A Better Way

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” -R. Buckminster Fuller
This quote reminds me of the conversion of the Irish to Christianity.

Unlike many other places throughout Europe, the Irish did not convert to Christianity via conquest or by the sword. Their religion was not made illegal. They considered Christianity to be the better option for them.

Obviously, we cannot know why. Records of pre-Christian religion among the Irish are non-existent. We have the archaeological record and the recounting of Irish Christian monks.

But I have an idea why.

In its earliest days, before it became intertwined with Empire and the Sword, Christianity was a radical idea. The poor, the sick, the outcast, the meek, and more were uplifted. If you felt as if you were one of the have-nots surrounded by haves, Christianity was for you.

Lepers, prostitutes, adulterers, and more were welcomed into the fold.

This was a radical idea. It’s hard to even conceive what a radical idea this was back then.

Even though Christianity was fully connected with Empire by the time Patricius, a Romano-Brit, came to Ireland to spread the Gospel, he did not spread it by the sword but by his preaching and personality. Later accounts would have him quarreling with the Druids and performing miraculous acts to ‘prove’ the superiority of Christ over their polytheism but these came later to provide a narrative of Patrick’s victory over the “Pagans”.

Patricius offered them a better way than what they had…and they took it willingly.

I write this not to promote the idea that Christianity is superior to polytheism. No. I’m a Pagan. But I’m writing this because it makes me ponder how, if we want our religions to grow, we can offer people a better way.

Of course, Paganism is different. We’re not evangelists. We’re not looking for converts. Our religion is not a numbers game and as we do not believe in salvation in the Christian sense, we have no imperative to “save souls”.  

So why do this? Should we tailor our religions to meet the needs of people? No. Our religions aren’t about the needs of people but the gods. That said, there are people whose needs are not being met. The ‘lesser of the brethren’ that Jesus spoke so eloquently about 2000 years ago have once again been left behind. This time by the religion that was built around them.

While there are a multitude of “Pagan values”, I feel as if making the world a better place (and, by extension, improving the lives of the people that live in it) is something that should be a Pagan value. Not to convert others but because it’s the right thing to do.

Modern Paganism is full of ego-driven values. People are looking to get off, to get high, to..like, experience the Divine, man. The more we orient our religion about the gratification of our egos, the less room there is for the gods. (Not to mention, this is where we run into problems with moral issues as in the recent Bonewits discussion.)

I think it’s time we focus on becoming better people and making the world a better place for others. In Hinduism, this is karma yoga.

There are a number of ways that this can go. I’d like to write more on this subject. But the first step is to remember that our ego is a false god.

It seems odd for a polytheist to consider ANY god to be a false god but what I’m trying to express is that often in our society, we put the ego in an exalted place in our minds where we could be placing one or more of our beloved gods. When we are obsessed with what we want, we become less oriented towards what the gods want.

But that will have to be another blog post…

~ by sacredblasphemies on 01/23/2018.

5 Responses to “A Better Way”

  1. Well said, I look forward to reading more on this from you. I believe we need to get out there and make the world better as people, be good, visible examples of Pagan values, and growth will follow from there. Even if it doesn’t, the world will still be a better place for the effort. Sitting at a computer all day, coming up with new organisations to quarrel with each other, is a waste of time.


  2. I don’t disagree with your points about a social agenda of justice being preferable within any given religion…and certainly a good thing to pursue now when it is desperately needed in the wider world.

    However, where are you getting this information about Ireland being without any of that before Christianity? How much do you actually know about Irish law, for example?

    What did the Christians introduce into Ireland that they didn’t have before? The death penalty, for starters…something much of the rest of the world now sees as barbaric and resents the U.S. for having at all. Irish law preferred exile, and only imposed it for the worst offenses, like fingal (kin-slaying) since no usual form of retribution would be possible without creating social discord. Ireland had slavery, as did many other cultures at the time, but Christianity did not question or undermine it at all, and in fact extended it in certain cases, despite the experiences of St. Patrick. Irish society was hierarchical, certainly, but that didn’t mean those lower on the hierarchy didn’t have ways to redress the abuses of the higher classes, including the legal process of distraint which was available to everyone. The very idea of “truth,” “justice,” and “cosmic harmony” was in-built to the Irish concept of kingship in the concept of fír flatha. Homelessness was nearly unknown, as was not having food to eat, since hospitality was amongst the most important personal and social virtues, and one had to be a “very bad person” (i.e. a known criminal or trouble-maker) to be excluded from receiving hospitality, and refusing others rightful hospitality was something that would damage one’s honor irreparably in the eyes of most people. Ireland was relatively free sexually, did not persecute homosexuality nor extra-marital affairs, and women had a much higher degree of autonomy and human rights in Ireland than elsewhere, all of which Christianity did not approve of and did everything possible to reverse.

    So, I’d be interested in knowing where you got this idea, outside of a triumphalist monotheist view of the “darkness” of the non-Christian cultures of Europe without Christianity that doesn’t necessarily hold water when looked at in detail.


    • I made assumptions and spoke incorrectly about pre-Christian Ireland. I was wrong and for that I’m sorry and stand corrected. You clearly know more than I do on the subject. What, in your educated opinion, enticed the Pagan Irish to convert to Christianity, then?


      • The initial converts to Christianity were the Irish colonists in Britain who probably saw what the Roman Christians had and were envious, and then they brought it back to their Irish kinfolks in the south (particularly areas of Cork, Kerry, and Waterford), which was happening from the mid-2nd century onwards. When Christianity started coming into Ireland itself more directly from the early 5th century onwards, the tendency was to attempt to convert kings, but also to set up monasteries (often with the permission or at least mutual tolerance of local kings). The kings seemed to give up certain roles and privileges they had in terms of sacred or religious functions and ceded these to the church with the proviso that they would not be opposed, and would be given endorsement by the church much as they were throughout medieval Europe (the “divine right of kings” not being questioned by the church in most cases, etc.). This was still an ongoing issue in Ireland well into the late sixth and early seventh centuries, when the last feis Temro took place.

        The regular people in Ireland wouldn’t have had any say or interest in much of this, and it wouldn’t have benefited them much either way…which is why there is ample evidence that things didn’t change amongst them much other than perhaps in name only. Some of their Deities became saints, or were aligned to saints, and otherwise their practices remained somewhat similar. In the mid-seventh century, many still believed in what we would consider polytheist ideas if commentaries by Irish clergy (e.g. Augustinus Hibernicus) are to be believed (and they generally are!). In the late 11th century, many in the Irish church were worried about Irish backsliding into polytheism, and wrote about it as well in texts like “The Second Vision of Adomnán.” In the mid-fourteenth century, after the Norman Conquest, the English were making laws against their lords who were appointed in Ireland doing things to “go Irish,” which seemed to include following certain warrior practices that indicate some groups–like the fénnid/fíanna warriors who had supernatural/spiritual roles as well as martial ones–never fully accepted Christianity.

        In many respects, conversion was never “completed,” and the reason for doing it was the classic one: you as kings continue to get power, prestige, and access to certain resources (like imported wine and oil) if you do this, in return for a toleration of certain things on your part and a non-aggression pact on many matters, and then you can attempt to convert many of your clients as well. Something similar happened later with the English conquests and conversions to Protestantism–people were given all sorts of social and legal advantages if they would convert, but the difference there was that Catholicism was then so entrenched and solidified as part of “Irish identity” that it was harder to entice them away from it. And all the while, the Catholicism of the Irish was critiqued as being “too pagan” by the Protestants, and also by many Catholics elsewhere in Europe up to the 12th and 13th centuries!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! Very informative. Thanks!


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