So. This may or may not be an “unpopular opinion” kind of post, but it’s been winding around my brain as a strange thread spun off from discussions online about religion. There have been some interesting conversations about how to distinguish oneself as an actual representative of heathenry without being mistaken for a Nazi fanboy, as it were. To me, that’s easy: my entire adult life has been about mindfully keeping the gods at the forefront of everything I do, and being a kind, friendly, helpful member of the community in which I live and making everyone I meet feel comfortable and safe. My actions and my attitude speak for the hammer I always wear. But that’s not what this post is about, not entirely. This post is about My Feelings regarding Christianity.
Most people take Christianity for granted because it’s probably the most mainstream religious philosophy in the States. It’s something everyone here grew up around, if not actually raised in Christian households. So here’s your chance to hear how an “outsider” might react to it when learning about it for the first time. Because, as I’ve mentioned time and time again, I was not raised Christian. I was raised heathen. My family wasn’t the “celebrate Midsummer with sumbel and blót” heathen, just “these are the gods, they walk among us as do the wights, so don’t be an asshole” kind of heathen. We didn’t do ritual, we just had faith in the Aesir and Vanir, and our view of the world was filtered through Nordic philosophy; we were like the Christian family who believes in Christ and prays but doesn’t go to church.
It gets interesting because I genuinely, honestly had no idea what Christianity was until I was 10 years old. I knew what Judaism was, vaguely. I grew up in West Germany (yup, I’m that old), after all, among monuments and scars and survivors from the Holocaust. I had a unique education in what had happened there in the ’30s and ’40s and why it was so hideously wrong, why the Nazis were such shitty, horrible people, and why I should never hate someone for their differences. But Christ? I thought that was a swear word, because when my parents were angry or surprised, that’s what they’d exclaim, but little bitty me got in trouble if I said it, same as I would have if I’d have shouted any other obscenity. I didn’t know it was a name, much less that of the savior of most of the Western religious community.
So what happened when I was 10? My parents divorced, and Mom and I moved to a rural area with a not so stellar public school district. So my mom enrolled me in Catholic school for a more rigorous curriculum. The parochial school in our area boasted that 98% of its graduates went to college. In the early ’90s, that was a hell of a bragging right. So I was suited up in a plaid jumper and saddle shoes and off I went to what turned out to be one of the most disturbing mornings of my life.
I’ve written about it before. I was an Army brat, so starting a new school midyear was nothing new or scary. Walking into my new classroom and seeing a crucifix? That gave me pause. Seeing my new classmates wearing necklaces that resembled the cross on which the emaciated corpse hung? That was unnerving. The condition of the body on the cross reminded me then, as it still does now, of the pictures of bodies in concentration camps. It was creepy, and I was a little afraid to talk to anyone as they gave me curious looks before the first bell rang. It really got intense when the principal came over the intercom for the morning prayer and announcements. “We thank you, Jesus Christ, for this wonderful day…”
The panic really started to bubble up in me. Why was the principal cursing at us?! Suddenly, I thought my grandmother was right, that I was responsible for the divorce and ruining my father’s life, and I was being sent to this detention center as punishment. “Catholic school” was a juvenile jail, hence the uniforms, the adults swearing at children, and the grim warnings of torture and death all around us.
I. Freaked. Out. That’s how I ended up in the monsignor’s office with the foul-mouthed principal, getting a crash course in the creepy crazy religion called Christianity. That night, I asked my mom about it, and she said it was high time I’d learned about what most Americans believed, the philosophy they were raised with. “You don’t have to believe in it, you just need to understand it because this is what a lot of society is built on,” she said.
Of course, by the time I was 13, I told her that I wanted to speed my way through the sacraments and be confirmed with the rest of my class. Peer pressure, wanting to fit in, tired of being left out of Cannibal Snack Time: that’s why I converted to Catholicism. Mom wasn’t thrilled, but she humored me and let me take after school catechism classes with the nuns. I gave it an honest go. But the relief in her face and whole being when I told her a few years later that I’d renounced Christianity and reverted back to the Norse gods was immense. Funny reaction from her, given she herself had been raised Catholic, and while she’d gladly raised me with the beliefs her father-in-law had taught her, she herself wasn’t heathen. She still isn’t, not officially, but she knows the gods exist. She doesn’t talk with them or make offerings, but she knows they’re real, and she’s witnessed and felt plenty over the years. But I digress.
So why do I find Christianity so disturbing? Well, let’s be honest: it’s a creepy concept to worship a god who constantly committed genocide against his own creation, then decided to give his creation a chance at salvation by torturing and murdering his own son. The idea of being born with sin is demoralizing, as if we’re abominable creatures who have to earn the right to exist. And we only earn that right by taking part in gruesome, inhumane sacrifice, consuming the flesh and blood of God’s own murdered child. And for the Protestants, it’s not literal cannibalism, but talk of having sin be washed away by the blood of the sacrifice. You live your life with the spectre of the broken, bloodied body of the savior hanging over you, a constant reminder that you’re such a wretched excuse of a soul that someone had to suffer greatly and die for you just so you’d have a chance at knowing God’s love.
This is what Christianity looks like to an outsider.
I know there’s a great deal of nuance involved, I know the thought processes of Christians and why salvation is appealing. My 7 years of Catholic school meant I had 7 years of intensive theology classes, and a lot of those classes were steeped in comparative religion. I took even more training and practical application in my schooling and experience as a funeral director. I worked closely with clergy of all faiths, and I myself want to pursue clergyhood to better engage in interfaith community work. I’d hazard to say I’m better versed in various stripes of Christianity and the history thereof than most Christians. And I respect Christ and have a good working relationship with him when I’m caring for his faithful. But the religion itself just gives me the willies.
Naturally, my own experiences growing up cast quite the distorted pall over my view of Christianity. Remember, my father was cruel and dangerous and resented my existence. So the idea of falling in step with a Father who sent his child to be murdered to validate the existence of humanity is deeply unsettling. Learning too about all of the genocides and horrors that have been committed in the name of Christianity further soured me, even though I understood that those atrocities were carried out by power-hungry humans who just used the name of religion as an excuse.
And Nazis and their modern ilk? It destroys me to know that even honorable inclusive heathens are afraid to wear the symbols of their faith lest they be confused for fascists. These so-called supremacists claim that the Nordic gods are only for white cis Europeans, yet they brandish the insignia of a dictator who was himself Christian. Other races are cast away despite the fact that the gods themselves are mixed race (Aesir and Vanir intermarry, Jotuns and Aesir marry/reproduce, and Jotuns and Vanir do the same. Seriously, have these bastards never looked at the mythological family trees?). They claim that gay and transsexual people are abominations who must be exterminated like vermin, but the gods they pretend to represent are themselves incredibly queer and fluid in their sexual and gender identities. People with disabilities? Unworthy, even though- you guessed it! – the gods themselves don’t have perfect bodies. Women? Pfft, misogyny runs rampant in those circles despite the equal power the goddesses hold (what’s this you’re screaming about Valhalla? Too bad- Freyja gets first pick. Oh, and the Valkyries that choose the worthy warriors in the first place? Yup, ladies. Don’t piss ’em off, boys, or you’ll be left to rot on the battlefield). Racism and bigotry literally have no place in the lore or practice of heathenry, and yet these fools are loud about how only a very select few are permitted to exist and/or worship the Norse gods. They follow flawed philosophies laid out by a Christian, but they’re the ones who get to represent heathenry in the media? Fuck. That. They’re no more heathen than I’m a Lutheran deacon.
Personally, I find crosses to be more disturbing than hammers. I understand why they’re the symbol of faith, but it’s still creepy to be adorned with an executioner’s device. But no one gives a cross pendant the same wariness that’s given Mjolnir. I wear my hammer proudly and openly, and I do my best to put a smile on the face of everyone with whom I interact – it’s always been my nature to make people feel at ease and welcome in my presence, because to me hospitality extends beyond the home. I was privileged to grow up in an extraordinarily diverse environment, so I’m comfortable interacting with everyone, no matter what background they come from, no matter how different they appear or think. And I’ve been pretty successful at making strangers smile and feel recognized and respected, every damn day.
The only time my hospitality sours is when someone’s behavior demands it. I don’t tolerate bigotry, and unfortunately I’ve had to call it out, both personally and professionally. There’s no place for it in a healthy society, regardless of your religious beliefs. I have some very deep problems with the concept of Christianity, but I still respect Christians and welcome them in my inner circle, and I’m lucky in that I’ve never, ever been treated badly because of my own belief system (imagine that, I’m so open about heathenry that even the priests and pastors with whom I work respect me and my faith. I’ve never once been preached at, no one has ever tried to convert me. Not even the Baptists. Nor the Jehovah’s Witnesses. No one has ever told me I needed to be saved). Diversity is an invaluable part of strengthening and building a well-functioning society, and a little bit of kindness really does go a long way. Doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a cross, hammer, Star of David, burqa, or pentacle. Just be kind and welcoming and let your actions define the symbol at your throat.
Christianity creeps me out. Thor’s Hammer unnerves some people. But I’m not going to judge someone and avoid them because they’re wearing a cross despite what it represents to me. I’d hope the same courtesy is extended to me and my hammer.