The Christian Noob (n00b)

born & raised Catholic, now going to a Presbyterian church & still learning

rants: a pagan or atheist at heart?

As I’ve mentioned before, I feel like a false Christian. I enjoy reading Friedrich Nietzsche (religious and social criticism) and Richard Dawkins (atheism, in favor of science). I even enjoy learning about different religions like Paganism and Krishna. At the same time, I’ve doubted and questioned Christianity (especially Catholicism) numerous times. Could this mean that I’m a Christian simply because I was baptized and go to a Christian church every Sunday, but rather a pagan or atheist at heart? Maybe I’m a Christian on Sundays, but not the rest of the week. In the other hand, maybe I’m really an atheist or pagan, who takes a break on Sundays. Much, much worse, I could be the whole lot! It’s lots of soul searching without any clear way to know what’s up or down.

“Christianity and Neopaganism overlap when the beliefs or practices of one religious path influence, or are adopted by, the other. Historically, Christianity sometimes took advantage of traditional pagan beliefs when it spread to new areas — a process known as inculturation. Thus newly established churches took on sites, practices or images belonging to indigenous belief systems as a way of making the new faith more acceptable.
More recently, in a parallel process, some followers of
modern pagan paths have developed practices such as ChristoPaganism by attempting to blend Christian elements into Neopagan practice. The combination of two religions, each traditionally considered at odds with the other, is frequently criticized by those who are members of only one.
Christianity and classical Paganism had an uneasy relationship with each being at different times persecutor or persecuted. However each also influenced the other. For example, a 10th-11th-century manuscript in the British Library known as the Lacnunga describes a charm against poison said to have been invented by Christ while on the cross, which has parallels in Anglo-Saxon magic.
In the modern era, examples of syncretism may include Christians seeking to incorporate concepts of the Divine Feminine from Neopaganism into Christianity or Neopagans seeking to incorporate figures such as Jesus or Mary into Wiccan worship.
The use of this term to refer to a modern Christian neopagan synthesis can be confusing, since the word ‘Christopaganism’ is already in use in academic circles to describe historical accommodations to Christianity by indigenous peoples (often incorporating elements of their past religions — see folk Christianity, folk Catholicism).
Joyce and River Higginbotham define ChristoPaganism as: ‘A spirituality that combines beliefs and practices of Christianity with beliefs and practices of Paganism, or that observes them in parallel.’ They give examples of people identifying as Pagan but observing both Pagan and Christian liturgical years, using the Rosary or observing a form of Communion.
Christian Wicca is a descriptive term used for either of two differing concepts. The coining of the term was in reference to Trinitarian Wicca. Trinitarian Wicca is a modern (Alexandrian/Gardnarian) tradition using the the Christian Holy Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as a focus for Wiccan faith, comparable to the use of Celtic deities by Celtic Wiccan traditions. Secondarily, the term is used for a practice using a mix of Christian and Neopagan rituals without specification of how those traditions are blended.”

There are many pagan rituals adopted by Christianity and surprisingly also the way around. This makes it all more confusing and messy.

“With the spread of Christianity, it has been argued that Christianity was influenced by pagan rituals, pagan solistice/equinox festivals and mystery religions, in a number of ways.

  1. Influence on Christian dogma in Late Antiquity, that is, the doctrine of the Christian Church Fathers in the 4th and 5th century, the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds, including the questions of the Trinity and Christology. A strong influence here was Roman imperial cult, Hellenistic philosophy, notably Neoplatonism, and Gnosticism. Christological disputes continued to dominate Christian theology well into the Early Middle Ages, down to the Third Council of Constantinople of AD 680;
  2. Influences of Pagan religions Christianized in the Early Middle Ages. This includes Germanic paganism, Celtic paganism, Slavic paganism and Folk religion in general.
  3. Pagan influences on the practice of the church and church traditions.

In the course of the Christianisation of Europe in the Early Middle Ages, the Christian churches adopted many elements of national cult and folk religion, resulting in national churches like Latin, Germanic, Russian, Armenian, Greek and so on. Some Pagan ceremonies were brought in and the festivals became modern holidays as pagans joined the early church. The Pagan vernal equinox celebration was ‘Christianized‘ and then referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord and celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation. The Germanic Pagan solstice celebrations (Midsummer festivals) are also sometimes referred to by Neopagans and others as Litha, stemming from Bede‘s De temporum ratione and the fire festival or Lith- Summer solstice was a tradition for many pagans. This pagan holiday, was basically brought in and given a name change, and in Christianity was then associated with the nativity of John the Baptist, which now is observed on the same day, June 24, in the Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant churches. It is six months before Christmas because Luke 1:26 and Luke 1.36 imply that John the Baptist was born six months earlier than Jesus, although the Bible does not say at which time of the year this happened.
The practices were allowed or supported by some such as Clement of Alexandria, (c. AD 150-215) who explains that ‘prayers are offered while looking toward sunrise in the East’ because the Orient represents the birth of light that ‘dispels the darkness of the night’ and because of the orientation of ‘the ancient temples.’ or Origen (c. AD 185-254), according to whom with the East symbolizes the soul that looks to the source of light.
One goal of the Reformation was to return the Christian churches to the state of early Christianity. Restorationists such as Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to argue that mainstream Christianity has departed from Apostolic Christianity due, in part, to such Pagan influences. See also Great Apostasy.
Christianity originated in the Roman province of Judaea, a predominantly Jewish society, with traditional philosophies distinct from the Greek thought which was dominant in the Roman Empire at the time. The conflict between the two modes of thought is recorded in the Christian scriptures, in Paul’s encounters with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers mentioned in Acts, his diatribe against Greek philosophy in 1st Corinthians, and his warning against vain philosophy in Colossians 2:8.
Over time, as Christianity spread throughout the Hellenic world, and with a number of church leaders having been educated in Greek philosophy there was a fusion of the two modes of thought.
One early Christian writer of the 2nd and early 3rd century, Clement of Alexandria, demonstrated the assimilation of Greek thought in writing: ‘Philosophy has been given to the Greeks as their own kind of Covenant, their foundation for the philosophy of Christ… the philosophy of the Greeks… contains the basic elements of that genuine and perfect knowledge which is higher than human… even upon those spiritual objects.’
Augustine of Hippo, who ultimately systematized Christian philosophy, wrote in the late 4th and early 5th century: ‘But when I read those books of the Platonists I was taught by them to seek incorporeal truth, so I saw your ‘invisible things, understood by the things that are made’.
When Christians first encountered Manichaeism, it seemed to them to be a heresy, as it had originated in a heavily Gnostic area of the Persian empire. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) converted to Christianity from Manichaeism. Until the 20th century, most of the Western world’s concept of Manichaeism came through Augustine’s negative polemics against it. According to his Confessions, after eight or nine years of adhering to the Manichaean faith (as a member of the Manichaean group of Hearers), he became a Christian and a potent adversary of Manichaeism. It is speculated by some modern scholars (Alfred Adam, for example), that Manichaean ways of thinking had an influence on the development of some of Augustine’s Christian ideas, such as the nature of good and evil, the idea of Hell, the separation of groups into Elect, Hearers, and Sinners, the hostility to the flesh and sexual activity, and so on.
How much long term influence the Manichaeans actually had on Christianity is still being debated. It has been suggested that the Bogomils, Paulicians, and the Cathars were deeply influenced by Manichaeism. However, the Bogomils and Cathars, in particular, left few records of their rituals or doctrines, and the link between them and Manichaeans is unclear. Regardless of its historical veracity the charge of Manichaeism was leveled at them by contemporary orthodox opponents, who often tried to fit contemporary heresies with those combated by the church fathers. The Paulicians, Bogomils, and Cathars were certainly dualists and felt that the world was the work of a demiurge of Satanic origin. Whether this was due to influence from Manichaeism or another strand of Gnosticism is impossible to determine. Only a minority of Cathars held that The Evil God (or principle) was as powerful as The Good God (also called a principle) as Mani did, a belief also known as absolute dualism. In the case of the Cathars, it seems they adopted the Manichaean principles of church organization, but none of its religious cosmology. Priscillian and his followers apparently tried to absorb what they thought was the valuable part of Manichaeaism into Christianity.”

At the same time, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy have tried to get out of the pagan influence, but where do I really stand?

“The Great Apostasy is a term used by some religious groups to describe a general fallen state of traditional Christianity, especially the Papacy, because they claim it allowed the traditional Roman mysteries and deities of solar monism such as Mithras and Sol Invictus and idol worship back into the church, and is not representative of the faith founded by Jesus and his twelve Apostles: in short, in their opinion, the church has fallen into apostasy. They feel that to conciliate the Pagans to nominal Christianity, the Catholic Church took measures to amalgamate the Christian and Pagan festivals so pagans would join the church; for example, bringing in the pagan festival of Easter as a substitute for the Pasch or Passover, although neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. It is officially agreed by the Catholic Church that it was magisterial Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy that fell into apostasy.”

So it’s time for soul searching — a broken faith or none at all.


One response to “rants: a pagan or atheist at heart?

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