A Task

Imbolc and the waning crescent of the Shadow Mountain Moon

When I first began reading Art Green’s Radical Judaism, I thought maybe my job would be to think Christianity through from his truly radical, non-supernatural perspective. Look at Christian civilization in the manner of Mordecai Kaplan with Green’s theology as a pathway, a halakha. The way to walk. Couldn’t get any energy up to start. Why?

Ah. I left Christianity behind long ago now. Of course, it still informs me and my life as the Torah informs the life of a Jew whether secular or religious. But, I don’t feel shaped by it in the distinctive manner my friends at CBE exhibit. Even if G-d no longer requires the hyphen, they still bow during the Amidah, wear the kippa, show up for High Holidays. I have no interest in Christmas or Easter services, that old life.

Huh, I thought. That’s weird. I spent all that time in sem, 15 years in the ministry, and I’m a product of Western civilization, profoundly shaped by Christian belief and thought. I like big projects. Why wouldn’t I want to go back and rethink all that?

It came to me slowly. Somewhere in Green’s book, I can’t find it right now and that frustrates me, he casually dismisses neo-paganism. It’s not clear what he meant, whether he’s taking a substantive jab at pantheists from his panentheistic position, or knows the shallow roots of Wiccan’s, witches, and druids. If it’s the latter, I agree with him. Silliness abounds in contemporary pagan practice and what passes for thought.

If it’s the former, he and I are in conversation with each other. In either case though it triggered a realization. I’m a pagan. Maybe not the best word with all its freight, but one I use intentionally. The pagans of the middle ages, rural folk (classical Latin paganus: rustic, villager, rural folk, peasant, unlearned, countryman, bumpkin), held onto their older religious practices and beliefs because the church had a more tenuous connection with them, less power over their daily lives.

In contemporary usage pagan is a very broad umbrella: Wiccans, latter day Druids, Asatru, Dianists, polytheists of many shades all fall under it. There are also pagans, see this page, who use the term much as I do, as a placeholder for a religious position outside the usual suspects of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as well as outside other traditions, in particular Buddhism, Hinduism, and most shamanisms.

That’s it, I realized. My task is to use the theological tools of Art Green and the civilization leaning thought of Mordecai Kaplan to reconstruct paganism for a contemporary audience. That I have energy for. Stay tuned.