Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Parallelling the Enemy?: A Consideration of the Pagan Countercult

In past years I was a part of the evangelical countercult community. This segment of evangelicalism exists as a boundary maintenance and apologetic function for the borders of evangelicalism in terms of what it perceives as spiritual danger in terms of "cults" or new and minority religious movements. An examination of the websites of some of these groups reveals certain patterns which includes quotations from group leaders so as to warn the faithful of heresy. In countercult thinking, to the extent that certain evangelicals may get to close to "false prophets" in these groups these evangelical leaders are then viewed as dupes who are contributing to the problem of the false teachers who want to come in by stealth whenever possible to deceive the elect.

I find this interesting in that I just found a pagan parallel in a website titled egregores. Although it does not devote its complete energy to exposing non-pagan dangers, it has created posts that warn the pagan community about certain evangelicals, including little ol' me. Interested readers can click here, here, here, and most recently here, to find posts about me and my work in paganism and in other areas of new religions, missiology, and dialogue. As you read note how this parallels with the evangelical countercult organizations as I've sketched it in the paragraph above.

I contacted the website and asked that one misrepresentation be removed, and it was, an attribution of work to me that was not my own. This was an unfortunate error that should have been more carefully fact checked by the author. In addition, the tone is unfortunate in both the author's posts and some of the comments by fellow pagans. The worst possible motives are assumed on the part of myself, and fellow pagans who "work with" me are considered unfortunate dupes who don't realize that I am trying stealth evangelism. I recognize that many pagans are suspicious of evangelicals and dialogue. That's fine. Many evangelicals are just as suspicious. But let's be fair about it.

As I said in a comment which may or may not be approved on the site, let me clarify. I am not involved in stealth evangelism. Christianity is a missionary religion, and as a disciple of Christ I take just as seriously his command to love my neighbor as myself as I do to share the gospel. However, this is not done in every instance in pagan contexts or otherwise. If the context is inappropriate, or there is no interest, and most of the time there isn't, then there is no sharing. My relationships with pagans and my dialogue work are authentic and stand by themselves and are not pragmatic uses of individuals and relationships as the means to the end of evangelism. (See the interview with me at the Alternative Religions Educational Network for more thoughts from me on this.) Had egregores not assumed the worst in my ethics and motives, and been willing to more fairly assess my work in pagan studies and dialogue, perhaps at least the form of these posts would have been different.

Unfortunately, no mention was made about my critical reviews of evangelical books and approaches to paganism. Neither was there any commentary on the many pagans who have been interviewed at this blog and allowed to express themselves freely on the subject matter under discussion, including the difficult topic of Christian mission. The egregores selection and portrayal of material in representing my views thus exhibits the "pagan countercult" perspective that underlies them.

At any rate, I find it interesting that there is a pagan version of the evangelical countercult. Pagans have unfortunately been misrepresented by countercult apologists over the years (see my reviews of various evangelical books on Paganism as in this example) so it is a pity to see the pagan version of this surface within this fine religious community.


Peregrin said...

Hello John,

thank you for this post. It is a very good analysis of the situation, one obviously hard worn by years of experience and thought.

Just to let you know, several folk in the Pagan community have been watching warily, and warning off accordingly, this site for several years now.

I am musing about writing a blog piece on sensible Christian approaches to the Great Commission and would love to quote this post, if possible :)

Peregrin said...

Just to be clear... I meant warning off the egergores site, not your own fine achievement :)

John W. Morehead said...

Peregrin, my hope was that my post would raise awareness and contribute to discussion among the pagan community and evangelicals, not only about the specific website, but also related issues like how mission may or may not hinder dialogue, the place of apologetics within a religious community, etc. I hope your blog piece contributes to this and you may quote me if that helps. Thanks for leaving a comment.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

John, you are free to post comments on my blog, and you needn't worry about whether they will be approved or not.

And the only thing that I have ascribed to you is that which you yourself proudly proclaim: that you are obedient to the Great Commission. It is just that you and I disagree on the nature of the Great Commission, which you see as a great good for humanity, and I see as malevolent and destructive.

John W. Morehead said...

Glad to hear my comments on your blog aren't a problem.

We don't disagree on much of what you ascribe to me, however, how they are interpreted, and the role they play positively or negatively in the interactions between pagans and Christians is where we disagree, in addition to your characterization of my relationships with pagans as nothing more than a ruse in order to fulfill evangelism.

Added to this is the unfortunate way in which you share your concerns, both on your blog and at The Wildhunt in comments. The tone, the use of certain terms like "stealth," and "missiologist extraordinaire," are inaccurate in the first instance and satirical in the second. In this way your blog is indeed a parallel of evangelical countercult websites. I suppose it is an example of becoming what you are opposed to.