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.