Sometimes, despite being very busy, I am compelled to respond to things I read. Often this involves letters to politicians seeking some form of progressive social change. Today though I read a silly, high-handed article reproducing some wrong headed ideas about Christianity. This was in Green Egg – the oldest Neo-Pagan mag around. This is now free online, which is why I read it – I let my subscription lapse years back. Anyway, for reference my response is below. The original article is on page 38 by Frank J. Ranelli.
I was shocked to find Frank J Ranelli’s badly written bit of misinformed spite, “On the Immorality of Christianity” within the hallowed pages of GE 152.
So here’s another pagan rant based on what the author thinks mainstream western Christianity teaches. Ho hum. Really, most Neo-pagans have long ago got over the need to attack Christianity. So, just a few counter points.
Most of the Christian priests I know accept our “innate nature of goodness” – Original Blessing, which exists alongside of and superior to Original Sin. Revelation then helps us to reveal our goodness and helps to guide us. It does not replace our inner “naturally earned ethics”. Indeed many Christian leaders are clear that the fostering of personal conscience, the will and right to choose our actions and non-actions, is the key to the Christian message.
Devotees of Christ are not “fortified only with ancient apocryphal and worrisome scripture”. They are recipients, if they wish to be, of thousands of years of tradition and experience of exploring the mysteries, of rituals, practices, meditation processes, of wisdom and knowledge that is more vast and immense than most Neo-pagans are aware of. And of course they are fortified by an inner, intimate relationship with the One through Christ.
Mr Ranelli seems not have read to any depth both ancient and modern theology. His understanding of original sin and hell are childish and certainly not held by most of the clergy and laity I know. Briefly, original sin acknowledges that alongside of our creation in divinity (original blessing) we have within us a desire for ego-centeredness that moves us away from the One. This quality is part of our make-up as human beings, something I am sure Neo-pagans would agree when we look at the world around us and at our own communities.
In the Christian myth, Christ’s Incarnation brings perfection (divinity) to imperfection (humanity) so that humanity may become divine through the ongoing lifelong process of theosis. The Incarnation was and is seen as a mythic event – even ancient church leaders saw the same religion existing before the Common Era and only being named Christianity in the Common Era. Christ’s Salvific action here then is a call to us to travel towards perfection through love as it is through Him Christians find restoration with the One.
Similarly there are many other views of Christ’s sacrifice and atonement than the banal descriptions of Mr Ranelli. The sacrifice of Christ is, in Franciscan theology, a gift whereby Christ takes upon himself and holds up to us all the vicious, petty, scape-goating and murderous human impulses. These imperfections are held by perfection and thus Christ offers Christians, through the symbol of the Crucifixion, a way to work towards redeeming our own destructive natures. This is not cleansing “away your responsibilities and actions in life”. Indeed, Christian teaching insists we are each responsible for our own actions and our redemption – our restoration with the One – is worked out through our bodily and daily life actions. Christianity is actually an earthy religion, where what we DO here and now – with our bodies, energies, mind and soul – to the earth, to each other, determines our resultant state of being. Most Neo-pagans would agree.
And yes, most Christians know about the contradictions in the gospels, their late composition etc. Really it makes little difference as all but the noisy literalists (who Mr Ranelli seems to think are the only Christians) approach to gospels as a doorway and vehicle by which to know the One through Christ.
And really, GE editors, how can you let Mr Ranelli get away with “Christianity, on the other hand, commands compulsory fear, obligatory love, the subjugation of women, and the willful suspension of progressive reasoning via a theology of abject despair.”?
Maybe SOME Christians traditions do this (I have not encountered any), but such a blanket statement is misleading and offensive. Most Christians I know experience love, not fear in Christ. Yes, it is true we are commanded to love God and our neighbour as our self. Guilty as charged on that one. Our bad for loving. Yes, most Christian traditions have promoted woeful suffering to women, a fact that needs addressing far more than it is being currently. As for progressive reasoning, let us remember please that formal logic is now only taught in Christian seminaries.
I suggest Mr Ranelli and those carried along with his invective read some works by Thomas Merton, Matthew Fox, Richard Rohr, John Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg to name just a few. Or just go to the Living the Questions channel on YouTube.
Neo-pagans are very good 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.