Combining Catholicism and Paganism: The problems

(The first part of this post is here: here in case you missed it. That one was an intro to Catholicism)

For this post, I’m going to be looking at some of the Big Issues with combining a Catholicism and Paganism. I mean, I could probably write a book on this one (but I won’t!!) I’m going to start from a Catholic side since we’re on a roll with this.

First and foremost is that Catholicism is a monotheistic religion. The First Commandment is “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me”. (If you want to have a look at the other 9, this website is accurate as to the wording of the commandments: https://www.dummies.com/religion/christianity/catholicism/catholicism-and-the-ten-commandments/ )

Now, most of the people working with paganism are looking towards polytheism, so Commandment 1 is a bit of an issue. And many would say the way I work this into my personal gnosis is semantics at best, but here we go. My belief is this: there is a divine force in this world and there’s one divine force in this world. But we as humans can’t conceive of the whole of this force, any more than we can mentally encompass what “eternity” really means (like seriously, I am the only one who just get’s the feeling of a completely empty chest trying to conceive of eternity?) Because we can’t encompass all of what this divinity is, we can, at best, capture sub spectra of the force – like as if light was passed through a prism and separated into its colours. Those sub spectra are the deities we can encompass through paganism.

I mean, to be clear, I think the Patriarchal God supported by most of the Christian Churches is bullshit anyway, those ideas have been filtered through men’s minds and I can’t imagine any force of nature gives a shit about most of the things the Catholic Church considers sins. I have real issue with the image of “God” as presented by Catholicism, but I suppose it does fulfil the requirement to be awe and terror inspiring…

But this patriarchal approach permeates Catholic thinking – from the clerical side anyway. In the (very recent) past, clerics were (and still are in many ways) powerful men in their communities. And in Ireland, they are in pretty much all communities even now. They have a say in what teachers are hired, even though the teachers are hired by the department of education. They have a say in how our hospitals are operated. They have a say in our politics. And this has been the way for most of our recorded history in Ireland – while we were oppressed and colonised by the English, the priests and Catholicism could be a source of strength and support in the community: everyone was so oppressed anyway, that a lot of the problems with Catholicism didn’t really apply.

Here is where I separate the Catholic Church and its teachings and the Catholicism that I grew up with. I don’t know how my parents managed it, but their fundamental approach to religion is very similar to my own right now: you look after those who need looking after. People aren’t on different tiers of being fundamentally more or less worthy of respect (their actions might lead you to believe they are less worth, such as a dirty politician or a dishonest shopkeeper, but each human being is in and of themselves equally worthy of respect). This extends to animals as well in our family – animals aren’t family, but regret is expressed if a rabbit was hit by a car accidentally. Pain would not be inflicted on animals unnecessarily (and by this I mean that say cattle and sheep would be treated as necessary by a vet, which sometimes means an injection, which leads to distress for the animal, but would be inflicted anyway because of the benefits to the animals health). The approach is, and it’s one I’ve seen over and over again in Irish farming communities, that due respect is paid to God’s creations in terms of land and animals. Ireland is still a fairly rural country and this respect for the land and the animals is inbuilt into most of the practices of farming even today. Ireland’s farms are still predominantly run by families, not corporations. This notions of care of land and people are very core to the ideas of paganism for me – and it’s a good example of how the thin veneer of Catholicism in Ireland covers a deep well of paganism…

I also grew up not knowing a lot of the inbuilt inequalities in Catholicism officially speaking. I mean under official Catholic teaching, all human beings are born equal but…. But baptised babies and children are that bit more equal than non-baptised and boys are that bit more equal than girls. (The notion of transgender people existing is something the Church is only recently beginning to address, and it’s doing it badly.) People are not considered equal really in the Catholic Church. For a religion that started off appealing to the poor, the oppressed, the lowly, the Church has risen very high in the world and I think at times, it forgets its origins.

But that respect for people and land and animals permeated the practices I grew up with. And here is where I really begin to intertwin my pagan and Catholic practices. I leave the Church as institution out of it completely really. Because that institution is about control of the masses, not about bringing people along a spiritual journey. Let’s not underestimate that problem. While some priests take a vow of poverty at ordination, many do not and it is said that the vow of obedience to their bishop is considered more important. For an institution that’s based on a man who told us all “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, the Church has amassed a LOT of wealth over the millennia. Now, giving beautiful things to honour God is grand – but there’s a lot of religious folk out there who aren’t listening to the words of the man who supposedly is the foundation of our religion.

The use of that money is suspect as well. the Church has not moved well in the modern world – it has fallen behind in women’s rights, gender rights, bodily respect and rights, poverty, hunger…. many of the things they have done in the past are now particularly suspect. Take a look at some of the issues with Mother Teresa in India here for an example of how the initial appearance looks good but the devil is in the detail, as the saying goes. The practices that were enforced in her places were not supporting people and helping people beyond the absolute bare necessities for life. Spiritual life was ignored there for a start and some very unhealthy, and indeed anti-health, practices were enforced.

Then we need to address the scandals. We in Ireland used to think the scandals in the Catholic Church were a particularly Irish problem. As it turns out, it’s more of a colonialism/ elitism/ clericalism problem. Women and children in particular were open to being abused in institutions with very, very little appropriate oversight, in the blatantly false belief (in hindsight anyway) that religious people would do the “right thing”. The thing is, the Church is always more interested in the soul and the life to come rather than the here and now. And when they get under their control someone they feel is a black sinner, with little to no hope of redemption, they will act accordingly to save the soul not the person. I’ve written before about the scandals in the Church and it’s a hugely upsetting and distressing subject – as it bloody well should be – so I won’t go over them in detail again. However, in the interests of transparency, here’s a brief list (from Ireland) of the major Church related scandals that have come to light in the last few decades:

  • Mother and Baby homes
  • Industrial Schools
  • Magdalen Laundries
  • Control of health and education

If you look at the Catholic Church, the institution, the institution is in no way compatible with pagan practices. However… however, the basic principles of Catholicism, when you clear away the teachings implemented by man, when you clear away the dross of custom and practice, there are some very solid values underlying the Catholic ethos. Look after the people, uplift the lowly, bring down the high, everyone is equal in the eyes of God…

The problems are the clericalism, the hierarchy endemic with the institution, the belief that certain people have better knowledge of the issues at hand than those people who are actually experiencing them. And that elitism, that certainty that by virtue of their office, they knew better than anyone else, is what led directly and indirectly to the above scandals in Ireland (and elsewhere) In 2018, Pope Francis even admitted clericalism is an issue:

Clericalism arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation, that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given. This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything. Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church: we must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.

(You can see more of his address here: https://zenit.org/2018/10/03/pope-francis-address-to-the-synod-fathers-at-opening-of-synod2018-on-young-people-the-faith-and-vocational-discernment/)

There can be a tendency in paganism, from what I can see, particularly in the US/ North America, to veer towards elitism and exclusion, but seriously people, the Catholic Church has been doing this a lot longer and they have this shit down pat. Even the leader of the institution recognises the problems inherent with this sort of practice. He is encouraging his people to listen and learn from others – the problem is, he’s trying to overturn 1500 yrs of solid practice.

For me, the root of combining a pagan and Catholic practice, particularly in the work with Brigid, is about taking the root good that is there in Catholicism and ignoring the institution and their elitist views. There are many, many people out there who don’t agree with this and think anything linked to the Catholic Church should be wiped out, particularly in the face of the scandals from the Church. That’s grand, there is no One True Way in this world. We each choose our own path. I’m explaining mine here, but yours will almost certainly be different!!

My next post will go into the detail of how this translates into the daily practice of my life.

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