Patheos hosts a blog called Pagan Restoration in which Sam Webster argues for the elimination of all Christian elements within Pagan practice. He pleads for a pure Paganism, and indirectly also for a pure Christianity. Sam Webster tells us bluntly to be serious and make our choice: be either a good Pagan or a good Christian for there is nothing good in between.
Paganism and Christianity are real things with real, established characteristics. To adhere to either of them requires certain commitments, without which you do not belong to either of them. (…)
Perhaps you are a Christian who has seen the enormous good that is in Paganism but missing from your religion, and you want some of that. Learn, then leave us and go reform your own religion; you may be its salvation. Perhaps you are a Pagan who has not been able to overcome the conditioning that tells you the Christian god-complex is good. (…) I suggest you invoke more: the Gods will save you from this delusion.
This purity appeals to many. After years of debating about Paganism is and isn’t and about what it should be, it sure is nice to get such a clear answer. Pagans are those who seek to eliminate all traces of Christianity in order to create a new Pagan renaissance. Sam Webster uses the word ‘restoration‘, which has less of an appeal than renaissance, but it is an honest choice of word. He is not pleading as much for a rebirth of Pagan art, culture and religion, but for a restoration of the Pagan community. It reminds me of that other, nineteenth century Restoration Movement which sought to unify all Christians into a single body. The message is: let us unite and not be or do Christian.
Mind you, I am pagan and a Pagan. I personally have little interest in Christianity apart from my general interest in religion, history and ancient books. But religious or cultural purity is not only a bad idea, it is an impossible one. It has been tried before and it has failed. Cultures that have been boxed up don’t thrive. They die. As Webster himself noted, one of the important roots of modern Paganism lies in the Florentine Renaissance. How did this rebirth come to be? The immigration of Greek scholars helped. The increased flow of knowledge, books, people and money helped. In fact, Johan Huizinga has argued that the Renaissance halted exactly when the obsession with classical purity became too extreme.
Sam Webster states that the system of Christianity is the enemy. In a way I can sympathise with this statement. I think many Pagans are involuntarily influenced by ages and ages of Christian history. Galina Krasskova has written often and eloquently about ridding herself from ‘the monotheist filter’, this heritage of Christianity. In no unsure words, she calls it a war. To be honest, her writing often makes me highly uncomfortable. But, in essence, I do believe a world without extreme monotheism would be a better world. And I do believe that is important for us Pagans and polytheists to examine our automatic thinking and its origins. The monotheistic word view is a my enemy of sorts.
However, Sam Webster does not only declare war on the system of Christianity, he also seems intend to declare war on those Pagans (who in his mind, are fake pagans) who include any element of Christian heritage in their Pagan practice. These Pagans are declared infiltrators and enemies of our religion.
Therefore I can only conclude that those of you who are still including Christianity in any manner in your Paganism are either Christians coming to be fed what your own religion can’t provide or infiltrators diluting and destroying our religion.
It is the age-old notion of the sheep in wolf’s clothing, also popular among many Christians. Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Is this attitude of suspicion helpful towards strengthening the Pagan battle lines? Surely not. Furthermore, Webster himself is also not entirely clear where the boundary lies. Rendering the Christian God “its due honors” is a good thing according to Webster, but as any concession towards Christianity strengthens the Christian system, how can this be? Is one allowed to listen to music of Christian composers or to enjoy ecclesiastical architecture? According to Catholic doctrine churches are not just buildings, they remain always houses of God. But why do we have to accept any Christian doctrine?
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus offers an alternative to this essentialist closed-doors policy, an alternative that is far more effective in battling monotheist thinking and yet does not exclude Pagans who find inspiration within Christian traditions. His reply is the following:
You’re intelligent enough to know that people don’t always get what their gods are or say or want right, and the less direct contact they have with their gods, the more likely they are to fall into such errors of human arrogance and intransigence. The Christian system, as you say, is based upon belief, not experience, and thus they don’t know their gods as well as they think they do (and the people who wrote the Gospels and other parts of their holy books may not have had that direct contact either), thus why should we trust anything that comes from their mouths, pens, or holy books as in any way reflective of their gods?
Why does Sam Webster concede to Christian thinking? We Pagans seem to lack theological interpretations of our own. P. Sufenas stresses that we are in no way required to accept the tenets of Muslim or Christian theology. We fear, it seems, to think for ourselves. and to make statements about other people’s gods and religions. Adopting Christian terminology gives it credence. Here Sufenas rightly states that to adopt “the terms they have created to prove their own exclusive possession of truth is not only inappropriate, it is actively damaging to our own theological strength as polytheists.
Yes, there is a war, but it is a war of language. I will always stand on the side of the many – many stories, many metaphors, many truths, many gods – against the one. Is Sam Webster fighting the same fight? I think not.
We should set free the gods, all gods.
Other responses to Webster’s Why you can’t worship Christ and be Pagan: