Pagan Christians

Dot writes: I don’t know a great deal about Anglo-Saxon and Norse paganism (though I’ve been re-reading Voluspa lately), but the key idea I have managed to absorb is that paganism didn’t centre on a coherent body of doctrine or a systematic philosophy, though it certainly involved certain characteristic attitudes. Rather, it centred on local cult practices and on rituals that helped people through the ordinary and extraordinary events of life; and it offered a powerful and adaptable collection of myths. It was not centrally organised or the same in every place, and it was in many ways more about how people did things than about what they believed. The emphasis placed on doctrine and on a truth that is supposed to be universally valid is a feature of (especially) the great monotheistic religions.

It struck me that in fact many of the people who practice those monotheistic religions, and I’m thinking specifically of the one most familiar to me, Christianity, practice them much as if they were pagans. Religion for such people provides a structure, perhaps for every week or perhaps only for the festival seasons and rites of passage. It gives them a collection of stories, among which there are well-remembered favourites and largely-forgotten oddities; and it links them to the people around them in the place where they live. It helps to shape their attitudes. But in the end they do not think too hard about what they actually believe.

Now, this is a kind of Christianity that adapts easily to the times. You get to pick the parts you find useful and ditch the awkward bits. I can imagine Ian delivering a pretty uncomfortable sermon on this. But I do think there is something to be said for pagan Christianity. It helps people get through life; it binds them to each other; it gives them some sound moral principles, even if they may not be wholly consistent in detail. It may not be good enough; but it’s still good.


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