Pagans, heathens and infidels

Status
Not open for further replies.

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
7,819
Do "pagan", "heathen" and "unbeliever" mean much the same thing (albeit with slightly different implications)? Is a pagan necessarily a follower of non-Abrahamic, nature-worship type religions?Would an atheist count as a "pagan" (I suspect not, assuming that the speaker was literate enough to use the right term) or a "heathen"?

Is "infidel" a European word? I've only heard it used (historically) in connection with the Crusades, but I can't remember by which side. I assume that it's derived from infidelis in Latin, which would mean "without faith". If so, is there an Arabic equivalent?

Am I right in thinking that a heretic is a dissident within the same broad church, so in Medieval European terms necessarily a Christian, but one with unacceptable views? Did the word even exist in Medieval times, or is it an invention of the Renaissance?

Unless I receive answers I will have no choice but to wield the Soft Cushions and perhaps even the Comfy Chair. Thanks!
 
"Pagan" and "heathen" are both terms used by Christians to denote non-Christians. "Heretic" is someone who denies an accepted doctrine and follows a different one. Christianity has always had different groups following different dogmas - that was one of the things Constantine the Great was trying to sort out in the 4th century AD. Typical "heresies" of the ancient world include the Donatists, Arians, and Gnostics. Christianity became effectively standardised around the turn of the 5th century AD, and existed as the single Catholic Church until around 1100, when this split between the Roman Catholic Church (based in Rome) and the Eastern Orthodox Church (based in Constantinople). There were also Coptic and Ethiopian Christians who have always been somewhat independent. There were other major "heresies" in mediaeval Europe, not least the Cathars. There were Christian crusades in Europe against heresy, not least the Albigensian and Baltic.

"Unbeliever" and "infidel" are both terms used by Muslims to denote non-Muslims. However, Jews and Christians were regarded as "people of the book" and - certainly until recently times - afforded protections for their faith. Islam is technically split between two major groups, Sunni and Shi'a, which came about over a dispute the succession of divine authority after the Battle of the Camels, shortly after the death of Mohammed, with the Shi'a looking to Mohammed's brother in law, Ali, to be their spiritual leader.

If you want a quite guide to when English words were first used, this is a great site: Online Etymology Dictionary
 
"Heretic" is someone who denies an accepted doctrine and follows a different one
Moslems regard Ba'hai as Heretics, because they regard it as an Apostate Islam, but don't regard Jews and Christians as that, they are merely second class people not yet fully enlightened. Other religions could be translated as "heathen" in English rather than "infidel" in Arabic Islamic terms.
 
Pagan and heathen are more or less the same, used to denote anyone not following Abrahamic religion. Infidel and unbeliever come from the muslim traditions.
When someone tells me they are a pagan, I like to ask which actual gods they worship. The confusion on their faces is priceless, as a great many people who 'say' they are pagans actualy don't understand what the term means.

Brian has the right of it.
 
Ah, thanks everyone. It seems that "infidel" is a Latinised equivalent of the Arabic "kaffir" and seems to mean pretty much the same thing, but on the other side. "Heretic" does seem to be someone from the same faith who is "doing it wrong". "Pagan" is a funny one: it certainly implies to me something different, linked with Celtic stuff and Wicca, which all seems incredibly vague anyhow. A character in Steinbeck's Acts of King Arthur refers to the pagans as having invented the number zero, but I doubt that's literally taken from an older source.

Cheers all. I suspect I'll be reading Brian's entymological dictionary for the next week or so!
 
But which religion do these neo-pagans follow? There are quite a few options out there.
 
They don't really follow any, it's one of those buffet things... Pick & Choose.

Just for the record, although I'm supportive of pagans in general, my utter lack of "spirituality" means I'm not really one; the main reason I support and like 'em is their strong environmentalism and the often fantastic music.
 
So... They arn't really pagans then? Just kind of groovy hipsters who do a thing because it's cool and edgy?

I am a full suporter of spirituality, and while I do not subscribe to the existant of a god or gods, I do not have enough information to say they do, or do not exist, I admire anyone who strives to live a better life. No matter what brought them to do so.

Hipsters however, make my skin crawl.
 
Infidel is generally the Arabic version. But it has been Anglicized I think.

Heathens are either split away groups, or people who follow another religion you acknowledge but not yours - so the Celtic religions were considered heathen by the Christian Romans. But much more malleable term.

Pagan is a specific type of religion, generally a pantheon of gods all relating to the natural world and seasons etc. A friend's cousins are properly pagan (they have shrines and everything) and they have oh so many festivals and stand in a field worship sessions it is hard to keep track of. Though they can be very handy during difficulties as they have lots of very specific gods!
 
Infidel is generally the Arabic version. But it has been Anglicized I think.

Heathens are either split away groups, or people who follow another religion you acknowledge but not yours - so the Celtic religions were considered heathen by the Christian Romans. But much more malleable term.

Pagan is a specific type of religion, generally a pantheon of gods all relating to the natural world and seasons etc. A friend's cousins are properly pagan (they have shrines and everything) and they have oh so many festivals and stand in a field worship sessions it is hard to keep track of. Though they can be very handy during difficulties as they have lots of very specific gods!

Pagan is not a specific type of religion. Nor do the pagan religions have to have any relation to nature or the seasons. Take the Romans, before they converted to christianity, their religion was pagan. As were the Egyptians. And the Mayans, and so on and so forth. No nature or seasons there. Unless you include cosmology in there.
Most people think Celtic religions when they think pagan. And they were pagan. But paganism isn't nature worship.

Odinists were called heathens by christians, but by definition is a pagan religion. And most certainly wasn't 'acknowledged' by christians, who firmly don't accept any other religion as valid.

So, when you say your friemds are pagans, what religion are they?
 
Pagan is not a specific type of religion. Nor do the pagan religions have to have any relation to nature or the seasons.
yes I think it's a variation of "heathen".
Oxford Dictionary says for Pagan:"Not acknowledging Jehovah, Christ or Allah", thus Not Christian or Islamic or Jewish.
for Heathen: "Not Christian, Jewish or Mohammedan"

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, equates Pagan and Heathen as remaining rural believers in old religions when Christianity was established in a town. Also Paganus was Roman military derogatory term for a civilian, hence the source of Pagan for non-believers in Roman Christian Culture.
 
So... They arn't really pagans then? Just kind of groovy hipsters who do a thing because it's cool and edgy?

I s'pose. They're sincere enough, like most people with "faith." Imo it's mostly a reaction against the horrors of the modern world, a "return to nature," and a vague stab in the dark now that christianity is on its way out and they need something fluffy to replace it.

I am a full suporter of spirituality, and while I do not subscribe to the existant of a god or gods, I do not have enough information to say they do, or do not exist, I admire anyone who strives to live a better life. No matter what brought them to do so.

You don't need information. At the ultimate extreme, nothing in the universe can be proven one way or the other. The thing to do is look at what's reasonable, ie beyond reasonable doubt.
 
now that christianity is on its way out
World wide it isn't.
In UK there might not be much less real believers than 19th C, but less hypocrisy. Which is good.
Same in Ireland. Catholic as a real choice rather than a cultural up bringing is far more real and to be welcomed, even though I disagree with Catholic theology. Unquestioning church attendance isn't religious belief or evidence of faith. A pointless waste of time and destructive to the Church.
 
I suppose I am really agnostic. I give all religions equal merit, but until I get past the 'reasonable doubt' threshold, none can impress me enough to believe them.

Odinism has a fun afterlife and entry requirements!
 
They arn't really pagans then? Just kind of groovy hipsters who do a thing because it's cool and edgy?

Neo-paganism covers all sorts of very different bases. Wicca is a modern invention that aims to look back to Europe's folkloric roots, though there are a lot of people in the New Age movement who call themselves pagan because they recognise certain spiritual elements useful to themselves.

Asatru is a modern form of Norse spirituality, but is less about worship of Norse gods as much as living by certain principles, such as comradeship and honour. Unfortunately, it is also sometimes hijacked by neo-Nazis.

I believe there are also revivals in Hellenism and some Egyptian beliefs.

However, the realities of modern society means very few have any real connection to the original practices they are inspired by. Most followers also tend to focus on the positive life and peace elements, and completely reject anything relating to death or violence, even though these were originally integral.

2c.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Back
Top