Heathenism and That Other Religion
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“Heathenism and ‘That Other Religion’ ”
‘Why I am not a Christian’”
The late Bertrand Russell wrote a well-known essay entitled “Why I am not a Christian.” It can be read at http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html. This essay, inspired in a sense by that of Professor Russell, will include not only my own reasons for not being a Christian, which are very different from his, but also my reasons for being a Heathen and my own opinions on how best to deal with Western society’s (current) main religion and its adherents.
This essay has been bouncing around the inside of my head for years now. I’ve been too busy until now to write it down. Hopefully, like a fine wine, it has both matured and mellowed inside its boney cask. I once considered giving it the tongue-in-cheek title “The Gloves Come Off: The Draug’s (Walking Corpse’s) Foul Troth.” I soon decided against it. As it is, I have enough of a reputation as a Christian-basher in some quarters of Heathendom, and my goals in writing the present treatise are really quite different from merely “bashing” a belief system which I know very well, both from the inside and outside, and admittedly do not like at all.
Before going into those reasons, I shall make the following statement about all the many people, some kin and some not, whom I (and probably you as well) have known who lived honorable lives in the Christian faith, whether by choice or by circumstance, and “died in the hope of rising again” as the Vatican II Novus Ordo Mass puts it: in no way shape or form do I intend to demean them or the sincerity or (for them) efficacy of their faith. Despite the fact that my disagreements with Monotheistic religions like Christianity go back to their very foundation myths, I still am aware that the story of Jesus, although I do not believe it to be true, has nevertheless brought hope, comfort and inspiration to billions of people over nearly two millennia. Human beings have the right to make their own choices in these matters and good people can agree to disagree about them. Someone once said that true respect for diversity is the willingness to live peacefully side by side with people you know are NEVER going to agree with you. I try very hard to do that. However, doing so does not mean that I cannot express my own opinions and beliefs, at times bluntly so.
The first bone I have to pick with “holy mother church” is the Christian belief in “original sin,” or “we’ve all got one strike against us before we even take our first breath.” It means we were not only born, but conceived in “sin,” regardless of the marital status of our parents. By their God’s special dispensation, for Catholic Christians the “Virgin Mary” was exempt from this via her “Immaculate Conception”, a very different event from her later miraculous conception of Jesus. The results were, not surprisingly, tragicomical: Catholics used to baptize miscarried embryos, even very early ones, in order to hopefully get them into “heaven,” which they could not do carrying original sin. Pretty silly, huh? You are contaminated and excluded from your God’s kingdom through no fault of your own even before you are a viable, much less sentient organism, all because of some old story about a snake and a fruit tree. It’s as unfair as all get-out, and even more so since if Yahweh got rid of original sin for one human, why couldn’t/wouldn’t he just do it for the lot of us?
Doesn’t it make much more sense to believe what most Heathens believe: that while the Gods are our friends and their will toward Humanity is good, that their power is limited, and that even they are a necessarily imperfect part of a necessarily imperfect Multiverse? This belief cuts down on the agonizing soul-searching and “why-me-ing” that comes “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” which by the way is a book by a rabbi named Harold S. Kushner published back in the early 1980’s. He ended up deciding that his God, despite millennia of assertions to the contrary, was not all-powerful either. Many Christians have reached similar conclusions in recent decades. It’s nice to see some of the old Heathen common sense returning to Midgard! I personally believe that in our times of tragedy and loss, that our Gods stand with us even if they can only share our suffering. They too know the pain of grief, as the legend of Balder makes clear.
However, for the theologically orthodox Christian, things only get worse. Damned from conception, his/her God expects perfection and when inevitably the believer doesn’t deliver, s/he is up the proverbial creek, despite being cleansed from “original sin” by the regenerative waters of holy baptism. No matter what “good deeds” and senseless acts of self-denial and self-repression one performs, one is still a sinner “in the hands of an angry God.” Only Christ’s suffering and death can get you back in Yahweh’s good graces. On the one hand, this can sound good on the surface. A God takes human form, suffers, dies and rises again to save helpless, fallen Humanity. On the other hand, what if we aren’t helpless? What if we are evolving, rather than “fallen”? The facts of our own lives, along with what we have learned of history and science over the past centuries, definitely support the Heathen view of these matters. In any case, it is arguable highly immoral to catch a free ride into the Afterlife on someone else's suffering, even if that individual is willing!
An old but very true adage states that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” And Yahweh, his son, and their “holy spirit” expect something in return for their trouble. They expect what is in essence slavery from their followers. In my naughtier moments I call it “Massah Jesus runs the company store, and what’s worse, he’s paying his slaves in IOU’s that aren’t any good until after they are dead and buried!” No matter what one does, the bill is never paid. The Christian is never out of hock and can never say “thanks, Jesus, for your 33 years of living, three hours on a cross, and three days in a tomb on my behalf. However, I have lived as your humble slave for much longer than that. I deprived myself and my family of needful things to benefit your church. I repressed my sexuality. I did, said, and thought exactly what your authorized earthly representatives told me to, including shoving my religion under the noses of those I met at every possible opportunity. Are we not, in all fairness, even now?” In Christian theology, the answer is a resounding “NO!” Not even an eternity of singing Yahweh’s praises will get the Christians out of debt to their God.
Heathen theology is a much more balanced thing. We need the Gods, but they need us too. With us in the equation, it is much easier for them to be active in Midgard. With them, we can access the other Worlds as well. Together we can keep things running and developing, and postpone the Ragnarök, however one may envision it. They are our Elder Kin, and we respect and honor them as such. However, respect is a two-way street. We are not their slaves. We are free to think and act, and all they ask, it would seem, is that we accept responsibility for our choices. Our innate nature and biological drives are good, not evil and while we are expected to be decent human beings, our Troth leaves us freer, less frustrated, and hopefully saner than more control-oriented faiths leave their followers. While we may mess up and fall short, even in big ways, while there is life, and even I suspect in most cases afterward, there is hope! Winifred Hodge’s “Ninefold Rite of Life Renewal” (http://www.friggasweb.org/renewal.html) article can help. While it is “tough love,” it is far better than a superficial “forgiveness” that ultimately changes nothing.
While Jesus assured his followers that most of Humanity would be damned, only the very worst folks are fodder for Niðhögg. Even then, I suspect they are simply digested and that their energy is recycled while their Selves, mercifully, cease to Be. Bad as that is, it has “eternal damnation” beat all hollow!
We can, in effect, choose to grow up, to become in a sense Godlings. The theologically orthodox Christian cannot, nor for that matter can the theologically orthodox Jew or Muslim. And that, heartless as it may sound, is their business and their problem. I believe that we aid the cause of Ásgarð and Vanaheim by living strong Heathen lives and by making quality information on our religion widely available, as I am doing now by writing this article. Those so inclined are free to debate with militant Christians and hopefully as a result help them to find a better or at least freer path. Personally, I have found that arguing with a theologically orthodox Monotheist of any stripe is like arguing with a drunk: a colossal waste of time and a sure path to frustration. In the words of my teacher, Thor Sheil, “If the Christians want to be stupid, let them!” Say what you think; live as you think best; but don’t go out of your way to harass them unless they make the first move.
The following anecdote will, I trust, prove illustrative. Once upon a time a few Jehovah’s Witnesses were being particularly pesky in a neighborhood the Sheil’s lived in. One day, having been given advance warning by a neighbor, he answered the door in a ritual robe, carrying a plastic Halloween decorative skull, and said: “You must be the sacrifice. You’re late.” When the Witnesses took flight, he pursued them down the sidewalk, crying out, “Come back; we need you!” The old Irish Catholic lady who had tipped him off nearly fell off her porch laughing. In another case about ten years ago, a young teen boy of Heathen belief, tired of the repeated uninvited attention of religious proselytizers, answered the door naked and urinated on them. In both cases, no real harm was done and the fanatics thereafter stayed away! Please note that you will probably not need to go this far. The worst I’ve done is say “wait a minute please,” and fetched my big phallic Freyr statue. Then, I proudly declare “THIS is MY God.” They don’t come back, and I can sleep late in peace on my days off.
Thus, our Gods and Goddesses give us yet another gift: we are ultimately responsible only for our own Selves, and for helping those closest to us. We need not feel obligated try to take “The Truth” to a lost, dying, and sinful Humanity, for there are many “truths,” and Humanity, while very imperfect, is neither lost, dying, nor inherently “sinful.” We are in essence free to live our own lives, honoring the High Ones as free men and women. And in my book, that beats the dubious joys of “soul winning” any day of the week!
Then, you might ask, what happens when Christianity plays its “trump card,” its offer of “eternal life”? Well, the truth must be told; Heathenism offers no such thing. What happens to anyone after the Ragnarök, with the exception of a few Deities, is anyone’s guess. And to that I respond with a hearty “So what?” How dare I? Well, for starters, not all of us interpret the Ragnarök myth, itself very possibly heavily influenced by Christianity, in a literal fashion. And on the other hand, unless the Christian soul in its God’s heaven is preserved like a fly in amber (nothing I’d want to have happen to me); it will keep changing and evolving. Eventually, it will bear so little resemblance to its former earthly and human self that the idea of “immortality” or “eternal life” becomes essentially meaningless. Without change and evolution, which eventually must transform the Self beyond recognition, “eternal life” would not be “the gift of God,” but rather the most horrible curse imaginable. The Christians can bloody well keep it! In the highly unlikely event that they are right after all, I personally would rather go to “hell” and hopefully render Satan some sort of aid in his more than justified revolt than spend eternity singing the praises of a tyrannical, petty, and capricious God like Yahweh.
For me it is enough to know that I, along with the Gods, am a part of the Multiverse. I walk a path, not knowing where it (and I) began or when or even if it will end. The only alternative is stagnation. As “Óðin’s Rune Song” proclaims: “The wisest know not from whence spring/The roots of that ancient Tree.” If Óðinn himself does not know the origin or the ultimate outcome of Existence, why should I? The Heathen can come to live with the “mystery of Existence” (both of the Multiverse and of our own Selves) and to continue to unfold and evolve along with the Gods and the Multiverse. Again, our ancient faith is remarkably up-to-date. The best of modern Western philosophers have reached very similar conclusions in regard to Humanity’s need to learn to live with the “mystery of Existence.”
However, for the Heathen, things just keep getting better. Not only does Heathenism make good sense, it demonstrably WORKS, too. Christians, as I’ve already mentioned, “die in the hope of rising again.” As a Seiðmaðr, I journey to the realms of the Dead. I have seen, spoken to and touched the Gods in a very real way that has transformed me greatly for the better, and I am far from the only Heathen who has done so. When my mother prayed to end an abusive situation in my family and essentially got a “busy signal” from Jesus, Thórr, at Frigga’s instigation, blew up not one, but TWO car engines on the guilty party! Many Christians live their whole lives in doubt about their relationship with their God. That is what “faith” is all about, hoping for something that is not currently demonstrable or tangible. There is a whole field of endeavor known as “Christian apologetics,” which try to clear up all the contradictions and objections to Christianity. I suspect that much of it is aimed at the many wavering Christians rather than at us non-believers. Our Troth very often leaves the experienced, well-grounded Heathen with no doubt whatsoever. I believe in our Gods about like I believe in rocks. There ain’t no “believing” in either case. I’ve experienced both in rather “concrete” ways! I went to Mass almost every day for four years. The little hairs on the back of my neck never once stood up. Óðinn-blóts are an entirely different matter!
So, as you can see, being a part of a religious minority can be a good thing. It does not shake my faith in the least that Christians, for now and for the foreseeable future, outnumber us thousands to one. The expansion of their religion has had to do with superior fanaticism, superior ruthlessness, and superior firepower, not with a superior God, theology, or philosophy. In fact, in free societies Heathenism competes (and competition is inevitable in a sense) with other faiths just fine, thank you. You’ll find a lot more ex-Christian Heathens out there than you will ex-Heathen Christians, despite the fact that there is nowhere these days where being a Heathen will get you ahead, and there are still many places where it is much easier to “go with the flow” and serve the White Christ. I firmly believe that if the Heathen revival/reawakening fails, it will be OUR fault, not the fault of the Gods, or of the Monotheists, or for that matter of the New Age or Neopagan movements, some of whose adherents would like to absorb us in the gravely mistaken belief that, underneath the surface, “we are all doing the same thing anyway”. For the most part, Christianity has woven itself an ill Wyrd indeed. That Wyrd has started to manifest over the last few centuries, and over the last few decades things have really picked up. I personally take a few moments from my busy Heathen life from time to time to watch the various Christian sects self-destruct, Roman Catholicism especially!
So, how in practical terms do we live with all those Christians? First, it is a good idea to stop to ponder that despite intense efforts on the part of Christian leaders, Christianity is not a monolithic religion nor has it ever been. It has mellowed out considerably over the past few centuries. Even Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are wimps in comparison to Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada! Fundamentalist Christian influence is on the wane throughout the industrialized world, even in the United States, despite that country’s being decades behind the times, so to speak, due to its own history as a dumping ground for religious fanatics. The handwriting is on the wall: the days of a coercive Christianity being a major force in the industrial democracies (where the vast majority of us Heathens live) are numbered. A dying dinosaur may still kick hard but it is nevertheless dying. As for the Third World, as it develops, it will continue to become more like the industrial democracies.
There is no need to “witness to” or otherwise harass Christian believers. As far as I know, none of us believes that an individual’s choice is “Óðinn or Niflhel”! In any case, in the long run, we all get the God we deserve anyway. Christians have a right to be unmolested in their persons, property, and places of worship. While I make no apology for the Viking Hordes, those days are long over, and I for one do not mourn their passing. There are much better ways of making a living now, and raids on churches now take the form of repeated and highly successful lawsuits for child sexual abuse. Lest we grow complacent, however, there are some pretty unsavory Heathens out there. We need to clean up our own back yard more than we need to point fingers at someone else’s.
The following guidelines might be useful in keeping your own Heathen life on track. If you find yourself thinking rosy thoughts about Christianity, bone up on your history. Focus on the suppression of late Classical Paganism in the 4th-6th centuries C.E.; the period of the Christianization of Norway (llth Century C.E.), the Crusades, the Wars of Religion following the Protestant Reformation, the conquest of Latin America, the Witchcraft craze, and finally, 18th-21st Century Protestant fundamentalism. A religion which preaches love and brotherhood but instead delivers nearly two millennia of hatred and religious violence is highly suspect to put it mildly. We are fortunate indeed to live in an era when this long nightmare is finally ending and we may, as a result, worship our Gods openly, freely, and without fear. In the Old Homelands, Heathen Folks are even beginning to return to our old places of worship. On the other hand, if you catch yourself being more anti-Christian than pro-Heathen, quit thinking so much about Christianity, its hypocrisy, and its problems, and put your efforts more into your Heathen work. You’ll feel better and have a LOT more fun!
Fortunately for us, Heathenism tends toward balance, sanity and wholeness. Christianity’s emphasis on sexual repression tends toward just the opposite. Thor and Audrey Sheil put it this way: think of the Eagle at the top of the World Tree and the Wyrm, Dragon, or plain old big Snake, Niðhögg at the bottom of it. The Eagle is the airy idealist. The Snake is basic biological drives. Christianity tries to be all Eagle and no Snake. The consequences are tragic. Think about how many holier-than-thou priests have been caught recently with their pants down around little kids. Or, less drastically, remember that sex therapists for years have been well aware of the fact that most of their clients were raised as Orthodox Jews, conservative Roman Catholics, or fundamentalist/evangelical Protestants. It’s a law of the Multiverse: ignore and repress Niðhögg in his proper fields and he will act in whatever space he can. Recognize his message that we, while spiritual beings, must accept and appreciate our physical nature as well, and you can live healthy, wholesome and balanced lives. Now, doesn’t that sound better than 2,000 years of ranting about “the world, the flesh, and the devil”?
I suggest that we seek, rather than to engage Christians in combat or even in debate, to live openly, freely and joyfully as Heathens. This, along with making information on our faith readily available to those who want it, is the best “witness” we can bear to the holiness and wholesomeness of our Way. Some few of us may have to move and/or change jobs to do so, but most will not. I believe it is best to live and let live wherever possible. Why start arguments? When “they” start them, you do no dishonor to the High Ones to refuse to be drawn into a debate or to engage in apologetics for our faith or our Gods. Say “oh, whatever” and get back to your life. Cooperate with good people of all faiths and of no faith to better your community, nation, and world. Consider a bit of volunteer work if time and circumstances permit, and wear your hammer in plain view! Interfaith activities can be a good thing. I for one would rather work on an interfaith council with rabbis, priests, ministers, imams, and other clergy of various religions than with the larger Pagan community. You’ll get more done and in most cases meet a better caliber of people! Of course, in such contexts, all concerned keep their more blunt opinions of each other’s theology to themselves and focus on the shared common interests that have brought them together.
And finally, regardless of your personal circumstances, make your life count for something. As Thor and Audrey Sheil have said, “Heathenism should be a gateway to life, not a substitute for it.” Sad to say, I’m sure most of us can think of Heathens who could stand to take this message to heart. The monotheistic religions tend to see themselves and a be-all and end-all. All other aspects of life must be subservient to religion. Again, for the most part we Heathens take a much more holistic and pragmatic view of the human condition. Better a Christian who is a decent human being and who lives a balanced and worthwhile life than a Heathen who is not and who does not. But best of all is a Heathen who strives toward wholeness and to living life to the fullest. Such a person is even now very near to the Gods themselves, and not only stands proudly beside them here in “our” World, but will one day stand proudly beside them in THEIR World. Seek to live in such a way that when you die, not only do you knock on Ásgarð’s door, but you do so proudly and confidently, like when you knock on the door of dear friends with something worthwhile to share with them!
last modified 03/06/2005