Wednesday, January 25, 2012

One of These Things, is Not Like the Others...

Recently I was involved in a conversation with an atheist.  The main claim of this young man's argument was that paganism and Christianity were at their core the same; "both cults...  and ruddy terrible things."  (for clarification he's an Englishman).
So apparently this...

is equivalent to this...


Wait... WHAT?!

As should be evident, I have a serious problem with this argument.  Two problems to be more specific.
First, the fact that paganism and Christianity are similar only in that they both exist.
Two things that exist, both exist...

 Before I discuss the inherent differences between these two things I am compelled to make a point of clarification:
that by paganism I don't mean the beliefs and practices of ancient European peoples,

but instead the all too modern invention of "Neo-paganism,"

This, entirely necessary, clarification brings up my first issue with calling the two the same... There's a need for clarification between the old and the new in paganism.  You see, Christianity goes back thousands of years to it's founder, Jesus Christ;

while modern paganism can only realistically go back as far as the 19th century, to this guy...

Aleister Crowley
Well, what's so different?
Besides the obvious aesthetic differences, which is a pretty wide gap already... there are two basic differences of teaching.  Crowley's system was about power over the "spirits" to gain influence and power in life; as apposed to the Christian call to love, and the power of God above all else.  And on a moral level Jesus' teachings, while seldom followed, will lead one, regardless of religiosity, to live a basically good and objectively moral life, by anyone's standards.  This compared with the neopagan ideal of "do as you wish, but harm no one" which  leaves a horrible gap of ambiguity wide open for awful interpretation, and with the individual conscience entirely left to itself, there's no one to stop the madness.  It's flawed simply in it's absolute refusal to lay claim to any definitive statement on what "harm" is.

So, Mr. Crowley; what exactly is harm?

Well, what is it?

*crickets chirping*


Not even a basic attempt at defining what harm is...

While the Church does retain the value and necessity of the individual conscience, to say that it's formation doesn't matter is a bad plan...
With that ideal anything that "feels right" is a valid action; and without a definition of harm...
'cause there's blatant moral ambiguity up in here

"So, what exactly is neo-paganism?"
This is another problem in seeing the two as the same... the basic ideas and practices of Christianity can be easily identified and stated, while neo-paganism is a hodgepodge of beliefs, practices and ethics from... you know, wherever... usually ending with an amoral set of lukewarm rituals based on a mix of Crowley's Thelma, local folklore, with the sporadic use of herbs and spices, and a very sincere helping of angst.  "Neo-pagans" are almost always only loosely associated, with anyone really, even within their own circles (probably because they get sick of listening to everyone else's crappy poetry-their's is of course a legitimate expression of their inner sorrow- not to mention that it's hard to explain to your mom why you never really have friends over unless there's a full moon or a solstice).  All of this religious relativism makes it almost impossible to even talk about it.  So, while in most cases one may refer to all Christians when discussing them, one is ALWAYS forced to say "some pagans," or "most pagans" whenever mentioning them.

Now it's time to talk about cults.
The oxford dictionary defines a cult as a... group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange.
Christianity is nothing like that... right?




The Real Presence of Christ 

Wait, that means...

Well, maybe there is something here...
However, all jokes aside, there is one glaring difference.  Honesty.
Cults will provide a seemingly legitimate front, self-help classes, meditations, studies, etc...
but these will not touch the true nature of their beliefs, at all.
Scientology is in its first stages a theory of education... and it isn't until much later in your formation that you're informed that you're actually an alien spirit, or Thetan, trapped in a body until much later in the program.
Christianity on the other hand takes its, albeit "strange," beliefs to the forefront; as they are the most central aspects of the Church.

So here it is.  Here is our big secret, a God so loving that he lowered himself past being a man, to taking the form of bread and wine.
With this...

compared to...

I find the differences impossible to deny.

Also, for those that stuck around:


  1. I just found your blog from BadCatholic. Then nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw: "Posted by Gabriel Syme"

    Needless to say, you've got a new reader.

    1. I'm glad that you enjoyed the name, but I'm even more glad that you understood the reference.

  2. I would point out that contemporary Paganism, while certainly not an organized religion, really draws very little from Aleister Crowley. Even the Pagan subset, Wicca, (which, though they draw some theology from much older beliefs, is only about a century old), has a lot of conflict with Crowley's beliefs.

    Modern Paganism, when not from an uninterrupted tradition (such as, say, Shinto, or any of numerous Native American religions), draws from beliefs, many of which are pre-Christian, which were not seen as disparate or contradictory at the time.

    But I certainly agree with you that Paganism, both ancient and contemporary, is very different in a number of important ways from Catholicism. Both are religions and both have adherents who are deeply devout as well as adherents who are viewed as "bad eggs." But their differences are numerous.

    It sounds as though the atheist with whom you were conversing did not really understand either group.