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ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path by Joyce…
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ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path (edition 2009)

by Joyce Higginbotham, River Higginbotham

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383491,164 (3.17)2
The authors delve into the origins, ideologies, and common threads of Christianity and Paganism.
Member:mheisercwipp
Title:ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path
Authors:Joyce Higginbotham
Other authors:River Higginbotham
Info:Llewellyn Publications (2009), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:paganism, christianity as pagan

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ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path by River Higginbotham

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[ChristoPaganism] is a book with both strengths and weaknesses, which I'll review here. First, a word about the authors: Joyce and River have written two books prior to [ChristoPaganism], [Pagan Spirituality] and [Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions]. The latter has been adopted by the Coven of Unitarian Universalist Pagans as a teaching text for their adult course on earth-centred religions, and the Higginbothams have led workshops and taught groups of various faiths about modern Paganism for a number of years.

This book is divided into three sections. The first is an overview of 'the outer landscape' - the spiritual cultures, if you will, of Christianity and Paganism. Paganism is given somewhat short shrift here, although readers completely new to it will benefit from the explanation of the wheel of the year and basic Pagan beliefs. The overview of Christianity, rather than focusing on basic Christian beliefs or exploring the various current-day denominations, mostly explores scholarship relating to the earliest Christian communities, painting a picture of great diversity and suggesting that not all of the earliest 'Jesus people' believed Jesus to be divine. My problem with this chapter (and it's one that will surface again) is that the Higginbothams rely heavily for their conclusions on the work of a few scholars, notably Burton Mack (whose argument that Jesus is best understood as a Cynic philosopher in a Hellenistic context rather than a Palestinian Jewish one is greeted with skepticism by most other scholars). They're also prone to make sweeping statements such as, 'Biblical scholars now acknowledge...that Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Colossians, Hebrews, and Titus were not written by Paul' (page 44) when my understanding is that the authorship of these books is still very much open to debate.

The following chapters, 'Mystery Religions and Christianity' and 'Monotheism and the Old Testament' are plagued with similar problems. The first outlines the theory of the 'mythic Christ,' the hypothesis that Jesus may not have been a historical figure at all but a purely mythological dying-and-resurrected God figure like many others in the near East. The scholars footnoted most heavily here are Alvin Boyd Kuhn ([Shadow of the Third Century] and [Who is this King of Glory?] and Tom Harpur ([The Pagan Christ]). Both were previously unfamiliar to me, but the publication dates of Kuhn's books (1949 and 1944 respectively) raised my eyebrows immediately; the scholarship can hardly be called current. In a review of [The Pagan Christ], Robert Price notes that Kuhn is 'as far off the chart for most NT scholars as a historical Jesus was for the apostle Paul' (and then proceeds to demolish Harpur's book).* There are some just plain wild claims in here, such as that early Christianity was modelled after Mystery religions (and this after spending a chapter-long overview effectively deconstructing any idea of a unified early 'Christianity') because they held their meetings at night and kept their inner teachings secret (yes, well, Christianity was illegal at that time, after all). 'Monotheism and the Old Testament' relates how the people who came to be the Israelites were not monotheistic throughout much of their long history, and spent quite a while detailing similarities between the myth of Moses and the Pharaoh Akhenaten, the point of which passed me by.

In a nutshell, there are too few sources drawn on here, and many of them are decades old and/or outside the mainstream of accepted scholarship. If I'd turned in a paper as an undergraduate with a bibliography like this, I'd expect negative feedback on it. It stops just short of being sensationalistic, but there is a tone throughout the first part as if to suggest 'look at all these earth-shaking truths that were hidden from you by despotic Church authorities,' and that simply isn't the case.

The middle section of the book deals with 'the inner landscape' of personal and faith development. Here the Higginbothams draw heavily on Beck and Cowan's theory of spiral dynamics as well as the philosophy of the writer Ken Wilber. These are reviewed in somewhat exhaustive detail; boiled down, the argument is that as individuals develop their views become more and more expansive such that they can reconcile seemingly contradictory viewpoints by taking several steps back and looking at the bigger picture (the holon). As a simple example, the authors give the traffic laws 'no right turns on red' and 'right turns permitted on red.' Though polar opposites, both laws serve the common goal of promoting traffic safety. The Higginbothams argue that religious concepts can be similarly viewed.

I can see the point that the authors are making with their holon diagrams (although it is an oversimplification of the tension and uncertainty involved in walking more than one faith path), but I'm not sure what I make of spiral dynamics. They seem to be making the case that there's a correlation between mystical experience and becoming a student of world religions and mythologies. Offhand I can think of a few (dozen) saints and mystics who don't fit that particular mould.

The third and final section of the book was the most interesting and valuable to me, though I'm not mad about how it was presented. It consists of interviews with fifteen people whose faith identity includes both Pagan and Christian (and sometimes other) elements. The material seems to have been gathered partially from face-to-face interviews and partially from email list discussions, and in the book it's all edited into a long group 'conversation' between the authors and the volunteers. It's a little hokey and just seems like a strange editorial choice, but the views presented by the volunteers are very interesting. I've bookmarked a quote from one of them which seems to me to sum up what the Higginbothams are trying to get across with a great deal more effort in the rest of the book:

At this point in my life, I've decided not to cut myself off from any stream of spirituality that has meaning for me, however complicated or contradictory that may be.

I wanted to like this book but ultimately I'm rather disappointed in it. The authors spend so much time and energy on extremely hypothetical scholarship surrounding early Christianity and the Bible. It's not convincing and, more to the point, it isn't relevant. The case for interspirituality as a valid faith identity does not rise and fall on the question of, for example, whether Jesus was a historical figure or not. As a person who walks on this sort of blended path, I'm more interested in the experiences, practices, prayers, struggles, and inspirations of others who do as well. [ChristoPaganism] would have been a more satisfying book if more attention had been paid here.

[Jesus Through Pagan Eyes] was a better book on this topic. I'm looking forward to reading [Diary of a Christian Witch] to provide more of a perspective on plain ol' daily life and [Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism] for some heavyweight theological material.

*Price's full review is here and worth reading. Bart Ehrman has an even more biting piece on the mythic Christ hypothesis here. ( )
  Erratic_Charmer | Feb 11, 2014 |
I figure, you know authors are good when they write a book on a topic that you don't care about and you read the book anyway because they wrote it and you trust they'll find a way to make the topic interesting somehow. I'm happy to say that my hopes were well-founded and that the book was much more thought-provoking than I expected.

The book's title is a bit misleading. Most of the book isn't about a single path called "ChristoPaganism," but talks about Paganism and Christianity as two separate religions. The authors focus more on Christianity than Paganism for the first two-thirds of the book, probably because their audience is primarily Pagan and because they already discussed many of the Pagan aspects in their earlier books. ChristoPaganism is divided into three parts. The first part covers the basic beliefs of Paganism and Christianity along with a historical overview of both religions. For Christianity, the authors summarize the findings both of scholars who believe Jesus really existed as a historical person and those who don't. In the second part, the authors examine how practitioners of Paganism and Christianity experience their religions. Here they tie ChristoPaganism to their previous book, Pagan Spirituality: A Guide to Personal Transformation. In both of these books, the authors use a model called Spiral Dynamics as well as the works of Ken Wilbur and other scholars to examine how people learn to look at faith and religion from broader perspectives.

The third part of the book best fits the book's title. The Higginbothams interview fifteen people who practice both Paganism and Christianity, sometimes blending them, sometimes keeping them separate. Unfortunately, this part fell flat for me. Despite the authors' best efforts to describe the participants, they all ran together, like badly-delineated characters in a novel. I found myself wishing they had just transcribed the interviews in script-format rather than write them out as prose, because their efforts to find new ways to say "Michael says" became distracting ("Michael comments," "Michael observes," "Michael notes," "Michael states," "Michael answers," etc.). I was planning to give the book five stars, but this section is almost half the book and not up to that standard. Overall, though, I happily recommend the book for people interested in interspirituality, blending religions, or just seeing Christianity from a different perspective. ( )
  Silvernfire | Nov 26, 2010 |
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In our years as Pagan teachers, community leaders, organizers, and speakers, we have encountered a growing number of people who combine aspects of Christianity and Paganism within their spirituality.
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