Thoughts on Pagan Apologetics
*Note: I am going through my backlog of about 75 Drafts and publishing what I feel comfortable with publishing. This draft was originally started 05-04-2011!
Some of this was taken from a Patheos.com post I commented on here.
Engaging people who are generally antithetical to your beliefs (or at least not in your ballpark), in my view, is healthy if taken in balance with understanding your own. My best friend of 15 years is going to college right now to become a minister, and he and I’s debates, conversations, and apologetics on both sides hones our abilities to argue our points, defend our faiths, and gain deeper understanding from the other. In his asking me questions, including two interviews for his classes, I am pushed to answer deep questions about my theology, my daily practice, and what it is I do as a Pagan priest and shaman. I also have to formulate arguments against age-old philosophers, evangelists, and his own professors of his faith as to why my faith is the way it is, is fine the way it is, and why I am not accepting Christianity as my path.
I know it’s not as if other religions who have been opposed to us so far are going to ‘up and accept us’, and indeed many simply may not for one reason or another. However, I feel that Pagans owe it to themselves to develop apologetics so we can at least defend our ways in public. Heck, I have had deep conversations with Christian Evangelicals who berated me for looking at Pagan books in Borders who, after conversation, had a much different understanding of what Pagans are, do, and how they should treat us in accordance with their own Scripture.
This is where I think I differ from Bishop Harber, in that knowing Scripture, and arguing our points from their own Holy Books can be beneficial. Many Christians don’t understand their own faith (certainly not all), much less ours, beyond shallow means. However, if they look to the Bible as an authoritative text, you can use it to bolster your argument if you have a good understanding of it. I don’t think quoting their text gives it authority over me or my argument, but I can see where the idea might come from. By legitimizing their text by using it in argument. To me, using their text means more than quoting passages, but also understanding where able what the passages might have meant to those who wrote them, historical context, and whether or not modern-day scholarship backs up claims from the text. So perhaps this is not an avenue that everyone can or should take. Also, if the person is approaching you from an emotional perspective, it may not matter how many verses you can quote back to them. I’ve heard the line “Even the Devil can quote Scripture” thrown in my face on more than one occasion. I just think of this as just one tool among many we can use. Depending on the situation at hand, it can be well or poorly suited to the task of defending our faith.
I also think any who call themselves priests, priestesses, shamans, etc. should build up these and other skills related to functioning as a priest/ess, shaman, etc. such as communication skills, leadership skills, some amount of scholarship (or at least a thorough understanding of pertinent texts), and practice of their faith. It does us no good to have people in leadership positions who don’t understand their own faith, and cannot defend it, much less talk about it. This can also put the community or communities they serve into a stronger standing by empowering the community to come together to debate theology, understand their paths better, and open up new avenues of communication.
This is where leadership roles must mean something. It means that if you take on a titular role you need to know and be that role. You don’t need to be extreme or the most studied individual, but you do need to know your spirituality and your spiritual practices. In my case, I need to know why I use lore, archaeology, and primary sources as jumping off points in my spirituality and practice, and call it a reconstructionist-derived practice rather than a reconstructionist practice. I need to know why there are parts of the lore that I won’t use in my practice or don’t have a place in my spirituality, such as Odin supposedly being from Troy in Snorri’s Prose Edda tale Gylfaginning. Given that my Gods are many, I also need to know about how different pathways interplay. Being that I and others in the groups I worship are polytheists, there’s also steps taken to assure that our Gods are pleased with the arrangement if we feel the urge to call to Gods from more than one Pantheon in a ritual. We may be eclectic in our spiritual path together, but that does not excuse us from dialogue with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, etc., and doing right by Them and/or the community.