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Friday, October 25, 2013

Is Paganism a Religion?

This is a question I have gotten over the years. And one that has recently come up on One Witches Wonderland...  It's not one I really thought would matter so much that I needed to provide any sort of long handed answer to it. But, apparently, it is!

Before we can really answer the question though, we need to define two things  1.) Religion and 2.) Paganism.

First - What is Religion?  Dictionary.com defines it as follows:
Source: Dictionary.com
Second - What is Paganism?  Again, I will turn to Dictionary.com. Unfortunately though, their definition of "Paganism" is extremely vague and lacking. However, vague as it may be, it's not totally incorrect, so I am showing it here for argument sake.
Source: Dictionary.com
Like I said, it's not really a great definition, but it's right. One way to define Paganism is the "Practice of being Pagan." Which then leads us to define Pagan. While, I would love to say that a secular dictionary would properly define "Pagan", but in fact, it doesn't. The definition given for "Pagan" by Dictionary.com is not only largely incorrect, but somewhat insulting. Showing here:
Source: Dictionary.com
Now, maybe it's just me, but terms like "irreligious," "hedonistic," "savage," "spiritually stunted" and "barbaric" - just to list a few - are extremely insulting! Now, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that this definition was written to encompass both the term "Pagan" which is concerned with belief systems and the term "pagan" which is generally used to mean pre-christian by historians. Even at that however, this definition is horridly bigoted and ignorant!

So, since the secular "authority" on words falls short lets explore what it actually means!  If I were to write a dictionary style definition for "Pagan" it would read as follows:
A Belief System or an Individual who belongs to a Belief System which is -
1.) Based on the Beliefs & Culture of Native Peoples
2.) Based on the Celebration & Honor of Nature or the Earth
3.) Based on the Beliefs & Lifestyles of Ancient Cultures
4.) An Eclectic mix of two or more belief systems which fall in to the three categories previously listed.
That may seem like an extremely broad stroke of the brush, but the fact is, the Pagan Community is extremely diverse. Any random group of Pagans and find a Kemetic Orthodox Practitioner, a Druid Re-constructionist, a Asatru Revivalist, a Wiccan and maybe even a Native American Shaman... The differences between their beliefs, practices and traditions are far greater than their similarities, yet, they are all Pagan. But what of those Pagans who do NOT belong to any of these specific groups? What title do they claim or use? For the most part they simply refer to themselves as "Pagan" - some, prefer terms like Neo-Pagan or Eclectic Pagan.

**My argument though would be that if one considers themselves to be Pagan, the religion they follow would be Paganism. BUT, before I give you my full answer on this subject there is one more definition I want to explore.**

 And that is the definition of Christianity. You may wonder how the definition of Christianity matters, well, simply put it's because of it's similarity to Paganism.  So often Paganism and Christianity are compared and contrasted as a way to show their differences. One comparison I see often is the good ol' "Wicca is to Paganism what Catholic is to Christianity." So I believe if we are going to properly answer whether or not Paganism is a religion, we must also answer if Christianity is a religion or not. Christianity too is made up of a variety of smaller sects, each with their own beliefs and traditions, some being extremely different than others, which to me makes the parallel between the questions easy to see.

And while the "official" definition of Paganism was greatly lacking, the definition of Christianity is rather spot on. It is as follows:
Source: Dictionary.com
I wish particularly to point out each of those definitions given above for Paganism are easily transitioned to define Christianity as well...  "The state of being Pagan" easily becomes "The state of being Christian" and so on. But what the definition for Paganism lacks, the definition for Christianity does not. Christianity is clearly defined as "The Christian Religion" which then included all the smaller sects.

I would say it is not time to answer our original question. "Is Paganism a Religion?"

Well, lets look:
1.) IF Religion is "A set of beliefs..." and Paganism is "The beliefs & practices of Pagans" isn't Paganism the religion of Pagans?

2.) IF Paganism is "the state of being Pagan." And "Pagan" is a religion, how is the state of being a religion not a religion?

3.) IF one can be Pagan without falling in to any specific group under Paganism, are they not simply a follower of Paganism itself? Making their religion Paganism itself?

4.) IF Christianity - which shares ALL of the definitions which have been "officially" given to Paganism - is defined also as "The Christian Religion" should the definition for Paganism not also include "The Pagan Religion?"

I would say, after all that, that the answer is clear. Paganism IS a religion. It is the Pagan Religion, or more specifically "Paganism is ALL religions and belief systems which are Pagan in nature." It is a general term and can mean many things to many people. But in the end  a Christian is a "Follower of Christianity" and a Pagan is a "Follower or Paganism."

I have to say, I am a slight be angry that this even had to be dealt with or put out there. Being so petty to refuse to accept someone as Pagan simply because they list "Paganism" as their religion is anything but accepting. And while I'm sure most people didn't need this post to define whether or not Paganism is a religion, I hope that it has made it's point to those who do/did.

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