This is the SynchroBlog post for Tuesday, September 25th. The subject is Paganism and Christianity
These are some preliminary thoughts on a subject which I want to study further. I theorize that it may have ramifications for our society at large, whether as a response to postmodern thought, or perhaps even as a response to more general humanistic, or materialistic trends in popular culture. Yet, my consideration of this topic relates directly to the difficulties of cross culture communication between Evangelical Christianity, and Neo-Paganism. At this point I am merely theorizing, and do not have either trend studies and statistics to document, or scholarship resources to act as a guide.
Belief and Being: The problem of communicating our faith
Belief as defined by evangelical Christianity is based primarily in a combination of confidence in an unseen Other, and an eschatalogical hope. This source of faith (faith and belief being used interchangeably here) is otherly, as is the object, and the goal.
"He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
The dual parts of this definition for faith define it as: 1) confidence in the Unseen Other, and 2) a future eschatalogical hope. This model of defining faith is a repetition from the first verse of Hebrews 11.
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
The writer of Hebrews, who gives us the clearest definition of faith clearly outlines the dual nature of this critical trait of the Christian character. Faith looks ahead to the future, and faith looks behind the curtain of human experience into the realm of the unseen. Even the most modern definitions of faith (such as those described by Francis Schaeffer or Josh McDowell), which rely upon perceivable facts to determine unseen realities are left with the difficult balance that faith which can be perfectly proven is not faith at all, but simply intellectual deduction.
"For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?"
"For we walk by faith, not by sight"
The fact that Evangelical Christian belief is rooted in a description of an Unseen Other (God), and in a future hope helps to disconnect human emotion from discussions about belief. Evangelical belief is not aimed at self, but at Another. It is not hinged upon a current condition, but is looking forward to a distant and glorious hope. Evangelical belief systems do not define the Christian, but the God in Whom the Christian believes. It does not define the current condition of Christian character, but the eschatalogical hope. Even when the Evangelical speaks of understanding themselves, it may be described as understanding how God (the Unseen Other) sees us in a future perfected state. In this operation of Evangelical faith, belief is potentially disconnected from the present reality of one's character, condition, and sensibility. Even at best Evangelical belief defines who a person will be, and less who they currently are. It is personally descriptive of becoming, more than of being.
Furthermore belief is attached to an immediately accessible, but continuously ongoing process of change.
"Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord."
Evangelical belief is connected to the triad of spiritual tranformations: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Belief accompanies change, and is expected to travel together to the end with personal transformation as its companion.
These characteristics of evangelical belief are a cause for celebration by its adherants, and are discussed with ease. Past failures are overlooked, current desperate conditions are seen as temporary and even hold seeds of beneficial transformation. Pain is eased by hope, and the only solid enemy of faith becomes personal doubt.
Yet for those whose belief is not based in the unseen, and the eschatalogical model of Evangelical Christianity, belief may take on a far more personally invested role.
Within popular culture we are commonly told that we must believe in ourselves. Eschatalogical hope is useless in the world of acheivement. The Unseen Other potentially offers us a source of help, but even that help is defined as serving to bring fulfillment to a more immediate present. Belief is sourced in self, and working to fulfill the moment. Even unseen and futuristic beliefs are discovered by a Kierkegaardian "leap of faith." Personal investment into one's belief is all that exists for some people. Even faith in God is come to by the activity of stepping out beyond oneself.
This self based belief is personal and naturally - self defined. It comes by means of that which is seen, or has been experientially defined. It is an existential reality, and therefore gives definition to one's being. As a culmination of life experiences it defines a person. It is who they are. This belief is less about becoming, and is almost completely about being.
Within the Neo-Pagan movement there are people whose belief systems are accessed by ethnic origin - most popularly, Celtic, Native American and Nordic mythologies in the U.S. Belief systems are defined by ethnicity, and are therefore clearly associated to being. Other Neo-Pagans attach themselves to myths or totemic guides which relate to character traits they find in themselves, and further define their beliefs by their sense of being. Though traces of the evangelical definition of belief in the unseen, or in a future hope may be found in Pagan belief systems, it does not hold the same power to disconnect one's beliefs from one's current condition. A challenge to beliefs is the same as a challenge to self, and an attack on one's legitimacy of being.
As Evangelical Christians, we will regularly be faced with communicating our faith, and consequently challenging the faith of others whose faith defines who they are. Their beliefs are personal, because they are the culmination of life experiences. These differences in the source, and direction of faith create tension in communication of belief systems between the Evangelical Christian and the Neo-Pagan. Evangelical Christianity has the call to proclaim its faith. It is therefore necessary for the Christian to understand that others may receive challenges to their beliefs as attacks against their being. We may well find ourselves in debate contests between those whose faith defines their being, when we think that beliefs are less personal and rooted in a hopeful becoming. For another faith is a personal journey defined by who they have become, and now are. My Evangelical definition of faith tells me it is less personal.
For the Calvinist or Reformed Christian even their faith may not be their own. We did not come to it ourselves, but its source is Him Who gave it. Does this depersonalize belief even further? Personally, I am not a Calvinist, but then perhaps my sense of missiology is partly to blame.
I do wonder if perhaps I have something to learn from the person whose beliefs radically and personally define their being. Could it be that I need to find a balance between a faith describing my becoming, and a faith describing my sense of being? Perhaps, but the practical question is, "How does this inform the discussion of my beliefs with others?"