Muslims and Pagans Oh My! (A Christofascist Nightmare)

The Big Hater of Christofascist Imagination

I was reading one Right Wing Watch yesterday and saw an article about how a Tea Partier named John Trautman opposes a California mosque because he “doesn’t want terrorist pagans in his back yard.”

Are Muslims Pagans?

I’ve looked elsewhere at the question of whether or not Satanists are Pagans (Tea Partiers and Republicans hate them too, and my answer is “no”) but it never occurred to me to question Islam’s status as a religion; it seems fairly obvious. I mean, first of all, Islam is one of the three forms of Abrahamic monotheism, one of the three religions of the book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; they share a common ancestry and like it or not, a common god, even if they know him by different names.

In fact, they are so closely related that one the Byzantine Saint John of Damascus argued that Islam was not a separate religion but a form of heresy – in other words, a heretical form of Christianity. One could, I suppose, argue the same thing about Christianity with regards to Judaism. The polemics are all in place; Nicetas of Byzantium even leveled a charge against Islam Christians ought by now to be familiar with: that their holy book is a forged mythology.

There seems to be a lot of pot calling kettle black involved and there still clearly is and perhaps that’s just an inevitable problem to be associated with three religions each claiming sole possession of some cosmic truth – and God besides.

Honestly, it’s none of my concern what they think about each other. That’s their business unless they start talking about winging around nukes and so forth. Then it becomes an issue of worldwide concern.

And in fact, we’ve come close to that point, closer than ever since the Religious Right began to gain dominance in the American political landscape. Having an apocalyptic religion in charge – one with access to nukes – and believing that their big end-game scenario, the Parousia, will start in the Middle East – that is a frightening reality.

Obviously there is the ongoing problem of definitions. You can’t have polemics without definitions! Not only do you have to define what “religion” is but what qualifies as a religion. There are some Republicans who want to reduce Islam to the status of a cult, even though it’s the world’s second largest religion after Christianity itself. And of course, we have to define Judaism and Christianity as well.

And we have to define “Pagan” and “Paganism.”

I have followed French historian Pierre Chuvin (A Chronicle of the Last Pagans, 1990) in defining Pagans as “people of the place” and Paganism therefore as “religion of the place” – in short, ethnic religion. This is not a modern definition but an attempt to understand what the ancients meant when they used the term “pagan.” I find it a very useful one. As someone once said, what’s important is not how we understand say, the Iliad, but how the ancients understood it.

But back to our problem: Historically, the people of the Arabian Peninsula were Pagans – a polytheistic ethnic group. They were Pagans when Mohammed was born but by the time he had died they had been forcibly converted to Islam (submitted, in other words – Islam means “Submission to God”).  The same fate had befallen the polytheistic Israelites and the same fate befell the polytheists of Europe and the Mediterranean littoral when Christianity became ascendant.

All three of these religions are “universal” religions – that is, they claim a God who is a God of everyone, of all the earth and all its peoples. They do not recognize ethnic religions. Ethnic religion must be subsumed by an inherently superior “True” religion. By definition, they cannot any of them lay claim to being Pagan, as Paganism makes much more modest claims – the much maligned “relative” truths of the ethnic group and it’s gods.

That they like to insult each other as some form of “pagan” does not imply that they are indeed Pagan. It is well known that the Jews called everyone else “Gentiles” and the Early Church adopted this term and applied it to their polytheistic neighbors until adopting the term “Pagan” by the time of the Fifth Century Theodosian Code.  In post-exilic Israel to be a Gentile was to convert or die. In the Early Church the same choice was offered. Europe was brought to Christianity with the cry “convert or die.” Islam calls such people “Kafir” – which means “unbeliever.” But Islam has two forms of unbelievers: other children of the book and those who have no book.

The Tea Partier in question, John Trautman, was criticizing the build of a mosque. He said “are not only our enemy but pagans. Why would we want them in our backyard?”

We’re already familiar with the polemical attack unleashed by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on Pagans and the rest of today’s “Canaanites”:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

You can make any word an insult, I suppose, and put it to polemical uses, including Pagan. In the end, the purpose of polemic is to delegitimize the target and privilege your own and the attitude of Tea Partiers and Republicans is clear: Islam and Pagans are on a par, both in some tenuous way responsible for the WTC attack and together guilty of unraveling the fabric of American society. But they are not the same. Islam and Christianity are the same, two peoples of the book separated by a common mythology.  Paganism, ancient or modern, has nothing to do with revealed religion or book religion. Paganism is nature-based; Paganism is of the world.

In the end I suppose it isn’t a matter of who is more or less tolerant or enlightened. There is no true sense of tolerance in any of the three religions when it comes to other religions. The end time, for all three, looks for a day when everybody will be forced to “convert or die” so we Pagans would just as soon they can all be kept from “forcing god’s hand” and manufacturing an “end-time” scenario.

I can tell you right now that if that day comes, it won’t be Pagans who manufactured it, or feminists, or lesbians, or “abortionists” – or the ACLU.

10 Replies to “Muslims and Pagans Oh My! (A Christofascist Nightmare)”

  1. in these days of political controversy one looks for comedy where one can. And all you have to do is look at our Christian community and get the comedy you seek. Now I don’t refer to all Christians as complete lunatics. Just some of them, the fanatics. The person in this article referred to is someone I consider a fanatic. Unable to recognize that the United States accepts all religions and beliefs and does not pick one over the other. The message from the Bible is supposedly one of love and caring for your neighbors so to speak. To that degree I see a lot of Christian churches doing exactly that. But we also have those lunatics who have to battle the other religions. They are killing it for the people who do try to help others or at least tolerate others.

    A few years ago I worked with a born-again fanatic who called Islam a cult. When I asked him why they are a cult he responded by saying: anyone who does not have the son of God is a cult. I reminded him that Jesus was an important part of Islam and he would have none of it. So I suppose that like the tea party, a complete lack of education and what it means to be human, Christian and American fits right in here

  2. Yeah, you said it, Shiva. I also worked with a Christian extremist once – one of the newly converted wild-boy types who are more extreme than anyone else – and it was a trip. The sheer arrogance of believe is – unbelievable. I’ve seen people tell me “we gotta talk” (about my beliefs) or simply drop people like a hot rock when they realize they no longer go to church…but there is not much cheek turning from those types, not much forgiveness, and very little love demonstrated.

  3. It’s sad what extremists do to any group. I doubt the majority of Christians would consider the behavior of extremists to be in line with their values, and yet not enough people are speaking up. There are good churches and Christians who walk their talk and yet get no press because of these angry, ugly extremists. A good church is one where they preach and teach and demonstrate tolerance and education about other religions. That is what the Jesus they talk about stood for – not cruelty and division and using God as a weapon against your fellow man.

  4. The Nazis were Christians. The SS uniform belt buckle said “Gott mit uns,” God with us. Saying that all Muslims are terrorists is like saying that all Christians are Nazis.

  5. I am in such disbelief that there are people in this country that talk the kind of hateful rhetoric that John Trautman does. More of my disbelief comes from the fact that there are people out there that will listen to these jokers with an attentive ear, and then walk around preaching that their rights are being taken away.

    This is no longer the Home of the Brave that I was taught in school as a child, but more like Home of the Brainwashed and Ignorant. Why don’t we just wrangle up all the people in this country who don’t agree with Christianity and place them into concentration camps.

    People like John Trautman need to be acknowledged for the spineless and vile verman that they are. Then and only then will this country have some sense of normalcy.

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