Christianity has been around in its myriad of forms for some 2000 years, plus or minus a few centuries.  For better or worse, it is one of the most successful religious paths–from a single, executed Jewish heretic (whether you believe in his historical existence or not) to a complex of  religiously diverse denominations and organizations with far reaching pockets and tendrils into nearly every part of public life (unfortunately including heavy-handedness in American politics).  And we could do a lot to learn from it.

Now, before some of you go off into the deep end, I’m not saying that Pagans should embrace the more obnoxious tactics or extremist views of certain Christian groups (which will remained unnamed).  Actually in those cases, I think we would be better off learning what not to do from their horrible examples.  But there are actually a lot of beautiful (or just plain smart) ideas and traditions  in various Christian traditions–and there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING wrong with adapting them within our own practices and communities, when they are applicable and/or when they fill a need.  Or at least I don’t think so.

I know that for many people it is difficult to get past the very real damage that being raised in Christian families and an overwhelmingly Christian society has done to their psyche.*  The natural defensive mechanism to soul-hurt is to no different than the natural defensive mechanism in a physical fight-or-flight incident.  I was so very lucky to be raised in the United Church of Christ, which is one of the more liberal and progressive  Christian denominations, in a congregation where diversity was embraced and in a family where God was a force of love for all people that answers to as many names as his people can dream up.  I’ve still experienced discrimination for my beliefs in my life, and I still live in fear that the wrong person will use my beliefs against me and can cause harm to my children and my family.

With this being said, I think that we owe ourselves–our own growth, our own strength, our own identity–to do better going forward.  And sometimes this means learning from others.  Lets be honest about our own prejudices and set them aside. After all, if we want to reclaim and clean up the pejorative definitions of “Pagan”, perhaps we ought to start with extending the same courtesy to some Christian ideas as well.  Especially the ones that are done well, or can be done better.

  • Evangelism.  Yeah, I said it.  But this guy said it first (or at least before I did), and he said it really well.  Did you have that knee jerk reaction to the term?  The one that gives you the cross-eyed, glassy stare, as you try to figure out whether its worse to carry that Chick Tract around in your pocket until you find a recycling bin, or just toss it in the trash?  Guess what,  evangelismus (Greek) and evangelium (Latin) just mean “good news”source.  We have plenty of good news (if you haven’t read the first link, go…I’ll still be here), infact, we even have an entire thread devoted to it over at Pagan Forum!  Don’t blame a word for the actions of people that have commandeered it for their own agenda.  Just call it evangelismus instead.
  • Tech support.  There isn’t really a Christian term for this that I know of, but its something nearly all mainline denominations do well and visibly.  Need help in writing prayers?  Need help in organizing religious education lessons for kids?  Need help finding liturgical music?  The answer is there–books, songs, lesson plans, sermons…and easy to find without blog hunting and endless web surfing.  Good news: We are getting there, we really are.  But we need more collaboration between individuals and organizations to create accessible repositories of  material like poems, myths, prayers, liturgy, and rituals that are inclusive to all types of Pagans (I’m saying we need an index-able system that includes all perspectives of material, not that we need a ton of one-size-fits-all materials).  I could also put in a shout out for effective organizational structures in here as well…
  • Grace.  Divine grace  is not unique to Christianity, but its emphasized there more and often more effectively than in other religions that share the idea, at least for those of us in Western cultures with a Christian majority population.  In Christianity, grace is the un-merited favor of God.  If justice is getting what we deserve, and mercy is not getting the punishment deserves, then grace is sort of an undeserved reward–like forgiveness, love, etc.source  Grace though is a multi-faceted word and an equally multifaceted idea.  It can mean everything from “to thank” to “to bestow favor” to esteem, good will, refinement, elegance or virtue.  All of those we have plenty of (and plenty to share) and should be embracing!  I was raised in a tradition that taught that God’s grace was supposed to flow downhill (something I think a lot of Christians have lost sight of, unfortunately)–that divine favor is given by virtue of divine love, and that there is an implicit responsibility to share that favor with others, regardless of one’s bias as to their worthiness.  As a Pagan, I disagree with the process, but I don’t disagree with the idea overall.  If (as I believe) the gods help them that help themselves, than we have a duty to help those than cannot help themselves–we have been given the gift of heath and (relatively) good fortune, then we need to be the physical hands of the gods in doing the physical work that they cannot in this world.  I realize that not all Pagans will at all like any of what I just said (probably worse than the bit of evangelism)…if nothing else, for goodness sake, Paganism has gods called The Graces (whether you worship them or not)!
  • Public Relations for Normalization.  So…this is something that actually comes from the business and advertising world, but in terms of religious organizations, the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons/LDS) have is down pat.  I mean really, they went from an almost universally reviled religion that got kicked out of every state they moved to until they founded their own territory to two presidential hopefuls in the past election, one with an actual shot at winning (whether you like Mitt Romney or not…and don’t forget John Huntsman) in a matter of 200 years.  That’s not too shabby.  I blogged a bit about this in a post last September, on what we can do in terms of PR to gain acceptance as individuals.  Because if all people see of Paganism is Charmed and Buffy and unacceptable news stories, you can’t blame them for thinking we are a bunch of wackos.
  • Charity that is visible. Pagans do charity work.  You know this, I know this.  No one else really knows this.  Why?  Because we have an overwhelming tendency to do it as individuals.  There are very few covens, groves, hearths, circles, etc going down to a disaster area or going down to the local food bank in matching t-shirts, sending a message that effectively says “Pagans care.”  Because I know a lot of Pagans, and for the most part, we do care, often very passionately about things like social justice and environmental health and community.  So then, where are Pagan-supported food banks, Pagan-supported disaster organizations (another thing Mormons do well), Pagan-supported green space committees, Pagan-supported homeless shelters and crisis centers?  Or at least Pagan groups and organizations that work with interfaith food pantries or even civil projects like Adopt-A-Spot?  And if there are, why aren’t we at least sharing it effectively in our own communities as well as the Pagan community–particularly the tech support side of it (hey, here’s what we are doing, and here’s how you can do it too!)?
  • Agape. Ancient (pre-Christian) Greek philosophers had three words for love: philia (friendship/brotherhood), eros (erotic love and desire), and agape, the love a spouse or family.  In Christianity the term has a few different uses (which might be exclusive to some denominations and individuals), mainly relating to the love of God or Christ to mankind, or to the love of Christians for their vision of God/Christ, or for the love that should extend from this reciprocal love as the love for other peoples.  Obviously there is no Pagan consensus on a reciprocal love between the gods and man–whether it be from mythology or from the UPG of modern pagans (you can find some variation on ideas here, in the 1st question on a thread at Pagan Forum, if you are interested), but that doesn’t mean that we have to give up on the original meaning of agape, or the idea of extending that love beyond our insular families.
You may have noticed, in my list, that some of these things overlap or are inter-dependent.  Charity as an act is an extension of grace–grace rolling downhill because of love (agape).  Good PR is the inevitable conclusion of charity and from (positive) evangelism.  Effective tech support and supportive organizational structures allow for charity to take place on a visible scale (I am NOT saying we should do charity for good PR, I’m saying it doesn’t hurt, so please do not put words in my mouth).
I don’t doubt that there are Pagans that don’t necessarily agree with my assessment once they’ve read it, and I also don’t doubt that there will be Pagans unable to get past their conditioning to look past the terminology from a Christian context.  And, to be perfectly honest, some of this is stuff we are starting to get together…we just *don’t* have the numbers and the money and the history and organization of 2000 years (yet)–even reconstructionism, as it is practiced, is more of a contemporary concept in Paganism.   In some ways too, I don’t want to do things like some Christian organizations do things.  IMO, charity should not be dependent on conversion,  and the only mission of missionaries should be things like farming techniques, health and sanitation projects, or medical care.  I don’t want to be Christian or for Pagans to be more Christian, I’m just saying that we should be learning from their better idea and organizations, and finding our own ways to emulate them from our own spiritual and religious points of view…doing otherwise as a point of pride or defiance is just shooting ourselves in the foot.

*There are some very well meaning people that will say “well, that isn’t what Jesus was about” or  “not all Christians are like that”.  If you are one of them (after I commend you for making it this far if you are Christian, because some of this is probably hard to read), I can only say that such a comment (while technically true) comes off condescending, patronizing and dismissive of the very real pain that certain denominations and individuals have inflicted on others in the name of God–The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Would you tell a rape victim “not all men do that” (I might add that what is *heard* is “so you should get over it”), or would you say “I’m sorry for your experience, what can I do to help?”  What has been done to some people is no less than a violation of the soul, and in some cases the body as well. So please, the next time you encounter someone that has been hurt by the fellow followers of you faith, or the next time you see the fellow followers of your faith engage in words and actions that damage others simply because they share a different theological opinion, speak out, and speak out with compassion…I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would have done (and I could even list a ton of scripture if you don’t believe me).  If you would share this in your communities, even better.

**My use of the words Pagan and Christian, or even terms like “our” or “their” in this post are not meant to indicate that I believe in either a unified Paganism or a unified Christianity, its just an simpler and easier writing convention to use a universal term for two separate sets of ideas.  I am well aware that neither set of traditions is monolithic.  And I really don’t think that Paganism or Christianity benefits from being monolithic paths…but I do think that the quibbling over terminology when defining both is a bit annoying and detrimental to the image of both.