Jesus is always pissing someone off! Back in his day he was a controversial, anti-establishment Jewish teacher, and today he’s getting Pagans all riled up about a little book called Jesus Through Pagan Eyes.
I worked with the Reverend Mark Townsend on this book from its inception in 2009, and it’s really an exciting premise: looking at the figure of Jesus (both historical and mythical, which must be teased out from each other and examined separately) outside of the confines of the Christian church, and seeing whether there is anything Pagans can take away from this vision and apply to our own paradigm, or rather framing Jesus according to our own understanding and worldview. Not as a savior of all mankind, but perhaps as a wisdom teacher, or as a dying and rising fertility god, or as any number of other facets. Jesus without the baggage.
Mark Townsend used to be a Church of England vicar, but he wrestled within the confines of what might be best called “Churchianity.” He happened to find friendship and acceptance among Druids and other Pagans, and became a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and eventually left the C of E for a much more liberal Christian church. Along the way, many of his new Pagan friends told him about their experiences with the Church and what prompted them to leave; many conceded that they had found Jesus to be sympathetic, but turned their backs on him along with the Church when they turned to Paganism.
Mark naturally wondered why, when Pagans eclectically worship from so many pantheons, could they no longer accept or connect with the figure of Jesus? Just because of the present-day church’s antagonism and all of its historic wrongs committed in his name, but not by him? Why throw the baby out with the bathwater?
So Mark wrote this lovely book which uncovers the “real” Jesus (so far as historians can tell), compares that with the image the church superimposed upon him, and also examines the whole idea of Christ energy or the Cosmic Christ. These are all separate emanations and must be treated as such. But rather than call it a day, he wanted to include Pagans’ voices in this examination, making a monologue into a dialogue, or rather a multilogue, an interfaith conversation and convocation, a whole choir of voices from our community weighing in with their thoughts on the Christian avatar, the Jewish teacher, the wandering miracle worker and mystical lover of the downtrodden and outcast.
Mark eventually delivered to me a book that included fifteen essays written by Pagan leaders (listed below if you’re curious) and interviews with thirteen additional Pagan leaders. (I use the term “leader” very loosely; as Pagans we all know we have no leader but our own inner stars. Perhaps a better word would be “recognized figure” or “elder” though not all of them fit either of these terms, either!) The book also includes a foreword by progressive Christian Matthew Fox and preface by author Barbara Erskine, and ends with an epilogue by Druid chief and Alexandrian witch Rob Chapman. None of the Pagan contributors are converting to Christianity tomorrow, nor are they attempting to influence the reader in that direction; they are just frankly sharing their ideas about the myth and/or the man, at times very openly and unapologetically rejecting him, and covering a whole plethora of Pagan ideas in the process: shamanism, spirit possession, fertility and nakedness, seasonal gods and demi-gods, the sacred masculine, the tarot, nature teachings, vision quest, and much more.
And that, inexplicably yet inevitably, pissed (some) Pagans off. I think Mark was expecting the Christians to be the harshest judges of this book, and yet the vehement criticism he’s received from some Pagans proclaiming they would never ever ever read the book because it’s all clearly a ploy to diminish their spirituality and convert them to Christianity, has taken him aback.
I am really not that surprised; nearly every “interfaith” book put out by Christians, discussing Paganism, seems not interested in understanding us, but only in finding chinks in our armor by which they might insidiously infiltrate our defenses and capture our hearts and minds for Christ. People, this is not that book! I promise. And yet because it’s been done so many times, many Pagans at this point feel mistrustful and believe there is little chance for true interfaith dialogue. I believe this is the first true attempt, and I feel it is a successful one, at that.
I ask you to read this book and give it a chance. Perhaps it will even change the dynamics of your next conversation with a well-meaning Christian friend. You can use our browse inside function to get an idea of all the amazing contributors and essay topics, as well as a sampling of Mark’s writing. You can also read this wonderful article Mark wrote about his background and why he wrote this book. And finally, here is what other people are saying about it:
I’m sure that this book, the Author and Contributors will help both challenge current thinking, and improve relations between the world of the Christian and the worlds of the Pagan.
The results are surprising and heartening. It will no doubt disturb, challenge and anger more conservative Christians (probably some Pagans too!) but for those who approach their beliefs with a spirit of tolerance and openness, it offers a radical and inspiring perspective. Well worth a read!
Views about Christianity and Christ have had such an impact on the world – both positive and negative – that they certainly merit exploration, and so I decided to explore what I really felt about this figure who evokes such ambivalent feelings for many of us, and accepted Mark’s invitation to contribute to the book. Along with many other contributors and Mark’s excellent introduction I believe you will find this book challenging and profound.
It has often been my experience that Christians think Pagans do not accept the Master Jesus either as a Teacher or even as an historical figure. This is patently not true. Pagans for the most part are more than willing to accept his ministry and his teachings. In fact, many of his teachings stem from the ancient world and the words given from The Sermon on the Mount are quotes from earlier times long before him. Here at last we have a collection of essays about Jesus written by Pagans. From Druids to Gnostics, Shamans to Witches and all between; this fascinating book offers a new look at the Nazarene Master, a collection of viewpoints written from the heart and containing deeply held ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. It is a book that holds out the hope that both Pagans and Christians will recognise that they have a common ground, that both have a belief in the potential divinity of humanity and both are needed in a world that is perilously close to losing all semblance of faith in the Numinous.
Well known writers from both sides have come together to offer their views and ideas from Caitlin Matthews to Phillip Carr-Gomm, from Maxine Sanders to our own Steven Critchley; this is a book to read slowly and gain a different viewpoint of the teacher we call The Christ.
– Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, via email
For any orthodox Christian this work will be full of heresies, but it is also paints a portrait of why Christians find it so difficult to “reach” us. Simply put, we encounter Jesus in sometimes radically different ways than they do.
– Jason Pitzl-Waters, The Wild Hunt
I was delighted to contribute the following foreword welcoming this book and its honoring of the earth-based spiritual traditions, which have too long been stigmatized and sidelined. In a time when the planet is being systematically pillaged, fundamentalist sects are dividing the peoples of the earth through fear, and our only hope for survival lies in deeply listening to the wisdom of all faiths, this is a much-needed and long-overdue voice for a deep ecumenism that includes – to quote Thomas Aquinas – not only the Peoples of the Book, but the Peoples of the Book of Nature. Highly recommended!
This work admirably promotes understanding between belief systems that have a sometimes uneasy relationship.
In Townsend’s view, Jesus not only exists in the hearts and minds of the faithful, but he might also be seen as a useful point of entry for conversations about different expressions of faith, experiences of divinity, and understandings of compassion in the lives of people from many different religious traditions. Townsend uses Jesus to initiate dialogue, and he does so in a way that is accepting and inclusive of many understandings and interpretations of Jesus, his purpose, and his relevance (or irrelevance) in the religious practices of contemporary Pagans.
Here is the full list of contributors (linked authors signify they are Llewellyn authors, in the interest of full disclosure):
Essays by: Emma Restall Orr; Reni; Adele Nozedar; Joyce Higginbotham; Christopher Penczak; Maria Ede-Weaving; Karen Tate; James Carrington; Stephen Critchley; John Michael Greer; Diana L. Paxson; Marcus Katz; Philip Carr-Gomm; Sarah Kral; Erin Dragonsong.
Interviews with: Maxine Sanders; Selena Fox; Raven Digitalis; Sorita D’Este; Caitlín Matthews; Janet Farrar; Gavin Bone; Oberon Zell-Ravenheart; Cassandra Eason; Raven Grimassi; Scott Blunt; Kerr Cuhulain; Gill Edwards.