Pagan vs. Heathen

A few weeks ago, in an aside, I used both terms pagan and heathen in the same sentence, prompting my father to ask me what the difference is. Truth be told, when I was writing, I simply used both words because I liked the rhythm, while being dimly aware that I was probably using two terms that essentially were synonyms.

So what is the difference between a pagan and a heathen? It turns out that the answer is not simple at all.

Historically, both terms were used by people who believed in the Bible God to describe people who didn’t subscribe to the Judeo-Christian belief – but with subtle differences. Both were derogatory terms. Pagan was used to identify an idol worshipper of Hellenistic origin (Zeus, Jupiter, Athene, etc.). The term Heathen, on the other hand, referred to the untamed wild northern people – living on the Heath – who worshipped Asgardian gods (Odin, Thor, etc.).

Later (around 1000 AD, after Christianity had become more entrenched in Europe and belief in Hellenistic and Asgardian gods became rare), these terms became less distinct. From inside Christianity, everyone who wasn’t a Christian was referred to as a heathen, including Muslims (who are a subset of the Abrahamic faith), and Atheists (rare as they were), but excluding Jews. So after the crusades, the words heathen and pagan became true synonyms.

Of course, it is important to note that both terms require a frame of reference: the word heathen or pagan loses meaning outside the Christian sphere. Islam, for example, does not make the distinction: for both words, the Arabic translation is الوثني, i.e. a primitive unbeliever (yet Islam itself makes the distinction between Unbelievers and People of the Book (أهل الكتاب): Jews, Sabians and Christians).

Today, of course, it’s even more complex. New Age Bimbos have rediscovered belief in supernatural BS, and have honestly started to refer to themselves as Pagan or Heathen. The fact that they refer to themselves as a non-christian rather than what they actually believe in tells us everything we need to know about the level of intelligence involved in these believers.

And then of course there is my favorite meaning: nowadays, when someone jokingly refers to herself as a heathen or pagan, she usually means to say that she has some residual belief, but not as much as her family would like her to have. This believer usually sees the inside of a church either as a tourist attraction, or on Christmas and Easter.

Which reminds me: Happy Easter, to all you heathens and idol worshipers! And to all the Christians who went on a hunt for quintessential pagan idol: the Easter Egg.

Pope Dumbass

Many catholics are proud of their pope. Catholicism, they say, has come a long way – from the days when the catholic church ruled in Europe – a period we today justly call the Dark Age – to today. They say that the despotic, terrible organization of blind faith has turned into a kind, loving brotherhood of moderate belief. And when pope Francis stepped up to replace Benedict (who, somewhat disaffectionately, was also known as Gods’ Rottweiler), people thought that finally kinder heads had prevailed.

In the wake of the Charlie Habdo massacre, though, Pope Francis showed that hopes for a better, more humane catholic church are premature. Instead of flat-out denouncing violence as an answer to words, God’s representative on Earth told the world that in his view, violence is a viable response to verbal provocation.

As the AP reports Pope Francis stated:

If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. […]

There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.

This is from the guy who runs the organization that used to burn people at the stake, broke them on the rack, or incarcerated them for disagreeing with their faith, let alone ridiculing it. Ask Galileo Galilei how much fun it is to be found guilty of disagreeing with false beliefs (Galileo proved that the earth moves around the sun, and for his discovery was sentenced to life imprisonment by Popes Paul V and Urban VIII). What an ass.

Being a learned man, Francis wouldn’t think twice about ridiculing the Flat-Earth Society. Yet it is a fact that there is more evidence for a flat earth than there is for gods. It’s therefore more likely to be true than religion – but Francis in all honesty wants to force us to treat with dignity an idea that is more ridiculous than a flat earth?

We must be able to ridicule any idea; stupid ideas deserve to be ridiculed. We should ridicule those who, for example, believe that the white race is somehow superior, or that women exist to serve men. Why is the idea that you must worship an invisible being that controls lightning and earthquakes any different? Special pleading for religious ideas has no merit, and is merely a result of undeserved entitlement. If the idea of a particular religion stands on its own, those who ridicule will eventually be proven wrong, and in due course become the object of ridicule themselves. If they don’t – well…

Pope Francis’ mentality of ‘criticize anything except religion’ is dangerously wrong and an unwelcome reminder of the Dark Ages, where narrow-minded bigots killed their critics with impunity.

Atheist Xmas

It’s the time of the year again. The time where an important question comes up. A question that – so it would seem – has the deeply devout deeply confused (note: I didn’t write ‘deeply devout, deeply confused confused’):

Why are Atheists celebrating Christmas? 

Good point. Better point: what are believers celebrating?

If you are a Christian and think Christmas Day is the birthday of Jesus, remember

  • he wasn’t born on December 25th (well, there’s a 1/365 chance he was born on that day if he existed)
  • December 25th is winter solstice, a day pagans have been celebrating for at least 4000 years, much longer than Christianity existed  
  • Santa Claus’ origins are the Norse God Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Giftbringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. The midwinter sky-riding itself is a reference to aurora borealis (Northern Lights), also known as the mythical ‘wild hunt’.
  • the Christmas Tree is a north-european pagan tree-worshipping tradition that survived christianization 
  • so’s the Advent Wreath

So before you ask me why I’m celebrating Christmas, ask yourself why your celebration is defined by symbols of religions that you do not believe in. Because I celebrate for exactly the same reasons:

I don’t celebrate Christmas because of some superstition.

I celebrate Christmas because I’m happy that you exist.

Education Kills God!

From the Department Of Bloody Obvious comes another confirmation of what even Martin Luther knew in 1520: the more you know, the less silly superstitions you have. This was also indicated by a study a few months ago which concluded that better internet access leads to less religiosity (the headlines then screamed ‘The Internet Kills God!!!!!’), and is now (unsurprisingly) confirmed by a study conducted by the Louisiana State University:

The study finds that more education, in the form of more years of formal schooling, has “consistently large negative effects” on an individual’s likelihood of attending religious services, as well as their likelihood of praying frequently. More schooling also makes people less likely to harbor superstitious beliefs, like belief in the protective power of lucky charms (rabbit’s feet, four leaf clovers), or a tendency to take horoscopes seriously.

Strange phrasing (really? not attending a superstitious gathering is a large negative effect?) and questionable differentiation (luck charms are superstitious, but belief in gods isn’t?) aside, we see once again what motivates Boko Haram, IS and Taliban, and what Luther wrote about in the middle ages:

Reason is […] the greatest enemy that faith has

It’s only a matter of time until we can openly say what is blatantly obvious: smart, educated people don’t believe in gods, fairies or magic. Stupid people serve their priesthood.

Pope hope

Yesterday the Pope prayed for peace in the middle east. No one expects this to change anything.

Now, if even God’s best friend on earth can’t effect a change, wouldn’t it be high time that we agreed to the following:

  • God doesn’t give a damn about you
  • therefore praying to him doesn’t work

If the pope can’t get God to stop the war in Gaza – in God’s promised land, no less – perhaps everyone should stop praying and start doing something. Is there anyone who doesn’t think that religion is part of the problem in Gaza? Maybe we should try and remove that barrel of gasoline from the fire? There are still enough problems without religion.

Stop taking your god so serious; start being serious about not killing each other.