One of the most obvious misunderstandings between myself and Christians is the whole, “I know you don’t believe this,” thing. They assume that, because I am not Christian, that I do not believe in the God they pray to or that Jesus was a real person. I find this most commonly among family; in fact, it is because of a recent conversation with a family member that I’m writing on this.
Let me set the record straight. Just because I do not believe your God is who you or He says He is does not mean I deny His existence entirely. Just because I do not subscribe to Christian cosmology or symbolism does not mean I think Jesus did not exist. Just because your God is not among the Gods I worship does not mean I have a problem with your prayers to that God for my health and safety. It is the same if another Pagan were to pray to Apollo on my behalf – I don’t really deal with Apollo, but if He’s inclined to help me with something, I’m not the idiot going to say, “Uh, no, you’re not MY God, YOU can’t do a thing!!!”
This, I think, is a major difference between a monotheistic and a polytheistic/animistic viewpoint. I know many Christians who would be offended if I prayed to Freyja on their behalf for their health and safety, especially considering the “One God” standpoint. At the most benign, to them, praying to Freyja is fruitless, as she does not exist in their paradigm. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s praying to a “false god”, AKA the Devil, which is inherently bad and evil and wrong.
On the other side, you have the type of polytheist I am, which does not only acknowledge multiple Gods, but multiple pantheons, as well. The “Christian Pantheon”, consisting of YHVH, Yeshua (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit (and possibly the Devil, angels, and saints, depending on sect), exists to me, but separately from the pantheons I adhere to. I don’t belong to YHVH, I belong to Freyja. It’s like being a citizen of a whole different spiritual country. I don’t appeal to YHVH because I’m not His, nor do I expect someone who is Christian to appeal to any of my deities. However, Freyja can and does allow YHVH to intercede in my affairs when my Christian relatives or friends pray for me, and I and my allies among the spirits see nothing wrong with this arrangement.
To the Neopagan Animist, Gods and Goddesses are spirits, separate and individual. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity does not countermand this, because ultimately, that God is still separate from the other pantheons of spirits that exist, as He should be – God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, even if the three are one, is still not Freyja or Gwydion. However, I don’t believe that the Christian concept of God is the same as the all-encompassing entity in which we live, which is also a spirit, greater and further apart from human understanding than any God. To me, God is not the universe, God is a part of it. (This is not to say anyone will agree with me on this point; as I said, I believe in a different cosmology than the one accepted by most Christians.)
This viewpoint also does not make Christian doctrine obsolete in my understanding; rather, I see Christian doctrine as applying to God’s (YHVH’s) chosen, of which Pagans are not a part. Jesus calls his own; of those He calls, some do not follow, and instead choose wickedness in His sight. This does not mean Jesus calls everyone, I don’t care what Saul says. This is the ultimate difference: the assumption seems to be that if you believe YHVH exists, you MUST inherently believe everything written about Him in that accepted paradigm. Wars have been fought over this assumption. Friendships have been torn apart over something as simple as the acceptance of the Trinity, or the nature of the Eucharist. To me, this assumption simply isn’t true. First of all, I don’t believe everything written about my Gods, and I don’t need to – my experiences with them are enough. Second, I have had enough of my beliefs blown wide open to know it is better to interpret beliefs to fit experience, rather than interpreting experiences to fit beliefs. My experiences of land spirits and nature kin, fey and otherworldly beings, and many other kinds of spirits weren’t even possible in the Christian paradigm I was brought up in, so I had to expand my own understanding of things. In doing so, I came to the conclusion (however erroneous others may believe it to be) that YHVH was not the overarching spirit that He was publicized to be, but rather one of many, albeit with quite a bit of power behind Him (1000 years of being the dominant deity in a decent-sized chunk of the world will do that).
It’s hard for me to explain how this misunderstanding can be insulting. Speaking more specifically here, you telling me that you’re praying for me, and then saying something to the effect of, “but I know you don’t believe in it,” makes me sound more like an atheist or an anti-Christian, rather than what I am. Ultimately, I am writing this post to get across that praying for me, to whatever God or Goddess you choose to, is not an insult, and why would it be? You are asking for intercession for me from a deity who might otherwise not even think twice of me! I’m cool with that!
Granted, not all intercession will be desired, or wanted, or accepted. Anyone praying for me to accept Christ into my heart: Freyja WILL take exception to that. Sort of. Okay, that’s a complicated situation. Anybody praying for me to kick the bucket: Freyja WILL fight that tooth and claw. Why? I dunno, I think she likes me or something. Or maybe it’s because that, like Christians belong to Christ, I belong to her! But, I digress. Most of my family and friends are praying for my health and safety, or to help me find a job, or something along those lines. Why would Freyja try to block that? She’s on my side! Why would I want to counter that? It’s help! I don’t even think YHVH would be too upset about that: He’s helping His flock by helping me, when His chosen pray for me. The same goes for Freyja, or Herne, or Gwydion if I prayed to them for one of my friends or family: they would help those I pray for because in doing so, they are helping me; it’s part of the *ghosti relationship I have with them. I give them praise and offerings for being there for me; they give me and mine aid and help when needed. We work together.
So, it is hard for me to explain how this misunderstanding can be insulting, but I feel it’s important that at least some of the Christians I deal with understand that fact. Hey, if you feel so inclined, pray for me! I’m glad that I rate up there in your thoughts and your prayers. Why do you think I would not understand that your deity is important to you, and makes real change in your life? Being your family (or friend), I’m a part of that life, which means, for good or ill, that your deity still affects me whether I belong to that deity or not. That is my standpoint – that my beliefs do not necessitate a lack of prayer on my behalf. That I believe in your prayers. That I believe that, even if your deity is not mine, He (or She) may still intercede in my life if you ask, because you ask.