Christianity Again – letting go a few myths

Holy Week has finished for another year, and what a beautiful week and deep spiritual journey it has been. We followed the journey of Christ and his Passion through a number of services, including the harrowing Stations of the Cross, at the Redemptorist Monastery in North Perth but completed the journey with Easter Mass at the Church in York. At this time of year there are plenty of thoughts and comments on Christianity (and religion in general) and its place in society. Most are just the same old banal stuff, some are gems, others boggle the mind and a few simply have good ideas but based on incorrect information. For example, in the Guardian Newspaper of all places there is this little piece on the Easter Holiday rabbiting on (ha ha) about continued pagan worship, a “pagan heritage” as an alternative to Easter in Britain . There is no continued Pagan heritage in the UK; the Wiccans and others who jumped on reports of the ancient festival of Eostre are reinventing something and are far more influenced by Christian ceremonial magic traditions than they think. This is not to say its not a good thing or that modern religious forms deserve any less respect than traditional forms.

My focus here though is the lack of understanding esoteric folk, Pagans and other magical critters have about Christianity. We are all very good, especially the Wiccans, in wanting (and occasionally demanding) non believers and journalists to go beyond the stereotyped and cultural view of our spiritual forms. We do not want to be seen in pointy hats casting curses or in graveyards raising the dead. We expect outside observers to be open to hearing the ‘truth’ about our traditions, to go deeper than the outer forms and common misconceptions. However, we do not seem to do the same justice to Christianity itself.

For example, the other day I was privileged to be at a group where an Inner Plane contact of deep beauty presented a little of the Christian esoteric tradition. The contact used traditional theological phrasing and words (deliberately I expect). This provoked an intense (though respectfully muted) reaction in most of the (non-Christian) group. To get a sense of this reaction, roll out the words “Original Sin” at your next Wiccan ‘Agape’ (love feast or drinking session at the end of the circle).

nunsI don’t think this dual standard is fair. If we want others to be open to the reality of our traditions, we have to be open to the reality of theirs, and this includes Christianity – no matter what the nuns did to you in Catholic school (since Christianity is not the nuns). I’ve been pondering this for some time and have made previous comments along the same line but my opening argument is beautifully summed up in this comment from Jordan Stratford:

Just because your parish priest says the Catholic Church teaches x does not in fact mean that the Catholic Church teaches x.

The same goes for any denomination of Christianity, and for Wicca or esoteric traditions for that matter. I’ve known a few Wiccans who extolled animal sacrifice, but “Wicca” does not teach that. I know of one Gnostic who teaches that battery farms without roosters produce ‘lesbian eggs’ and this causes homosexuality, but “Gnosticism” does not teach that. So the first thing we need to do when engaging with Christianity is accept that some or even most of what we know is wrong. This is not to say all Christian expressions and denominations are healthy and functional. But I am talking about the religion, not the people at this stage. If we want to talk about the people, let’s quote Christ Himself:

Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (Luke 6:42).

This is to say, considering the sex workers, sex addicts and druggies in Wicca and the shenanigans going on in the GD community at present, we are in no position to cast aspersions on any religious community. Particularly when we are notoriously absent when it comes to practical charity, aid and compassion.

Back to the religion itself. I am no Christian theologian. I have not plumbed the depths of Christian thought and metaphysics. I have only read with, what I hope was some discernment and openness. Yet even I can see clear discrepancies in what many people think Christianity is and what it really is. Let us list a few examples. Here I am only talking of Catholic Christian doctrine – the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox (big ‘O’) traditions. I have no idea what the rest think 🙂

abstinencechart3Sex and the Body. Most people think the Christian churches hold that sex is bad or dirty or even evil. This is not true. The Christian view is that sex is a divine gift and moves us closer to the One. Sex is part of the Sacrament of Marriage – a sacrament that is administered through the couple’s love and sexual expression. Look at the Anglican Marriage service: “With my body I thee worship.” The act of marriage is clearly sacralising the worship, the adoration through physical intimacy of our partners. These words would not be out of place in a Wiccan sexual ritual. In a similar vein Christianity is viewed as “body negative”. Whilst this may be taught by many Priests it is not part of actual Christianity which views the body as a divine and holy gift from God. It is not in and of itself equated with sin. The dualist conception of our self as a pure spirit inhabiting a tainted and impure body is not a core Christian doctrine, particularly in Eastern Christian Churches. Our bodies and our selves are in Communion producing a mystical Oneness. We are our bodies as much as we are our souls.

Where God Is. One of the members of the group at the teaching mentioned above commented on how God was remote in Christianity. This popular misconception, along with its brother that people need a Priest to mediate between them and God, is completely absent from Christianity. God, as Christ is present everywhere. The Incarnation of Christ was a corporate action for the whole of humanity. He is present, intimately and fully for all people, right now. He is not in a distant heaven. This is the whole point of the Christian Incarnation and the Christian community where He is present “where two or three” gather in His Name. Or if I can step outside the Canon for a bit, “Split open a piece of wood, and I am there; lift up a rock and I am there.” (Thomas, 70). Christianity does reject Pantheism, the view that divinity and the universe are equivalent. This belief, that God is the universe alone and therefore is affected by what happens to the universe denies a transcendent dimension to God. Christianity however does not reject Panentheism – the view that the divine is both immanent (within all) and transcendent (beyond all). Again, this theology is consistent with Wicca and most esoteric traditions generally.

imageMysticism, Meditation and Metaphysics. There is a common belief that Christianity is devoid of the numinous, the mystical, that it is simply a religion of “praying and paying”. Again, this is not true. Much of the watered down and Theosophically distorted metaphysics that underlie contemporary western esotericism and Paganism have their roots in Christian metaphysical explorations. There is an incredibly rich tradition of depth meditation in Christianity, just look at St Teresa of Aviala’s description of meditation for example. The Orthodox traditions have Hesychastic prayer which involves meditation, breath work, postures and mental contemplation as deep as any eastern tradition and far deeper than what goes on in most Pagan traditions. Finally of course, the numinous and mystical is present in every Mass where the bread becomes the Body of Christ, the Wine becomes His Blood. You can’t get more Mystery, Metaphysics and Meditation than that.

Personal Participation.
When I was a young and callow Pagan one of the main propaganda messages I received from High Priest(ess)s was that unlike Christianity in Wicca everyone was a Priest, everyone participated. In Protestant theology there is the concept of the Priesthood of All Believers which fully rejects this view. In Orthodox and Catholic traditions the Priesthood is seen to have a different role to the laity. However, this does not stop full and complete participation by the laity in the Church rituals (and of course their own personal practice). All it means is that we are not the ones leading the rituals. For example, I defy anyone who enters it with an open spirit (especially using the visualisation and other techniques of western magic) not to deeply participate in and experience the Passion of Christ through the Stations of the Cross. Christian liturgical teaching expects and demands the congregation to fully participate and enter into the mysteries being enacted outwardly by the Priest. The two are not separate, the Priest is not doing anything ‘for us’. Despite the great gift of the Sacraments, we have to do the inner work ourselves also and we have to participate.

Sin and Blessing. Another piece of Pagan propaganda often bandied around is that Christianity does not hold the human being as inherently divine, that we are stained with Original Sin. The difficulty here lies in the view that the two – inherent divinity and original sin – are incompatible. Christian theology teaches us that we are made in the divine image but because of our nature we do not, and cannot until redemption, fully express it. Now when we strip away the distaste of Christian terminology, isn’t this what the New Age, the esoteric and pagan traditions are all saying? That we are divine within and we need to change ourselves to express this fully? No one is going to say “I am divine within and all my actions and thoughts perfectly express that divinity” are they? Not when we all sometimes act with fear not love, habit not consciousness and through self-hood not service. So, Christianity recognises our divinity (Original Blessing) and teaches that by our very nature as individual human beings, perceiving ourselves separate from the One, we will act from that separation, from that Sin and produce less than divine actions in the world. Christianity though is different to New Age theology in its insistence of Redemption not transformation, that we cannot do it by our own efforts alone, that we need the One’s love to repair us to our original image of ineffable glory.

I hope this little rant makes someone, somewhere pause to think 🙂 Thanks.

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12 comments

  1. gammaword · April 13, 2009

    Works for me — the pausing to think part. It’s not every day I see a comparison of two big traditions that doesn’t skewer one or the other of them. Nicely balanced.

  2. incompleteinfinity · April 13, 2009

    A myth from my fundamentalist excursion in the christian scene… “That Jesus was a christian”!!!!

    For crying out loud……He was a Jew and He observed the Traditions and Rituals He had grown up with. Now if there are any Jews reading this or people with knowledge as regarding the synagogue please correct me if I am wrong. But the way I saw it… the synagogue was ‘like’ a magical lodge in that their were ‘offices’ to be held that represented certain angels or positions!

    Point being! Back them I wouldn’t have gone within miles/kilometres of a Catholic or Anglican Church because they were ‘supposedly ‘out of touch’ with what the beginnings of christianity was all about. But I now see the value of ritual and the deeper ‘meanings’ behind the same if done with earnest intention.

  3. Robert Halvarsson · April 13, 2009

    I’ve no deeper comment but to compliment you on a great article.

  4. Peregrin · April 14, 2009

    Thanks for the support 🙂

    Just on an aside, the scholarly consensus seems to be moving towards the view that there were neither Christians or Jews, in how we use these terms today, in the time of Christ. The defining characteristics of Judaism had not yet taken place. This is of course not to say that Christ was not originally practicing traditionally within the religious milieu of the time. Just that, we can’t really relate that to the Judaism of today in many ways. See for example: Pilch, J. (1998). No Jews or Christians in the Bible, Explorations 12: 3. Ta 🙂

  5. incompleteinfinity · April 14, 2009

    Hi Peregrin… my reference , “the synagogue was ‘like’ a magical lodge in that there were ‘offices’ to be held that represented certain angels or positions!” came from diagrams and thus memory from Barbara Thierling’s book… “Jesus of the Apocalypse”. (the book is gone.. lent it to someone and the book and person have disappeared about 5 years ago). Her proposed diagram of the temple setting blew me away at the time as it reminded me of a Temple setting for maybe… a Golden Dawn ritual! I.e. people had certain positions where they sat or occuppied and they took on certain functions. Anyhoo! As an earnest Seeker and one that has been through all extremes of christianity , from crazy tongue talking healing power of God wielding fundy, to Baptist, to Anglican (the best experience I might say) it just resonated with me and my experiences up until that time!

    I have no doubt that Judaism has evolved since then …. 😉 I would NOT have thought that the synagogue back then was the same as today…. 🙂

    There are many scriptures pointing to Jesus partaking of the religious Tradition He was born into. He had to in order to FULFILL the scripture regarding Himself! 😉
    He also rebuked the religious of the day for their lies and hypocrisy and called them white-washed tombs! I.e. they looked good on the outside but they stunk on the inside.

    Whatever Path we follow! INTENTION is a big one! A christian with a heart geared toward service to Humanity is powerful! imagine if they all were like that! Same goes for pagans or ceremonial magicians! or witches! whoever!!!!!!

    But I digress!

  6. David Murdoch · April 15, 2009

    There is a great article.

    There is more depth in the christian religion than anything else that has ever been. Some of the most profound thoughts and feelings known to humanity are found in the christian religion. A lot of people really fail to appreciate this, including some number of us christians ourselves, admittedly and unfortunately.

    God who had everything in the whole universe, left everything He had behind Him so that He could become a worm, to die a horrible death for other worms who hated Him and did not deserve His love, and bring them up from being worms to sharing in His divinity. What greater love is there?

    Romans 5:6-8 While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man- though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

  7. incompleteinfinity · April 15, 2009

    I mercilessly killed worms as a child! But now I love them…. They have such a wonderful function for the soil (I’m thinking Earthworm as I write) and they are an equally wonderful part of God’s Creation! What sort of worm do you see yourself as David?

    Not everyone hated Jesus! Only those whose Earthly political power was being disrupted and challenged. The ‘outcastes’ of society particularly loved Him because He presented a new relationship towards Divinity!

    David! I’m not being funny when I ask this but you say… “God who had everything in the whole universe, left everything He had behind Him so that He could become a worm”…. So what is the EVERYTHING he left behind? Do you mean like He was the head of a corporation or something? Did he lose His inheritance? Did He forfiet some position of great authority? Well all of those ‘authority’ things are just more ego based ‘stuff’ aren’t they?

    Anyhoo! He is seated at the right hand of God waiting for His enemies to become His footstool (can’t be bothered looking up the reference but it is there). Yes there is a lot of depth in the Christian religion David. When the 7 sons of Sceva were casting out demons not by the name of Jesus His discliples were a little upset. But He told them…. those who are not against us… are with us!

  8. metamorpheus · August 23, 2011

    Hi, I stumbled across this blog and wanted to thank you for dispelling some of the myths about Christian practice. You even went far enough to ascertain distinctions between orthodoxical liturgy vs. other practices. Well done!

    I have been a student of the Scriptures and a follower of Jesus Christ for 30 years, and all I can say in this brief moment is that I am only scratching the surface of the mystical element of one-ness with the Creator.

    What was for so long simply theology and lifestyle has become immersion and the esoteric and powerful existence that Hebrews 6 describes.

    I look forward to perusing your site as time allows.

    Brandon

  9. Pingback: Pagan misunderstandings of Christianity (again) and a new WA Pagan Mag « Magic of the Ordinary
  10. Pingback: A Witchcraft to Sink Your Teeth Into – review of A Deed without a Name. « Magic of the Ordinary
  11. http://google.com · February 14, 2013

    “Christianity Again – letting go a few myths Magic of the Ordinary” in fact causes myself contemplate a small amount further.

    I actually treasured each and every single portion of this blog post.
    Thanks a lot -Wilton

  12. Peregrin · February 15, 2013

    Thanks, Wilton 🙂

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