Wednesday, September 01, 2010

"Pagan." You Keep Using That Word. I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means

Benedict XVI Recommends "God's Style"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 30, 2010 ( Noting that people frequently live according to a "style of pagans," Benedict XVI is encouraging forging one's life in another mode: "the style of God."

This was the exhortation the Pope made Sunday at the beginning of a Mass he celebrated in Castel Gandolfo with a group of his former students, who were gathered for their annual study weekend. The "Ratzinger Schulerkreis" looked this year at the theme of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

The Holy Father's reflection focused on Sunday's Gospel, in which Christ tells the parable of those who seek the places of honor at a wedding banquet, Vatican Radio reported.

He noted that in this passage, "the Lord brings us to understand that in reality we still live according to the style of the pagans: We invite reciprocally only those who will return the invitation; we give only if we will get back."

"The style of God is different," the Pontiff continued. "He invites us to his table, we who are lame, blind and deaf; he invites us who have nothing to give him."

The divine style, he added, is experienced above all in the Eucharist, during which we are called to allow ourselves to be touched by gratitude to God, who invites us to his table even though we are full of faults.

"But we want to learn as well to experience the guilt of too infrequently turning away from the pagan style, because we live very little the novelty, the style of God," Benedict XVI continued. "And because of this we begin holy Mass asking forgiveness: a forgiveness that changes us, that makes us more similar to God, in his image and likeness."

In his homily, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, and a member of the group of the Pope's former students, highlighted the importance of humility that "transforms insults into grace."

"Thank you, Holy Father, because you incarnate for us the attitude of Christ, who is meek and humble of heart," he said.

And the cardinal reflected: "Is this not a marvelous element of the Christian faith and the Christian experience? Joy at the fact that the parameters of heaven are so different than ours."

The study circle is made up of some 40 people who presented their doctoral theses to Professor Ratzinger during his tenure at various German universities.

I'd be interested to know where, in modern Pagan writing, the Pope finds support for the notion that it is the "style" of Pagans [Capital "P" please, for the names of others' religions] to "invite reciprocally only those who will return the invitation; we give only if we will get back." In my line of work, citations talk, bullshit walks.

I know Pagans organizing river clean-ups, providing legal services to disabled voters, defending the rights of dead soldiers to have headstones of their choosing, cleaning oil off of animals in the Gulf, working in soup kitchens, etc. I know xians who rant against liberation theology, fight against paying taxes that go to the common good, and gladly support wars, polluting corporations, and the death penalty. Since they have a large and contradictory "book," the xians can find support for almost any position they want to take. We Pagans are different. And while what I don't know and haven't read is a far broader category than what I do know and have read, I've never heard or read any Pagan suggest that we give only if we will get back.

In fact, to my mind, it's the xians who give so that they will get back an eternity in their heaven who appear motivated by this principle. But more broadly, it demonstrates a dangerous practice of this former member of the Hitler Youth to call anything that he dislikes "pagan," with no citations at all. He ought to be made to put up or shut up, before this becomes even more common practice than it already is.

I'm not going to touch "Ratzinger Schulerkreis" with a ten foot pole. Or the pope's Prada shoes.


Lindsey said...

I think by "pagan," here, Benedetto probably means "primitive" societies in which an economic system of exchange and gifting is a central aspect. "Pagan" being a generic term for "nonwhite, non-Christian, and non-Western." Somehow, I think Benedetto knows absolutely nothing about modern Paganism as we know it. He'd probably die of a heart attack if he did.

Makarios said...

"Thank you, Holy Father, because you incarnate for us the attitude of Christ, who is meek and humble of heart," he said.

Personality cult, much? For "Holy Father," substitute "Dear Leader," or "Comrade Napoleon," or "Mein Fueherer," and, mutatis mutandis, it reads pretty much the same.

sott'Eos said...

I have no love for the guy or his church, but I don't think he was saying what I think you think he was saying. He wasn't saying that Pagans live that way. He was saying that we all live that way (harboring grudges, returning snubs, etc.)

If you look at theology, religions that make sacrifices and deals (think Santeria and Voudon, more than Wicca, and most of all think of the Roman state religion (the original source for the term "pagani", which is almost certainly the term that left his lips, not the English word "pagan")) practice "exchange" with gods, rather than positing a one-way flow of unearned benevolence.

He's full of it, but his point was an appeal to be better people, wrapped in an appeal to bullshit.

Analae said...

It's a poor choice of words. Surprisingly, however I have met more people in my life who are familliar with the word 'pagan' as meaning generically non-Christian, and have no idea that 'Pagan' is a more and more widespread conglomeration of ethics and spiritualities. I run into it constantly, and I live in a rather large Canadian city. I've even run into it in England (of all places!). I find it easiest to simply assume ignorance; it causes fewer headaches.

Anne Johnson said...

Christians do all their good deeds with an eye on the prize. And I hope they get it, especially all those popes who have summered at Castel Gandolfo since the Middle Ages!

Anonymous said...

Well, a lot of Pagans talk about how they like being Pagans because of personally experiencing gods. Maybe it's that.

But, yes, this was "pagan" in the sense that he's talking about those people who aren't normal. You know, the ones who did all sorts of immoral and nihilistic fun things that us normal upstanding modern people don't do (well, maybe a little in college, but then we become good conservative types and grow up). Not at all.

Not that it makes it better.

And it does seem to be some of the other sects of Christianity, not Catholicism, that'll hold a prayer circle for the most mundane things. Catholicism has historically been the one where you couldn't even talk to God himself. But, then again, it's not too unusual, depending on the local culture, to make deals and exchanges with saints...