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Author Topic: Distinguishing paganism from christianity  (Read 8520 times)

MadZealot

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #15 on: February 05, 2014, 09:25:08 pm »
Quote from: Valentine;138968
Leave alone, say, Mormons, who self-identify as Christians but who most other Christians think of as something else.

And then there are the Catholics who get hit with allegations of "idolatry" and "Isis worship" by ultra fundies who definitely consider them as "something else."  
I understand the desire, even need, people have to strictly define what-is and what-isn't.  Words mean things, and all that.  That said, I'd still prefer to leave the strict-definition work in the hands of the denominationalists and the polemicists, where it belongs.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2014, 09:26:38 pm by MadZealot »
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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #16 on: February 06, 2014, 12:24:34 am »
Quote from: MadZealot;138978
And then there are the Catholics who get hit with allegations of "idolatry" and "Isis worship" by ultra fundies who definitely consider them as "something else."  
I understand the desire, even need, people have to strictly define what-is and what-isn't.  Words mean things, and all that.  That said, I'd still prefer to leave the strict-definition work in the hands of the denominationalists and the polemicists, where it belongs.

 
Yup.

I grew up somewhere where nobody used the word "Protestant"--there were "Christians" and there were "Catholics," and "nondenominational" or just "Christian" meant "hardcore evangelical," and they were willing to generously allow that some flavors of mainline Protestant could be called Christians too.  But Catholics?  That was a bridge too far.
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MadZealot

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #17 on: February 06, 2014, 01:08:04 am »
Quote from: Valentine;138986
I grew up somewhere where nobody used the word "Protestant"--there were "Christians" and there were "Catholics," and "nondenominational" or just "Christian" meant "hardcore evangelical," and they were willing to generously allow that some flavors of mainline Protestant could be called Christians too.  But Catholics?  That was a bridge too far.


Aaaah, Protestantism.  BTDT.  

I admit, I was one of those who derided the RCC for "goddess worship", pooh-pooing all the candles and pagan-looking ritual, but that was before bumping into real pagan & goddess spirituality.  Funny thing is now I "get" Catholicism more after the experience, and am now considering an ordination.  
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ethelwulf

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #18 on: February 06, 2014, 01:45:02 am »
Quote from: Valentine;138922
Well, my first answer is more of a change of the question: is the person doing it Christian? Pagan?  There are so many acts that just sort of are themselves, or that many of us from many backgrounds do.  For me what's more relevant is, is it part of a Christian practice?  A Pagan practice?  more than a notion of an act being itself inherently "Pagan" or "Christian."

 
     I appreciate all of the posts and realize my start was too ambiguous so I found an actual case in history and would like help in understanding if all of this is case is consistant with Christianity of if there are pagan beliefs here also and how do you make the distinction.

        In 1692 a Swedish man was placed on trial for being a witch. The main physical evidence was a rune drum carved from pine with a drum skin that had decorations in its surface and was asked to explain all of the figures on the drum. He started with the top row which showed a human figure he called Ilmaris who helpful when bad weather has been conjured up. When God is prayed to he will have Ilmaris call back the bad weather but Ilmaris is also able to make bad weather. Next was a human figure called Diermis who represented thunder and is helpful when there are floods and lots of rain, So when God is prayed to, Diermis will call back the weather, and he also confessed that Diermis can cause evil and bad weather that damages ships and boats. The third figure was Gvodde who appears as a wild reindeer. When god was prayed to Gvodde give good fortune in the hunt of the wild reindeer. He explained that God he is praying to is almighty God who is in a position to delegate his power to his helpers who were represented on the drum and the helpers can act only on the command of God  

      The drum had a second row of five figures. A circle pierced by a line called Peive which is the sun that will bring beautiful sunny weather when god is prayed to. The a second figure is the child Jumal who is Christ and absolves all sins the next figure is called Juma-etziem and is god the father who castigates for all sins but also provides, commands and punishes when asked to. The fourth figure is of a church called Dom Kirch which gives absolution, peace of mind and a Christian death. The last figure is another human figure called Engil who is the holy spirit.
At this point he was asked what kind of God he was worshiping and he answered, “The God that is worshiped are those figures that he has painted, the deities, about whom he says his mother taught him” It was noted in the trial that his mother was did not follow Christianity but instead followed the old gods.
 
        Next he described a staff on the rune drum called Juncher’s (young nobleman) staff also called the staff of great lords for he says that just as the masters on earth hold staffs so to these persons. This was followed by a description of the third row containing five figures. St. Anne who is Mary’s sister who assists Mary, Maria who is God’s wife and is worshipped at God’s side and the mother of Christ  Both women help those who are in need, Oucht Jule Peive, Gought Julle Peive, and Gvolme Jul Peive and represent the first, second and third days of Christmas.

        He was finally asked to show how the drum worked and how he used it and during his demonstration he mentioned his gods in the plural. He demonstrated how the drum could be used to release a person who was struck from a spell and shift the spell back to the person who had cast the spell. At the end of his demonstrations he explained that he could get an answer from the drum the same way as to persons do when they talk to each other if he held in high into the air. In the end he declared that he had not forsworn God in heaven or his Christian faith and when worshipping all of the depicted gods on his drum he believed they were all in heaven. In his last statement he finally stated he would relinquish his rune drum and he would now believe in God in Heaven just like other people did.

        I thought this was an interesting case and would like any comments on what is Christian and is any of it Pagan. Also how do you decide what is Christian or Pagan?

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #19 on: February 06, 2014, 06:19:35 am »
Quote from: ethelwulf;138920
Distinguishing Paganism from Christianity
I was following a discussion about the blend of Christianity and paganism when I realized I was not clear on how they defined Christianity with reference to what was included so I asked about their understanding or definition of what was Christian. I was promptly told my question belonged in Paganism for Beginners so here I were I will ask.

How do we look at a belief or activity and determine if it is Christian or Pagan? There must be a basis for determining whether something is Christian or pagan since they are not identical  with an understanding there may be overlap at times.

 
As to the first part, the difficulty in identifying who is or is not Christian, has already been noted. However, the second part is just as tricky. I'm sure we all know that Pagan is an umbrella term, so in order to compare any practice with a 'Pagan' practice we would have to know to which religion the practice in question actually belonged. In the case of a Reconstructionist religion this might easier, as information can be drawn from historical contexts. From the more modern religions it might be somewhat harder, as they may have inspired by, or actually based on, Christian practices.

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #20 on: February 06, 2014, 07:56:51 am »
Quote from: ethelwulf;138991
I thought this was an interesting case and would like any comments on what is Christian and is any of it Pagan. Also how do you decide what is Christian or Pagan?

A lot of it sounds like folk magic given a Christian context. It does not fit into the formal religion of Christianity or any formal Pagan religion I'm aware of. It's more like taking a set of beliefs about how the world works and wrapping them in scientific terms -- this doesn't make the beliefs science no matter how "scientific" it sounds to a non-scientist.
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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #21 on: February 06, 2014, 08:50:18 am »
Quote from: MadZealot;138938
That's a useful definition for the mainstream.  Yet there are more esoteric versions of the faith that are, shall we say, not-exactly-Nicene, yet the believers will consider themselves Christian.  A good friend of mine is ordained in one such tradition, and if you'd presume to tell him he's not a "real" Christian, well that would be highly disrespectful at the very least.

Perhaps we should take a key criterion from "TC's definition of 'Pagan'" and apply it in this discussion of "what makes a Christian:" how the person self-idetifies.  Because free will, and agency, or whatever applicable buzzwords.


Thank you for referencing the lesser known facets of Christianity. I have a dear friend as well who is an adherent to the gnostic texts, but still very much calls herself a Christian, even though many mainstream followers would label her as heretical.  It can get pretty messy in terms of defining what is "christian" when it seems as though, from what I understand, Christianity itself has evolved quite a bit since its inception.  (correct me, if I am mistaken, I am making this statement based on basic knowledge of the issues facing the earlier churches).    
Also, as some one who is very much active in the transcommunity, I feel strongly about self-definition, and If one were to walk up to me and claim I am not pagan (or christian if the situation was different) because I do not perform such and such rite in such and such way, I would  probably have to break out into a full on debate.

Materialist

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #22 on: February 06, 2014, 03:17:50 pm »
Quote from: ethelwulf;138991
I appreciate all of the posts and realize my start was too ambiguous so I found an actual case in history and would like help in understanding if all of this is case is consistant with Christianity of if there are pagan beliefs here also and how do you make the distinction.


Sounds like a Sami tribal member with a vague understanding of Christianity, reinterpreted through Sami mythology.

For me, in my earlier work on reconstructing pagan religions of England, I did intense research into Christian ritual practices of the first thousand years of its history, tracking down the oldest references to this or that feast, and this or that religious object. You'll have to make a list of the things whose christianness is uncertain to you, and go from there.

Some things, as others have mentioned, are generic religious phenomena that originated at the dawn of time: candles, prayer beads, bells, incense, altars, ablutions, amulets, iconography-the list can go on.

Sophia C

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #23 on: February 06, 2014, 11:30:03 pm »
Quote from: ethelwulf;138991
I appreciate all of the posts and realize my start was too ambiguous so I found an ac  I thought this was an interesting case and would like any comments on what is Christian and is any of it Pagan. Also how do you decide what is Christian or Pagan?


Apologies for misinterpreting your first post. I now see that we're talking about Christian vs 'pagan' practices, which is an important distinction from Christian definitions in a wider sense. In that case, it's even more important to distinguish whether we're talking about officially-sanctioned Christian practice, folk Christian practices, or other practices. It's nearly impossible to define 'pagan' practices in this sense, since Paganism is not a religion, and since modern Paganism is different from pre-Christian 'paganism'. As I said before, it's important to state why you're defining something, and in what context. That will strongly affect the way that you define it.

As for self-definition: I support everyone's right to self-define as whatever they want to, but they should know that they might not be accepted by mainstream Christian churches. I was not trying to suggest that less mainstream Christian practices didn't exist. (I was a Gnostic and Celtic Christian myself for several years.) But it is important to understand that (most) Christian churches are institutions, and function as such, with doctrine, membership rules, and a clear in-group/out-group dynamic relating to who is and who is not a member. It's fine for someone to call themselves a Christian and, for example, not adhere to the creeds. But they should understand that they may not be Christians by the standards of most Christians and churches. Gods know, I've been there myself. And in the end I walked away - because for me, the most important defining point about Christianity was membership in the Church of God.

Analogy: I can self-define as a heart surgeon all I want, but most hospitals might not accept me as such. (And, to be more serious, this is the situation that many non-allopathic medical practitioners are in. There are many people who define as medical practitioners, and personally I would agree with many of them, but 'official' institutions may not be open to treating them as medical practitioners.)
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ethelwulf

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #24 on: February 07, 2014, 09:40:01 am »
Quote from: Naomi J;139054

Paganism is not a religion, and since modern Paganism is different from pre-Christian 'paganism'. As I said before, it's important to state why you're defining something, and in what context. That will strongly affect the way that you define it.

As for self-definition: I support everyone's right to self-define as whatever they want to, but they should know that they might not be accepted by mainstream Christian churches.

 
I appreciate your response and your insight. First this forum is wonderfully tolerant of differences of view which is good. I think religions have blended throughout history and have drawn from each other. What I was wanting to consider here was look at this example to see if two different religious systems could be distinguished. in this case. The two systems are Christianity and an example of a northern Europe pagan religion. Materialist was correct is seeing this person coming from a Sami tradition. The case was a trial in Norway with a Swede on trial for witchcraft. The court wanted to determine if he was still following the old Sami gods or was he now a Christian. His case in modern history is considered significant because some historians feel he gave some of the most important insights into the old Sami religion which was poorly recorded in history. This suggests that we might see aspects of both religions so we distinguish them.

ethelwulf

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #25 on: February 07, 2014, 09:54:30 am »
Quote from: Materialist;139030
Sounds like a Sami tribal member with a vague understanding of Christianity, reinterpreted through Sami mythology.


Some things, as others have mentioned, are generic religious phenomena that originated at the dawn of time: candles, prayer beads, bells, incense, altars, ablutions, amulets, iconography-the list can go on.

 
This is a case of a Sami on trial for his beliefs. The court had concerns that he added Christian figures to appear Christian when in reality he actual beliefs remained in the Sami religion. In a similar trial in Sweden a Sami explained that he and others had tried to use the Christian religion but it failed. For example he wanted to heal a sick reindeer so he looked up to he heavens and asked God to help this reindeer. He waited but nothing happened and the reindeer got worse so used his rune drum and asked the Sami god for help and the reindeer recovered rapidly. Se he and others blended Christian names to please the church and not to offend the Christian god but continued with his Sami religion. His point was that he did not mind adding Christian symbols and even calling himself Christian as long as he could continue his beliefs that actually worked.

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #26 on: February 07, 2014, 10:23:53 am »
Quote from: ethelwulf;139086
Se he and others blended Christian names to please the church and not to offend the Christian god but continued with his Sami religion. His point was that he did not mind adding Christian symbols and even calling himself Christian as long as he could continue his beliefs that actually worked.


Scratch out "Sami" and replace with "Scandinavian" and you've got a statement about how things are up here in Northern Europe right up until modern day. The attitude that seems to be commonplace here is "you want to talk to god? great, go take a walk in the forest." The veneer of Christianity is very thin and hardly anyone goes to church.
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DavidMcCann

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #27 on: February 07, 2014, 02:02:13 pm »
Quote from: ethelwulf;138920
How do we look at a belief or activity and determine if it is Christian or Pagan? There must be a basis for determining whether something is Christian or pagan since they are not identical  with an understanding there may be overlap at times.

Distinguishing overall belief is always going to be easier than distinguishing individual belief or practice.

I'm reminded of Collingwood's remark that to understand a philosopher, you have to consider what ideas they're rejecting as what as what they're advocating. There have always been Christians who accepted similar views about Jesus to those of the Muslims. The obvious difference is that they don't accept Muhammad as a prophet.

When it comes to practice, Christians would not normally worship other gods, but that isn't inevitable. Thomas Aquinas said "Reverence is due to God on account of His excellence, which is communicated to certain creatures not in equal measure, but according to a measure of proportion; and so the reverence which we pay to God, and which belongs to latria, differs from the reverence which we pay to certain excellent creatures; this belongs to dulia." This is not too different to statements made by Romans like Maximus of Tyre. St Thomas even suggested that the spirits of the planets could be offered dulia: pray to a saint, pray to an angel, pray to Venus... And just as there are Protestants who scream "idolatry!" at the veneration of the saints, so there were some ancient pagans (e.g. Plotinus) who only worshiped the supreme being.
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ethelwulf

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #28 on: February 07, 2014, 04:09:46 pm »
Quote from: DavidMcCann;139123
Distinguishing overall belief is always going to be easier than distinguishing individual belief or practice.


When it comes to practice, Christians would not normally worship other gods, but that isn't inevitable. Thomas Aquinas said "Reverence is due to God on account of His excellence, which is communicated to certain creatures not in equal measure, but according to a measure of proportion; and so the reverence which we pay to God, and which belongs to latria, differs from the reverence which we pay to certain excellent creatures; this belongs to dulia." This is not too different to statements made by Romans like Maximus of Tyre. St Thomas even suggested that the spirits of the planets could be offered dulia:

I am not sure how the first three gods that he mentioned and prays to connect with dulia. One of the figures is a wild reindeer and all three of the can to both good things or bad. This seems like a different religious system than what would be seen in Christianity. If you look at his whole approach he knows some of the names that connect with Christianity but his whole system of belief reflects more of a northern pagan approach than Christian and seems that he just absorbed some Christian symbols into his overall pagan beliefs. At least that's how it seems to me. But then how can we distinguish pagan from Christian or are they the same thing?
« Last Edit: February 08, 2014, 03:54:19 pm by SunflowerP »

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Re: Distinguishing paganism from christianity
« Reply #29 on: February 07, 2014, 08:54:40 pm »
Quote from: Naomi J;138923
As a sociologist of religion, I narrow my definition of a Christian church to 'one that is in fellowship with the World Council of Churches'.

Are you quite sure about that? Pope Francis would be surprised :p And a lot of other people, as a matter of fact...

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