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Author Topic: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?  (Read 2678 times)

Maia

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Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« on: November 03, 2012, 08:15:36 am »
Or is it a case that you just are a Pagan?

If so, what does it mean to just be a Pagan? Can one be a Pagan without ever attending rituals, without dressing a certain way, without paying attention to environmental issues, without socialising with or having any contact at all with other Pagans?

Sage

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2012, 08:36:05 am »
Quote from: Maia;79476
Or is it a case that you just are a Pagan?

If so, what does it mean to just be a Pagan? Can one be a Pagan without ever attending rituals, without dressing a certain way, without paying attention to environmental issues, without socialising with or having any contact at all with other Pagans?


This really is the million dollar question.

In my experience, "Pagan" is both a completely mind-blowing inclusive, radical term that I have embraced wholeheartedly - and something that is next to utterly useless when talking in the grand scale of things.

The only thing that unites modern Pagans is that we all use the term Pagan for ourselves. Belief isn't shared, practice isn't shared, deities aren't shared. And it's really important to recognize that almost any definition with more detail than "self-identifies as such" will, almost definitely, leave out some parts of the group.

You may have heard the metaphor of the "Pagan umbrella" which shelters many different groups underneath it - Wicca, Druidry, sometimes reconstructionist faiths but not always - which sometimes come together, and sometimes don't.

Now, when I'm talking about modern/Neo/contemporary Paganism, if I'm having a short conversation I am really okay using that to mean "polytheistic and pantheistic revivals and contemporary faiths which include specific religions like XYZ and may also emphasize nature as a connection to the divine." If I'm feeling really fancy I will talk about Pagans finding theophanies - manifestations of the Divine - in many, many places, like nature, art, mythology, science, and inner inspiration and reflection. And usually tacked on at the end I emphasize the fact that not all Pagans would fit neatly into these categories, and it's really best to ask about someone's faith rather than assume about it.
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
What you have created, no one can tear asunder.

-Canticle of Trials 1:10

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Maia

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #2 on: November 03, 2012, 08:43:55 am »
Quote from: Sage;79478
This really is the million dollar question.

In my experience, "Pagan" is both a completely mind-blowing inclusive, radical term that I have embraced wholeheartedly - and something that is next to utterly useless when talking in the grand scale of things.

The only thing that unites modern Pagans is that we all use the term Pagan for ourselves. Belief isn't shared, practice isn't shared, deities aren't shared. And it's really important to recognize that almost any definition with more detail than "self-identifies as such" will, almost definitely, leave out some parts of the group.

You may have heard the metaphor of the "Pagan umbrella" which shelters many different groups underneath it - Wicca, Druidry, sometimes reconstructionist faiths but not always - which sometimes come together, and sometimes don't.

Now, when I'm talking about modern/Neo/contemporary Paganism, if I'm having a short conversation I am really okay using that to mean "polytheistic and pantheistic revivals and contemporary faiths which include specific religions like XYZ and may also emphasize nature as a connection to the divine." If I'm feeling really fancy I will talk about Pagans finding theophanies - manifestations of the Divine - in many, many places, like nature, art, mythology, science, and inner inspiration and reflection. And usually tacked on at the end I emphasize the fact that not all Pagans would fit neatly into these categories, and it's really best to ask about someone's faith rather than assume about it.

 
Do all Pagans even call themselves Pagans? Not all Druids do, as I found out when talking to one. Not all Heathens do either, though since Heathen actually means exactly the same thing as Pagan, that one had me a bit confused.

Are Hindus Pagans? This is an important question, since there are quite a lot of Hindus in the world. They don't call themselves that, but why should they? Pagan is an English word and very few Hindus have English as their native language, even if large numbers can speak it.

Can one be a Pagan and an atheist? I've been told that yes, one can. If so, does Pagan actually mean anything at all?

Sage

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2012, 09:05:55 am »
Quote from: Maia;79479
Do all Pagans even call themselves Pagans? Not all Druids do, as I found out when talking to one. Not all Heathens do either, though since Heathen actually means exactly the same thing as Pagan, that one had me a bit confused.


If someone doesn't call themselves Pagan, then it's really important to respect their choice of identity and vocabulary for themselves. For example, many reconstructionists - people who practice faiths like Ásatrú, Hellenismos, Celtic Reconstructionism - may really, really object to being labeled "Pagan." This is because the modern Pagan movement, for good or for ill, often seems to be gobbled up by various Wiccan or Wiccish-flavored paths, as well as certain members of the New Age community. What on earth does an Asatruar have in common with an eclectic Goddess-worshiping Neo-Wiccan? Maybe not a whole lot.

Now, "pagan" and "heathen" are both terms which have similar origins but are not, in the context of modern religions, interchangeable. One popular folk etymology states that both words started out as insults to refer to "those dumb rednecks out in the paganus (countryside)/heath who still follow the old gods." Both got used, and are still often used, to refer to those who are "godless" (that is, without the auspices of THE ONE TRUE AND ONLY GOD), bad, evil, etc. Both words have been reclaimed - that is, taken by modern folks and repurposed to mean something positive.

Some people, like myself, have a really broad understanding of "Pagan" and would set reconstructionist faiths inside. Some do not. I have to respect that.

(It may also be easier to think of Paganism as a movement of religions rather than a stagnant category.)

Quote
Are Hindus Pagans? This is an important question, since there are quite a lot of Hindus in the world. They don't call themselves that, but why should they? Pagan is an English word and very few Hindus have English as their native language, even if large numbers can speak it.


No no no no no no they are not. This is really super important. "Pagan" was originally an insult, and in many cases still is depending on who wields it. The term "Pagan" has done a lot of damage by a lot of white Christian colonialists who pointed to a lot of indigenous traditions and said, "You there. Pagans. The whole lot of you."

I have reclaimed the term. Others have reclaimed the term. "Pagan" is referring to this weird amorphous modern movement, pretty much dominated by Western, English-speaking, white hands. Hindus, Native American/First Nation peoples, indigenous peoples - they have not reclaimed the term and have often outright rejected it as an insult.

I can and do look at the many forms of Hinduism, African diasporic religions, and some faiths like Shinto as sisters, cousins, or long-lost college roommates of our modern Paganism. We have a lot to learn from each other.

Quote
Can one be a Pagan and an atheist? I've been told that yes, one can. If so, does Pagan actually mean anything at all?

 
Yup. Many Pagan paths are othropraxic. This means that what you do is more important than what you believe. Christianity is orthodoxic. What you believe is really really important and is the cornerstone of the religion.

I was a Pagan atheist for a long time, and even now I'm still a skeptic. There's a lot more out there than gods, and gods are not the end-all be-all of spiritual experiences. And spiritual experiences are not the end-all be-all of religion. Sometimes you just need to light a candle and chant with a drum, you know? Maybe someone hears it, maybe they don't. But if that person feels energized and enlivened by the experience, does it matter if they believe in gods or not?
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
What you have created, no one can tear asunder.

-Canticle of Trials 1:10

Sage and Starshine (my spiritual blog): last updated 2/25.
Friday Otherfaith Blogging: last updated 2/27
Join the Emboatening Crew over on Kiva! Emboatening the boatless since Opet 2013.

Maps

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2012, 11:26:18 am »
Quote from: Maia;79476
Or is it a case that you just are a Pagan?

If so, what does it mean to just be a Pagan? Can one be a Pagan without ever attending rituals, without dressing a certain way, without paying attention to environmental issues, without socialising with or having any contact at all with other Pagans?


I just very recently stopped calling myself pagan because of the reasons Sage listed; I consider myself a feral reconstructionist now, though because that's Greek to anyone that isn't already submerged in the culture of this whole pagan thing to begin with, I use "pagan" when describing myself to someone not familiar with anything beyond the word and its general connotations.

While I did attend the occasional ritual, they were always very, very different than what my personal cult is, so I still am for all intents and purposes solitary.

My environmental awareness and associated attitudes are completely independent of my religion. Tangentially, it's quite a big mistake to think that the people who practiced "the old religions" actually gave a damn about the environment as well. Because most of the time they didn't.

Well, if you're on a pagan forum, then that counts as socializing. Unless this is purely a thought-experiment, then I'd still say yes, it's definitely "allowed". Who is anyone to say "no, you can't be pagan" because that practitioner doesn't ever talk to other pagans? Moreover, how would those other pagans know to chastise the practitioner in question if they don't go out and talk to other pagans in the first place? It's entirely possible to build a personal path completely out of your own head and environment, or purely out of books you've read, without talking to a single self-identified pagan in your life. I wouldn't recommend it, but it's possible.

Maia

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2012, 12:56:41 pm »
Quote from: Sage;79480
If someone doesn't call themselves Pagan, then it's really important to respect their choice of identity and vocabulary for themselves. For example, many reconstructionists - people who practice faiths like Ásatrú, Hellenismos, Celtic Reconstructionism - may really, really object to being labeled "Pagan." This is because the modern Pagan movement, for good or for ill, often seems to be gobbled up by various Wiccan or Wiccish-flavored paths, as well as certain members of the New Age community. What on earth does an Asatruar have in common with an eclectic Goddess-worshiping Neo-Wiccan? Maybe not a whole lot.

Now, "pagan" and "heathen" are both terms which have similar origins but are not, in the context of modern religions, interchangeable. One popular folk etymology states that both words started out as insults to refer to "those dumb rednecks out in the paganus (countryside)/heath who still follow the old gods." Both got used, and are still often used, to refer to those who are "godless" (that is, without the auspices of THE ONE TRUE AND ONLY GOD), bad, evil, etc. Both words have been reclaimed - that is, taken by modern folks and repurposed to mean something positive.

Some people, like myself, have a really broad understanding of "Pagan" and would set reconstructionist faiths inside. Some do not. I have to respect that.

(It may also be easier to think of Paganism as a movement of religions rather than a stagnant category.)



No no no no no no they are not. This is really super important. "Pagan" was originally an insult, and in many cases still is depending on who wields it. The term "Pagan" has done a lot of damage by a lot of white Christian colonialists who pointed to a lot of indigenous traditions and said, "You there. Pagans. The whole lot of you."

I have reclaimed the term. Others have reclaimed the term. "Pagan" is referring to this weird amorphous modern movement, pretty much dominated by Western, English-speaking, white hands. Hindus, Native American/First Nation peoples, indigenous peoples - they have not reclaimed the term and have often outright rejected it as an insult.

I can and do look at the many forms of Hinduism, African diasporic religions, and some faiths like Shinto as sisters, cousins, or long-lost college roommates of our modern Paganism. We have a lot to learn from each other.


 
Yup. Many Pagan paths are othropraxic. This means that what you do is more important than what you believe. Christianity is orthodoxic. What you believe is really really important and is the cornerstone of the religion.

I was a Pagan atheist for a long time, and even now I'm still a skeptic. There's a lot more out there than gods, and gods are not the end-all be-all of spiritual experiences. And spiritual experiences are not the end-all be-all of religion. Sometimes you just need to light a candle and chant with a drum, you know? Maybe someone hears it, maybe they don't. But if that person feels energized and enlivened by the experience, does it matter if they believe in gods or not?

 
I'm not sure I agree that you shouldn't describe someone as something if they don't use that term to describe themselves. This is especially true if they are not English speakers, but is still the case, in my opinion, even if they are. If words mean anything at all (and if they don't, they are meaningless noise and all verbal communication becomes impossible), then they have a recognised set of meanings.

Fier

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2012, 01:24:11 pm »
Quote from: Maia;79479
does Pagan actually mean anything at all?

 
Yes and no. In my humble opinion, it doesn't mean much. But what is does mean really depends on who is saying it and who is hearing it. Here on this forum we define it as "someone who is not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim AND self-identifies as pagan". In this case it says what people AREN'T, but not really what they are.

If you go up to any random person on the street and declare to them that you are pagan, any number of things might pass through their mind. It seems as though most people who have little experience with non JCI religions think pagan means "nature worshiper" or "devil worshiper". If you are in fact neither of those things then you have to go on to explain what you really are and what you really do or believe, in which case the word "pagan" really wasn't very useful.

Sage

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2012, 01:27:26 pm »
Quote from: Maia;79502
I'm not sure I agree that you shouldn't describe someone as something if they don't use that term to describe themselves.

 
The thing is, they're not related to modern Paganism. Even if we can't always agree what fits into Paganism today, there's definitely a modern movement it sprang from. We can point to the beginnings of Asatru, Wicca, modern Druidry, and say here, this is where they all started. A lot of Pagans do look to the past for guidance, but they're all modern examples of faith.

Hinduism's roots go back 5000 years. All these other native traditions are way older than this spiritual movement(s) today we call Paganism. And again, we're looking at terms of self-identity. One of the big factors of being Pagan is self-identifying as such. That's why the boundaries of the Pagan umbrella are difficult to sketch out.

There are also cases of Hindus, vodousaints, NA/FN practitioners, and other folks who look at our movement, and our words, and pretty much say no way José. This is not related to who we are or what we do. And it's really impolite to insist otherwise.
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
What you have created, no one can tear asunder.

-Canticle of Trials 1:10

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Maia

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2012, 01:39:13 pm »
Quote from: Sage;79504
The thing is, they're not related to modern Paganism. Even if we can't always agree what fits into Paganism today, there's definitely a modern movement it sprang from. We can point to the beginnings of Asatru, Wicca, modern Druidry, and say here, this is where they all started. A lot of Pagans do look to the past for guidance, but they're all modern examples of faith.

Hinduism's roots go back 5000 years. All these other native traditions are way older than this spiritual movement(s) today we call Paganism. And again, we're looking at terms of self-identity. One of the big factors of being Pagan is self-identifying as such. That's why the boundaries of the Pagan umbrella are difficult to sketch out.

There are also cases of Hindus, vodousaints, NA/FN practitioners, and other folks who look at our movement, and our words, and pretty much say no way José. This is not related to who we are or what we do. And it's really impolite to insist otherwise.

 
The pre-Christian Paganism of Europe was closely related to Hinduism, and it all derived from the same Indo-European belief system. Modern Paganism is derived, in one way or another, from this pre-Christian Paganism of Europe. There are places, in Scandinavia for example, where the line of descent was never really broken.

Sage

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2012, 01:59:05 pm »
Quote from: Maia;79508
The pre-Christian Paganism of Europe was closely related to Hinduism, and it all derived from the same Indo-European belief system. Modern Paganism is derived, in one way or another, from this pre-Christian Paganism of Europe. There are places, in Scandinavia for example, where the line of descent was never really broken.

 
I don't know if closely related to Hinduism is the most correct turn of phrase? I'm not sure how much you know, so I apologize if it sounds like I'm talking down or lecturing. (And I certainly don't have all the answers, I'm just the one responding to your posts right now. :))

"Hinduism" is a Western, Christian, colonialist term for "religious stuff those brown people do in this one part of Asia." There's a massive amount of diversity present in Hindu belief, practice, holy texts, etc. (My professor told me that if you were to line up all the holy texts in the world from end to end, Hindu texts would account for more than 50% of the shelf space. Ridiculously prolific folks.)

Vedic religion came into India via the Aryans, who were indeed an Indo-European people. There are definite echoes of belief and culture among our Indo-European ancestors. So if we were just talking the "Vedic" practitioners - both ancient and modern, because many old, old Vedic practices are still in effect today - then yeah, I would agree there's a lot of commonality between them and other ancient Indo-European people.

However, Hinduism... is really complicated and squirmy when it comes to definitions. Kinda like modern Paganism, but seriously on steroids. Invading (or just politely visiting) cultures never really wiped out what the previous people were doing, so you have examples of ancient Dravidian (the folks before the Aryans) Goddess traditions surviving alongside, say, Vedic firepit rituals. These co-mingle with devotional schools dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, or Devi/Shakti, the Goddess. They're all in open dialogue with the influx of Muslim influence (and to a lesser extent, Christianity and Buddhism). And all of those, in turn, are dealing with the political and cultural realities of a modern India.

The point I'm trying to make is that Hinduism is not comprised solely of Vedic influence. In many places, Vedic religion was a religion of the upper castes; modern folk (poorer, darker in skin) were locked out of accessing the Vedas. They did their own thing. One of the few things that might be said that unites Hindus is the shared experience of living in (or having descended from) Bharat Mata, Mother India.

This is really simplistic, and I apologize to, like, everyone for trying to boil down a fascinating and beautiful (set of) religions like this. My paltry credentials are that my major adviser and favorite professor's primary area of study was exactly this, and I'd had three Hinduism classes with him as well as a very short trip to India itself. Again, I'm not an expert. Just a very enthusiastic student, and I hope I haven't come across as rude. I also hope anyone else watching will jump in and correct me if I'm completely off base.

So, basically. I agree that Hinduism has I-E (Vedic/Aryan) influences, but Hinduism is a lot bigger than that. A connection to I-E culture is therefore perhaps not the best reason for classifying Hinduism as a Pagan religion.

Also to add: if an individual Hindu (or whomever) learned about Paganism and decided that was a good label for their practices, awesome! That is on an individual basis though.
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
What you have created, no one can tear asunder.

-Canticle of Trials 1:10

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Sage

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2012, 01:59:50 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;79503
If you are in fact neither of those things then you have to go on to explain what you really are and what you really do or believe, in which case the word "pagan" really wasn't very useful.

 
Yeah, as qualifiers go it's pretty problematic.
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
What you have created, no one can tear asunder.

-Canticle of Trials 1:10

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Friday Otherfaith Blogging: last updated 2/27
Join the Emboatening Crew over on Kiva! Emboatening the boatless since Opet 2013.

Maps

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2012, 02:05:01 pm »
Quote from: Maia;79502
I'm not sure I agree that you shouldn't describe someone as something if they don't use that term to describe themselves. This is especially true if they are not English speakers, but is still the case, in my opinion, even if they are. If words mean anything at all (and if they don't, they are meaningless noise and all verbal communication becomes impossible), then they have a recognised set of meanings.

 
Generally it's best to call people what they wish to be called instead of insisting that you know better.

That's kind of a huge part of what colonialism is.

Maia

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2012, 02:07:42 pm »
Quote from: Sage;79511
I don't know if closely related to Hinduism is the most correct turn of phrase? I'm not sure how much you know, so I apologize if it sounds like I'm talking down or lecturing. (And I certainly don't have all the answers, I'm just the one responding to your posts right now. :))

"Hinduism" is a Western, Christian, colonialist term for "religious stuff those brown people do in this one part of Asia." There's a massive amount of diversity present in Hindu belief, practice, holy texts, etc. (My professor told me that if you were to line up all the holy texts in the world from end to end, Hindu texts would account for more than 50% of the shelf space. Ridiculously prolific folks.)

Vedic religion came into India via the Aryans, who were indeed an Indo-European people. There are definite echoes of belief and culture among our Indo-European ancestors. So if we were just talking the "Vedic" practitioners - both ancient and modern, because many old, old Vedic practices are still in effect today - then yeah, I would agree there's a lot of commonality between them and other ancient Indo-European people.

However, Hinduism... is really complicated and squirmy when it comes to definitions. Kinda like modern Paganism, but seriously on steroids. Invading (or just politely visiting) cultures never really wiped out what the previous people were doing, so you have examples of ancient Dravidian (the folks before the Aryans) Goddess traditions surviving alongside, say, Vedic firepit rituals. These co-mingle with devotional schools dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, or Devi/Shakti, the Goddess. They're all in open dialogue with the influx of Muslim influence (and to a lesser extent, Christianity and Buddhism). And all of those, in turn, are dealing with the political and cultural realities of a modern India.

The point I'm trying to make is that Hinduism is not comprised solely of Vedic influence. In many places, Vedic religion was a religion of the upper castes; modern folk (poorer, darker in skin) were locked out of accessing the Vedas. They did their own thing. One of the few things that might be said that unites Hindus is the shared experience of living in (or having descended from) Bharat Mata, Mother India.

This is really simplistic, and I apologize to, like, everyone for trying to boil down a fascinating and beautiful (set of) religions like this. My paltry credentials are that my major adviser and favorite professor's primary area of study was exactly this, and I'd had three Hinduism classes with him as well as a very short trip to India itself. Again, I'm not an expert. Just a very enthusiastic student, and I hope I haven't come across as rude. I also hope anyone else watching will jump in and correct me if I'm completely off base.

So, basically. I agree that Hinduism has I-E (Vedic/Aryan) influences, but Hinduism is a lot bigger than that. A connection to I-E culture is therefore perhaps not the best reason for classifying Hinduism as a Pagan religion.

Also to add: if an individual Hindu (or whomever) learned about Paganism and decided that was a good label for their practices, awesome! That is on an individual basis though.

 
So even the word Hindu itself isn't used by them? All the Hindus I've known have used it to describe themselves, but maybe that's because they live in England so needed some sort of identifier.

Maia

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2012, 02:09:21 pm »
Quote from: Maps;79514
Generally it's best to call people what they wish to be called instead of insisting that you know better.

That's kind of a huge part of what colonialism is.

 
It's not a question of knowing better, but of using words with their standard meanings in ones own language.

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Re: Do you have to do anything to be a Pagan?
« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2012, 02:12:00 pm »
Quote from: Maps;79514
Generally it's best to call people what they wish to be called instead of insisting that you know better.

That's kind of a huge part of what colonialism is.

 
Agreed!  Stating that Hindus are Pagans even if they don't identify as such is like those somewhat more spiritual Christians who insist - insist - that everyone is Christian deep down, because "we're all worshipping the same God, just giving him a different name".  Or those more hardline Christians who insist we're all Devil-worshippers even if we make it very clear we're not because "you just think you're worshipping a god, but it's really Satan tricking you".

It's not helpful, and it's mostly just offensive.

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