As someone who enjoys interfaith discussions, I am constantly looking for books that compare religions in an attempt to show the beauty of each and the interrelationships among all of them. As I read "Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience" by Gus diZerega, I found it to be an eloquent description of this very process with an unsuccessful attempt to actually do it.
DiZerega -- an Elder of Gardnerian Wicca -- begins his dialogue by describing the basic precepts behind Paganism. This is the strongest part of his book, as it is completely within his realm of expertise. The author manages to capture some of the defining elements of Pagan religions without being vague or to restrictive in his definition.
The book then goes on to discuss some of the basic concepts of Wicca -- from a clearly traditional perspective, however -- in order to give more concrete examples of the original concepts. By doing this, the author enables his non-Pagan readers to have a clear idea of some ways Paganism can express itself. By doing this only after giving the more abstract concepts, however, he makes it clear that this is not the only possible or valid expression.
In the next section of the book, the author begins to offer explanations for some of the criticisms Christians have of Paganism. While I found this section intellectually interesting, I must admit that it was troublesome on a personal level at times. While I followed his reasoning and tended to agree with it, the material failed to resonate with my own being. This is at least in part due to the fact that some of diZeraga's ideas lie outside the realm of my own personal experiences. Because of this, i suspect that a Christian -- who has even less personal experience in common with the author than I do -- may not follow his arguments. This is a genuine and normal problem when intellectually explain that which is meant to be experiential.
In the chapter that debated the process of gaining spiritual understanding through nature and personal experience versus gaining it through a sacred text, I found that the author got heavy-handed. While I agree with his claim that the interpretation of any sacred text is not objective, I do not see the point in spending a whole chapter arguing the point. A Christian reader would most likely either acknowledge the point immediately or deny it despite any arguments made -- and quite possibly despite a verse in their own sacred texts that says as much. As such, the whole exercise seemed either needless or pointless.
My final criticism is that diZerega's interfaith discussion was one-sided. In most of the book, he defended Paganism while making some valid criticisms about Christianity. To maintain a more balanced discussion, he should have addressed valid criticisms of Paganism and dispelled those made about Christianity that have no merit. In fairness, I suspect that the author lacks the understanding of Christian spirituality and theology to successfully attempt the latter. Perhaps another will seek to fill in this gap. In the meantime, I do credit diZerega with the fact that he does not seek to invalidate Christianity through his criticisms.
After setting sucha foundation, diZerega begins to point out the distinct and complementary points of value in each of the religions. In doing so, he sets a groundwork for the process of Christians and Pagans learning from one antoher -- enhancing one's own religion through the appreciation of the other's.
In the greatest sense, this book ends at a beginning. It suggests new avenues of thought and perception. It would be best used as a common foundation for Pagans and Christians who wish to understand one another. For this purpose, the author provides many points for discussion and thoughts to springboard into a deeper joint study of spirituality.
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