Posts Tagged “pagan”

LotusNearly eight years ago, I first blogged about Christianity and yoga — and how, supposedly, they’re at loggerheads. At that time, Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler had come out against it as un-Christian. Since then, other Christians have made their opposition to the practice of yoga known, in a number of ways, including via lawsuits.

Well, this controversy has kicked up anew. A Catholic blogger declared it un-Christian on Twitter, and complained that he was criticized for having done so (Archive.Is cached article):

The cool kids on Twitter use the term “ratioed” to describe an event where someone sends a controversial tweet that garners far more replies than it does likes. According to Twitter logic, this is supposed to be an indication that you were wrong about whatever you said.…

Yet I have found that the ratio more often indicates the correctness of a statement than it does incorrectness. That does not always hold, of course, but I think it did this morning when I fell into another ratio because of a tweet about yoga [cached]. Here’s what I said: “It’s kind of amazing to see all of the Christians who think nothing of going to a yoga class. There are many excellent ways to get in shape that do not involve participating in Hindu worship.”

Most of Walsh’s article isn’t so much a condemnation of yoga as a “pagan spiritual practice,” but a self-serving, infantile, sniveling whine about the criticism that was leveled at him. As part of his diatribe, Walsh (a supposedly Catholic blogger) cites Mohler (a very Protestant theologian). I find that little bit of irony amusing, even if it’s almost beside the point.

What is important to know, here, is that Walsh misunderstands what yoga is, as it’s practiced in America. As I’ve noted each time I’ve commented on this, it’s absolutely true that yoga began over a couple millennia ago (or more) as a Hindu practice. It’s been practiced in numerous ways since it began in classical India, however. It migrated through various religious traditions, and as it’s practiced in the occidental world, has lost any connection to its religious origins, aside from the Hindi names of some of its positions.

To be clear, American yogis and yoginis are not worshipping any Hindu gods — no matter how vehemently Walsh, or Mohler or any other Christian critics of yoga, might insist they are. What’s more, meditative practices along the lines of yoga are part and parcel of Christianity, and have been for a very long time. Meditation is embedded in the monastic and mendicant movements.

It’s time for Christianists to grow up and deal with things that seem foreign (and therefore scary) to them, rather than dismiss and castigate them as “pagan.”

Photo credit: CEBImagery, via Flickr.

Hat tip: Vox.

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Yoga Journal Conference 1I’ve commented before on occasional Christianist hissy-fits and condemnations of yoga as a profane “pagan”/Hindu practice. As I’ve said on those occasions, it’s true that what we now call “yoga” did originate as part of Hindu practice and ritual. However, it has changed through the millennia, and as it’s practiced in the occidental world, has long since lost any connection to the Hindu religion. American yogis and yoginis are not worshiping Hindu gods in any of their exercises.

But that hasn’t stopped Christians from getting their panties in knots over it nonetheless. The Kansas City Star, for example, reports that a Catholic college has renamed its yoga classes (WebCite cached article):

Yoga is designed to help bring peace and wellness to body and mind.

But at Benedictine College — a small and strongly Catholic liberal arts school in Atchison, Kan. — yoga classes per se will soon be yo-gone, out of apparent concern that use of the word “yoga” suggests advocacy for Hindu mysticism.

College spokesman Stephen Johnson said that starting this fall, both recreational classes and for-credit exercise classes that once taught yoga will likely still be taught the same way, but instead will be rebranded as “lifestyle fitness.”

“We’re changing the name,” Johnson said.

Note, they haven’t stopped the yoga classes. They’ll still be held. They just won’t go by the name of “yoga” any more. Why the college dislikes the name “yoga” isn’t entirely clear, or why yoga classes haven’t been banned altogether, isn’t clear based on the objections they’ve offered:

Complaints, Johnson said, began to come in from alumni, students, faculty and some administrators who argued that as a Hindu practice, yoga was not in keeping with Catholic-based education.

I note that mysticism and meditation — which yoga is a form of — is most assuredly very Christian. It’s been part of the religion since its inception, especially within its monastic movements. So really, there shouldn’t be much objection to it, even at a conservative Catholic college.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Apathetic Agnostic Church.

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Jack O'LanternHalloween is one of those odd things that most Americans don’t think much about, but a small number obsess over. It’s become a vast economic boon, being one of the most profitable retail holidays. It’s a major driver of social events, with people holding Halloween parties all over the place, and businesses hosting Halloween events, too.

But some Americans don’t see Halloween as fun, they see it as downright profane. Back in my own fundie days, the circle of Christians I was part of, didn’t care for it much, viewing it as a pagan — if not Satanic — celebration that Christians had to stay away from. Influential Christian leaders like Marion “Pat” Robertson have condemned Halloween as “Satan’s night” (WebCite cached article). Some Christians who’ve shunned it even came up with a simultaneous alternative they called “JesusWeen” (cached). Yes, that’s right … JesusWeen. Another Christian anti-Halloween phenomenon are the many “Hell houses” hosted by churches around the country, this time of year (cached). Some Jews have reservations about Halloween, too, and for similar reasons.

Once in a while this tension between Halloween-as-an-all-American-tradition and Halloween-as-profane-diabolical-celebration breaks open into something unexpected. An example of this just occurred in my home state of Connecticut. Milford public schools, as Milford Patch explains, cancelled an annual Halloween parade, and some aren’t happy (cached):

Halloween has been cancelled in the Milford Public Schools this year and that decision isn’t sitting well with numerous city parents.

In a note sent home to Milford parents last week the seemingly unpopular decision was announced.

“This year the Milford School District has decided the following: Halloween parades will not take place in any Milford elementary school. The decision arose out of numerous incidents of children being excluded from activities due to religious, cultural beliefs, etc. School-day activities must be inclusive. Halloween costumes are not permitted for students or staff during the day at school.”

The sanctimonious outrage as a result of this decision has been palpable. Online petitions have demanded Halloween be restored in Milford schools. The rage has been particularly loud amid the Right-wing media, such as on Daily Caller (cached) and National Review (cached). In the eyes of the Right, this is “political correctness” (aka Leftism) run amok. The curious part about this, of course, is that it’s religiously-conservative Christians who’re the ones who usually object to Halloween (as I noted above), and nearly all of those are politically conservative, just like the rest of the Right. So I have no idea how or why there could be any clear Leftist agenda behind a school system not having its Halloween parade.

At any rate, the Milford schools couldn’t withstand the Right-wing campaign against them, and as Milford Patch reports, yesterday evening they surrendered on the matter, and explained what they had done and why (cached):

Just before 5 p.m. Milford school officials released a statement to the media regarding Halloween in schools.

The statement was written by Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Feser.…

We are writing to you in response to the accusations that have been made against the school system around how we celebrate Halloween in the schools.

The misinformation around the decisions the school made tied to celebrating Halloween is huge, and the spreading of untruths by parents and members of the community very disturbing.…

Ultimately, all eight principals, with my endorsement, chose to focus their energies on a family Halloween celebration, and forego the 20 minute parade in school. The thinking behind this decision was that a family event in the early evening would enable all who wanted to be a part of a Halloween celebration to do so.

Meanwhile, children who for religious or cultural reasons would not take part, could easily, and without stigmatization, not attend the event. In addition, in recognition of many working parents who have difficulty leaving work to come to school, an evening event would allow them to be present with their children.…

Sad to say, while careful and sensitive thought went into the decision to celebrate Halloween at a school/PTA-sponsored major event outside of the school day, there are those who unmercifully attacked the decision, falsely accusing the Milford Public Schools for banning Halloween.

We have been accused of being un-American, of denying children participation in an American tradition, and that we should be ashamed. We struggle to understand why we should be ashamed about the Halloween celebration that each school/PTA is sponsoring, wherein children are encouraged to wear costumes, will be given candy, will spend an hour or more in fun and games.…

There are those who feel a 20 minute parade is more important, however, and its elimination is contributing to the demise of Milford as a city and Milford as a community, as well as the demise of the Milford Public Schools.

Once again, then, we see America’s Right wing flipping out, going berserk, and mercilessly bullying people due to an outrage they’ve worked up among themselves over something they never understood in the first place. Way to go, guys. Way to go! You must be so proud of behaving with just as much immaturity as the young grammar-school kids whose Halloween parade you’ll tell yourselves you saved. Well done!

For the record — and to clear away any of the misconceptions associated with Halloween in the US — here’s the real scoop on it: Halloween as it’s celebrated in the United States, is more or less a modern holiday created by a culture which happens to be majority-Christian. Sure, it has elements of the old Celtic Samhain, as well as a few other pagan influences. But it also has more modern influences, e.g. Guy Fawkes Day. It is firmly pegged on the Christian calendar as the evening prior to All Saints’ Day (aka All Hallows’ Day, hence, Hallow E’en). Halloween is, in short, an amalgam of pre-Christian as well as Christian-era practices, contorted by American commercialism into something which has completely lost any tangible connection to anything the Druids were doing in ancient Europe on Samhain, or even to the Gunpowder Plot cooked up by Guy Fawkes.

Put another way … Halloween is not a religious holiday. It is also not entirely an areligious holiday. It has little to do with Christianity, except that it happens to be the evening before All Saints Day, which is a Christian holiday (although it’s one few Christians really “celebrate” any more).

So just go to your favorite Halloween celebration, and if you have kids, let them go out trick-or-treating, and enjoy the day. But without any of the religious or ideological baggage it seems to have kicked up.

Photo credit: Patrick, via Flickr.

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Stay tuned ... for the next exciting episode of ... Jerks for Jesus! (PsiCop original graphic)There’s nothing like a good disaster to get Christians talking about their faith. They’re happy to use awful events and use them for their own mercenary purposes.

Usually they do this in the form of what I call “disaster theology” in which they announce that their deity either caused the horrible event, or allowed it to happen, because too many people are disobeying him, or because of gays, or atheists, or abortions, whatever. But other times they use the event in a different way.

Take, for example, the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday (WebCite cached article). Within hours of this cataclysm that claimed thousands of lives already, a preacher used it as fodder to express his fierce, unrelenting religionism (cached):

Yes folks, this is “the Religion of Love” in action. Yep. No doubt. Just so we’re clear as to what this creep said, here it is:

Praying 4 the lost souls in Nepal. Praying not a single destroyed pagan temple will b rebuilt & the people will repent/receive Christ.

Now, I suppose one could say it’s true that Nepal is “pagan” because it’s majority-Hindu, and at least by most Christians’ standards that’s a form of “paganism.” But a desire to have a pagan religion’s places and objects of worship destroyed kind of smacks of something the Taliban or ISIS/ISIL/IS would do. I suspect Miano wouldn’t want his wish compared to the likes of them … so one wonders why he’s thinking in a similar way? Hmm.

At any rate, I invite you, Dear Reader, to go ahead and look at Miano’s responses to those who, understandably, criticized him on Twitter. He did what any militant Christofascist would do in his place … double down and insist that he’s entitled to be an insulting boor for Jesus.

Now, one could certainly say that Miano is just one guy and that he doesn’t speak for Christianity. But that’s not entirely true; he’s a credentialed preacher, which does in fact make him something of a spokesman for his religion. But also, nothing is going to happen to him because of it. Sure, he’ll get some blowback on Twitter, and a tiny bit of it might even come from other Christians. But he won’t lose his credentials, he won’t lose his ministry, and he won’t be meaningfully disciplined in any way by the so-called “reasonable majority” of Christians. The reason for this is simple: Christians quite simply never bring each other to heel for any kind of excess. They just won’t do it. Miano will continue doing what he’s always done, untouched by any consequences for his nastiness.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Christianity’s fatal flaw.

As for Mr Miano, who appears sincerely to believe everyone on the planet is obligated to become a Christian just like him, my standard challenge is still open: Track me down and make me believe what you want me to. I mean it. Seriously! Given his beliefs, Miano has no valid reason not to do so … so I invite him to give it his best shot!

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic.

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Easter eggsThe religionists at World Net Daily have figured out that Easter is a pagan holiday. That’s right, a pagan holiday (locally cached page):

“Easter” is such a pretty-sounding word, isn’t it? …

It also brings to mind for countless millions the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. …

But brace yourself, because there’s a very dark side to this centuries-old tradition, and it has to do with the famous Ten Commandments of God.

The very first commandment of the Big Ten is perhaps one of the most overlooked in everyday life.

In just eight words, it states: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Most Christians, whether knowingly or unknowingly, violate this very first commandment of God each year by placing before God the actual name of a pagan goddess of fertility and the dawn.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, her name is — believe it or not — “Easter.”

That’s correct, folks. The word Easter is actually the name of an ancient, heathen goddess who represents fertility, springtime and the dawn.

The author even provides what he thinks is linguistic evidence of this:

In different languages and through a variety of cultures, the name of this deity — who in reality does not even exist – is spelled different ways, including Ishtar, Astarte, Ostara, Eostre and Eastre.

Even in the Bible itself, many of God’s own chosen people actually followed the customs of numerous Easter goddesses, with her name spelled in the King James Bible as “Ashtaroth” and “Ashtoreth.”

There are just a couple of problems with this:

  1. This association only works in Germanic languages wherein the name for the holiday is similar to English “Easter” (for instance, in German, it’s Ostern). But it doesn’t hold true in many other languages spoken by Christians; for instance, in Italian, Easter is Pasqua. In that language, and in many others, this association falls apart. The claim that “all” Christians celebrate a holiday named for a pagan goddess, is incorrect more often than it is true, since the majority of Christians worldwide speak non-Germanic languages!

  2. The proposed etymology is also incorrect. The English name “Easter” comes to us from Old English Eastre, which in turn comes from older Germanic roots, within the Indo-European language family, from the Proto-Indo-European root *aus- “to shine,” a reference to the dawn (yes, it’s also related to English “east,” the direction of the dawn). The names Astarte, Ashtoreth, and Ishtar all have a completely different derivation, within the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family; the former two derive from from the Akkadian name Ishtar, whose derivation is less certain but may be related to a Semitic root *assur meaning “leader” or “chief.” Thus, English “Easter” and Akkadian “Ishtar” are actually not related at all, except in appearance only.

These points of ignorance are compounded by the fact that WND is screeching about Easter’s pagan roots, but every Christmastime, they’re one of the outlets beating louder than most at the drum of the “war on Christmas” trope — and seem blissfully unaware of the pagan roots of some Christmas traditions. Then again, consistency is not really something one can reasonably expect of religionists.

Hat tip: Religion Dispatches.

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Every year it comes up, the contention over the nature of Christmas. It’s an argument that seems never to end … unfortunately.

On the one hand there are religionazis who claim there’s a war on Christmas (something I’ve blogged about already). On the other hand, there are people who claim it’s really “a pagan holiday in disguise.”

The truth of the matter is that Christmas is an assuredly Christian holiday … one which has developed over time, and in different places, in a variety of ways and has any number of different features depending on where you are, and some of those features resemble pagan practices. In other words, it’s a complicated matter with no easy, simple, quick answers.

It should not be surprising that this is the case, however, because we’re talking about a holiday now celebrated around the world with many centuries of history behind it. It’s simply not possible for something that old, and that stretched out demographically, to be a simple matter. This idea is alluded to in this piece in the New York Times:

Every Christmas, I re-read C .S. Lewis’s novel “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” The holiday seems like the ideal time for an excursion into my imaginative past, and so I return to the paperback boxed set of “The Chronicles of Narnia” that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was 10. For me, Narnia is intimately linked with the season.

I’m not alone. In Britain, stage productions of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” are a holiday staple, for good reason. The book rests on a foundation of Christian imagery; its most famous scene is of a little girl standing under a lamppost in a snowy wood; and Father Christmas himself makes an appearance, after the lion god Aslan frees Narnia from an evil witch who decreed that it be “always winter, and never Christmas.”

That I’m not a Christian doesn’t much hinder my enjoyment of either the holiday or the book, but the presence of Father Christmas bothered many of Lewis’s friends, including J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien, whose Middle-earth was free of the legends and religions of our world, objected to Narnia’s hodgepodge of motifs: the fauns and dryads lifted from classic mythology, the Germanic dwarfs and contemporary schoolboy slang lumped in with the obvious Christian symbolism.

But Lewis embraced the Middle Ages’ indiscriminate mixing of stories and motifs from seemingly incompatible sources. The medievals, he once wrote, enthusiastically adopted a habit from late antiquity of “gathering together and harmonizing views of very different origin: building a syncretistic model not only out of Platonic, Aristotelian and Stoical, but out of pagan and Christian elements.”

Lewis had a point about medieval Europeans. They assimilated things into their worldview, without regard to their origins, and reinterpreted them as part of their own world and in their own way. For instance, some of the medieval romances spoke of Jesus Christ has having been “the first knight” — this is, of course, a ridiculous notion, since the knighthood did not exist until centuries after Jesus’ time, meaning there is no way he could have been one; moreover, nothing in the gospels suggested he was a warrior in service to a lord (which is what a knight is). Nonetheless, medieval people had no trouble envisioning him that way.

Christmas is very much the same thing … it’s an amalgamation of local practices and Christian legend, nothing more, and nothing less. It contains a bit of this, a bit of that, and is ever-changing. Early in Christian history, it was not observed at all; for the first several centuries the only major Christian holiday was Easter. Sometime in the 4th century, Christmas became a solemnity — a day upon which a specific Mass was said — but it was not a holiday that Christians celebrated in their homes, just a special day for the clergy to gather for a particular Mass. Private Christmas celebrations, in fact, are not documented to have happened until the early Middle Ages (8th century perhaps).

Lots of Christians say they’d like to celebrate Christmas as it was originally. Well, bully for them … I hope they like spending all day in church, because that was the first manner in which it was celebrated, beginning in the 4th century! If they prefer to go back even further, then they must not celebrate Christmas at all, because in its first few centuries, Christianity did not really care about that holiday.

Complaints that people have forgotten “the Reason for the Season” are common among Christians, but honestly, all this means is that they’d prefer Christmas was celebrated as it was in their youth — however that was. The truth is they know very little about the holiday itself, or how it was celebrated historically.

As for Christmas being “a pagan holiday,” history suggests otherwise … as I said, the very first manner in which Christmas was observed, was in the saying of a Mass. (In fact, holding a church service on Christmas remains the only thing Christian denominations around the world have in common, about that day.) There is nothing pagan, however, about saying a Mass. Some Christmas customs have a similarity to pagan practices, but there is no substantive, firm linkage, merely an association. For instance, decorating Christmas trees supposedly derives from Celtic tree-worship, or the belief that spirits inhabit trees. There is, however, no connection between the ancient Celts (who may or may not be correctly characterized as having “worshipped” trees) and the modern Christmas tree custom, which dates back no earlier than the Renaissance in Germany. There is, instead, a gap of many centuries between the two.

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