An Evangelist's Deceptive Argument Against Heathens
© 2004 Ingeborg S. Nordén
Author's note: A Swedish translation of this article should be available in late March/early April of 2005.
As I found out after writing the "Sects, Lies, and Asatru" article, some gospel tracts and web sites which appear to attack Heathenry are parodies. Unfortunately, as our religion becomes better known to the public, more people will make real attempts to convert Heathens to Christianity--distorting our theology to support their arguments. This article will focus on one particular anti-Asatru tract which I received while studying at a university in the southern US: although it happened so long ago that I forget the title and publisher, I would not waste my time refuting arguments in a text which never existed. If any reader has recently seen a similar gospel tract aimed specifically at followers of Asatru, please let me know so that I can update this page as soon as possible.
I'm already bracing myself for protests that I quoted chapter 4 of Micah out of context in my original article. However, even if I misinterpreted one verse, my doing so is no worse than the misleading arguments in the anti-Asatru tract mentioned in the introduction to this page. The tract quoted several modern Heathen authors (such as Edred Thorsson and Kveldulf Gundarsson) to prove that Asatru is an evil religion because it teaches that Wyrd cannot be avoided nor mistakes atoned for.
As I understand it, a Heathen concept of atonement involves neither belief nor ritual--just an honest attempt to make amends for a misdeed ourselves, which even an atheist could reasonably expect when he's been harmed. The worse the action, the harder it should be to set things right; in that respect, Asatru agrees with most religions worldwide. Yet Asatru does not teach that divinity must equal moral perfection, or that our creators set impossibly high standards which doom all people to an afterlife of torture unless they accept a savior.
As if the tract author's understanding of Wyrd and Heathen morality didn't offend badly enough, he then quotes Völuspá and the Prose Edda descriptions of Ragnarok out of context. He points out that the pantheon will be killed in the final battle--ignoring the younger gods' survival and Baldr's return from death. He then cites stanza 66 of Völuspá, which supposedly predicts the coming of a single all-powerful deity; the translation below is my own literal one:
comes the powerful [one]
to divine-council judgment,
[a] mighty [one] from above,
he who advises all.
Most scholars now reject that stanza as a late Christian insertion; however, the tract author bases most of his argument on it. He asks (rhetorically) whether Jesus could have gotten his message past the Norsemen's delusion by Satan, then concludes "Why support the losers at Ragnarok when your own lore says Jesus is going to win?" Yet Völuspá completely lacks blatant Christian imagery (such as a trinity, a sheep/lamb metaphor, or crucifixion wounds); it also fails to mention other names or titles associated with the Biblical deity.
Because he probably expected Heathens to dismiss his first Norse prooftext as dubious, the tract author also cited a passage from Völuspá in skamma (a shorter Eddaic poem which some manuscripts include as part of Hyndluljóđ). I have been unable to locate the original Old Norse myself; therefore, the stanza quoted below comes from Carolyne Larrington's English version:
will come another, even mightier,
though I do not dare to name his name;
few can now see further than when
Odin has to meet the wolf.
The tract author asserts that the seeress, as a magic-worker speaking to a "false" god, would naturally fear calling the Biblical one by name. Three problems exist with that interpretation, though. First, the other "god mightier than all" prophecy may not be an original part of the poem it was in; why should this one be more valid, with even less to suggest a Christian meaning? Second, ghosts in the lore are usually reluctant to tell the whole truth to living beings who summon them, even if that truth doesn't involve a world or a god ceasing to exist: the whole poem Grípisspá is a good counterexample, in which the dead man Gripir tells only of Sigurd's personal destiny, keeping silent about the intrigues that will kill the hero--until Sigurd himself insists that he can handle the bad news. Third, Völuspá in skamma is a disjointed collection of names and stories; it's highly unlikely that Norsemen would have tacked a one-verse sermon about the Biblical deity at the end of a mostly Heathen poem with no overall plot.
No reliable evidence, then, suggests that the pre-Christian Norsemen expected one "true" God to replace the "false" Ćsir. If the disputed lore which the tract author quotes is legitimately Heathen, it implies that this new, just god shares his power with other divine survivors. If it's a late Christian addition to the manuscripts, then the author of that anti-Asatru tract has lied to his readers. The New Testament may indeed say that following a non-Christian religion is a terrible sin. However, it also denounces religious teachers who claim to follow God but break his other commandments; the Eighth Commandment forbids lying about others' actions, as I reminded Pastor Dahlman in my letter to his church site. My practice of Asatru is no worse than the deceptive arguments used by this tract author to spread the gospel, according to Revelation 21:8--
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars [emphasis mine], shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Evangelists who misrepresent Asatru in order to convert its followers, are guilty of the sin which Jesus condemns most often: hypocrisy. Although I realize that not everyone uses the same preaching strategy, more Christians should understand that the Bible contains more verses than their favorite prooftexts--and that talking a Heathen into conversion shouldn't involve twisting the content or meaning of the Eddas, either.
Background courtesy of The Background Boutique.