up lots of stories to help us understand this unknowable and un-understanable thing. The stories and knowledge of Christian mystics, clerics and believers is just as valid in helping me understand God as the stories and knowledge of Pagan peoples, Muslim peoples and even secular people who talk about love and life and mystery. I happen to be pretty OK with spiritual ambiguity so I would have no problem if someone said they were Christian and Pagan… I'd just ask them to tell me about that 🙂

    The North Pacific Yearly Meeting, a Quaker regional organization on the West Coast, has a wonderful set of Advice and Queries (the Quaker answer to a creed or catechism). In it, there is the query "Do we avoid being drawn into violent reactions against those who are destructive of human dignity? Do we reach out to the violator as well as the violated with courage and love?" This has been an important question for me when dealing with religious fundamentalists, or fundamentalists of any other stripe. How do I keep from doing what they are doing, just from the other side of the line they drew? How do I get rid of the line and point us all in the direction of being better people?

    Thank you again for a wonderful and insightful post. I always love reading what you have written 🙂

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for your comment, Alyss. I appreciate your perspective, the steadiness in your tone, and your willingness to hold the tension between these different ideas.

      I don't know much about Quakerism, but you describe an atmosphere that I think I might feel very comfortable in. I'll keep that query in mind. It is resonant for me as well.

      Bright blessings to you.

  10. ThemonTheBard Avatar

    I just commented over on the Wild Hunt, where Jason wrote on this topic.

    Christianity is full of schizophrenic tensions that arise from different sources. Many of them are built into the structure of their Holy Book, and they have the perennial dilemma of resolving them. I would say they are unsuccessful for the most part: instead, they simply live with the contradictions. It's like a badly-formed Sudoku that has no solution, but they keep trying to solve it.

    In popular Christianity this leaks out as a general schizophrenia about life. What is that famous quote? Ah, yes (love Google):

    Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love. ~Butch Hancock

    I think it is possible to have dialogue with people who manage to keep this tension within a larger container of philosophy, or at least a good sense of humor. Those who let it leak out into the real world are difficult, if not impossible, to talk with. They are quite literally crazy. At least that's been my experience.

    My experience (again) is that Evangelicals tend to wear their schizophrenia on their sleeves and act it out in the social/political sphere. They are very hard to talk with. The other mainstream Christians, not so much.

    Paganism has its crazies, too, but they seem to be just run-of-the-mill unstable people. Christianity has those, too. That has a very different quality, I think.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the comment! This is an interesting take, Themon. Could you expand on what you mean when you say that these "schizophrenic tensions" are "built into the structure of their Holy Book…"?

      1. ThemonTheBard Avatar

        I outline one of the major tensions in….

        In brief summary of that, the Bible depicts a God of Love who spends most of the Old Testament trying (unsuccessfully) to punish or destroy the human race. That's what I call a "schizophrenic tension," because the only way you can use the word "love" in the context of destroying the beloved is if you get a little insane. The old "We had to destroy the village to save the village" doublethink.

        You have the bizarrely dysfunctional extended family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The tale of the sacrifice of Isaac is on par with The Shining as a horror story. All work and no play makes Abraham a dull boy…. A lot of theological effort goes into trying to tease a sensible lesson out of what appears to be a purely psychotic episode.

        You have a doctrine of "just war" outlined by the concept that "anything is permissible if God is on your side" as the tribes of Israel swept through Canaan and conquered the Promised Land of "milk and honey." How do you know God is on your side? You roll dice (Urim and Thummin). You read oracles. You take defeat in battle as a de facto sign that God has abandoned you, and seek for the guilty within your own war camps until you find the sinner who put God off and kill them. Then God returns and you start winning battles again. Anything sound familiar there?

        You have the ghastly amalgam of two stories in two different styles in the Book of Job. It starts out with a "just-so" story about God and Satan engaging in a bar bet over this fellow named Job. It ends up with what might have once been a major mystical work about the ineffability of God, but in the amalgamation of the two stories, comes across as God, sore loser of the bet (and major asshat) telling Job to just shut up because he wouldn't understand anyway.

        You have the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus, to slake the blood-lust of this God. Who can't help demanding blood sacrifice, because WE are so sinful.

        You have the ironic paradox that the only reason the Bible is an authoritative document is that it was endorsed by the early Church Councils, starting with the Nicene Council in CE 325. The only reason the Church Councils were authoritative was because they were given an imperial commission to unify Christian doctrine by the Roman Emperors, starting with Constantine. Now the Evangelicals idolize The Book, but claim that the Roman Catholic Church is and always was corrupt, and that they follow "Jesus alone." As described in the New Testament. Which is the editorial product of the corrupt Imperial Roman Church.

        It's rather a mess. Some "liberal" theologians, like Episcopal Bishop John Spong, calls these things the "terrible texts" of the Bible, and seems to think (like Thomas Jefferson) we ultimately need to remove them from the Bible. The Evangelicals and Fundamentalist sects, however, are locked into the Bible by their doctrine of "inerrancy" — which is their version of papal infallibility — and so they are stuck trying to make sense of these things.

        1. Darren Avatar

          I tend to have my largest difficulty with Christians based on some of the same points you mention above. I think that the combined effect of the disjointed nature of the books on the Bible could make anyone slightly crazy…to take it as a whole thing is like trying to read the encyclopedia in date order to learn the story of the earth. Most who start out with a confirmed belief in the inerrant ‘truth’ of the Bible find themselves unable to understand any other person’s argument because they have plugged their ears with the pages and effectively shouted “Nah-nah-nah-nah” before the discussion ever got started.

          I have just found your blog, and already I feel it needs to be on my hot-list. Thanks for starting a wonderful discussion, and thanks for the thoughtful comments on others’ comments!


          1. Teo Bishop Avatar

            Thank you, Darren. I appreciate that, and I’m grateful for you joining in the dialogue. I feel honored that so many thoughtful people are taking the time to respond. I do my best to speak from my heart about things that matter to me, and it makes me happy to feel like there’s some community out there for me.

            Bright blessings to you.

  11. Michael Avatar

    I think you are a UU even if you haven't quite brought yourself to say so declaratively yet. We will welcome you when you do. 🙂

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks, Michael. I appreciate that. I'll let you know if I sign up for membership! 🙂