Rabbi Brad Hirschfield over at Windows & Doors has a good post from a Jewish perspective on Newt Gingrich’s latest idiocies regarding Pagans. He makes the very astute observation that
it seems to me that many of what we might rush to call pagan or idolatrous traditions, are actually acutely sensitive to the infinite and make images precisely because they know that such images are not full picture of the infinite but aids to approaching what is. Ironically, if Newt is any example, we may be witnessing a far more idolatrous i.e. falsely absolutized, version of Christianity than we are getting from the traditions against which he seems to be railing.
He has also invited practicing Pagans to contribute definitions and descriptions of who we are. If you haven’t yet, pay him a visit. Here is my description.
I think the core of who we are as a religious tradition is that we honor the Sacred as immanent far more than we focus on the Sacred as transcendent. Most Pagans acknowledge there is a transcendental dimension to the world, but do not themselves focus on it. Pretty much the rest of who we are, in all our variety, emerges from our focus on the immanent.
The world around us is a world of amazing variety, and if the Sacred is found within it all, it follows that there will be innumerable paths to recognizing and honoring it. Even the spirituallly most inclusive manifests through the concrete and individual. As a consequence, Paganism is intimately connected to polytheism: that there are many divine presences in the world, with many ways to honor or get into better relationship with them.
Most Pagans will focus on one or a very few deities in our own practice, but we will recognize the existence of others and the legitimacy of those who seek closer connection with them. Our deities are not bothered by the presence of others.
One perhaps unexpected result is that most Pagans do not deny the legitimacy of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions as personal practices. When I became a Pagan and thought about the implications of my beliefs, I became a great deal less antagonistic the monotheistic traditions – so long as they do not force themselves on other people or attack others’ faiths.
As fits a religion focusing on Sacred Immanence, we hold practice as much more important than belief when working with one another. Pagans can disagree strongly about what constitutes proper practice within a given tradition, but at worst this leads to splitting that tradition into two, with adherents free to go their own way. This is also what happened when religious freedom was established in Christian cultures. But for us, this diversity is not a problem for we have never been concerned about doctrinal orthodoxies.
Also flowing from our emphasis on Sacred Immanence, in almost every case we are utterly unconcerned with salvation or enlightenment as roads to escape a fundamentally flawed existence. Nor do we believe in any concept of ‘sin’ as ‘rebellion’ against some God. People mess up – all the time. But that is a different situation. Rather we seek to get into greater harmony with this world through our rituals, personal practices, and work with deities.
Those of us known as NeoPagans differ from Pagans in the larger sense only in that we are members of secular modern societies who are rediscovering Pagan spirituality after our own indigenous practices were all but extirpated and after having thoroughly absorbed the principles of modern scientific democratic civilization. As a result, I think we have much to learn from and also much to contribute to the larger Pagan religious tradition. But as our community matures we are having increasing contact with more traditional Pagan traditions on every continent, and are recognized as practicing in a compatible way. I have been personally told as much by traditional Native Americans and practitioners of African Diasporic and Asian shamanic religions.
“Pagan” was initially applied as a pejorative label to non-Abrahamic religious traditions by Christians. But because of our common focus on Sacred Immanence we have much in common under the superficial variety of practices and aspects of the sacred on which they focused.