Faith in Context, Faith as Context

h/t FacingTheFiresWithin

Reza Aslan discusses the nature of faith as an identity.

I have liked all that I’ve seen of Reza Aslan’s work so far, and I agree with pretty much everything he says in this post for The New York Times Opinion Pages.

It’s too easy to dismiss the people we disagree strongly with as Not Ours, and thus fail to address the problems within our larger faith communities that allow such differences in values to perpetuate. As Heathens we see this all too often where racism, separatism, and nationalism are taken up under the auspices of the Northern gods. We know it’s wrong, but we too often rush to say, “Well, they’re not really Heathen.” and wash our hands of it, rather than seriously confronting it. This has the side effect of allowing more subtle forms of racism to continue, while we pretend it can’t happen here.

It’s also true, however, that we need to realize that the values we assume we share as Heathens aren’t really values we get FROM being Heathen, so much as the values that brought us TO Heathenry. If we have them in common, it’s because we share the same underlying culture and assumptions, not necessarily because we’re all Heathens, and certainly not because being Heathen makes us somehow more right than anyone else.

Being Heathen is absolutely part of my identity. It’s part of how I understand myself. It’s part of my context. But it’s only part of it, and all the other parts are at least as strong an influence on my values, my behavior, my perspective.

I joke regularly that you can tell what kind of Christian a person once was by what kind of Pagan they are now, and further, that you can tell what kind of Pagan a culture was by what kind of Christianity they subsequently created. That’s not really a joke. It’s a pointer to how important an influence culture and perspective are on religion.


About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
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8 Responses to Faith in Context, Faith as Context

  1. Your words are much better than mine. I think I get too emotional.


    • EmberVoices says:

      You’re a LOT closer to Tyr and Fenris than I am, so that’s understandable. Don’t sell emotion short, though – passionate writing can be very persuasive, as long as what you’re passionate about is relevant, which I think is generally the case with you.

      As for my writing, well… I was trained very well from a young age to put things in certain patterns, so even when I’m extremely emotional, if I HAVE language to work with, it tends to come out in those carefully trained, rational patterns, unless I deliberately choose otherwise. Makes me great for academic essays, but maybe not so much for certain styles of poetry or fiction…


  2. worthyadvisor says:

    Ya know, I think I have an academy crush on Reza Aslan…:) But, yeah, the “faith as identity” (or part of one’s identity, is a big thing in the US. But what’s interesting about religion here is that it’s where a good deal of our community belonging and support happens. (Unlike, say, Japan, where one’s identity is wrapped up in school and work and religion is something that is just a part of your life.)

    I also think you’re right about the influence of Christianity in paganism. What gets me is when pagans will vehemently deny that is even the case!!


    • EmberVoices says:

      There’s a lot more intertwining of the influences between various kinds of Pagan culture and various branches of Christianity than are immediately obvious. It doesn’t help that most people blatantly ignore the fact that for most of human history, culture and religion weren’t separate things.

      How anyone can think it’s even remotely *possible* to have hundreds of years worth of Christian culture and, for most of us, ancestry, and NOT have that influence who we are today, our choices, beliefs, and values in pretty well every way, I do not know. How Christians can believe that there could be *thousands* of years of Pagan culture before Christianity and not have that carried over is at least as baffling.



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