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Pagan and Christian notions of morality: a comparison:

 1 Carciofus, Thu, 8th Dec '11 5:59:34 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
This thread is an offshoot of the Would you date someone who has different religious beliefs? thread.

The question is: how much do the notions of morality endorsed by Christianity and by the many forms of Paganism differ?

As we have both Christians and Pagans in this forum, I think that this might be an interesting issue to discuss.

Some relevant quotes from the other thread:

Savage Heathen:
Many Pagans I've met consider christian notions on right and wrong outright contemptible.
Carciofus:
Judging from my own limited experience, and from what I have read of classical Pagan texts, the difference is far less than you expect. Especially for certain forms of Paganism — Plotinus was a Pagan, you know, but the morals that he discusses are admirable (although I think that he goes more than a little overboard with his "the spirit is more important than the flesh" shtick).

Same with Seneca, just to mention another famous Pagan moral philosopher.

The idea that Paganism means "woo orgies orgies orgies" is bizarre and, I think, more than a little insulting towards it. If anything, the great Pagans of old placed more emphasis on self-discipline and restraint than Christians ever did.
Savage Heathen:
Sexual purity is considered hardly relevant if at all among many pagan circles. Christians make an absurdly big deal out of it.

Many pagan religions place their emphasis on basic fairness, trustworthiness and don't be a jerk. Being honorable is what matters, purity being a non-issue. There's the whole love affair christianity has with guilt and submission (the whole begging for forgiveness shtick), which is considered outright harmful in mainstream pagan thinking.

There's overlap, (neither set of ethics condones, say, mass murder or swindling) but the ethics taught by Christian parents and those taught by Pagan parents are wildly different.
Carciofus:
Your understanding of Christian morality is, I think, rather limited. I won't go into the details (we'd be getting offtopic, but perhaps we can make another thread for that), but that's not how it works at all.

Also, sexual purity is certainly not unknown of in Paganism. Ever heard of the Vestal virgins?
Savage Heathen:
Yup: That's a particular Etruscan priestly tradition... There were certain religious offices in a few pagan religions that had sexual abstinence as part of the job description... At any rate, it was a small priestly college at one particular religion, without parallel through most of the pagan world.

But chastity was rarely (if ever) expected of secular folks. The whole abstinence until marriage, monogamy afterwards obsession Christian sects have is not at all common among pagan traditions.
My reply to Savage's last post: "monogamy afterwards" is actually something that many modern Pagans are OK with — the ones who are monogamous, I guess. And you won't tell me that Pagans do not believe that oaths should be respected: that's the one thing that all Pagan traditions I know of are extremely definite about.

As for "abstinence before", I can admit that many modern Pagans do not give it that much importance. I think that it is an ideal, but I don't think it to be a particularly huge deal. It's a small detail, really.

Thoughts?

edited 8th Dec '11 6:09:13 AM by Carciofus

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

 2 annebeeche, Thu, 8th Dec '11 6:08:01 AM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us
I will say that in places such as England and Scandinavia, the conversion from odinism/wodenism to christianity was a gradual process that resulted in something of a theological fusion—while the god was Christian, some of the holiday traditions and even moral values were pagan. The art and literature of the Viking Age in christianized regions are exemplary of this fusion, one of the most iconic examples being the story of Beowulf.

Christianity in Europe has a pagan quality to it. It always had.
Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion. I shall watch down from the goon heavens.
Pro-Freedom Fanatic
[up][up] The overwhelming majority of Pagans are OK with "Monogamy afterwards". There's a difference between being OK with it and trying to make it mandatory.

If sexual morals are a small detail for Christians, it's a small detail they spend a whole lot of time and effort nagging us about.

edited 8th Dec '11 6:10:48 AM by SavageHeathen

You exist because we allow it and you will end because we demand it.
 4 Carciofus, Thu, 8th Dec '11 6:14:09 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
Mandatory how? I think that it is optimal, but you won't see me drive around and castrate people who sleep with more than one person. For one, I don't have that much money to spend in scissors tongue

People are interested in sex. Result, they talk about it more than the argument, in itself, deserves, and such discussions are more oft remembered than discussions over other subjects.

There are codes of sexual behaviour in Christianity, sure; but they are nowhere as central as the discussion of social justice and self-sacrifice, which has parallels in many Pagan traditions.

edited 8th Dec '11 6:17:50 AM by Carciofus

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

If we're discussing pagan and Christian morality as it occurred in the ancient and medieval world as compared to now, then I have a question to ask everyone.

Considering that both value systems were created far before reliable contraception, which seems more responsible? The ancient/medieval Christian one, which demanded sexual monogamy and chastity - a restrictive but safe option, or the pagan one, which permitted sexual freedom but opened the door for rampant spreading of sexual diseases and unwanted pregnancies?

Edit: I am neither Christian nor pagan.

edited 8th Dec '11 6:19:24 AM by AirofMystery

We're Having All The Fun
[up] Yeah, it was reasonable for the time, the problem is that religion is not flexible enough to change with technology and society. It is limited to the time it was written.
All I do, is sit down at the computer, and start hittin' the keys. Getting them in the right order, that's the trick.
 7 Carciofus, Thu, 8th Dec '11 6:24:33 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
I left the "modern or ancient" issue open, and on purpose. It makes no sense to deny Neopaganism its heritage, just as it would make no sense to do the same for Christianity.

As for your question: the ancient Pagans did not really "permit sexual freedom" all that much. Sleeping around too much was certainly disapproved of: unpopular people, like for example Agrippina, were often accused of gross sexual immorality.

And both Neoplatonists and Stoics had certainly a lot to say on the "people should be able to keep it in their togas" issue...

edited 8th Dec '11 6:27:05 AM by Carciofus

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

[up][up]Yesss, modern Christianity and modern paganism are identical to their ancient forebears.

Pro-Freedom Fanatic
[up][up] Except they did permit a whole lot more freedom than the christians: Stern looks and malicious gossip are much milder when compared to the violent persecution of sexual and religious deviants enacted by the Christians after they came to power.
You exist because we allow it and you will end because we demand it.
We're Having All The Fun
[up][up] Source materials are, what people actually believe is an entirely different matter. Right-wing Christianity just does not make sense based on the Bible. Showing dissonance between the values they claim to espouse (Look at the Jesus scene where he shares the bread and fish, ain't that a bit like socialism?)

I don't really know how you can call yourself a follower of a religious movement unless you believe the scripture absolutely. I mean, if you are a Christian, you kinda have to believe that the Bible in the infallible word of God and that everything contained within is true. Now, I know that there is no one in the world who is a "true Christian" by this metric, so I don't know how you can make sweeping generalizations on Christianity if there is such personal deviation.

TL;DR: They're just like journalists; they cut and paste and twist until their God's words match their own personal beliefs, rather than changing their feelings to match those of their God. With this in mind, beyond the mythos there is no real Christian morality because each believer bastardizes God's word to their own moral image.

edited 8th Dec '11 6:33:50 AM by YeahBro

All I do, is sit down at the computer, and start hittin' the keys. Getting them in the right order, that's the trick.
 11 Madrugada, Thu, 8th Dec '11 6:33:52 AM Relationship Status: In season
With Mod Hat On
Folks, this is a preemptive warning.

This thread has the potential to be either a fascinating conversation or a blazing inferno of flames and personal attacks. I'll be watching it, , and if it starts toward flamefest, I'll lock it down.

Posts that make blanket statements or blanket assumptions that "All Christians" or "All Pagans" believe [this] or [that] are the shortest route to the flamewar. And that goes for both ancient and modern Christianity and ancient and modern paganism. Don't go there.

The second shortest route is sarcastic or condescending dismissal of posts. Don't go there, either.

We good?

...if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you for it.
 12 Gabrael, Thu, 8th Dec '11 8:23:22 AM from My musings Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Zombie Polar Bears!
In all fairness, religion, just like cultures evolve and change to suit the needs of the people.

The modern Pagan and Christian would not be fully recognizable to the Ancients. And that's another thing. Which Pagans? Which Christians?

Even the first ecclesiastical split was between the idea that did you have to be a Jew before a Christian (as most of the early leaders did) vs. if you just had to skip the Jewish part (Paul being the only one who taught this of the original teachers.)

How do we know which side won? Well, since Paul was off in the outskirts of the Roman Empire, he lived longer, and his ideas prevailed. (due to other reasons as well.) The others were pretty much annihilated by the Roman Empire rather quickly. So they lost in that debate on so many levels.

There is a big difference between the say, Celtic Pagans and the Scandinavian or the Middle Eastern or even Eastern European sects.

That hasn't changed anything. Look at the difference between a Baptist and a Church of Christ. Or a Wiccan and a Druid.

No side is without a myriad of opinions.
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx
 13 De Marquis, Thu, 8th Dec '11 8:48:21 AM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
I may be in a unique position to comment on the topic, as I am a Christian who once lived (for a year and a half) with a Wiccan. It was a wonderful relationship, and although we had our issues, I noticed nothing about her "morals", sexual or otherwise, that I found offensive. Wiccan doctrine (if you can call it that), by and large, is quite ethical, if a bit "new-agey" for my taste. There is a lot of emphasis on personal choice, but they do take commitments, including sexual ones, quite seriously, so I found that all good. I even attended a Druid wedding (they're still married) so I don't know where you guys are getting this "Pagans = promiscuity" vibe, I didn't find that to be true at all. Of course, most pagans, in my experience, happen to be young adults, so of course sexuality is an important part of their lives. That has less to do with the fact that they are pagan, and more to do with being young and single. As for the "Christians = sexually repressed" thing, you guys should have met the members of my congregation. Believe me, my church-sponsored teen-aged co-ed summer camp was a veritable hot-bed of sexual discovery. Sure, in Christianity premarital sex is discouraged, but no one in my experience is ever ostracized if they indulge in it (churches would lose half their membership if they did that). Anyway, the church isn't the only one discouraging pre-marital sex, that's the official line of the public schools as well. IMHO, Christian and Pagan ethical systems are perfectly compatible, provided neither side gets fanatic about it.

Of course, if you really mean "Conservative Christianity" vs. mainstream attitudes, then there are two major exceptions to what I just claimed, but I'm not going to mention them because I don't want Mad to lock down the thread.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
There are codes of sexual behaviour in Christianity, sure; but they are nowhere as central as the discussion of social justice and self-sacrifice, which has parallels in many Pagan traditions.
I think you paint it too rosy, Carciofus. Sure, sexual morals are not central to Christian theology if you ask Christian theology; but if you look at Christian reality, it is quite central. If it wasn't, then why would most Christian Churches oppose and tabooize homosexuality and the concept of homosexual marriage so strongly? Why does the Catholic Church insist on the insolubility* of marriage, and does not allow re-married divorcees to participate in eucharisty? (Which can result in a person being damned...)

Also, I know of no pagan tradition that emphasizes self-sacrifice so strongly as Christianity does it. In fact, most pagan traditions don't emphasize it at all; and the "doctrine of self-sacrifice" is frequently pointed out by neo-pagans as one of the things, if not the thing they dislike most in Christianity. I'm not a (neo)pagan, but I understand this feeling. Self-sacrifice for self-sacrifice's sake is essentially absurd.

Social justice is generally not a big topic in pagan ethics. As for Christianity — there is a lot of rhetorics about it, but in effect, the Christian commitment to social justice is low or lukewarm at best. The bottom line of Christian social teachings is "Everyone stay where God has placed him and wait for better times. God has a plan for all of us, there is a meaning in all of this, we should not interfere. Let us pray rather than change society." — Someone once summed it up as follows: "You'll eat pie in the sky when you die."

edited 8th Dec '11 10:24:18 AM by LordGro

It's perfectly possible to admire building a cannon to destroy the moon, whilst lamenting the act of destruction.
 15 The Earth Sheep, Thu, 8th Dec '11 3:04:15 PM from a Pasture hexagon
Christmas Sheep
I think there's a problem in this topic, with people assuming that Paganism and Christianity are not only diametrically opposed, but have no influence on each other.

I was reading about the Legend of Er earlier, which is a Pagan belief, but is also possibly the inspiration for the Heaven/Hell bit of Christianity, or, if you're a Christian, possibly a bit of revelation on behalf of whichever Pagan wrote it. I can't see any other option, and either means that they both build off of each other.

Besides, all morality is basically the same. Everyone wants the best thing for everyone, that is a constant and there are several other constants (for example, no running away from a fair fight or no taking other people's things).
Still Sheepin'
 16 feotakahari, Thu, 8th Dec '11 3:28:26 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
^ You've argued this before, and I've argued against it before. Let me take another shot at it.

I believe that different things make different people happy to different degrees. For instance, the (now-banned?) Deuxhero got in a lot of arguments over freedom versus safety, and I believe he genuinely desired freedom to a degree that most people don't desire it, such that he would not have been happy in a society where most people would have been happy. The catch is that, for any value of X, people tend to assume "people care about X exactly as much or as little as I do, " and wind up talking past each other (and eventually exchanging petty insults with the "idiots" who can't see that the policies they propose clearly won't lead to the one true, desirable value of X.)

If this seems irrelevant to Christianity, it's not—people whose value of X disagrees with that of the Christian tradition they've been raised in often defect not to a different Christian tradition, but to a Pagan tradition (since there's no one Pagan "bible, " and as such, a lot of possible values of X.)

Edit: Wait, you're treating "no running away from a fair fight" as a constant? I don't even believe in fighting fair. (The issue here is not which of us is "right, " for any value of "right, " but rather that the fact I and many other people can disagree means it isn't a constant.)

edited 8th Dec '11 3:31:12 PM by feotakahari

That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 17 Gabrael, Thu, 8th Dec '11 3:57:44 PM from My musings Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Zombie Polar Bears!
I could sit here and pull out the history of the Bible, which traditions came from Pagan cultures and which were invented later. I can also divulge the history and evolution of modern Paganism which branched from the same tree as White Shamanism.

But here's the thing. There is not even a consensus in the very group: Christian or Pagan over what the morality of the group should be.

So we cannot draw definitive, we can only discuss instances.
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx
Besides, all morality is basically the same. Everyone wants the best thing for everyone, that is a constant (..)
This hardly holds water. Pagan ethics (yes, that's lumping a lot of traditions together, but as a rule of thumb it is true) are much less concerned with the grand scheme of things, the fate of the world, the common good, mankind as a whole.

(...) and there are several other constants (for example, no running away from a fair fight or no taking other people's things).
Not true — think of the Vikings. In Norse-pagan times, it was deemed totally acceptable and okay to take other people's things, as long as they were not related or in any other way allied or connected to you. There are no universal rules how you should treat other people in paganism.*

For example, a general trait of Christian ethics is "Treat other people good." A general trait of pagan ethics is "Treat other people like they treat you. Treat strangers good.* "

A more generally thesis: If you make lists of the "virtues" praised and valued by all kinds of societies, cultures, religions etc., you will find a huge overlap. Virtues like Loyalty, Courage, Wisdom, Honesty, Generosity, Hospitality, etc etc will be praised almost universally.

Most differences start with the priority ranking — which virtues take priority over which others — and with the interpretation of these abstract 'virtues' in practice. And these differences in ranking and interpretation can have far-reaching consequences.

Edit: [up]
There is not even a consensus in the very group: Christian or Pagan over what the morality of the group should be.
It's right that there are difference within each group, but there are basic tendencies that set them apart.

edited 8th Dec '11 5:06:21 PM by LordGro

It's perfectly possible to admire building a cannon to destroy the moon, whilst lamenting the act of destruction.
 19 Gabrael, Thu, 8th Dec '11 7:44:54 PM from My musings Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Zombie Polar Bears!
Basic tendancies? Like what?

For every sincere Pagan who tries to live by the mantra I can point out to you a handful of Christians who are only so in name not in action.

The only reason this is so is because Christians are a "majority" religion. I say majority only because of the very problem I just mentioned. For every majority religion you will have more amounts of hypocrisy, more accounts of variation, and more complacency.

Pagans, modern pagans, are a minority. And as such they are more prone to trying to be the most sincere to their specific traditions as possible to preserve the religions and to maintain their culture. If they ever become the majority religion again, the sides will flip-flop.

Pagans isn't even a good term. You can be a pagan and be a monotheist if you really want to. Maybe the words we are trying to use is polytheistic?

Again, another reason why I"m trying to get people to narrow down their terms so we can actually have a conversation instead of almost accusing generalizations.
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx
 20 drunkscriblerian, Thu, 8th Dec '11 7:50:47 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
I was a pagan for most of my teenage years, so any statements I make on the matter are limited to my personal experience. If yours is different from mine, I am in no way attempting to tell you you're wrong.

I will say that pagans are better than the Christians I've known at dealing with issues of sex and its place in society; its one of the things that drew me to such a faith in the first place. What caused me to leave was the basic laziness of the participants and the fact that they could be just as dismissive and dogmatic as the Christians they claimed to hate so much. To be fair to the Christians in the room, I also found the pagan scene to be "playing with fire" in regards to sexual morality; they wanted all this freedom but didn't seem to handle it all that well. To wit, I saw just as many jealousy issues, cheating incidents, and general drama among pagans as I did among Christians.

My take: There's just as much enlightenment to be found in abstinence as promiscuity. And that amount is somewhere between zero and not much.

edited 8th Dec '11 7:51:26 PM by drunkscriblerian

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 21 The Earth Sheep, Thu, 8th Dec '11 8:30:30 PM from a Pasture hexagon
Christmas Sheep
Feo: I disagree. See, I think everyone's value of X is the same, where X is defined as "The greatest good for the greatest number".

Edit: Actually, I thought of a better way of saying this. Let X be the aforementioned moral constant, let Y be the path to attaining that constant, and let z be the set of all cultures, including p (Pagan) and c (Christian). Xp = Xc = Xz, but Yp =/= Yc, and that's where our problems come in.

Is that easier to understand?

And I didn't say "fighting fair", I said "running away from a fair fight, " where a fair fight is defined as both parties being roughly equivalent in strength and having a good reason to have the fight. "Fighting dirty" is relative, but "running away from a fair fight" is universally frowned upon.

Lord Gro: The Vikings didn't have a different definition of ethics, they had a different definition of "people". You said it yourself, they didn't believe it was OK to steal from their family members. Therefore, only their family members are defined as "people". The same is true for all systems of ethics.

edited 8th Dec '11 8:41:41 PM by TheEarthSheep

Still Sheepin'
 22 feotakahari, Thu, 8th Dec '11 8:59:10 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
"Fighting dirty" is relative, but "running away from a fair fight" is universally frowned upon.

I don't frown on it . . .

And sure, people want the greatest good for the different number, but different things are "good" for different people in different degrees. I don't think we can say that any given thing would make everyone happy.
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 23 The Earth Sheep, Thu, 8th Dec '11 9:02:27 PM from a Pasture hexagon
Christmas Sheep
[up] GAH! Kittens!

Think of it this way: if you were a soldier in a war zone, and you were depending on your buddy to cover you while you run across some open territory, but when you're halfway across you seem him hauling ass out of there, what are you going to think of him? (Or her, because we're all equality'd up in here)

And I can say that: Happiness. That's all that X is trying to represent.

Still Sheepin'
 24 feotakahari, Thu, 8th Dec '11 9:50:05 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
Think of it this way: if you were a soldier in a war zone, and you were depending on your buddy to cover you while you run across some open territory, but when you're halfway across you seem him hauling ass out of there, what are you going to think of him? (Or her, because we're all equality'd up in here)

I'd be impressed he had the guts to flee, and angry with myself for not fleeing alongside him.

As for the whole "X" thing, let me take a different tack. Imagine a forum full of people who really, really like chocolate, and someone coming and saying "I love vanilla!" Everyone else immediately starts arguing with him, since they can't understand why he doesn't prefer chocolate, and he in turn thinks they're all deceiving themselves and they'd love vanilla more than chocolate if they just opened their eyes. I see stuff like that all the time on this forum, although it's framed more like "Property rights are more important than equal distribution of goods" (read: "Property rights make me happier than equal distribution of goods") vs. "Equal distribution of goods is more important than property rights" (read: "Equal distribution of goods makes me happier than property rights.")
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
I think the problem here is that "Paganism" isn't, and wasn't, a single religion, even though people often refer to it as such. When G. K. Chesterton declared, "Paganism was the biggest thing in the world, and Christianity was bigger, and everything since has been comparatively small, " he was not referring to Wicca (which I don't think had even been invented at the time), and I suspect he wasn't really thinking about Germanic beliefs either.
Currently taking a break from the site. See my user page for more information.
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