November 29, 2013

"There ain't no pagan Jesus"? Bullshit.

There's a fairly annoying piece up on Wild Hunt, written by a Feri tradition pagan in Oregon who works with the homeless, that, bizarrely, insists that, "Well, there ain’t no pagan Jesus. at least not when it comes to looking after the poor. I’m not saying that you can’t compare Jesus to some of the old gods in many ways, but I never heard of Osiris and Dionysis [sic] tending to the poor and oppressed, chastising the rich, specifically promising the persecuted an eternity in Heaven." In response, Sannion points out that this is obviously ignorant, that Jesus' instructions on the poor clearly owe something to Stoic and Middle Platonic philosophies by way way of Jewish Hellenizers, and lists off some of the ways Dionysos himself did, in fact, help the poor and wronged. He also mentions some specific pagan charitable organizations.

I commented on the original piece at some length. It's not the most eloquent or even coherent thing I've written recently, but give me a break, I'm sick at the moment. Here it is:

Where is the Pagan god who cares for the poor?

How about Hekate, in whose name suppers were laid at altars every months, and the poor ate from them? How about Eleos, Goddess of Mercy and Compassion? Hera, Zeus, and Hermes all went dressed as beggars, as did others, seeking alms and aid, testing mortals for charity and punishing them if they did not offer it.

Homer says, "all strangers and beggars are from Zeus," and, "we know the gods go about disguised in all sorts of ways as people from foreign countries, and travel about the world to see who do amiss and who righteously." When Telemachus gave a meal to a beggar in his house (ok, the disguised Odysseus, but Telemachus didn't know that), that was a demonstration of his virtue and piety, and Athene tested Penelope's suitors by having Odysseus beg from them, too. Antinous, in particular, is called evil for wishing to drive the beggar out of the house. The entire chapter is a lesson on charity.

The Emperor Julian wrote, "“How can the man who, while worshipping Zeus the God of Companions, sees his neighbors in need and does not give them a dime – how can he think he is worshipping Zeus properly?”"

Let me repeat this: The Gods of Hellas went about disguised as beggars (and realistically, when these texts are translated as "foreigners," they are talking about poor people who are not citizens, and so must beg), and punished those who did not feed them and care for them. Not unlike, "What you do to the least of these you do to me."

That was about ten minutes of checking the details on the mythology and pantheon I know best. Pretty sure the Norse gods were very firm on charity, too. Sounds to me like you need to do some more research. The stories, theology, and religious obligations are there, they've just been hidden by a couple thousand years' worth of Christians being the ones to write about it, and them not having much impetus to write about the charity of polytheists.

Do Christians dominate charitable organizations? Sure. But then, they're the majority. They have long-established organizations for such things, while the various Pagan temples and traditions that provided such services were wiped out hundreds or thousands of years ago… by Christians. I doubt that any smaller a percentage of the pagan population than the Christian population engages in work with the homeless or wish to, but there are so damn few of us to start with, and often people have to work within Christian groups simply because they're what's around, and then, often, they have to hide their religion or be actively and specifically excluded from those groups (as a Christian group recently did with a bunch of atheists who wanted to participate in serving food for the holidays). Then, too, many Christian groups that help the homeless exist primarily as missionary groups, and expect the homeless to accept tracts or listen to sermons in order to access their services (like the Salvation Army, which has been known to turn away people for being gay or trans, and left them to literally die in the cold), a practice many pagans will not want to have any part of. It can be difficult for a pagan to find a way to safely join in established groups that serve the poor and homeless, especially in less liberal states than Oregon, and even more difficult to start new, non-Christian groups, just because it's so difficult and time-consuming to do so with anyone, much less to start from a base of pagans, notorious non-joiners as we often are.

I just… this staggers me. Yes, the stories of our gods about compassion and charity have largely been obscured, although they can still be found, obviously, by anyone who cares to actually look. But why in hell would a pagan who cares enough to do the work, who cares enough about the theology of charity to write a piece like that, not give enough of a fuck to actually do any damn research about charity and theology in pre-Christian polytheist societies? Again, the above took me about ten minutes to dig out the references for, which includes reading most of Chapter 18 of the Odyssey. Yes, the quote is not from the author of the article, it's from a friend of hers, but the author agrees with it without question. And without any damn research, clearly.

Sure, like Jesus while being a pagan if you want. I don't give a fuck. But do not falsely denigrate our gods while doing so. Don't do it out of malice, but also don't do it out of ignorance, when ignorance is so very easy to fix.