Prominent neo-Pagan becomes a Christian

Teo Bishop, a prominent neo-Pagan–a celebrity among Druids and Witches–has announced his conversion to Christianity.  He now says, “I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of Jesus. . . Jesus and God and Christianity and the Lord’s Prayer and compassion and forgiveness and hope. … I don’t know what to do with all of this.” [Read more...]

Anglicans starting a “pagan church”

The Church of England is breaking new ground in being “missional,” in the sense of changing the church to fit a particular culture.  It is going after the “spiritual but not religious” crowd by starting what they are calling “a pagan church.” [Read more...]

Pagan temple found just outside Jerusalem

An ancient pagan temple was found just three miles from Jerusalem.  It dates from the time that the Biblical Temple to the true God was in operation.  The discovery shows what the Prophets were railing against, God’s people turning to idols.  Solomon built the Temple in accord with God’s commands, but he then built temples to other deities to please his pagan wives.  I wonder if this is one of them.  From the Jerusalem Post:

Archeologists uncovered rare remains of ritual objects and a 3,000-year-old temple while conducting excavations ahead of the renovation of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, the Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday.

A major expansion of the highway, in the section from Sha’ar Hagai to Jerusalem, has revealed many important archeological finds at Tel Motza, west of the capital, including Neolithic Era ruins and an enormous underground water reservoir from the Crusader Period at the Motza Stream.

A First Temple-period discovery announced on Wednesday was a large structure with massive walls and an east-facing entrance, believed to be a temple.

The entrance is aligned with the sun’s rays to illuminate the ritual object placed within the temple, “symbolizing the divine presence within,” according to archeologist Anna Eirikh. Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz are directing the excavation for the Antiquities Authority.

Inside the building, archeologists discovered a square structure, most likely an altar, and a cache of sacred vessels nearby. The ritual objects include decorated pedestals, pottery vessels, fragments of chalices, and clay figures of humans and domesticated animals, all of which they believe were used for religious or spiritual ceremonies.

“The finds recently discovered at Tel Motza provide rare archeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general… prior to the religious reforms throughout the kingdom,” Eirikh said.

via Archeologists dig up 3,000-year-old temp… JPost – National News.

Here are some of the graven images found at the site.  This may be a rendition of what ancient Israelites looked like:

Figurines

One of the horses Solomon traded in that got him into trouble (Deuteronomy 17:16-17; 2 Chronicles 1:16)?

It should perhaps reassure Christians battling false religions, bad theology, and syncretism even within the church that this is nothing new, but that it was a constant problem even in the Biblical era.

The divinized President

It’s the most natural thing in the world, paganism being the natural religion, to turn one’s king or emperor–or now, one’s president– into a god.  From the American Spectator‘s George Neumayr:

Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign inspired a level of euphoria that almost seemed cultish. Obama was going to “usher in a new way of being on the planet,” gushed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford. He is a “Lightworker, a rare kind of attuned being.”

After Obama won, the cult moved from pundits to public schools. At a New Jersey elementary school, second-graders were taught to sing the spiritual “Jesus Loves the Little Children” with Obama’s name substituted for Jesus’s. “He said red, yellow, black, or white,” chanted the kids. “All are equal in his sight: Barack Hussein Obama.” Parents couldn’t believe their ears and expressed outrage to the press. “We don’t want to praise this guy like he is a god,” said one.

Another public school showed students a video that urged them “to be a servant to our President.” Arne Duncan’s Department of Education even organized a day on which all public school children had to listen to a speech by Obama and answer such questions as: “What is President Obama inspiring you to do?” and “How will he inspire us?” . . .

No sooner was he reelected than liberals resumed the gushing. Appearing at the Soul Train Awards in Las Vegas recently, actor Jamie Foxx said, “It’s like church in here. First of all, give an honor to God and our lord and savior, Barack Obama.” . . .

The press reported this week that a painting on display at the Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery in Boston depicts a crucified Obama with a crown of thorns standing before the presidential seal. . . .

When the state replaces God, politicians are the only beings left to worship.

via RealClearReligion – Is the Cult of Obama Back?.

Countdown to Mayan apocalypse on December 21

Harold Camping’s end of the world prediction did not take place, but now we are approaching the New Age equivalent.  The calendar of the ancient Mayans has time running out on our December 21, 2012.  A range of New Agers, including flying saucer cultists, have picked up the theme.  And in those secularist bastions of Europe, Russia, and China, panic is spreading.  From the London Telegraph:

Ahead of December 21, which marks the conclusion of the 5,125-year “Long Count” Mayan calendar, panic buying of candles and essentials has been reported in China and Russia, along with an explosion in sales of survival shelters in America. In France believers were preparing to converge on a mountain where they believe aliens will rescue them.

The precise manner of Armageddon remains vague, ranging from a catastrophic celestial collision between Earth and the mythical planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X, a disastrous crash with a comet, or the annihilation of civilisation by a giant solar storm.

In America Ron Hubbard, a manufacturer of hi-tech underground survival shelters, has seen his business explode.”We’ve gone from one a month to one a day,” he said. “I don’t have an opinion on the Mayan calendar but, when astrophysicists come to me, buy my shelters and tell me to be prepared for solar flares, radiation, EMPs electromagnetic pulses … I’m going underground on the 19th and coming out on the 23rd. It’s just in case anybody’s right.”

In the French Pyrenees the mayor of Bugarach, population 179, has attempted to prevent pandemonium by banning UFO watchers and light aircraft from the flat topped mount Pic de Bugarach.

According to New Age lore it as an “alien garage” where extraterrestrials are waiting to abandon Earth, taking a lucky few humans with them.

Russia saw people in Omutninsk, in Kirov region, rushing to buy kerosene and supplies after a newspaper article, supposedly written by a Tibetan monk, confirmed the end of the world.

The city of Novokuznetsk faced a run on salt. In Barnaul, close to the Altai Mountains, panic-buyers snapped up all the torches and Thermos flasks.Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, even addressed the situation.”I don’t believe in the end of the world,” before adding somewhat disconcertingly: “At least, not this year.”

In China, which has no history of preoccupation with the end of the world, a wave of paranoia about the apocalypse can be traced to the 2009 Hollywood blockbuster “2012″.

The film, starring John Cusack, was a smash hit in China, as viewers were seduced by a plot that saw the Chinese military building arks to save humanity.

Some in China are taking the prospect of Armageddon seriously with panic buying of candles reported in Sichuan province.The source of the panic was traced to a post on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, predicting that there will be three days of darkness when the apocalypse arrives.One grocery store owner said: “At first, we had no idea why. But then we heard someone muttering about the continuous darkness.”  Shanghai police said scam artists had been convincing pensioners to hand over savings in a last act of charity.

Meanwhile in Mexico, where the ancient Mayan civilisation flourished, the end time has been seen as an opportunity. The country has organised hundreds of Maya-themed events, and tourism is expected to have doubled this year.

via Mayan apocalypse: panic spreads as December 21 nears – Telegraph.

What I want to know is, how are the Mayans supposed to know when the world will end?  What inside information are they thought to have?  At any rate, it is remarkable that people and societies that consider themselves too sophisticated for Christianity can nevertheless embrace New Age irrationalism.

So will there even be a Christmas this year?  Some people will presumably wait to do their shopping, or perhaps max out their credit cards because they won’t have to make the payments once the world ends.

We have to worry not only about the country going over the fiscal cliff but about the whole world and maybe the whole universe going over an existential cliff into the void.

But, in the words of the great Merle Travis, if we can make it through December we’ll be fine.

Odin, Thor, and our Christianized paganism

Lars Walker, the novelist who is a long-time commenter on this blog, has written a perceptive review of the hit movie Thor.   He liked it–as did I, actually, for the most part–but what struck me in his review is his point about how even our pop paganism has been influenced by Christianity.  Lars, an expert in all things Norse, points out that the notion of a benevolent deity–taken for granted even by atheists–is distinctly Christian, and that the actual pagan gods were very, very different:

To anyone schooled in Norse mythology, the Odin of the movie is almost unrecognizable, except for his long beard, lack of one eye, and possession of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse (which provides an extremely cool special effects moment). Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is wise and good, full of benevolence and cherishing a horror of war. He’s kind of like a professor of English or some social science at an Ivy League university—wooly-headed enough to throw away the gods’ greatest weapon at a moment of dire military threat.

The Odin of the Vikings was most of all an extremely powerful magician, a wizard—not the nice kind of wizard like Gandalf, though he was one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the character, but the old kind of wizard—treacherous and murderous, with lies on his lips and blood under his fingernails. He delighted in war for two reasons—one in order to feed the wolves and ravens that were his familiars, secondly in order to fill his hall, Valhalla, with heroes who would stand with him at Ragnarok, the last great battle. To this end he raised heroes up and then brutally betrayed them. He was also, according to the eddas, a sexual predator and a known deviate.

The difference between these two Odins, I think, is suggestive of important—and generally unrecognized—elements in western culture. The script writers have confused Odin with the Yahweh of the Jews and Christians. It doesn’t even occur to them that a high god could be anything but kind and peace-loving, since we all have so thoroughly internalized Christian suppositions that even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do—can’t conceive of a religion founded on darkness, brute force, and the domination of the weak by the strong.

In an odd plot element (I’ll try not to spoil it) Thor submits to a Christ-like humiliation for the sake of others. This is something that would have never been said of him in the old religion, except as a joke. Even Thor has grown richer through acquaintance with Jesus.

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: “Thor”: Norse Mythology Mediated By Christian Ideas.

How Christianity conquered pagan culture

Michael Craven recounts how Christianity won a culture war:

The Roman world was brutal and generally indifferent to suffering. Sympathy and mercy were weaknesses, virtues anathema to those of Rome. The ancient world was both decadent and cruel. The practice of infanticide, for example, was widespread and legal throughout the Greek and Roman world during the early days of Christianity. In fact, abortion, infanticide, and child sacrifice were extremely common throughout the ancient world.

Cicero (106-43 BC), writing in the period before Christ, cited the Twelve Tables of Roman Law when he wrote, “deformed infants should be killed” (De Ligibus 3.8). Similarly, Seneca (4 BC-AD 39) wrote, “We drown children who are at birth weakly and abnormal” (De Ira 1.15). The ancient writer Plutarch (c. AD 46-120), discussing the casual acceptance of child sacrifice, mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, “offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds while the mother stood by without tear or moan” (Moralia 2.171D). Polybius (ca. 200-118 BC) blamed infanticide for the population decline in Greece (Histories 6).

Historical research reveals that infanticide was common throughout India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos. Dr. James Dennis, writing in the 1890s, showed how infanticide was common in many parts of Africa and was “well known among the Indians of North and South America” (Social Evils of the Non-Christian World, 1898). Suffice it to say, for much of the world and throughout most of its history the culture of death and brutality has been the rule, and a culture of life, love, and mercy has been the exception. It is to the cause of this exception that we now turn. . . .
These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.

Following the end of the Punic Wars in 146 BC, the breakdown of marriage and the family had begun in earnest. By the time of Christ, Rome was a pornographic culture. Marriage was a “loose and voluntary compact” (Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [reprint, London: Penguin Books, 1994] 2:813). Sexual licentiousness, adultery, marital dissolution, and pornography were widespread. It was into this depraved cultural context that Christians would introduce a radically new and different view of life, sexuality, marriage, and parenting. In contrast to the Roman concept of Patria Potestas, according to which fathers had the right to kill their wives and children, Christians taught husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Eros gave way to agape.

The early Christians, acting in obedience to Christ, began to care for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. So alien were their charitable acts and self-sacrificial lives that the Romans referred to them as “the third race.” In the centuries to follow, even though Christians were still a demographic minority, their care of the poor and sick, would serve as the first steps in achieving cultural authority. By being seen as those who reached out to and cared for the weak and suffering, the early church would establish its “right to stand for the community as a whole” (John Howard Yoder, For the Nations: Essays Evangelical and Public [Eugene, OR: Wifp and Stock, 1997] p. 8). Sociologist James Davidson Hunter points out, “because Christian charity was beneficial to all, including pagans, imperial authority [political authority] would be weakened” (To Change the World, 2009, p. 55).

Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome, clearly understood the power of these Christians when he wrote the following:

“These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods (Epistle to Pagan High Priests).”

Emperor Julian clearly saw the writing on the wall. The Roman Empire would not succumb to political upheaval or force but to love, the love of Christ. Julian’s dying words in AD 363 were “vicisti Galilaee” (You Galileans [Christians] have conquered!).

Once imperial power was discredited by the superior life and ethic of the Christian community, the church would build upon its newfound cultural credibility and eventually ascend to the heights of cultural power and influence. And, Western civilization would become the most successful civilization in history.via The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome, Michael Craven.

I believe the Gospel had something to do with Christianity’s triumph over Western Paganism, not just how supremely moral the Christians were.  Still. . . .What would be the equivalent actions today to get through to our own increasingly barbaric culture?

Air Force Academy adds pagan worship space

The Air Force Academy used to be considered a hotbed of Christian activity.  Now the chapel program  is adding a stone circle for use by pagan cadets:

The Air Force Academy chapel will add a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions during a dedication ceremony, which is tentatively scheduled to be held at the circle March 10.

The circle, located atop the hill overlooking the Cadet Chapel and Visitor Center, will be the latest addition to a collection of worship areas that includes Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist sacred spaces.

Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, NCO in charge of the Academy's Astronautics laboratories, worked with the chapel to create the official worship area for both cadets and other servicemembers in the Colorado Springs area who practice Earth-centered spirituality. . . .

The Academy’s chaplains have supported Sergeant Longcrier's efforts every step of the way, the NCO said.

“There really haven’t been any obstacles for the new circle,” he said. “The chaplain’s office has been 100-percent supportive.” . . .

The presence of diverse worship areas reflects a sea change from five years ago, when reports surfaced alleging religious intolerance at the Academy. Sergeant Longcrier became Pagan shortly after arriving at the Academy in 2006 and said he believes the climate has improved dramatically.

“When I first arrived here, Earth-centered cadets didn’t have anywhere to call home,” he said. “Now, they meet every Monday night, they get to go on retreats, and they have a stone circle. … We have representation on the Cadet Interfaith Council, and I even meet with the Chaplains at Peterson Air Force Base once a year to discuss religious climate.”

via Academy chapel to add outdoor circle to worship areas.

UPDATE: But a controversy has broken out. Someone put a cross in the circle. Pagans are scandalized at the sacrilege:

The Air Force Academy, stung several years ago by accusations of Christian bias, has built a new outdoor worship area for pagans and other practitioners of Earth-based religions.

But its opening, heralded as a sign of a more tolerant religious climate at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was marred by the discovery two weeks ago of a large wooden cross placed there.

“We’ve been making great progress at the Air Force Academy. This is clearly a setback,” said Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the academy. He is founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and has often tangled with the academy over such issues.

Although he credits the academy’s superintendent, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, with an improved climate of religious tolerance, Weinstein criticized other academy officials as trivializing the incident, which he said was not revealed to cadets.

Rhetorically addressing academy officials, Weinstein said Tuesday, “It’s been two weeks — were you going to get around to telling them about this horrible thing that happened, and why haven’t you?”

Academy spokesman John Van Winkle said officials reported the situation to those on base and issued a message reiterating the school’s policy of religious tolerance and respect.

In a statement, Gould said, “We absolutely will not stand for this type of destructive behavior. I consider this no different than someone writing graffiti on the Cadet Chapel.”

The mainstreaming of Paganism

The New York Times reports that paganism in its different guises is becoming just another religion. From Paganism, Just Another Religion for Military and Academia;

From academia to the military, in the person of chaplains and professors, through successful litigation and online networking, Paganism has done much in the last generation to overcome its perception as either Satanism or silliness. . . .

Because the federal census does not ask about religious affiliation, and because ridicule or discrimination tended to keep Pagans closeted in the past, statistics on the number of adherents in the United States are imprecise and probably too low. Still, the recent growth is evident in surveys done in 1990 and 2001 by the City University of New York.

Over the course of those 11 years, the survey went from tabulating 8,000 Wiccans nationally — that branch of Paganism was the only one to turn up — to 134,000 Wiccans, 33,000 Druids and 140,000 Pagans. (Others identify as Heathens.) The sociologist Helen A. Berger, who is doing research on Pagan demography, said she believed that a more accurate current number would fall between 500,000 and one million. . . .

In several ways, though, Paganism was waiting for modernity to catch up with it. The emphasis on the worship of nature in virtually all variations of Pagan faith, and the embrace of a female divinity in many, situated the religion to mesh with the environmental and feminist movements that swept through the United States in the 1970s.

In the 1970s, Wiccan groups began seeking and obtaining tax-exempt status from federal and state authorities, said the Rev. Selena Fox, the founder and spiritual leader of an early, influential Wicca church, Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis. By the decade’s end, Wicca was included in the handbook for military chaplains and had been written about in such popular books as “Drawing Down the Moon,” (Penguin, 2006), by Margot Adler.

Since then, Wiccans have served as chaplains in prisons and hospices, as well as in the armed forces. Just this week, Ms. Fox supplied the invocation for the daily session of the Wisconsin State Assembly. And, of course, the popular culture of the Harry Potter books, the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the current zombie vogue have defanged Pagan religion for a mass teenage audience.