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Ogmios holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, and realized about 2 years ago that the beliefs and intuition that he has had since childhood are, in fact, pagan views.  He has been practicing as a solitary for just over two years adhering to a Continental Celtic path.


Christian Pagan

by Ogmios 

 The term "Christian Pagan" is occasionally seen as a description of an individual who participates at some level within an established Christian church, while functioning at a deeper level as a Pagan who has yet to "come out of the broom closet".  There has been a significant amount of discussion in print and on-line publications, internet discussion groups, and Pagan-friendly chat rooms regarding whether this is a "legitimate" religious position  -  and, whether Paganism and Christianity can be considered even remotely compatible.  Fundamentally, the question comes down to:  "Is Christian Paganism an oxymoron?  Or, are the terms to some degree redundant?"

Answering this question revolves around three primary points:  (1) How do we define Christianity?  (2) What do we mean by  Paganism?  and, (3) Does syncretistic behavior weaken one's fundamental beliefs?  This last point is critical because one can argue quite effectively that Paganism and Christianity are two of the world's most syncretistic religious positions.  Let's look at these points.

Syncretism    The American Heritage Dictionary defines syncretism as "the attempt or tendency to combine or reconcile differing beliefs, as in philosophy or religion."  Modern Pagan practice (aka neo-Paganism - eg Wicca, Asatru, Huna) is, in general, partially a result of "handed down" wisdom, and partially a "reconstructed set of beliefs and practices".  As such, it is often an amalgamation of multiple traditional belief systems.  Celtic Path practitioners have no difficulty in acknowledging or calling upon an Asatru deity;  modern Huna practitioners may utilize an approach primarily known through the traditional Hindu belief system;  et cetera.  The purist will argue that when this occurs the deity being called upon or the practice being applied "fits" the belief system being practiced;  nevertheless, Frigg is not another name for Cerridwen.  Julius Csar often attempted to draw this conclusion by linking Gallic deities to their "Roman counterparts", but -despite this historic precedent - belief systems do not have interchangeable parts.

Christianity is even more syncretistic than Paganism.  A few illustrations should suffice:  Christianity's immaculate conception, virgin birth, grotto/manger setting, December 25th date, attending shepherds, Madonna and Child images, Easter eggs, and All Saints Day are all drawn from other religions.  This is actually a very common practice among major religions (appropriating pieces from each other), and does not necessarily detract from the validity of the underlying message of the particular faith.

What is Christianity?   Christianity is, at its most fundamental, the expression of religious faith that is based upon the life and teachings of the Jew that became known to followers as "the Christ".  The term Christus is a Latin equivalent to the Hebrew Messiah, and merely indicates one who is "anointed".  This could refer to a political anointing (e.g, a king) or, in the case of Christ, a spiritual anointing (i.e. the Son of God).  The most fundamentalist and traditionalist Christians (e.g. Baptist, Mennonite, Roman Catholic, Orthodox) generally consider Christ to be "God incarnate" - literally, God in human flesh (i.e. Jesus of Nazareth).  Over the years, there have been serious divisions within the Christian religion over specific, intricate interpretations of exactly what this means.  Early groups such as the Arians and Donatists, as well as more recent groups (such as some of the modern Protestant denominations) have had difficulty accepting the seemingly illogical "Three in One", "Three in Person, One in Substance", and "It's a Mystery" explanations of the Christian Trinitarian Godhead in a monotheistic religion.

Although many Christians would like to define Christianity to include only those people who believe as they do (and require a belief that "Jesus is God in human form"), the presence of so many patently Christian groups that are only comfortable with stating that Christianity is "the faith that follows the teachings and example of Jesus the Christ" requires us to broaden our basic definition of Christian to include these people as well.

What is Paganism?   Describe a snowflake.  It is often stated that "no two snowflakes are the same".  And, this may actually be accurate (or, at least nearly so).  Similarly, Paganism envelops a very broad range of  beliefs - incorporating the beliefs and practices of hundreds of established paths, as well as the highly modified variations practiced by thousands upon thousands of solitaries.  So, "what is Paganism?" is not an easy question to answer, although the derivation appears fairly certain:  the Latin term paganus refers to a rural inhabitant, or "country dweller".  It seems clear that the urban population began to equate the fact that someone was a villager (paganus) with their unique, pre-Christian religious beliefs (hence, pagan) - just as the residents of India equated a refugee from Persia (Hindi parsi) with their religious beliefs (parsiism;  known in the West as Zoroastrianism).  This derivation for "pagan" is similar to the derivation of heathen from a person who lived on the heath (Anglo-Saxon for "unploughed land").  If nothing else, this puts Christians in the awkward position of claiming that "paganism is a modern perversion" while simultaneously deriving the name for the followers of this "modern perversion" from pre-Christian country dwellers.

So, can someone be both?  Not really;  however, the two belief systems are, in many ways, more alike than they are different - particularly in their ritual and traditions.  There are notable similarities between the Pagan wheel of the year and the Christian liturgical year, and this extends even more to holidays.  In a number of instances, various aspects, rituals, and even the very origin of the holiday are almost certainly pagan.  So, while it would be extremely difficult to conceive of someone who believes in the essence of both Christianity and Paganism, finding someone who practices both is not too difficult to imagine.  The question thus becomes "why?".

The open practice of paganism often invites criticism, ridicule, potential loss of job, social ostracization, and even bodily harm - while the open practice of Christianity more likely encourages a positive popular response.  As the saying goes, "it doesn't take a rocket scientist" to realize that, for many people, "passing" as Christian can significantly simplify their public life.  And, although this deception may be offensive to the purist, it is generally not very difficult for the closet pagan to participate in most ostensibly Christian practices.

In future articles, we'll explore:  the Liturgical Calendar;  the Christian seasons;  many of the purportedly Christian traits, traditions, and rituals;  and, several of its various holy days.  And, we'll look at their meanings, practice, and origins (both known and speculative).  The purpose is neither to criticize nor belittle Christianity (after all, many of these Christian practices are patently Pagan in origin).  If you have a question regarding a specific holiday, practice, or belief, pose it via e-Mail to TWPT and we'll try to address it in the articles that follow.