Tonight in our Pagan Primer, I want to talk about the value in living in a world with many religions. I think that we’re really richly blessed, beyond most of our comprehension, with a wide array of viewpoints which can work together, synergistically, to open our eyes, hearts and minds. The trouble is that rather than looking at what we all have to offer, we more often than not, find these traditions used as brickbats and weapons. Indeed, you’ll find some Christians referring to the Bible as a sword, with which to cut down the evils of differing views. You’ll see arguments among pagans as to which path is better. You see followers of Islam who can’t countenance any questioning of their beliefs, and try to show that the Koran is scientifically accurate or that it actually foretells scientific discovery.

 

If we can get past the emotionalism of religion though, can we find value in studying other religions? Personally, I think that if for no other reason than to merely understand one another, there is enormous benefit in knowing other religions.

 

I grew up Christian; Catholic actually, and in so doing, I learned the value of ritual. I also went to Catholic school and underwent all of the rites of initiation – Baptism and the three “C”s of Confession, Communion and Confirmation. Later, in the Air Force, I was introduced to the Mormon Faith, and at my first duty station, I was part of the Chapel council. I spent about 25 years in music ministry, and learned about the rich Christian music heritage. At the same time, I also began studying paganism. That was back in the early 1980’s.

 

What I can honestly say is this: that my study of Christian faith has only made my understanding of my pagan faith much more valuable. Every lesson that I learned as a Christian has made my life as a pagan so much more intense. This isn’t because I’ve found something inherently wrong with Christianity, but rather because I see  Christianity as something different than what I saw as a child.

 

So, what do I see in Christianity? As in Paganism, I see the light and the dark. Christians view this differently than pagans. They have the “light is good and dark is bad” duality, where God is light and Satan is darkness. Where in paganism, we don’t view darkness as the enemy of light, Christians do.

 

Christians, and I suppose all Abrahamic religions, seem to separate humans from the world. The Bible says that we are in the world and not part of the world. Paganism tells us something different. Christians are called to “subdue and conquer” the world. Pagans are called to cooperate with it. That, perhaps, is my largest problem with Christianity or the Abrahamic religions; the only cooperation that is required is between man and god, and man is told what god wants via some priestly caste.

 

But the Bible is not a book filled with condemnation alone. In and of itself, it is a marvelously rich and beautiful spiritual book. There is a great deal of wonder, beauty, mystery and spirit. Most of us have heard of the Sermon on the Mount. This was related in the Gospel of Matthew. Here is the first part of that sermon:

Chapter 5

1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Now what’s sad is that so many of us discount the teachings of faiths other than our own, thinking that whatever we need, we’ve got right here in our own back yard. But we live in a world of computers and books cars and aeroplanes and subway systems and a multitude of faiths. The entire world IS now our back yard.

If I look at Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, I don’t see Christian dogma, but spiritual truth. Even from the very beginning, we have the air of enlightenment, with Christ opening his mouth, from which comes breath. That’s symbolic even in pagan traditions. But let’s look at his words:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Here we see humility and meekness as the key to riches. What is humility? It’s understanding who we are, without an inflated ego. It recognizes our TRUE, rather than perceived place in the grand scheme of things. True humility is the key to success and power and authority.

4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Somehow we do have our needs met. There is a difference between mourning and attention-seeking. Many of us try to meet sorrow with stoicism. We pretend that we aren’t perturbed; we keep a stiff upper-lip. We don’t cry. Strangely enough, it’s been shown that this false “strength” leads many to troubles later on. It’s healthy to cry, to mourn, and in doing so, we become free.

5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

These are those who are gentle and kind. This goes to show that these virtues are highly valued.

6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

The three-fold law, Karma … whatever rules you live by, righteousness, not out of a legalistic sense, but out of a sincere desire to see righteousness and justice, begets righteousness and justice. It does ontologically exist, and those who seek it will find it.

It goes on … the merciful shall know mercy, the pure in heart will see God, the peacemakers will be the children of God. There is nothing here that will contradict anything I’ve learned in my pagan studies. Of course some may say “gods and goddesses” instead of God, or we could substitute “deity”, but the point is that virtue is virtue.

Tony Parker set these words of Christ to folk music, and this is his version of that most famous sermon.

**** play song****

If you take the time to actually attend some Christian services, you’ll find music like this. You’ll also find a number of deeply spiritual people. You’ll likely find some people who won’t automatically discount you simply because you’re not Christian. Likely, too, you’ll find a number of people who are frightened or confused by you. But the point is that we’re all a great deal more similar than we like to think. And there is beauty and truth and love in every spiritual path.

If we’re going to live together on this Earth, it can’t be at the expense of each other; it must be with each other’s cooperation. That cooperation won’t happen without understanding each other, and to understand each other, we need to overcome the fear and hatred and intolerance that divide us.

Many areas have Interfaith groups. These are your opportunity to work, hand-in-hand, with people of other faiths, in a variety of ways. Check it out. If you happen to be a spiritual leader in your community, and there is no such group, start one. Where I live, there is an Interfaith Hospitality Network, which helps the hungry and homeless. Some groups take on other activities. Some groups hold Interfaith services. But if our Earth is going to make it, we need, very much, to work together.

 

© Deirdre A. Hebert, 2009