For a while now I have been troubled by people’s lack of understanding of the word “pagan.” When I was about 19, I discovered that my mom thought pagans were people who don’t believe in gods. Both the Merriam-Webster and the Oxford dictionaries offer that as one of their definitions too. There is a problem with that definition though: first, that is the definition of an atheist, and second, I’ve met many pagans and they all believe in many gods. But I’ve also heard “pagan” used regularly by religious people to refer to people who don’t share their beliefs. Since that was the original use of the word, I have less problems with it. But, from a contemporary standpoint, it’s still wrong. A pagan is “a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions.”
Earlier today I came across a post where the author referred to Muslims as pagans. Islam is the second largest religion in the world. Given the above definition, Muslims aren’t pagans any more than Christians are. My biggest problem with the misuse of this word has to do with the lack of respect that it entails. A Muslim would not consider themselves a pagan. This is a way to demean and degrade their beliefs. Likewise, it is belittling to actual pagans, because it shows contempt for their beliefs too. You are saying “you don’t believe what I believe, therefore you’re less than me.”
I’m brining this up because I don’t like it when people purposefully misrepresent my beliefs to degrade me. I doubt anyone does. It’s creating a strawman. It’s dishonest and rude. So please, before you use a word to define someone when you know that they’d object to the definition, make sure it’s accurate first.