Resurrection of paganism

The days are long gone when paganism was restricted to the pages of junior history lessons in relation to our ancient ancestors.  Paganism is alive and well today.  In fact, it always has been, but with a much lower profile over the last several millennia.

Today, however, there is resurgence in the West.  Atheism has had a loud voice during the last half century or so, and it has some celebrity adherents who have done much to popularise it – take Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawking, for example.  New forms of spirituality, however, are now much more common, and it’s cool to be self-consciously spiritual in one way or another.  In this, Oprah Winfrey has done much to set the trend.

Traditional, institutional Christianity is on the wane.  Whilst genuine revivals are happening in pockets in the West, fewer and fewer people are church-goers; baptisms and christenings, even as social occasions, are less frequent.  Church weddings are giving way to elaborate parties in secular venues.  Funerals are often secular send-offs rather than church affairs.

The vacuum left by Christianity has to be filled by something, but by what?  Paganism is a viable contender, according to Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a columnist for The Week.  He remarks that there is pagan revival currently taking place in Iceland which could easily spread to the West at large.

Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Celts, who influenced our society for hundreds of years, were shaped by a pagan worldview.  In contrast, our modern scientific worldview appears to be incompatible with that of the pagan at first glance, but in fact there are considerable overlaps.

The ancient pagan believed that the entire cosmos was animated by agencies.  The seasons, the tides, the phases of the moon, and so on, were all ascribed to the divine, and to various gods who had to be propitiated.  Pagans believed the world was alive with energy and intelligence and purpose – but the intelligencies that made the world alive were not usually benign, rather, they were vindictive.  Thus disease, famine and natural disasters flourished.

The modern scientist, who can explain the phases of the moon and the movement of the stars (for example) in scientific terms therefore purports that science has drained the world of agency.  The universe is just an automated machine.  Many people find this unsatisfactory, however, and perhaps it’s the desire to see the world as something more lively than a dead machine that causes periodic revivals of interest in the paranormal, or paganism.

With a distinct rise in paganism in Iceland currently, and a general acceptance in the West of the value of non-Judaeo-Christian spirituality, paganism is bound to become ever more popular.  One of the appealing things about paganism is that it has no explicit moral teachings; religion and morality are seen as two completely separate things.  It is no more immoral than any other worldview but there is no moral responsibility and a perceived freedom for all.  It is encapsulated in Satanist Alisteir Crowley’s catchphrase which captured the imagination of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others back in the Sixties: ‘if it hurts no-one, do as you want’.  Popular society in Britain today gives more than lip-service to this philosophy, even if individuals would not call themselves pagans.  The Bible calls it ‘everyone doing right in their own eyes’ (Judges 21:25).  The result was anarchy and chaos.

Our society is unlikely to resurrect the ancient pagan gods of the Romans and Vikings and so on, but they will be reinvented in some other form, as they were in Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  These ‘gods’ will have the same kind of vindictive personalities, and will require sacrifices of some kind in an effort to appease them.  Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry explains it thus: 'The ancient gods were rather like cosmic mobsters and the only way to appease them and gain a respite from fate, was to propitiate them through sacrifice like cosmic protection money.  There was no guarantee that the gods would act kindly regardless of the price of the sacrifice, but it was too risky not to try to appease them.'

With a moral framework and a benevolent God who created and sustains the universe, Christianity and paganism could not be more different.  Indeed, the character of our God is utterly different to those of the pagan.  He loved the world so much he gave his son as a sacrifice for our sins to enable restoration of relationship with him.  Separated from God by our sin, our loving Father placed all the sins of all the people on his son, Jesus, who became the propitiation for us, enabling our Father to look lovingly on us again (see Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10).  This Jesus will shortly return to the earth where he lived, died and rose again, to rule and reign with righteousness and equity over the people he loves.

If for no other reason, this explains why paganism and Christianity are incompatible.  But with Christianity being sidelined, even expelled, in our Postmodern Western world, the door is wide open for a resurgence of paganism.

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