Born Again Pagan

A bumper stick that is meant to be antagonistic?

The bumper sticker is meant to be antagonistic, but it tells an unintended truth. “Born Again Pagan” is a statement of faith in non-faith, an affirmation of freedom from religious influence, and a bold confrontation with all things Christian. It’s a declaration of freedom from Christianity that strikes at the heart of Christian experience. If you are a born again pagan, then, by definition, you were at one time a person of faith. One is left to wonder what it was that didn’t work, that disappointed, that left the pagan so disillusioned that they not only left the faith but decided to make fun of faith on the way out the door.

Honestly, I don’t think bumper stickers like this are that thought out. I don’t think people actually leave the faith and then intentionally declare themselves to be born again pagans. I just don’t think it’s that intentional. I think born again pagans are people who don’t want any part of the Christian faith based on a bad personal experience, a rumor, or any list of other reasons or perspectives both real and unreal. Pagan, beyond its technical meaning (those outside a certain faith system), is more loosely recognized in modern America as the power to make independent moral choices outside of religious (especially Christian) influence. Paganism is a way of life more influenced by the pursuit of personal pleasure than religious devotion, civic duty, or the common good. If not mere pleasure then one would characterize themselves as a born again humanist or atheist or philanthropist or something like that. Paganism is more closely related to moral than ideological behavior. “Pagan” is supposed to be a sophisticated independent way of life that gives a person the ability to enjoy the pursuit of personal pleasure without accountability to anything supernatural, spiritual, or Christian. Paganism then allows for guilt free personal expression, sexual experimentation, speech, and pleasure seeking through almost any means (art, money, things, people, hobbies, sex, politics, practices, health, drugs, etc.).

A born again Christian, unlike the pagan, is one who has surrendered the core of his/her life to a greater cause than personal freedom. A born again Christian is one who has given up the pursuit of momentary pleasure for a full and abundant life. They have placed their faith in a God and a book that tells the story of that God, a risen Savior, and the people who claim to know and follow that risen Savior, a savior who promised grace, rest, and peace to all who would surrender, a Savior who asks us to be born again so we can leave our ways behind and adopt His ways into our daily lives, a Savior who is sacrificial, generous, and has our best interests in mind.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”  These are the words of a famous hymn and the personal story of millions of people who would call themselves born again Christians. I can see how one outside the faith might be offended by the lyrics. The lyrics may lead an outsider to think, “Hey wait, I’m not a wretch. I’m not lost or blind. I am an independent, capable adult who can make my own choices and am actually a really good person.”

When Christians say that they are born again, that they were a wretch, lost, and blind, they are telling a personal story. They (at least not the vast majority) are not pointing a finger at others but at themselves. They are telling their own story and expressing thankfulness for God’s sweet, amazing grace. They once made sophisticated, independent, adult choices, free from outside accountability and religious influence, but now they have surrendered to a sweet, amazing influence beyond their own ability to navigate the demands of life. They have surrendered to the grace of God found in the One who sacrificed for them. They are born again. Their life is not their own. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound: not accusing, not beating down but freeing us to live outside ourselves so we can find the best of ourselves along the way . . . freeing us to live a life closer to the ideal life planned by the One who created life it in the first place.

It’s a free county. The constitution, and I believe the God who created us, gives us the right to be a pagan if we want to. But being born again away from paganism into the sweet life Jesus has in mind is an even better pursuit than mere personal freedom.

Susan Morris June 14, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Ben, maybe your last comment was intended to be humor. I'm not sure. In case it wasn't an attempt at humor, here is a response. "Pagan" and "pagan" are interchangeable. There's an ongoing discussion about whether the word should be capitalized when used in reference to religion. Some folks feel it should always be capitalized, some don't and some folks haven't really given it a lot of thought. Most capitalize the word but some don't. As a result, a Pagan is not going to look at the word "pagan" and believe for one second that the person is talking about a different usage of the word. Bottom line is that most people who understand that Paganism is a religion or a spiritual path do not use it as an obscure derogatory reference to hedonism. It makes the person appear either ill-informed or bigoted. Either way it's offensive. I wouldn't personally dream of trying to convince a person of a certain spiritual path that by not capitalizing it I meant something else.
Susan Morris June 14, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I should add that context has a lot to do with it too. If it's in an old book that was written prior to the rise of the modern Neopagan movement, and it's not specifically referencing an indigenous people, then I might think that it's a quaint word for hedonist. But if it's used today, on the internet, no, especially when referencing a bumper sticker that Pagans frequently buy from retail establishments that cater to Pagans.
Susan Morris June 14, 2012 at 02:47 PM
In case you are interested, here is a pretty good article that defines Paganism and talks about capitalization: http://www.neopagan.net/PaganDefs.html
North Georgia Weather June 14, 2012 at 02:50 PM
From Wikipedia: Neopaganism in the United States accounts for roughly a third of all contemporary Pagans worldwide, and for some 0.2% of US population, figuring as the sixth largest non-Christian denomination in the US, after Judaism (1.4%), Islam (0.6%), Buddhism (0.5%), Hinduism (0.3%) and Unitarian Universalism (0.3%). ------ Forgive some us for not better understanding your beliefs... it's obviously not very well understood by many people. I think instead of attacking people because they lack the knowledge of your faith, an attempt to educate and explain to others what it's all about might be more helpful. And you all do understand, you can write your own story here instead of replying to this same post, maybe that would go a long way toward helping others understand your beliefs, especially to those that know nothing about them.
Grant June 14, 2012 at 03:31 PM
NGW writes "Forgive some us for not better understanding your beliefs... it's obviously not very well understood by many people. I think instead of attacking people because they lack the knowledge of your faith, an attempt to educate and explain to others what it's all about might be more helpful. " OR maybe if one "lacks knowledge" one shouldnt write a column about something he knows nothing about?
Patty Burgess June 14, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Good point, Susan. I don't always capitalize pagan but I always capitalize Wiccan.
Patty Burgess June 14, 2012 at 03:36 PM
I believe that's what we've been trying to do...explain and educate. However, I assume Mr Cathey doesn't have an extensive knowledge of Taoism or Shintuism either but it's doubtful he would write a column slamming those faiths without doing a little research first to see it the slam was warrented.
Brandy Thomas June 14, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Um, Ben...the word "Pagan/pagan" next to the words "born again" IS about the Pagan faith. That is what everyone is trying to explain to you, but you are just not getting. Your article is referencing a modern bumper sticker...how do you think it's not referencing modern Paganism? Now-a-days there is NO OTHER PAGAN, other than those of faith. Whether you capitalize it or not, it is still a faith-based belief system. You should have researched Pagan/pagan before writing an article about that which you clearly know nothing about.
Susan Morris June 14, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Brandy, I have never in my life met a person with that bumper sticker who wasn't a Pagan with a capital "P," have you? I'm sitting here trying to wrap my head around someone who is not a Pagan putting that bumper sticker on their car, and I just can't, anymore than I can wrap my head around someone claiming the phrase "born again pagan" isn't about Pagans. (shaking head.)
Susan Morris June 14, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Could you imagine saying, "I wasn't talking about Christians, I was talking about christians?" I can't.
Brandy Thomas June 15, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Neither have I, Susan. It just boggles my mind how someone can twist something so completely into what they want to see, regardless off all the facts that are presented to show otherwise. I honestly CAN understand how someone of a different faith would misunderstand what Paganism is if they really haven't come across it and haven't done any research on it. We all make mistakes...and really, it's ok to say you don't know. But to write an article based on a misconception, and when told repeatedly that a mistake has been made, one would think the person (in this case, Ben) would acknowledge that mistake/misconception and correct it...not continuously back-peddle and apologize for what he believes to be OUR misunderstanding of what was written. The ONLY misunderstanding here is what Ben thinks of pagan vs. Pagan. And unfortunately, until he acknowledges that he indeed made a mistake, this conversation is just going to go in circles. And all of this over a few words on a bumper sticker...lol. It did open up a dialogue...but again, until Ben acknowledges what we are all trying to say, the dialogue is kind of pointless...other than Pagans getting to know other Pagans.
ChristopherBlackwell June 15, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Brandy, Oh lets be fair, Pagans can do that as well. How many Wiccans assume that all Pagans have a Wicca Rede, A Rule of Three and believe in Harm none. As I deal with Heathens, Druid,and other reconstruction Pagans, it is one of their chief complaints about Wiccans. That and the fact that they can't imagine who Wiccans can mix and match gods and goddesses of different Pantheon and then not study those gods be use generalities, even claiming they are all the same. So if thee can be that level of misunderstand among pagans it is not hard to realized how hard it is for none Pagans to come to any conclusions about Pagans as a whole. Meanwhile can you even begin to imagine what older Pagan groups must think of us new Pagans. Take Hindus that have been around for over five thousand years. Can you even imagine what us new Pagans must like like, ignorant children playing with the gods. Of course most of them do not accept the Pagan label, as that is a Christian, jewish and perhaps Islamic label and those are newer religions.They were the original religions in their part of the world. Note that I say that Hindu is a group of religions not a single religion.Few of us really understand that, and mistakenly thing they are all one religion.
ChristopherBlackwell June 15, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Within Wicca, how many Wiccans think that Wicca is somehow related to whatever old witchcraft was. Remember that witchcraft was. Remember that witchcraft was simply the practice of magic, and often practice of magic was was tagged onto whatever was the religion of the times. So old Witchcraft existed in the burning time, they would have been Christian Witches. Also remember the old idea in Wicca that somehow we could trace our linage back to goddess worshiping religions going back 40,000 years, to the cave people. Such a romantic idea,but we have no idea what the religions were like that far back. We don't even know if those early people had gone beyond ancestor worship. We know nothing about how they saw the world around them so we begin in applying our world view to them. Highly unlikely. Take those famous Venus's, the obviously pregnant to the extreme figurines. what are they,we really don't know. But we have had Wiccan jump to the conclusion that those are goddess figures. Maybe, but maybe not. something that even existed in modern tribal people is sympathetic magic.If you can do a ceremony to represent a successful hunt and affect the hunt, why not do a ceremony for fertility using a poppet to increase the chances of becoming pregnant? It is just as likely as that being a goddess figurine.
Brandy Thomas June 15, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Oh, I know for sure all the misconceptions that can (and do!) take place even within Paganism. Having gone from being Wiccan to Celtic Reconstructionist, I'm one of those who get a tad irritated when Wiccans claim that all Pagans believe the various gods/goddesses are just aspects of one, among other things. And I'm not surprised at all by the misconceptions Christians have. I did say I can understand the misconceptions if the Pagan beliefs haven't been studied. What irritates me is when the misconceptions (of any person of any faith) are brought to light and facts presented...and the person/s STILL wants to hold to their ignorance. There's learning what one didn't know when confronted, then there's being stubborn and refusing to see those facts.
ChristopherBlackwell June 15, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Brandy, We believe what we want to believe ,not even facts change most of our minds. A midwestern university tried out an idea. If people were presented with facts showing that their beliefs were wrong would they change their beliefs. They had a varied group, different levels of IQ, different economic levels and different ages, different levels of education. Regardless of the differences 98% of the people when shown that their beliefs were demonstratively wrong dived deeper into their beliefs.
Brandy Thomas June 15, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Well, I must be one of the 2%. If presented with absolute fact that what I believed was wrong, I would adjust my beliefs accordingly. I look at facts first. Though I'm not sure how a belief can be proven wrong, even in demonstration. A belief by it's very definition is something that cannot be proven. If it can one day be proven, then it is no longer a belief, it becomes fact. I guess I just cannot understand why facts are swept under the rug in favor of belief. I understand that by being living, thinking beings, who do not know everything, we must rely on some sort of faith at least some of the time. I can live with both facts and belief with neither taking away from the other...but it's hard for me to grasp the idea that not everybody...well, I guess just about nobody, if that study is correct...can live with both. It simply boggles my mind...lol.
Bill Wheaton June 15, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Sometimes I get in a hurry, and miss it. :) Then there is the whole thing about whether we are "Pagan" or "Polytheists"... and whether we should go by "Neo-Pagan" or simply "Pagan"... I'm in the latter camp.
Bill Wheaton June 15, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Good luck with the atheists ;) If there is common ground to be had, you and me - then you probably just hit the nail on the head. I don't think you will find them to be as nice as we are, in general.
ChristopherBlackwell June 15, 2012 at 04:37 AM
Well I notice that it is hard to get Americans to understand that we are just not near as important to the rest of the world as we like to think, that in some ways we are becoming an isolated back water.We still believe the myth that we are a better people, more generous, and nicer than most people, and to some extent that we are to new special people of God, despite the fact God never said so and it is not in the Bible. I suppose that all countries have myths about themselves,but even a lot of the history we teach our kids is closer to myth that to fact.
ChristopherBlackwell June 15, 2012 at 04:39 AM
I have lived through a bit of history in 66 years,and I don't recognize the fifties,sixties and seventies and eighties being portrayed as actual history. Even back then all we knew was only what the media decided to focus on. So what the media focused on is what is written as history today, but little of it had much to do with the average person at the time. Believe it or not more kids got drunk on beer then smoked smoked pot,most people never went to a anti-war march [which had almost no affect on the war,our longest war ever at the time], or took part in a riot, most colleges and universities did not have riots on campus, and the only reason hippies were popular is that middle age magazine editors liked publishing pictures of nude young women.
ChristopherBlackwell June 15, 2012 at 04:43 AM
Now understand that I thought hippies were neat, became very anti war after being in Vietnam and even went to a couple of colleges. I lived in Los Angeles and never saw any of those things, nor did most people, though all of those things fascinated the media and that is what the sixties are known for. It just was not the case for most people. I lived through two Watts riots,but I have never been in Watts in my life, nor would most people in LA. We stuck to our freeways and avoided seeing most of our city as much as possible.
ChristopherBlackwell June 15, 2012 at 04:46 AM
For me 60s was finishing high school starting college,running out of money, picking lemons for Sun Kist, getting drafted into the Marine Corps going to Vietnam and coming home, visiting Great Britain for five months, and trying to stay employed. None of that is considered to be important history. But I remember it vividly. Now in the early 70s I did live in Little Tokyo downtown, know that the small groups of young Japanese American Communists used to throw pamphlets off the roof of then Sumitomo Banks building once a year, their once a year demonstration. I can tell you what it was like to be part of Nichiren Shoshu an evangelical Japanese Buddhist group of the time. That was when book "Nisei, the quiet American", first gave us stories of the Japanese interment camps of World War Two here in the United States. I used to walk through East L.A. twice each night 4PM to 6PM and 2 AM to 4 AM. and never had any hassled doing but will it ever show on the history channel. But history for a person is always personal.
Kay June 16, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Speaking as a Heathen, I try to avoid self-identifying under the "pagan" (small p or big) banner mainly for those reasons. I emailed Mr. Cathey directly when he first posted this article, but thought trying to explain the finer points of Heathenry in the larger umbrella of paganism would be an exercise in futility. That said, I find his clinging to the archaic definition disturbing, much like someone who defends the use of "colored" when referring to African Americans, then tries to justify it by using old reference books. More to the point, I sincerely doubt that he had anything so quaint as hedonism in mind when he read that bumper sticker. It's my belief he was purposely intending this as an evangelical rallying cry, and had no idea that there was such a large and well-networked pagan presence to notice.
ChristopherBlackwell June 16, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Kay I agree by holding on to old outsider definitions I think the minister just wanted to justify what his view was. Religious arguments mostly fail because most everyone is going to go home with the same opinions that they came in with. If we understood that no one is going to be converted, perhaps we might stop some of the screaming a yelling that one sees in forums. This is one reason I have no problems with un believers, because their quite different opinion does not threaten me at all. But I have to wonder if we will have to come up with new names as even Pagan and Heathen are outsider names and very broad umbrella terms. Perhaps we could learn something from the Hindu, which is not one but may religions of different gods and godesses.
Nathan B. June 16, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Ben, the core of the problem with your continued insistence about your intentions with regard to the bumper sticker is that any pagan (or Pagan) knows that bumper sticker means something entirely different from what you seem to think. Therefore, your entire point falls apart, and nothing in your opinion piece makes any sense. Of course, as I think many other people are seeing as well, what it boils down to at this point is that you are unable or unwilling to change your mind when presented with new information. That has been one of the core problems with deeply religious people, including (not all, obviously, but in my experience, the vast majority) Christians, since the Dark Ages.
Nathan B. June 16, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Many people have tried to explain, some with references, the religious significance and the religious nature of pagans. People have explained these concepts in great detail multiple times, in multiple ways in these comment. Ben simply is unable to accept that what he originally said simply is not true. It has nothing to do with his opinion. Much of what he said is known to be untrue. He simply did no research, and refuses to listen to others who try to educate and explain.
Susan Morris June 17, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Therefore, by comparing and contrasting Christianity with Paganism in your article, you are in fact talking about the religions of Paganism and the article remains offensive as it stands. No disclaimer will change this fact. It doesn't matter if you say that's not what you meant, because that is what you said. It will not make a difference how dismissive you wish to be of our religions, it makes no difference that we are in a minority - the silent majority (including most Christians,) are offended by religious intolerance, even if they do not belong to the religion being treated disrespectfully.
Susan Morris June 17, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Mr. Cathey wrote: "A born again Christian, unlike the pagan, is one who has surrendered the core of his/her life to a greater cause than personal freedom. A born again Christian is one who has given up the pursuit of momentary pleasure for a full and abundant life." As soon as you compare and contrast Christianity with "paganism," or "Paganism", (it makes no difference,) the implication is that you are comparing religions. The definition of pagan as a hedonist has nothing to do with Christianity, Paganism, or any religion whatsoever. If you are using the definition for pagan of "hedonist," then it's logical that the person could be a Christian because in that context it is not a religious term. I have met Christian hedonists, and if you stop to think about it, you will admit that you have too. If you are using the religious definition of Pagan, then hedonism does not apply. Being a hedonist is not necessarily a characteristic of a Pagan.
CR013 June 21, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Why would you assume that Pagan means Agnostic to begin with? Paganism covers everything from Wicca to Buddhism to Hinduism and then back again. It means anything that is not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. That's pretty basic info to know before you write an article. And people who are of any Pagan religion don't just up and leave Christianity because they had a bad experience. Not only were many born into their religion, as Christians are, but they actually believe in their religions, as Christians do. Or they are people that simply don't believe the Bible is some 2000 year old holy book. And they do good in the community and have morals. That's something you could have Googled as well. I mean really now, did you even think before you wrote this? You may not have meant to offend, but you did a pretty good job at doing so. Why would a Christian write an article about non-Christians anyway? Was your rant trying to discredit Pagans? And what about all those antagonistic Christian bumper stickers that are out there? Why not tell your people to stop being so hateful instead of worry about someone else's beliefs!
Johnny Joseph'sson October 04, 2012 at 09:41 PM
what is a born again christian? have they "left" some other belief, or paganism, to become born again in christianity? that has not been my understanding. they are reaffirming their connections, from the "earlier" "birth". So why is it so DIFFICULT for you to grasp the born again pagan process? Perhaps you need to be sent back for regrooving?


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