My views on Paganism and Neo-Paganism

Neo-pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters is mad at me for this.

He writes:

Hilarious that I’m “shouting down” the argument of demonic possession, but you see no problem with literally demonizing Pagan religions. Mark is arguing against a straw-man version of my piece, boiling it down to me “constantly claim[ing] credit for everything in Christianity,” or that I’m “shrieking” while the poor Catholics are simply trying to help people understand the dangers of demons.

That you engage with my article by proxy is telling.

Could you document where I said all pagans or pagan religion is demonic? Thank you.

My view of paganism (real paganism, I mean, not the synthetic variety called neo-paganism) is actually quite high and much more nuanced. Yes, there are some pagans who are willingly cooperating with devils. But then again, there are Christians who are willingly cooperating with devils. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, including–especially–me. That said, a more complete view of my thoughts on paganism is found here, here, and here.

My actual view of paganism is much closer to Chesterton’s than to Jack Chick: “Paganism was the biggest thing in the world. Christianity was bigger. Everything since then has been comparatively small.”

I’m not sure what engaging your article by proxy means. I was not super interested in your article. I was just interested in the (sadly brief and desultory) conversation I had with somebody on FB, because it occasioned a couple of thoughts and my blog is about, among other things, stuff that occurs to me (recall the blog motto). As I say, I don’t spend much time fighting with neo-pagans. The movement seems to me to be what the Irenist describes: a boutique sect. It seems to me to be a particularly unrealistic species of Protestantism based on an even more fictional history than the fictional Baptist history of the Trail of Blood. It’s massively anachronistic. It is driven (like all revolts) by a perception of some real evils that need righting. In particular, it wants to restore a kind of sacramentality to the world that has been ruthlessly crushed by the materialism and scientism of the 20th century. It protests the violence in Christian history while overlooking the violence of human history. And it makes the fundamental mistake of worshipping the creature instead of the Creator (which truly *is* pagan). It has much that I empathize with. But it is hopelessly confused.

What puzzles me about neo-paganism is why it wastes all this time inventing a fake synthetic paganism based on some suburbanites’ supposings about what esoteric sects did centuries ago, when there are lots of real pagans running around in Asia and the global south they could just go join without all this laborious re-inventing of an almost entirely fictional wheel. The focus of the neo-pagans is on pretend recreations of ancient euro-paganism, based on fictionalized history , coupled with modern notions of relativism and libertinism that would have often baffled and horrifed many ancient pagans (who were by no means a monolith). So when you consult an actual pagan rooted in an actual historic pagan tradition like, say, the Dalai Lama on things like sexual mores, he sounds disappointingly more like Pope Benedict than like some sexually liberated votress of a goddess from a Joss Whedon fantasy universe dressed like a Frank Frazetta heroine.

Neo-pagans also carefully ignore the fact that the last thing *those* pagans did was ask for baptism. That’s because, of course, the *real* motivation of neo-pagans is not to return to past religious traditions but to react against present ones and invent new ones. It is remarkably kindred in spirit to the evangelical Church I joined as a new Christian: a storefront church of college students with Bibles who knew a thing or two and were going to set Western civilization right. Neo-paganism aims to articulate a particularly strong form of Protestantism that rejects not just the Church, not just Jesus, not just monotheism and not just the hardboiled atheism that is a reaction to monotheism, but both the faith and the materialist reaction to it and the civilization that result from it. It wants theism and sacramentalism and a certain Middle Earth/world music/koyaanasqatsi multicultural fantasy aesthetic, as well as some of the trendier aspects of postmodern feminism dressed up in cool robes, all while ignoring the actual lot of women in the overwhelming majority of pre-Christian antiquity and the fact that it was the Christian tradition that, due to the influence of the Blessed Virgin, essentially invented the idea that the love of woman could be ennobling (a concept foreign to, for instance, the pagan Greeks, who saw women as breeder units for male citizens).

And all this anachronism is indulged in by neo-pagans while ignoring the real flesh and blood pagans who happen to not be ethnically related to dilletante suburban Americans and Europeans (except for a dash of cool Native American spirituality–also ignoring the fact that vast numbers of Native Americans asked for baptism too). I suspect this may be due to the fact that dilletante suburban Europeans and Americans don’t *really* want to adopt the lifestyle of a 15th century Maori cannibal, or eschew western science (a fruit of Christianity) in favor of shaking mistel branches at statues when they have a toothache, or live the hardscrabble hand to mouth existence of a hunter/gatherer on the Veldt. That’s getting in touch with a lot more Nature than dilettante suburbanites want. So while I have a very high regard for real paganism, it’s hard to take neo-paganism seriously. It is, painfully obviously, the product not of ancients, but of suburban moderns, playing at fantasy.

The real heirs to all that was best in paganism are, in fact, Catholics. If you want actual contact with cultural currents and thoughtforms that take you back to remote antiquity and connect you, not only with pre-Christian pagans, but with ancient Jews as well, then look there. As the Victorian (Protestant) historian Thomas Macauley said:

There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

Since Macauley wrote this, the Catholic Church has–largely in lands that were pagan a century ago, experienced a 7000% percent growth. Pagans (real ones, not synthetic post-Christian suburban Protestant ones) are still searching for and finding Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

  • kenneth

    Many of the original pagans “asked for baptism” in the same sense that 18th Century West Africans “asked” for a boat ride and an entry level position in the tobacco and cotton industries! There were of course, sincere and voluntary conversions, but there was also a lot of bribery of clan leadership and conversions at the point of a blade. I also don’t get where being pagan means eschewing science. All of the foundational concepts of mathematics and astronomy and physics and the very concept that the natural world could be explained by natural phenomenon arose from Greek and earlier pagan cultures.

    After the fall of Rome, Christian Europe went from running water and paved road to a mud and thatched hut existence for most of a millenium, struggling to re-gain the know-how of the ancient world. They had to get most of that from the Arabs, and they didn’t do any serious innovation of their own until the late middle ages and Renaissance. The rise of the modern scientific method of course did happen during Christian times, but even there the picture is mixed. There were papal patrons of these great artists and scientists, but also religious obstruction. It is also notable that many of the most spectacular advances happened under the influence of secular humanism and protestantism.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Mike Flynn, check your messages…

      • Andy, Bad Person

        Wow, I can’t believe I called that…

        Mike, I’m reading Eifelheim for the first time, and I’ve learned more about medieval culture than I did in an entire semester of college history. Thank you.

    • Jmac

      [citation needed]

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      kenneth:
      there was also a lot of bribery of clan leadership and conversions at the point of a blade.
      . .
      YOS
      The bulk of the Greeks, Syrians, and Egyptians became Christian without much of a nudge, except perhaps for the upper class (who already had things pretty good). The same was true, albeit somewhat behind the curve for the Romans, Gauls, and Iberians. The main instance of point-of-sword was Charlemagne’s conquest of the Saxons, in which he sought to quell further raids and invasions by forcing baptism on the Saxon leadership. But it is likely the Romanized Frank would have slaughtered the Saxons even if he had been pagan himself. In any case, the German Saxons were not the key to the conversion of the English Saxons, the Irish, etc. Your argument would be far more convincing had you included citations.
      . .
      kenneth
      I also don’t get where being pagan means eschewing science.
      . .
      YOS
      Easy. You can’t have science if you believe that trees are dryads, springs have nymphs, and the stars are alive, divine, and influential in human affairs; nor that the decisions of Zeus can be overruled by Poseidon, and those of Apollo counteracted by Aphrodite. The basic problem with a nature-religion is that Nature becomes fundamentally unimaginable.
      . .
      kenneth
      All of the foundational concepts of mathematics and astronomy and physics and the very concept that the natural world could be explained by natural phenomenon arose from Greek and earlier pagan cultures.
      . .
      YOS
      Everyone did mathematics/astronomy. (Some better than others: cf. Ptolemaic geometrical astronomy vs. Chinese arithmetical astronomy.) “Earlier pagan cultures” did nothing in physics. Lucky guesses and rules of thumb are not “science” any more than a pile of bricks is a house or tons of concrete are a road.
      Most of Greek science consisted of wild guesses unsupported by empirical evidence. The Greeks never let inconvenient facts get in the way of a really kool theory. And the dude that did conceive of the philosophy of nature as a coherent body of knowledge and method was Aristotle, who is more important retrospectively in the Middle Ages than he had been in pagan Greece. His logic and reason led him to eschew traditional paganism in favor of monotheism. (Aquinas’ First Way came from Aristotle.)
      As for the Romans, they thought that the gods could be placated, but not understood; so they had engineering but not science. In mathematics, for example, they translated enough arithmetic to count booty and enough geometry to survey conquests; but otherwise the bulk of Greek natural philosophy and of Greek literature went untranslated into Latin.
      . .
      kenneth
      Christian Europe went from running water and paved road to a mud and thatched hut existence for most of a millenium,
      . .
      YOS
      Not well versed in Late Antiquity, I see. When did Constantinople or Alexandria lose their paved streets or switch to thatched roofs? Or Venice, for that matter? The city of Rome suffered indeed; but mainly at the hands of Goths, Vandals, and Arabs; but most of the Western provinces never did have much infrastructure. The paved roads and aqueduct systems presupposed an imperial government with unified authority over the whole and access to the wealth of the Eastern cities. (Most taxes were still being collected “in kind” in Gaul, Britain, and Iberia, even before the Second Wave of saracen, viking, and magyar barbarians rolled over the towns.
      . .
      kenneth
      struggling to re-gain the know-how of the ancient world.
      . .
      YOS
      The Byzantines never forgot. And the Nestorian Christians of Syria translated Greek learning into Syriac, which they later used to translate into Arabic for the conquerors. The West never lost Latin know-how, although they did lose the financial means to do much with it. They were writing plays and poems “in imitation of” Horace, Terrence, et al. even during the Frankish and Carolingian ages. They did lose access to Greek philosophy, largely because the old pagans had never bothered translating it into Latin, the old bi-lingual Roman counts and senators gave way to Franks, Goths, Lombards, and Saxons who never knew how to read Greek. But they used the Roman encyclopedias — Pliny and Macrobius — in their schools, and Boethius had begun translating Aristotle even while the Goths were still in charge.
      You are correct to say the Latin Christians had to struggle in ways that the Greek, Coptic, and Syriac Christians did not. Western Europe was effectively cut off from Byzantium when the muslim saracens conquered the Mediterranean islands, most of Espania, and sacked the towns of Italy. Meanwhile waves of pagan vikings poured in from the northlands and hordes of pagan magyars swept in from the eastern steppes. Hard to stay focused on what people another thousand years in the future think should have been important to them.
      . .
      kenneth
      They had to get most of that from the Arabs,
      . .
      YOS
      On the contrary, the Arabs got it from the Christians they conquered. The Byzantine Greeks had preserved and studied the ancient Greek heritage (though they gradually forgot the pragmatic Roman heritage). And the Nestorian Syriac Christians translated it all into Syriac for their own study and later into Arabic. As for the Latins, Jacques de Venise got Aristotle directly from the Byzantines and brought him to Mt. St.-Michel. Likewise, William of Moerbeke translated Archimedes and other texts directly from the Greek in Byzantine Sicily. Gerard of Cremona went to Toledo, but that was possible only after it had been liberated. The effort, as beforesaid, began already in Gothic times.
      . .
      kenneth
      they didn’t do any serious innovation of their own until the late middle ages and Renaissance.
      . .
      YOS
      “Innovation” is not the same as “science-in-the-modern-sense.” We need only mention
      universities and other corporations, local government, parliaments, windmills, camshafts and automated water mills, verge-and-foliot escapements, mechanical clocks, eye glasses, wheeled plows, hydraulic hammers, toothed wheels, transmission shafts, steam blowers, blast furnaces, treadles, spinning wheels, trebuchets and mangonels, crossbows, flying buttresses, stained glass, elliptical arches, cranks, overhead springs, coiled springs, horse collars, gunpowder and pots de fer, the mizzen mast, the compass rose, portolans, stern rudders, anaerobic curing of fatty fish (“pickled herring”), double entry bookkeeping, screw-jacks, screw presses, and the printing press,…
      Not only that, but they made such innovation a divine command. “Indeed, man’s reasoning shines forth much more brilliantly in inventing these very things than ever it would have had man naturally possessed them.” — Hugh, Abbot of St. Victor, Didascalicon
      . .
      kenneth
      There were papal patrons of these great artists and scientists, but also religious obstruction.
      . .
      YOS
      Artists? And here YOS thought you were talking science and technology. Name three instances of “religious obstruction.”
      . .
      kenneth
      the most spectacular advances happened under the influence of secular humanism and protestantism.
      . .
      YOS
      And here YOS had always thought that Protestants were also Christians. But please do not fall into the error of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc.” It is insufficient to cite temporal coincidence, you must explain what the “influence” was and show how it operated.

      • Rebekka

        Zing!
        .
        .
        .
        (You are evil, WordPress.)

      • Craig

        I believe we call that: checkmate.

        The only crack I can find is in the obstruction of science. The Church does have a few sins there. Some things I’ve heard in the wind: No to Vaccines because they interfered with the will of God. No to lightning rods to reasons I cannot fathom. But on the other side of that is the titanic achievement of the legion of Catholic scientists, not to mention the college system, and the bedrock commitment to the idea that Truth cannot contradict Truth. The Index might seem like blatant suppression to us nowadays, but its employment was out of prudence, not obscurantism. Scholars could read the prohibited texts.

        Excellent rebuttal of the litany of common errors and accusations rendered against our Holy Mother Church – the Old One – who has seen every principality and empire rise and fall under its tender gaze.

      • Linus

        Great response.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        And yet, the bulk of those achievements can be attributed better to the centralized nature of the Church, rather than it’s theology. The greatest advantage the Christians ever held (and continue to hold) over pagans were the centralized authority and purse strings.

        • Mark Shea

          You need to take it up with Sarenth, who just finished pointing out that the pagan worship of nature is what made it impossible to see nature as Christianity sees it, and therefore to develop science as it developed in Christian Europe. What you are trying to say here is, “It’s all about power”. But you provide no real evidence for this assertion. Meanwhile, you ignore the very substantive points YOS made.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            Evidence given below, sir, and all points answered.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        YOS: The main instance of point-of-sword was Charlemagne’s conquest of the Saxons, in which he sought to quell further raids and invasions by forcing baptism on the Saxon leadership. But it is likely the Romanized Frank would have slaughtered the Saxons even if he had been pagan himself. In any case, the German Saxons were not the key to the conversion of the English Saxons, the Irish, etc. Your argument would be far more convincing had you included citations.
        VFA:
        Theodosius I of Rome, outlawing anything but Christianity springs to mind, seeing as that led directly to the destruction of the majority of the remaining pagan temples of Rome and Europe. There’s Olaf I of Norway, famous for using methods Torquemada would find excessive. There’s even the economic “sword” that Norway and Denmark put to Iceland’s “throat” (convert or starve because we won’t trade with Non-Christians).

        YOS
        Easy. You can’t have science if you believe that trees are dryads, springs have nymphs, and the stars are alive, divine, and influential in human affairs; nor that the decisions of Zeus can be overruled by Poseidon, and those of Apollo counteracted by Aphrodite. The basic problem with a nature-religion is that Nature becomes fundamentally unimaginable.
        VFA
        But of course early Medieval Christians didn’t believe that disease and drought were brought on by combinations of demons and/or God’s wrath. Your argument presupposes that only Christians living in a spiritually dead Nature can question the existence of laws and rules outside of a spiritual cause. You really mean to argue that pagans, given enough time (because the Christians didn’t sort out Nature over night either), wouldn’t have questioned and discovered the laws of Nature, gradually accepting that perhaps their Gods influenced said laws? It’s no different than how Christians have come to understand “how” a hurricane works, but still believe God determines the “when” and “where”.
        . ..
        YOS
        Everyone did mathematics/astronomy. (Some better than others: cf. Ptolemaic geometrical astronomy vs. Chinese arithmetical astronomy.) “Earlier pagan cultures” did nothing in physics. Lucky guesses and rules of thumb are not “science” any more than a pile of bricks is a house or tons of concrete are a road.
        VFA
        You gotta start somewhere. You can’t believe that later science didn’t build even somewhat from those “lucky guesses”. Move that pile of bricks and you can still make a decent foundation out of them.

        YOS
        Most of Greek science consisted of wild guesses unsupported by empirical evidence. The Greeks never let inconvenient facts get in the way of a really kool theory. And the dude that did conceive of the philosophy of nature as a coherent body of knowledge and method was Aristotle, who is more important retrospectively in the Middle Ages than he had been in pagan Greece. His logic and reason led him to eschew traditional paganism in favor of monotheism. (Aquinas’ First Way came from Aristotle.)
        As for the Romans, they thought that the gods could be placated, but not understood; so they had engineering but not science. In mathematics, for example, they translated enough arithmetic to count booty and enough geometry to survey conquests; but otherwise the bulk of Greek natural philosophy and of Greek literature went untranslated into Latin.
        VFA
        The Romans didn’t care about science beyond the useful parts, as you said. It might have something to do with all the conquering and ruling and defending boarders and such. Look from Greece onward, and you really only find decent scientific advancement when there’s enough peace to let some thinkers settle down and do their thinkin’. Rome didn’t have that, Greece lost it pretty quickly. The Christians only got it because they had fortified, armed, protected monasteries within which they could do their thinking and studying. You again ascribe theology where culture, era, and time play a much bigger role.
        Also, I like how you completely ignore the Christian destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Nothing like torching the greatest collection of knowledge the ancient world ever saw to advance “science”.
        . .
        YOS
        Not well versed in Late Antiquity, I see. When did Constantinople or Alexandria lose their paved streets or switch to thatched roofs? Or Venice, for that matter? The city of Rome suffered indeed; but mainly at the hands of Goths, Vandals, and Arabs; but most of the Western provinces never did have much infrastructure. The paved roads and aqueduct systems presupposed an imperial government with unified authority over the whole and access to the wealth of the Eastern cities. (Most taxes were still being collected “in kind” in Gaul, Britain, and Iberia, even before the Second Wave of saracen, viking, and magyar barbarians rolled over the towns.
        VFA
        All true. It only furthers my earlier point about how science really only moves forward in times of peace, though.
        . .
        YOS
        The Byzantines never forgot. And the Nestorian Christians of Syria translated Greek learning into Syriac, which they later used to translate into Arabic for the conquerors. The West never lost Latin know-how, although they did lose the financial means to do much with it. They were writing plays and poems “in imitation of” Horace, Terrence, et al. even during the Frankish and Carolingian ages. They did lose access to Greek philosophy, largely because the old pagans had never bothered translating it into Latin, the old bi-lingual Roman counts and senators gave way to Franks, Goths, Lombards, and Saxons who never knew how to read Greek. But they used the Roman encyclopedias — Pliny and Macrobius — in their schools, and Boethius had begun translating Aristotle even while the Goths were still in charge.
        You are correct to say the Latin Christians had to struggle in ways that the Greek, Coptic, and Syriac Christians did not. Western Europe was effectively cut off from Byzantium when the muslim saracens conquered the Mediterranean islands, most of Espania, and sacked the towns of Italy. Meanwhile waves of pagan vikings poured in from the northlands and hordes of pagan magyars swept in from the eastern steppes. Hard to stay focused on what people another thousand years in the future think should have been important to them.
        VFA
        That last sentence nails it. I don’t agree with Kenneth that what little survived was promptly “forgotten”. However, nothing was ever built further from it. As you pointed out, science and literature were copied and imitated, but never saw any real growth. Again because of war and instability.
        . .
        YOS
        On the contrary, the Arabs got it from the Christians they conquered. The Byzantine Greeks had preserved and studied the ancient Greek heritage (though they gradually forgot the pragmatic Roman heritage). And the Nestorian Syriac Christians translated it all into Syriac for their own study and later into Arabic. As for the Latins, Jacques de Venise got Aristotle directly from the Byzantines and brought him to Mt. St.-Michel. Likewise, William of Moerbeke translated Archimedes and other texts directly from the Greek in Byzantine Sicily. Gerard of Cremona went to Toledo, but that was possible only after it had been liberated. The effort, as beforesaid, began already in Gothic times.
        VFA
        The Crusades, as a whole, were a dismal failure, and despite the knowledge regained (whichever it’s source), it really only served to divide the European and Byzantine Chruches further, preventing that centralized power and authority that the Church enjoyed in later years, when science really took off.
        . ..
        YOS
        “Innovation” is not the same as “science-in-the-modern-sense.” We need only mention
        universities and other corporations, local government, parliaments, windmills, camshafts and automated water mills, verge-and-foliot escapements, mechanical clocks, eye glasses, wheeled plows, hydraulic hammers, toothed wheels, transmission shafts, steam blowers, blast furnaces, treadles, spinning wheels, trebuchets and mangonels, crossbows, flying buttresses, stained glass, elliptical arches, cranks, overhead springs, coiled springs, horse collars, gunpowder and pots de fer, the mizzen mast, the compass rose, portolans, stern rudders, anaerobic curing of fatty fish (“pickled herring”), double entry bookkeeping, screw-jacks, screw presses, and the printing press,…
        Not only that, but they made such innovation a divine command. “Indeed, man’s reasoning shines forth much more brilliantly in inventing these very things than ever it would have had man naturally possessed them.” — Hugh, Abbot of St. Victor, Didascalicon
        VFA
        Oh come on. This is such privileged hoo-hah I nearly lost it. Innovation, or your “modern science as we know it”? Sure, it was probably a proto-scientific method:
        “Hey, I’ve got an idea, what if…”
        “Why not? We’re not in danger of our lives, and I’ve got next Saturday free, let’s try it.”
        “Holy cow, it worked!”
        Assigning humanity’s natural curiosity and inventiveness to Christianity alone is hubris on a new scale.
        . ..
        YOS
        Artists? And here YOS thought you were talking science and technology. Name three instances of “religious obstruction.”
        VFA
        I’ll give you one, but it’s a doozy: evolution.
        . .
        YOS
        And here YOS had always thought that Protestants were also Christians. But please do not fall into the error of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc.” It is insufficient to cite temporal coincidence, you must explain what the “influence” was and show how it operated.
        VFA
        The greatest advances in science were done in a predominantly Christian culture, it’s true. Mostly due to the overwhelming power the Catholic Church wielded in the late Medieval period, wherein they could excommunicate kings and princes, dissolve any vows of allegiance held by their subjects, and put a new ruler in of their choosing. That kind of power tends to make people behave better than when everyone was still trying to just “convert the pagans”. Once everyone got on the same page, whether willingly or not, the centralized authority of the Church created a stable enough environment for real science to begin.
        Correlation does not necessarily lead to causation, dear boy.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          a) I am astonished to learn that Roman emperors did not stop acting like Roman emperors simply because they were sprinkled. Likewise, that vikings did not stop acting like vikings. But still, seizing moribund buildings by eminent domain and turning them over to friendlies to develop is not something exactly new. Pliny was already complaining to Trajan about empty and abandoned temples because Christianity was becoming too popular in his day. There are examples from Upper Egypt of active temples being seized by the Nitrian monks without imperial permission; but when, for example, the Arian emperor Constantius turned over an old temple on the outskirts of Alexandria to George the Arian bishop, it was abandoned and in ruins. (In the course of the renovations, George and his contractors discovered in the caverns beneath the building old cult objects, including a giant fake penis which they paraded through town (to much laughter, we might imagine, on the part of the women: So that’s what the boys were worshiping all this time! It figures!)

          When years later pagan rioters killed many Christians before taking refuge in the “acropolis of Alexandria,” the Serapaeum — where they ritually sacrificed their captives — Theodosius imp. ordered it taken down. It was one riot too many. Modern archeology tells us that only the temple was demolished, leaving the colonnade untouched. In the course of the demolition, Orthodox bishop Theophilus exposed the secret passage and speaking tube used by the pagan priests to fool people into thinking that the statue was talking. The crowd gasped when a soldier took an axe to the “Old Man,” because the world was supposed to end if something like that happened; but the Christians who chronicled the event noted wryly that it was only a dumb block of wood.

          An atheist history blogger put it this way in response to another commentator elsewhere:
          how “mounting evidence” that Christians closed down the irrational, superstitious cults of their religious rivals and no longer allowed painted priests to shake rattles and intone chants at incense-wreathed statues of Olympian gods somehow supports your thesis I really can’t fathom. The fact that the Flamen Dialis in Rome could no longer wear his magical hat, no longer observed his strange taboos against touching raw meat or beans and no longer had to carefully guard against sleeping in a bed whose legs were [not] smeared with clay may be sad if you’re into that kind of thing, but I can’t see what the death of such weird superstitions have to do with any argument about rationality.

          b) Medieval Christians followed Galen regarding disease and medicine. Inter alia, they developed “soporific sponges” to put surgery patients to sleep, conducted the first-ever medical autopsies, built hospitals to care for the sick whatever their means and status, etc. And of course, they prayed. Even during the Pest, whose rapid spread terrified everyone, they fell back on people poisoning the wells (a material cause) and not on demons.

          Of course, it is much easier to argue on a counterfactual. To argue based on what did in fact happen is oppressive, since facts keep getting in the way. To argue on what might have happened “if only” allows one to make up whatever rosy alternative history is best suited to the argument.

          That matter is “dead” was a belief of the Modern scientific revolution; but both the medievals and the moderns were correct to suppose that nature could not be controlled by shaking sprigs of mistel or because the Flamen Dialis wore a magic red hat.

          You can’t believe that later science didn’t build even somewhat from those “lucky guesses”.

          c) Science is not a collection of facts, period. A tinkerer who learns that doing X results in Y “always or for the most part” is not doing science in the Modern meaning of the term. You are doing science when you try to explain how doing X results in Y “always or for the most part.”

          The Christians only got it because they had fortified, armed, protected monasteries

          d) You have to be kidding, right? Fortified? Armed? Protected? Nearly every monastery and town in the West was burned at one time or another by pagan vikings, pagan magyars, or muslim saracens. Burgundy, in the dead center of the West, was ravaged by all three.

          I like how you completely ignore the Christian destruction of the Library of Alexandria.

          e) Because it never happened. Ancient pagan writers like Plutarch, Strabo, et al. ascribed the loss to Julius Caesar during the Second Alexandrine War. Certainly Strabo, who worked in Alexandria for a time and who has left us a detailed description of the city, could hardly have failed to notice the existence of a building as large and as important as the Library supposedly was. Yet he makes no mention of it. Strabo says in Book I:
          Why, Eratosthenes takes all these matters actually established by the testimony of the men who had been in the regions, for he has read many historical works, with which he was well supplied if he had a library as large as Hipparchus says it was.
          Eratosthenes was the fifth Librarian of Alexandria. IOW, Strabo had heard of the Royal Library and that Hipparchus of Rhodes — a contemporary and critic of Eratosthenes — had said the library was pretty damn big. Strabo was lamenting that he did not have access to as much geographical materials as Eratosthenes supposedly had. Estimates of the size of the library tended to increase over time, much like the size of the fish that got away. Alexandria however continued to be a great learning center until the Arab conquest. (After which the Arabs replaced the entire city with Cairo.) The Royal Library was never the only large collection of scrolls in the city: there was the Claudian Library (founded by Claudius I imp.) and the Caesarean Library (founded by Hadrian imp. during his visit to the city).

          But Caesar’s troops may have gotten a bum rap from ancient pagan authors. There are no contemporary references to the Library after the reign of Ptolemy Physkon. Following his successful coup, Physkon (“The Sausage”) “expelled all intellectuals: philologists, philosophers, professors of geometry, musicians, painters, schoolteachers, physicians and others, with the result that these brought ‘education to Greeks and barbarians elsewhere,’ per Menecles of Barca. The list of Librarians ends with Aristarchus of Samothrace, the eighth Librarian, during Physkon’s reign.

          In any case, the entire Palace District, where the Museum and Royal Library were located, were laid waste by Aurelian and later by Diocletian in the wars of reunification. The two resulting firestorms were not likely kind to any papyrus scrolls that may have survived that long.

          The myth that the Royal Library was burned by science-hating Christian haters of science originated with Gibbons. Although to Gibbons it was classical Hellenism-hating. Sagan changed that to science-hating.

          science really only moves forward in times of peace, though.

          e) So, no scientific breakthroughs during WW2, right? Or during the turbulent Age of Reason?

          Assigning humanity’s natural curiosity and inventiveness to Christianity alone is hubris on a new scale.

          f) Either that or it is simple history. What makes you think humanity is naturally curious? Su-Sung built a water-powered mechanical clock in the 11th century; but when the Jesuits arrived centuries later, it had been dismantled and the original treatise forgotten. When a mechanical escapement was independently invented in the West, entirely mechanical tower clocks were erected in public squares and towns vied with one another for the pride of erecting ever more elaborate installations. Counterweights were quickly followed by pendulums, then pendant clocks dangling from the neck, then table clocks and wristwatches. In Islam, the grand mufti of the Ottomans declared mechanical clocks to be haram and that was the end of it. A similar fate befell the telescope, which the Jesuits introduced into China not too many years after it had been invented. It was basically regarded with disinterest both by the mandarins and by the mujtahid. See Toby Huff’s Intellectual Curiosity for details.

          YOS: Name three instances of “religious obstruction.”
          VFA: I’ll give you one, but it’s a doozy: evolution.

          h) In what way was “evolution” obstructed? It seems to have flourished remarkably well. If anything, those who question whether a mid-Victorian English country squire got things right are the ones who are ridiculed, lose their jobs, etc. In fact, a more satisfactory and scientific theory — and one which saved the Darwinian bacon — viz., genetics, was developed by an Augustinian monk. Metaphysically, Aquinas reasoned that if any new species ever appeared, they would arise from natural causes:
          Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
          – Thomas Aquinas,
          Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3
          Perhaps you were not thinking of the scientific theory, but of the metaphysical baggage some people read into it.

          The greatest advances in science were done in a predominantly Christian culture, it’s true. Mostly due to the overwhelming power the Catholic Church wielded in the late Medieval period, wherein they could excommunicate kings and princes, dissolve any vows of allegiance held by their subjects, and put a new ruler in of their choosing. That kind of power tends to make people behave better

          i) Dude, you really need to read more history. It was precisely in the Late Medieval period that church authority began to crack. And it never reached the sort of power that partisans to the Modern Scientific State aspire to. Check the “Outrage at Anagni” or the sequel to Canossa. Or the Great Western Schism. You really must learn to replace myth with factual history.

          Correlation does not necessarily lead to causation, dear boy.

          Duh? Especially when you are trying to correlate some vague kind of “peace” and “central authority” to “scientific progress.” That isn’t even a correlation!

          • Gary Keith Chesterton

            PWNED.
            .
            .
            .

            • Vision_From_Afar

              Well, there’s a contribution to the discussion.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            I swore I was done with these.
            a) Theodosius imp. had already ordered the full destruction of all pagan temples, and the Serapaeum probably hadn’t seen a sacrifice in years, Constantine’s edict on sacrifice being punishable by death (the irony doesn’t escape me) was reinforced by Theodosius. Alexandria was a crazy time then, as you and Mark pointed out so eloquently, so it was more likely a fight broke out between a group of pagans and Christians, neither side was really innocent in that city for perpetrating violence.

            b) Considering that yes, a lot of the period after the 11th Century benefitted greatly from Galen, the fact is, for decades the early Chruch taught that some disese was God-sent and repentance and/or pilgrimage was the only possible cure. Even local herb-women were moved out because they couldn’t mesh their works and herbs into the Christian mythos. To argue for an entire period based on isolated enclaves of medical learning (by learning, we mostly mean that Greek, Roman, and Arabic texts) is a bit disingenuous, methinks.

            c) So the peasents and the monks “tinker”ed, and eventually someone decided to find out why. Without the impetus of the tinkerer, the scientist wouldn’t get started (at least for the examples you listed, which were inventions of things done by tinkering, not scientific principles).

            d) I think you’re exagerating more than a bit on the “everyone got sacked” bit, but okay. Also, just because they lost doesn’t mean they didn’t fight back.

            e) So, no scientific breakthroughs during WW2, right? Or during the turbulent Age of Reason?
            WW2 – Scientists had relative peace in the US mainland within which to work, so of course progress was made. You’re taking my statement too far, though it still applies. No one was bombing or shooting at the Manahattan Project crew, so though they worked in wartime, they had little relative fear for their lives. Age of Reason – I would argue here that most of the scientific, rather than philosphical and political, revalations appear before the conflict heated up, when there was, you guessed it no real fear for their lives.

            f) So your examples include introducing tools that had little use in foreign cultures and being surprised when no one really cared about it? I’d chalk that “everyone wanted a clock” in Europe bit more to the growing Western obcession with commerce and the beginnings of materialism (i.e. – bragging rights for owning the “latest and greatest.”

            h) So you’re arguing that evolution and genetics are exclusive, or only moderately conjoined? Darwin got quite a few things wrong, but archeological evidence since has proven while he didn’t paint the Mona Lisa, he slapped enough paint on the canvas to look like a smiling woman. Heck, we recently had to shove the origin date of human civilization back 20k years thanks to some new find.

            i) Dude, you really need to read more history. Ever heard of the Investiture Controversy? The Outrage of Anagni was simply blowback when the European royalty got tired of the Church lording (har har) over them the fact that, according to the Church, the kings only served at the Church’s pleasure, being the ultimate authority of God’s will on Earth. Poke someone as pompous as a French King long enough and he’s gonna strike back. The vast wealth controlled by both the Holy See and the Cardinals at the time didn’t help much either. The crown saw all that money heading straight out of it’s coffers and into a state that had little vested interest in keeping those in power…well…in power.

    • Ted Seeber

      Pagan means eschewing science because previous to Judaeo-Christianity, gods were seen as being so incredibly illogical and downright human that reason was impossible under those religions. If Odin and Thor can come and change all the natural rules on you because they had a bet that Thor lost, it is kind of hard to develop a coherent science.

    • Linus

      Of course ” ulterior motives ” can be found in the past and in the present but the original pagans converted by the Apostles were obviously sincere and for many hundreds of years after one had to face the possibility of real persecution and discrimination to be a Christian. And yes, the Arabs did hand on much of what they had learned to Christian culture but where did the Arabs get it – from the Christians they conqured ( this not to say that the Arabs had nothing original to offer but that the bases for their progress was taken from Christianity, esp the Christianity in current Iran and Syria. As for the state if infastructure in Middle Age Europe, it is hard to develope infastructure when the Muslims are a constant threat to your Western, Eastern, and Southern boarders and when the barbarians from the North are attacking the countery side. And learning did begin to flourish once things started to settle down, so did the arts. As far as science is concerned it began to flourish in institutions first founded by Christians and Christians have continued to take an active part in science and learning of all sorts since – which is more than you can say for real pagans as opposed to the ” Neo-Pagans ” of today. And of course Christianity saved pagan cultures from degenerating into a ” life of the jungle. ” And in the pagan jungles of Asia and Africa it has, slowly, brought former pagans into a life of the intellect and faith.
      I don’t know where you are getting your history but you need to do it over again with an eye to objectivity if you comprehend what that means. See YOS comments below, you might just learn something.

  • Pancho

    “After the fall of Rome, Christian Europe went from running water and paved road to a mud and thatched hut existence for most of a millenium, struggling to re-gain the know-how of the ancient world…..”

    You should read the book “Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths”, by Regine Pernoud. You will find things didn’t quite happen happen that way. Somewhere on his blog Mark has linked to a page debunking those myths. I can’t find the link right now but I’ll post it if I find it later, or maybe he’ll link to it again in the meantime.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    Proof that the Catholic Church has pagan origins: Galatians had pagan origins.

    • Linus

      That is absolute non-sense. To be believe only by uncritical minds in coffee clutches. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, read a Catholic Bible. Or would you just prefere to keep tossing out anti-Catholic cliches?

  • Nate

    Yeah. I’ll take a pagan, even of the neo, comfortable, bourgeois kind, any day of the week, over a hard boiled atheist/materialist.
    At least paganism is an ‘ism’ that isn’t completely incoherent. The pagan starts, rightly, with an enchanted conception of nature. Cool. I could do without their (seemingly tacked on) libertarian moral theory, which seems to contradict their metaphysical starting points.
    (It’s hard to be licentious on pelvic stuff if you reinsert teleology into nature. Just sayin’, yo.)
    Moreover, oh how I wish that the neo/bourgeois pagan would realize that their reliance on revisionist history re the big bad Catholic Church reads right out of the playbook of the atheist, who is no friend to the pagan.

    At any rate, I’ve always like D.B. Hart on this:

    “[I]t is not the case that the Christianity of late antiquity or even the early and high Middle Ages evacuated the world of supernatural or preternatural agency, or even that it regarded the gods of old merely as myths. It would be truer to say that the church subverted the ancient cosmology by subduing the ancient powers and demoting them to their proper place in the order of redeemed creation…Catholic Christianity–East and West–did not abandon antiquity’s vision of a world alive in every part, charged with vital intellect; it saw the motive force at the heart of creation not as an unreasoning engine of material causality, but as an ecstasy of spiritual intelligence and desire. The entire cosmos, it was possible to believe, was drawn ever onward by the yearning of all things for the goodness of God. It was possible to believe, indeed, that the principle of all physical and spiritual motion was, in Dante’s phrase, ‘the love that moves the sun an other starts.’ What had never yet arisen in imagination was ‘nature’ in the modern sense: a closed causal continuum, conceived (by theists) as the intricate artifice of a God whose transcendence is a kind of absence, or (by atheists) as a purely fortuitous event…”

    By the way, Hart tells a fascinating story about his Great Uncle Aloysius. http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2011/07/great-uncle-aloysius/david-b-hart

    • http://www.likelierthings.com Jon W

      Sweet quote.

      I mean, really, really, really, really sweet quote.

      [There. Happy now, WordPress?]

    • Mark Shea

      That’s the irony of this: having actually been a pagan myself, I have a lot of sympathy for pagans, particularly in comparison to hard-boiled atheists. I appreciate the enchanted view of nature. However, having been a pagan, I’m also aware of the weaknesses of paganism and don’t think sugar-coating it is any more productive than sugar-coating the flaw of the Catholic communion.

    • enness

      I have a Pagan friend who constantly reminds me that the gulf between a believer in something and a believer in nothing is far wider.

      • Mark Shea

        I agree. Which is why I have a high view of paganism.

  • http://bigpulpit.com/ Tito Edwards

    Joss Whedon fantasy universe dressed like a Frank Frazetta heroine.

    I miss Firefly too!

    • http://www.likelierthings.com Jon W

      We all do, son. We all do.

  • JB

    Give me that old Aphrodite,
    She looks sexy in her nightie,
    She can be a little flighty
    But she’s good enough for me!
    Give me that old..time…religion..

    • Nicole Youngman

      Oh we worship like the Druids
      Running naked through the woo-ids
      Drinking strange fermented fluids
      And it’s good enough for me…. :D

      • JB

        Gimme that old Zarathustra
        They don’t make gods like they used ta
        I’m a Zarathustra booster,
        He’s good enough for me!

  • http://www.hancaquam.blogspot.com PNP, OP

    “. . .sexually liberated votress of a goddess from a Joss Whedon fantasy universe dressed like a Frank Frazetta heroine.” LOL! That, Mark Shea, almost made me spew my coffee.

    Your description of suburban neo-paganism couldn’t be more accurate. I was a neo-pagan in the 90′s–for reasons we shan’t discuss–and you hit the Horned God square betwixt his goated eyes. Your description here could easily be applied to the syncretism of the LCWR-types sisters in the Church as well.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  • Kirt Higdon

    We are all born pagan and grace, including the grace of Baptism builds on nature. Of course, human nature has been corrupted by original sin and that includes the natural human religion of paganism. So in a sense, Christianity is paganism redeemed. St. Paul didn’t tell the pagan Athenians they had it all wrong; he pointed out to them where they had it right. The philosophy of at least some of those pagan Greeks has become a key foundation to Christian theology.

    BTW – off topic, but I had to share this with someone. I’ve been reading a book on Pakistan and it’s fascinating stuff. Apparently some branches of Sufi Islam practiced there have not only saints, but living saints, and saint dynasties. One of the perks of being a living saint is being able to declare other people saints and one of the most prominent of the current living saints declared Pope John-Paul II to be a great saint. We Catholics thought the Church was fast-tracking him to sainthood, but the Moslems already beat us to it.

  • Star Foster

    My name is Star. Four letters. Quite simple. You keep denying me the simple act or respect and courtesy of calling me by my name. The one my Baptist parent gave me. That alone illustrates your lack of ability to engage in meaningful dialogue with other faiths.

    • Mark Shea

      My mistake. I missed this. There. Sixth apology. Here’s hoping you grow a little patience and mercy for minor mistakes because you’ve pretty much convinced me to never again care if I’ve offended you. Give it a rest.

      • Star Foster

        An apology includes an acknowledgement you were wrong.

        • Mark Shea

          An apology *is* an acknowledgement I was wrong. Six apologies is an acknowlegement you like to try to make people crawl. Grow up. You’re done here.

  • Nicole Youngman

    I could write another freaking dissertation on the inaccuracies here, but I’ll stick to correcting one common one: this idea that Pagans “worship the creation instead of the Creator.” That’s straight out of the Bible, of course, but we don’t define ourselves or our beliefs by that framework. The truth is that Pagans almost always don’t make a distinction between “creator” and “creation.” For us, deity is *immanent*–it’s IN the world, it IS the world, it doesn’t exist out in the ether somewhere as an eternal unchanging etc etc “creator.”

    In any case, I really do wonder why Mark and others like him would bother going on and on about us so much. If you don’t like the religion, for goodness’ sake, don’t practice it. It’s not like our existence has any actual influence on your life. Enjoy the religion you like best and allow us the same courtesy. The primary difference between us and monotheistic orthodoxy/fundamentalism is that we really truly honestly DO NOT CARE what religion anyone else practices. If someone’s worshiping a Moon of Great Green Cheese, who the heck cares? We think you’re wrong about all kinds of things, and you think the same about us, but to us it just doesn’t matter, as long as you leave us the heck alone. Unfortunately however that’s the one thing your theology won’t allow you to do.

    • Nate

      Hi Nicole,
      You raise some good points, but I think you might be slightly misunderstanding what Mark means when he says that you worship creation instead of the Creator. He is not saying that the Pagan believes in the existence of a transcendent God, but ignores it. He, as well as everyone else on this thread, are fully aware that the Pagan doesn’t believe in this last step in the hierarchy of being. So you should read his phrase as, ‘The pagan [wrongly] worships [believes in a deity immanent to] creation instead of [rightly believing in and worshiping] the [transcendent] Creator. I would have thought that the context would have made good sense of his phrase here, but at any rate, let’s clear that up.
      Moreover, if you go back and read what we all say, you’ll find that understand what the pagans believe just fine. Your thoughts about the immanence of the deity (or deities) is spot on re what the pagans believe. Moreover, as you’ll also see, the Roman Catholic doesn’t *entirely* poo poo the pagan. There’s a Venn Diagram that can be drawn, to be sure.

      As for why we care so much, well, bracketing many things that are relevant to why this conversation got going to begin with, I might simply point out that *we (Roman Catholics) care about the salvation of souls. False belief and practice aren’t merely parts of a silly hobby: they carry eternal consequences. From the bourgeois pagan’s perspective, that the Roman Catholic engages false belief from the assumption of the truth of the four last things might seem strange to you. But it’s all to the point, as far as we’re concerned.

      Cheers.

      • WhiteBirch

        “Moreover, if you go back and read what we all say, you’ll find that understand what the pagans believe just fine. ”

        As a practicing Pagan, nobody except the other Pagan commenters has had much to say about what I believe. In this piece Mark addressed my sincerely held religious beliefs flat out as “playing at fantasy” and referred to us as “dilettantes”. I don’t think you have to like or approve of my religion, but I’d ask you to concede that if I say I am practicing a religion sincerely you don’t translate it to games and dabbling. That seems the basic bottom line of respect here.

        • Mark Shea

          Since I do not know you and have no idea what your beliefs and practices are I cannot have been referring to you (unless you wish to claim credit for believing things that have no basis in actual historic paganism.

          • WhiteBirch

            You’re blanket addressing neo-paganism. I’m a neo-pagan. Therefore you’re addressing me. You don’t have to know you’re addressing me specifically to hit me with your overly broad net.

    • Pancho

      “I really do wonder why Mark and others like him would bother going on and on about us so much.”

      He doesn’t. Just scroll down a few pages of his blog and you’ll see that. Whenever he does mention pagans in his blog it’s normally about paleo-pagans (as Rosemarie on the other post called them ) rather than neo-pagans. Just look, you’ll see.

      The reason these last posts became so lively is because Kenneth made some strong and debatable claims and Star objected to being quoted under her Facebook handle. Which to me is confusing since I thought Facebook is basically one big fancy public message-board and on any message-board I’ve been on people get mad if you use that person’s real-life name without permission and *not* his/her handle or avatar. This makes it sound as if Facebook is like Las Vegas (“Whatever happens on Facebook stays on Facebook”).

      • Rosemarie

        +J.M.J+

        Just wanted to point out that I didn’t coin the term “Paleo-paganism.” I believe the late Isaac Bonewitz did.

        • Pancho

          Thanks! *time to google Isaac Bonewitz*

        • Ted Seeber

          WOW- 5 marriages. I think Isaac Bonewitz’s personal life pretty much disproves Neo-Paganism for me as a sustainable religion. But his name makes me wonder if the Protestant MTV Video-parody artist Carmen was lampooning him in “Witch’s Invitation”:
          http://www.elyrics.net/read/c/carman-lyrics/a-witch_s-invitation-lyrics.html

          The names are just so similar……

          • Vision_From_Afar

            Seriously? One guy turns you off to an entire religion? That’s like me looking up Rasputin or Charlemagne and deciding Christianity isn’t sustainable. If you’re not willing to look any deeper, I suppose Neo-Paganism really isn’t for you after all.

            • Ted Seeber

              Well, to tell the truth- I was turned off to paganism when I realized they were a bunch of Moral Relativists back in my 20s.

              This just put the nail in the coffin.

              And I’m still wondering (can’t even find this theory online, but boy do the timelines match up) if “Isaac Horowitz” in Witch’s Invitation was inspired by Isaac Bonewitz (just too spooky how that video came out at the same time as Bonewitz’s books).

            • Ted Seeber

              2nd reply- that’s also why I’m Catholic, not Christian (well, Oral Roberts rather than Rasputin, but same diff).

    • Mark Shea

      Right. You and other pagans are here screaming at me because you do not care what I believe. Nobody’s doing anything to you. One of your number decided to wail on a priest for talking about what an exorcist might look for in diagnosing a possible case of demon possession. He didn’t advocate possession as a preferred diagnosis to more mundane explanations like mental illness or drugs or whatnot (so that’s a red herring). He didn’t say “Pagans are demonic”. It was Jason and Star that chose to read him that way and take an insult where none was given (since he did not, in fact, say anything about pagans). I replied to this hyper-sensitivity and now you are all here, yelling at me because I give my frank assessment of historically unsound neo-paganism (while also expressing my sympathy for paganism).

      And all while telling me you don’t care what I think.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/panmankey jason

        The problem with your piece is that it’s also historically unsound. You are acting as if you are some sort of expert on Contemporary Paganism (please use capital letters) when your words prove otherwise. You continually make the argument that Modern Paganism is somehow a fake religion because some of its Foundation Myths are not literally true, yet the same can be said about Christianity. You can’t use history to discredit Paganism while claiming a guy came back from the dead. There’s just as much proof linking Modern Paganism to Witchcraft from the Middle Age as there is confirming that Jesus rose from the dead.

        • Mark Shea

          Uh, yes. I can. Christianity continues to say that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The original witnesses to the event most emphatically insist they are eyewitnesses to a historic event, not purveyors of a Foundation Myth.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            If your definition of “eyewitness” is “someone wrote down what they heard 200+ years later”, we’re lucky you don’t have a say in our judicial system.
            I have no beef with Christianity as a theology, but the arrogance of some of it’s members gets my hackles up something fierce.

            • Mark Shea

              No. The gospels (and 1 Cor) are accounts written by eyewitnesses or people very close to eyewitnesses. You need to familiarize yourself with New Testament scholarship.

              • Vision_From_Afar

                Okay, so I exagerated the 200+ years, my memory was a little fuzzy, since it’s been a while since I debated Biblical accuracy. Still, tell me how good your memory is 30-50 years after an event told to you by a friend of a friend? Most scholars consider Mark the only really original text, the others just copied it and flavored it with their own oral tradition at the time. Still no “eyewitness”, though.

                • Mark Shea

                  Heh. what you are basically saying is, “So I confused eyewitnesses to the assassination of JFK writing their accounts in 1990 with fantasy authors making up crap about the murder of George Washington by poisoned tomato.” You really do have an amazingly low view of the intelligence of pre-moderns. What you are asking me to swallow is the claim that Neo-pagan “scholarly” reconstructions of pagan rites based on guesses is totally reliable, while the testimony of eyewitnesses writing when upwards of 500 witnesses to the Resurrection are still alive–multiply attested by the testimony of four other people recording their own or others eyewitnesses testimony–is junk. Beiieve the “scholarship” reconstructing, at a distance of millennia, cultic practices of people who deliberately refused to record their rites. Ignore the scholarship based on a paper trail that begins at a distance in time as close as the opening years of the Clinton Administration.

                  And no. Scholars do not consider Mark the only original text. Mark is probably *a* source for Luke and Matthew. Know why? Because he’s recording Peter’s (and his own) eyewitness experience and Luke and Matthew are concerned to use eyewitnesses accounts. They also use other materials from eyewitnesses. They *know* these people, just as a historian of the Clinton administation still has lots of living witnesses to talk to. Seriously, you need to familiarize yourself with actual NT scholarship. Also you need to realize that the earliest written testimony to the resurrection come from Paul (1 Cor 15) not the gospels. That’s not because “Paul invented Christianity”. It’s because he and the evangelists are all drawing on the tradition of the 12, and Paul adds a coda saying, “I saw the risen Christ too”.

                  • Vision_From_Afar

                    I was, really, going to leave this alone, but I just can’t.
                    I did some research, and no, I wasn’t far off, you are. There is no original copy of any of the gospels that we can date earlier than 150 CE. Couple that with the fact that every copy we have before the Council of Rome in 382 has different words and different versions, with zero mention of even a virgin birth in two of them, and you’ve got a recipe for dissension in the ranks.
                    Where is the testimony of these 500? Three of the earliest Christians we have writings for, namely Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, don’t even mention the gospels until after 150 CE.
                    What scholars are you reading? I’d like some historical scholars who agree with this “eyewitness” theory, because all the reputable ones I can find can’t find a single eyewitness account of Jesus anywhere. Outside of the Bible, of course.

                    • SouthCoast

                      “There is no original copy of any of the gospels that we can date earlier than 150 CE. ” The Gospels are transciptions of the oral tradition of the early Church. And if you don’t believe how accurate oral traditions can be, you haven’t spent much time around your local anthropologists (or, for that matter, paid attention to your grandmas and great-aunts when you were growing up).

        • Mark Shea

          Your argument is a non sequitur. I claim no expertise. I simply point out the fact that the historical claims adduced for neo-paganism are rubbish. You agree. You then try to insist that the historical claims for Christianity are also rubbish. I disagree. The evidence for the Resurrection is actually quite powerful, as is the evidence for the the deity of Jesus.

  • Carey

    Of course Neo-Paganism is a modern religion filled with anachronistisms and fictions. We are inspired by ancient ways, we aren’t trying to emulate them. Who on earth would want to go back to the misogyny of ancient Greece, the poor hygiene of the Anglo-Saxons, etc?
    I’m not unaware of the anachronisms and the cherry-picking and the romantic filters and the fabrications. I deliberately embrace them. That’s part of the beauty of modern Paganism: selecting the parts that work WITH a modern religious framework, and rejecting the parts that don’t. I don’t need an ancient, intact system to feel I’ve got things “right”. My soul knows beauty, virtue, wisdom, and power when it encounters them, regardless of their source (ancient, modern, or *gasp* fictional). I’m okay with Paganism being modern, anachronistic, eclectic, syncretic, and laced with fantasy and fiction.
    It’s interesting that you’re changing the subject by throwing those arguments around — attacking modern Pagans as somehow being ignorant or wrong, even if we know these things already (and yet are still Pagan!) — instead of manning up and addressing the point about whether the narrative of demon possession detracts from logical and helpful assessment of risks and behaviors, mental health screening, etc., and replaces it with exorcisms and witch hunts… or the fact that you said dabbling in paganism leads to demon possession. Way to throw up a smoke screen and try to dodge responsibility.
    Also, did you really say in one sentence that ancient paganisms weren’t a monolith, and then in another suggest that if we want to know about real paganism we should look at Tibetan Buddhism, and African indigenous religions, as if they are even remotely similar? Or as if Buddhism is in any way Pagan? WTF? And you accuse us of being ignorant?

    • Nate

      Wow.
      Ok. Perhaps I’ll limit this query to two points.
      1) Did anybody who raised the issue of demon possession regarding the tragedy in Colorado do so in an attempt to discredit or even downplay the importance of modern medicine, psychiatry, or health screening? If you can find someone in this thread or the original one saying something like this, then they should be chastised. Otherwise, I worry that your charge of smoke screen is a smoke screen.
      2) I don’t want to sound mean, but…if I’m reading you right, you are saying that you have made up your own religion. Is that what you’re saying? Because if that’s what you’re saying, I’m not really sure how to respond other than your second to last question in your own post.

      Cheers.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        1) Neo-pagans all get very, very touchy when the words “demonic possession”, “exorcism”, and the like are bandied about, due to both modern and historical context. Many times pagans have been accused of the same thing (demonic possession), and had little recourse when the Church came down on them for it. Even in modern times, there are many in the Church and out of it who correlate the rise of modern Neo-Paganism with the uptick in the number of exorcisms performed/requested. While the scales are completely different, it really is akin to mentioning ethnic clensing around Jews.
        2) Of course we did. We don’t claim an unbroken historical lineage back to those who “made it up” centuries ago, so we’re making it up “again”, using what we do know about the original believers. Yours is just as made up, but a wee bit older. Age does not a valid religion make, unless you want to argue that some tribal religions which pre-date Christianity are somehow more “valid” than Christianity?

    • Pancho

      “Or as if Buddhism is in any way Pagan?”

      Basically, yes. It is pre-Christian and non-Judeo-Christian. It’s also non-Abrahamic (to cover the Muslims). That’s the definition of pagan. Aristotle was a great philosopher and his work even influenced Christianity, but he was still a pagan.

      “Also, did you really say in one sentence that ancient paganisms weren’t a monolith, and then in another suggest that if we want to know about real paganism we should look at Tibetan Buddhism, and African indigenous religions, as if they are even remotely similar?”

      Someone else was making claims about the survival and continuity of paganism amongst European-Americans and Mark was pointing out the inconsistencies between modern, Western (neo-)paganism and how paganism was actually practiced in the past or today in the rest of the world in living traditions.

      He wasn’t saying Tibetan Buddhists have the same cosmology as Vodun practitioners. He was pointing out how modern (neo-Pagans) often have more consistent with modern secularized Westerners than with old-school pagans in the developing world when it comes to stuff like sexual mores, ritual impurity, taboos, etc.

      And there *are* commonalities between religions. That’s why there’s the study of comparative religion. That’s why Catholics get accused themselves of being pagans by certain Protestant fundamentlists, because we chant and burn incense and light candles and drink wine and wear cool robes.

      • Irenist

        Indeed, Hinduism is what a thriving Indo-European paganism in the modern world looks like. As Buddhism is, from a historical perspective, a heterodox school of Vedic philosophy that still largely accepts the Hindu cosmology of devas (gods) and so forth, it is pagan. In many ways, Buddhism is to orthodox Hinduism as Stoicism was to mainstream Greco-Roman paganism: more interested in contemplation and self-control, but not really focused on challenging the cosmology. To call Buddhism pagan is not to insult it. It is merely to be aware that Indo-European paganism has an “Indo-” half that has done a far better job of surviving into the modern world.

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com/ Kauko

    And like most people who don’t actually know anything about Paganism (it’s so cute the way people like you are so insistent on writing it as a non-capitalized ‘neo-paganism’ as a kind of back handed insult) all you can do is try to reduce us to a pathetic straw man that your slavering followers eat up and go home thinking, ‘He sure told them!’

    You want to talk about people living in a fantasy world. Well, here’s one for you: Oh Europe was converted so peacefully. Everyone just couldn’t wait to become Christian. You want to know how my ancestors became Christian? Like the rest of the Baltic region, my Finnish ancestors became Christian when their Germanic neighbors launched a Crusade to forcibly convert the area. And, after that forced conversion, by the 19th century places of Finland were still practicing a syncretic religion filled with pre-Christian Gods, spirits and practices.

    Another fallacy that can we please just throw out is that modern Pagans somehow have to adopt every practice of every Pagan culture in history. Oh you’re not Maori cannibals! Ooooo you’re not women hating Greeks! You see, as Pagans we’re not tied down to an Iron Age collection of fallible writings as the Ultimate Truth of the Universe Written by God Himself That Is Infallible and Can’t Go Wrong. As Pagans we can allow for the fact that societies and cultures can change.

    It’s pretty clear that your whole view of ‘neo-paganism’ is just a really bad stereotype of New Age-y Wicca. Well, on behalf of those Modern Pagans/ Heathens etc who are neither Wiccan nor New Agers, I politely ask you to learn something real about who we are and what it is that we do before you open your mouth to spew out nonsense.

    • JoshthePagan

      Well put! He went from demonic possession to a full on attack on paganism that was filled with stereotypes, half-truths, and outright misinformation. If you are going to have an intelligent conversation about religion, you cannot dismiss an entire religious group as being “fake”. Please do tell me, when does a religion obtain a status of being real and accepted? Is Scientology real? Further back, are Baptists real? Or is the only real church the original version of the most popular religion on the planet?

      Mark, you put down a religious group that is made up of re-constructionists as if what they do is make believe and would be more at home in the movie The Dark Crystal. What is so wrong about a people who want to learn more about how their ancestors worshiped and try to piece together the puzzle. If it turns them into decent people, where is the harm? Is it because their team lost and they should move on?

      Also, what is wrong with eclectic paganism? You say that we would be better off following one of the many current “real pagans” as what eclectic pagans do “wastes all this time inventing a fake synthetic paganism based on some suburbanites’ supposings about what esoteric sects did centuries ago”. Why should I join a group of people when they are not of my culture and I may not believe in what they do? Besides, it may even be an insult to them if I were to begin practicing their beliefs without their help or consent. With this statement you act as if Christianity is exempt from this label. Not like Christians ever adopted traditions, beliefs, and practices from the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and the Germanic and Celtic tribes. Not like Christians ever picked and chose what they adopted as a part of their spirituality.

      I’m not asking for you to say my religion is superior, but your attitude of dismissing any belief, no matter how different or new to the world as being less then worthless, is quite insulting.

    • Irenist

      “It’s pretty clear that your whole view of ‘neo-paganism’ is just a really bad stereotype of New Age-y Wicca.”
      Read my comment in the last thread, to which Mr. Shea linked in the o.p. above. I have personal experience with Celtic Reconstructionism. It’s a far cry from the silliness of Wicca, but all the research in the world doesn’t save it from being a boutique sect for the bourgeois.

      • JoshthePagan

        That’s lovely and that is your viewpoint to which you are entitled. You have some experience with it and it seems that you have indeed looked around for where you belong spiritually. Wicca and Celtic reconstructionism may not survive the century and maybe they will give birth to other ways of thinking. Maybe all Paganism needs to be is someone who is a naturalist with some spiritual leanings in their discoveries.

        That does not make it “silly” nor does it make it “rootless and contrived” as you say in your linked post. It is not the religious group nor the particular religion in the end that needs to survive, but what they are trying to do and that is to connect with the world around us in a way that Christian Dominionism has taken us away from. Paganism tries to teach us that we are a part of the whole and not separate from it.

        This may be practiced in many ways and I’m sorry if you found it too hokey, fictitious, and even made up. However, there are tens of thousands of people find it enlightening, freeing, spiritually satisfying, holy, and fulfilling. The OP and you don’t agree with it, and that is fine. But your superior attitudes of knowing all and everyone else who doesn’t see it that way is deluded or acting out fantasies is quite rude.

        So please feel free to worship your angry Old Testament god who slaughtered first born babies (who were innocent by all modern viewpoints of any wrongdoing), laid waste to cities, gave birth to himself, through himself, had his followers symbolically eat him, die, become a zombie, and then disappear into heaven to join himself/his father. To me that sounds silly, but I’m not about to judge. If you find it spiritually fulfilling and it makes you a better person, so be it. All I ask is that you grant anyone else that same courtesy and not treat them as inferior.

        Thank you and have a wonderful day! =)

        • Irenist

          Josh the Pagan, I agree that for some, paganism makes them feel the numinous while Christianity leaves them cold. Nevertheless, I think that Christianity is true, and paganism either Jungian LARPing or unintentionally demonic idolatry (as St. Augustine argues in the first half of “City of God”) by honorable but misguided people worshiping rebellious creatures of the Creator who are unworthy of latria (worship). I think these are the only two logically defensible alternatives for reasons involving a commitment to the persuasiveness of Aristotelian-Thomistic epistemology and metaphysics that aren’t really defensible in a combox, although I’d point you to Edward Feser’s blog for lots more. All that said, I hope you have a wonderful day, too. You sound like a kindhearted fellow.

        • Ted Seeber

          A true naturalist and a true Celtic Reconstructionist would become Catholic

          • Vision_From_Afar

            [citation needed]

            • Irenist

              Well, the ancient pagan Celts all DID become Catholic.

      • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com/ Kauko

        Actually, as I recall, you said you were involved with Ár nDraíocht Féin, which is quite distinct from Celtic Reconstructionism. As to anything being a “boutique sect for the bourgeois”, so what? You keep saying that as if it settles the matter in your favor. It’s pretty clear that you Catholics here have established some arbitrary line as to what constitutes authentic religion, and you’ll just keep moving that line to suit your purposes. All of your and Shea’s and anyone else’s talk of some made up distinction between ‘authentic’ Paganism and ‘neo-paganism’ amounts to nothing more than rhetoric that serves nothing but to make yourselves feel better because, hey, we’re not real Pagans anyway. I hear it over and over from Catholic commenters around Patheos. It seems like your default favorite rhetorical method for addressing modern Paganism. And, in any case, modern Paganism is far more diverse, and becoming even more so every day, than you seem to be willing to give credit for. Please, try to keep yourself from boiling us down to some negative straw man stereotype. Your personal experiences in various types of modern Pagan groups don’t make you an expert on all forms of Paganism. At best, your time in Ár nDraíocht Féin can only inform you what it was like in the specific group with which you were involved. You may have “found the ceremonies to be spiritually vapid Live Action Role Playing littered with pop-culture-inspired anachronisms.” And that’s fine, you have your right to feel that way about your experiences there. That doesn’t mean that that is true for everyone. I’ve been to my share of Church services and, on the whole, they’ve been dreadfully dull affairs. Does that mean that I should belittle the real experiences of those who attend such services weekly and get a great deal from them?

        • JoshthePagan

          Kauko, exactly. I posted something of this below, but everyone has different experiences. To call yourself the authority on what constitutes a real religion is plain arrogant. I wonder what the bible says about judging others….

          Matthew 7:1-5
          Luke 6:37
          John 7:24
          James 4:12
          Romans 14:1-13

          • Mark Shea

            It is not “judging others” to say, “I disagree with your claims of fact.” It is judging others to say, “Your erroneous claims of fact mean I know you are going to hell.” Please learn elementary moral distinctions before condemning others as “plain arrogant”.

            • JoshthePagan

              And please read what I wrote above and below. The arrogance in this article and some of the responses is not based on judgement of others, but on the determination that because a religion doesn’t meet someone’s definition of a “real” religion that the person’s faith is misplaced or wrong in some fashion. THAT is arrogance. We didn’t even get as far into the conversation as what we say as being right, just that it is dismissed immediately as not even being real.

              If you are going to insult someone as not knowing “elementary moral distinctions”, then please read up on the whole statement. If I wasn’t clear enough, you could always ask what I mean by my statement before the insult. I do my best to make sure that I am typing my thoughts coherently, but this posting was a complete slap in the face that needed to be addressed.

              • Mark Shea

                The biblical passages you adduce to call Jesus as a witness against judging are not referring to “making judgments about matters of fact”. They are referring to making judgments about the eternal standing of other human beings in the eyes of God. I make no claims about your standing before God, nor about anybody else’s standing. My judgments concern claims of fact about the extremely common allegations that neo-paganism constitutes the re-emergence of the Ancient Religion after millennia of oppression by Christians and similar Evil White Males. It’s not. It’s documentably not. And because it’s not, some neo-pagans here try to whistle past this be saying it doesn’t matter that the whole thing is just stuff made up recently. Others try to sell it as the fruit of scholarly research and the “instruction of the Gods”. And still others say, “Oh yeah? Well, Christian history is all made up and history is hugely important and it is too the Ancient Religion!”

                No. It’s not. It’s documentably not. There are real paganisms still floating around. But neo-paganism is, indeed, a boutique sect cobbled together by post-moderns. It differs fundamentally from pre-Christian paganism in that it is not an organic growth from the fallen human imagination groping toward God and intuiting stuff from nature, but is, instead, deeply and fundamentally reactionary and is carefully calculated (largely by post-Christian suburbanites) to reject Christ in a way radically different from pre-Christian paganism. It is a divorcee whereas pre-Christian paganism was a virgin.

                That is not, by the way, saying that neo-paganism is not a real religion (whatever that means). It’s saying it is a synthetic, unconvincing, and incoherent one. Mormonism is a real religion too. So is Scientology. That is, it is a system of belief and practice proposed to explain the human condition. So what? Does it do what it claims? I submit that it doesn’t because of its obvious incoherence.

                • JoshthePagan

                  Yeah, again, what does it really matter? Your claims are overly generalizing. You keep saying that it is a bunch of suburbanites sitting around making up a religion. Well: A) it’s pretty hard not to be a suburbanite in modern America as all the jobs are in cities. B) I, and many people like me, was not raised in an urban setting. In fact, most of the places I lived were communities of a few thousand in areas of the country where we know what it is like to be surrounded by wilderness.

                  You see, I learn from my experiences just like everyone. To say that I made this up as a fad is insulting. It has taken me 30 years to figure out what I believe and my journey is no different from Irenist’s or yours. Again, my experiences are different and those have led me to my beliefs.

                  Now, I can go on all day about how Christianity is itself made up from other religions that predate it by centuries and that Jesus himself could be fictitious, but what does it matter? Who cares? If it leads someone to be a good person who says live and let live, I don’t care. If someone wants to think that talking elephants with wings that poop bars of gold for kids twice a year if they are good, then let them.

                  All this intolerance and belittling is really quite enough. I’m done, have a wonderful life. I know that this website is trying to foster interfaith discussions that people take seriously, but sometimes the discussions that are posted are quite off the topic of what I would consider civilized conversation.

        • Irenist

          “Actually, as I recall, you said you were involved with Ár nDraíocht Féin, which is quite distinct from Celtic Reconstructionism.” That’s a fair point, Kakuo. I was imprecise.

          ” And that’s fine, you have your right to feel that way about your experiences there. That doesn’t mean that that is true for everyone. I’ve been to my share of Church services and, on the whole, they’ve been dreadfully dull affairs. Does that mean that I should belittle the real experiences of those who attend such services weekly and get a great deal from them?”

          As a response to complaints that none of the Christians in this combox had any non-stereotypical personal experience with paganism, I thought my former ADF druidry was relevant. As a guide to what is *true* about reality, feeling uplifted by a Latin Mass, an offering of mead to Dana or Aine or the Crone/Matron/Maiden, a reading of the Book of Mormon, a chat with a Jehovah’s witness, stoning the pillar in Mecca during the Haj, hearing the Star Spangled Banner at a ballgame, or attending a Hitler Youth rally is irrelevant. St. Thomas teaches that the intellect must lead the will must lead the emotions. So although Pascal is correct (if infelicitously Cartesian) when he says that one must “train the machine” of the body through liturgy to strengthen the will, paganism is just as false now as it was when all in the world save a few isolated Jews believed in it. But this is a question of theology and metaphysics open to objective demonstration, not of whether YMMV.

          • Irenist

            Speaking of imprecise, I see it’s Kauko, not Kakuo. My apologies for the typo.

        • Ted Seeber

          A better term than authentic religion might be Pope Benedict XVI’s term- rational religion. As in Dogma with Doctrine inspired by Natural Law and the Light of Human Reason.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            So “authentic religion” only falls under what the Pope says it does? How generous. :facepalm:

    • Linus

      Well, quite frankly there is nothing at all in paganism or neo-paganism to make one curious. Neither has an intellectual basis. The same can be said for Materialist/Athiest. They may win over the hearts and minds of the masses but at that point they will have led us to the edge of the jungle, which ( believe me) is filled with real demons. You just have to draw things out to their logical conclusions.

    • Linus

      I believe you are refering to the beginning of the Hanseatic League. My aplogies for your accusitive Protestant ancestors. Of course no religion can take the blame for miscreants in their flocks. Where evil is concerned it is found in the members every religion and every ” ism ” without exception.

    • Ted Seeber

      Note that to some of us paleo conservatives, neo- anything is ridiculous childish behavior.

  • Steve

    I find it funny that you repeatedly refer to the fictional history of “neo”-paganism while completely glazing over the unwavering acceptance by many of the fictional history and mythology of christianity. The history that you ascribe to is no more factual than the ones that others do. You would be well served to remember that.

    • Irenist

      Jesus Christ was crucified c. 30 A.D. The earliest Gospel account of His life dates from c. 60 A.D. The writings of St. Paul are even earlier. The earliest writing attributed to a Pope other than Peter, the First Epistle of St. Clement, dates to c. 80-140 A.D. There is an unbroken line from Jesus’ disciple John the Apostle to John’s student Polycarp to Polycarp’s student Ignatius. John’s students left another Gospel. Polycarp and Ignatius left surviving epistles. From the time of Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, there is continuous documentary evidence of Catholic Church history from the late Roman Empire through the Middle Ages until today. The documentary record for Christianity is extraordinarily solid, and does not rest merely on the Bible. Far from it.

      The documentary record for neo-paganism, on the other hand, is rather thinner. To speak of the area I know best, Celtic Reconstructionist Druidry, the heirs of the eighteenth century “druidic” free masons who got the hobbyist ball rolling largely have to make do with (1) Caesar’s “Gallic Wars”, (2) The Irish and Welsh legendarium, e.g., the “Tain Bo Cuailgne” and the “Mabinogion” (3) surviving pre-Christian legal codes like Ireland’s Brehon laws, and (4) archeological research by the impressive mainstream researchers like Barry Cunliffe. Celtic Reconstructionists due an admirable job squeezing the last drops from this very limited corpus, but it’s a thin foundation for lived religious practice: so much of what the druids knew was intentionally oral and secret, and has not survived.

      As for Gardnerian Wicca and its offshoots, the less said about its factual basis, the less embarassing for all concerned.

      In brief: Christian beliefs are far, far better grounded in historical evidence than neo-pagan ones. Sorry.

      • JoshthePagan

        Beliefs need no historical evidence to exist. If beliefs were based on fact, there would be no religion. I mean, you believe in an invisible man in the sky who uses ficticious creatures called angels to do his bidding. How is that different from someone believing that there are faeries or Santa Claus?

        It seems that you have soured on Paganism in general due to your experiences are are determined to apply that experience to the whole of the religious group even though you should know that everyone’s experiences are different from all others.

        • Jared

          “Beliefs need no historical evidence to exist. If beliefs were based on fact, there would be no religion.”

          Wait…are you a pagan or an atheist?

          • JoshthePagan

            Pagan, but that does not preclude that I need evidence to back up what I believe in. The evidence that I would use to say that there is a god does not exist. I just feel it based on my experiences which I cannot even put my finger on much less document as proof. That is what much of faith is. =)

            • Mark Shea

              The pagan Aristotle disagrees that there is no evidence for the existence of God. It’s from him that St. Thomas gets his first demonstration of the existence of God. And since you believe in “a god” why not just go ahead and say you believe in God?

              • JoshthePagan

                I say there is no “need” for evidence, never said that evidence doesn’t exist. Oh, and if I said I believe in God, that might rule out that there are multiple of which I am on the fence about. Honestly, I’m not sure if it matters for my views. There could be one or many creators, the argument is moot as there is no way to prove it through empirical evidence, so I will just say that I believe in “a god” and leave it open from there.

            • Jared

              Your instincts are correct. There is a God. However, it seems like you’re giving up quite easily on the facts. Truth cannot contradict truth; therefore, the facts should support the existence of God. Tell me, have you ever read St. Thomas Aquinas? As Mark says, Aristotle was a huge inspiration in his philosophy.

            • Ted Seeber

              Maybe your irrational faith, but certainly NOT my rational faith, based on 2000 years of historical evidence and entire lifetimes of theological thought.

        • Mark Shea

          Fascinating. Beliefs need no evidence. But history is actually on the side of the pagans. And history doesn’t matter because the Christian victors wrote the history. And we are the Truly Ancient Religion. And who care if this stuff was just invented yesterday because all religion is just made up stuff.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            Funny how you only sound correct when you’re being sarcastic.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          you believe in an invisible man in the sky

          Three errors in one sentence is remarkable.

          • JoshthePagan

            Nobody is perfect, so fault me for trying? =)

        • Linus

          Of course you can turn a blind eye to facts or reasons if you wish but an intelligent person wouldn’t do that. Christianity is not based on ” blind ” faith but on reasons based in history and in Philosophy. You could start with the Catechism of the Catholic Church , any Catholic Bible, and then start reading ( not easy I admit ) St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae which can be read online. Also his Summa Contra Gentiles, also online. You might also read The Last Superstition by Edward Fesser – however skip pgs 146 since something there is perhaps suitable only for Doctors and Nurses. This little book should convince you that Christianity has a very solid intellectual foundation. It is in many libraries, that is where I got mine, which I have just finished.

    • Pancho

      “…the fictional history and mythology of christianity…”
      Read Ye Old Statistician’s comment near the top of the page and check out the links I posted above. Read a popular intro work like Pernoud’s “Those Terrible Middle Ages!” and Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity” (he uses sociological data to back up his book).

      • Pancho

        Oh, and while I’m at it, check out Mark’s own “The Da Vinci Deception: 100 Questions About the Facts and Fiction of The Da Vinci Code” ‘cuz I’ve got a funny feeling it covers some of what you think you know about Christian history, not to mention Welborn’s “De-Coding Da Vinci” and Olsen & Meisel’s “The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in the Da Vinci Code ” which also cover the subject and point to further reading.

    • Mark Shea

      Ah! So you are upholding the “History totally matters” pole in opposition to the “Who cares if neo-paganism invented bushwah with no historical basis at all” school of apologetics. Fun.

  • meandonlyme

    this guy has absolutely no concept of history. First of all, pagans are pagans, there is no such thing as synthesized paganism, that’s made up in an attempt to make the majority seem as hoaky as the athiests believe all Christians are today. Second, let’s look as to why Christianity became so big. In Rome, at the time of Caesar Theodosius I took control and made Christianity the official religion and removed support for all other traditional religions that were once supported by the senate of Rome. Theodosius began prosecuting non-christians in 381 in 392 he issued a law banning witchcraft, and pagan worship even in the private homes of the people and tore down all of the temples and monuments in the pagan community. Since then, the Catholic Church instead of wholely dominating a society like this, has adapted the holidays and worship days of any non-christian society to their belief in Saints holidays and have converted the local populous often with resistance. Make no mistake, that Christianity did not gently coerce their followers into divine understanding, they ruthlessly killed, tortured, maimed, and destroyed everything that was once pagan in order to achieve control over as many people as possible and as many resources as possible. Now that people are more educated the number of Christian followers declines every year due to people seeing the full history of the Church and how it really conducted it’s affairs. If it were a nation, it would have been met with war until every Christian conversionist were wiped out if it were trying to reach out like it’s done in the past.

    • Irenist

      meandonlyme “has absolutely no concept of history. ” Long before Theodosius, multiple emperors (e.g., Nero, Diocletian) subjected Christians to bloody horror for refusing to worship the pagan gods (including the divine emperor): Nero lit the night up with burning Christians; Diocletian fed them to lions. Did Theodosius (or Constantine) do anything like this? Northwestern Europe (e.g., the Franks, the Anglo-Saxon and Irish petty kingdoms) was converted peacefully–far more peacefully than the treatment that the pagan king Antiochus Epiphanes meted out to Jewish monotheists.

      Every time you see a Hannukah menorah, you see a remembrance of the revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes. Every time you see a Cross, you see a reminder of a monotheist slaughtered by the pagan Roman state–Jesus Christ. Learn some history.

      • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com/ Kauko

        Its very nice to read history told that way, but, as with most things, history is far more complex than “Oooo the evil Pagans were all out to kill the righteous Christians”. The whole Maccabean war was actually more likely a civil war among the Jews which Antiochus decided to intervene in and not the attempt to stamp out Judaism that the suspect history books you obviously read say it was. Similarly, the nature of Christian/ Pagan relations in the pre-Constantine Roman Empire were far more complex and nuanced than the martyrologies you apparently accept as 100% historical. What is clear, historically, is that once Christianity gained legal authority under Constantine and his successors it would gradually make increasing legal restrictions on Pagan worship despite the vast majority of the population remaining Pagan. The only reason that Christianity succeeded was that it essentially outlawed Paganism bit by bit over many centuries. Similarly Christianity’s spread across Europe was marked both by violence and political scheming. There may have been places where it was peaceful, as you claim, only in the sense that there was no violence. However, that does not mean that whole populations spontaneously converted because they ‘found Jesus’. Conversions were more likely from the top down with Christianity gaining a foot hold with those in power and thereby forcing conversion of those underneath. Violent or ‘peaceful’ that is nothing to be proud of. Your Catholic Church is arguably the number one organization in the world responsible for the attempted extirpation of indigenous cultures and religions. What Christians did in the Americas, Africa and Asia in more recent centuries was but an extension of what it began among European peoples.

        • Mark Shea

          Wait. Which is it? “Beliefs need no historical evidence to exist” or “History is a lie written by the winners?”

          If the former, then why are you appealing to history? If the latter, then how come we know about all those people who were on the losing side in so many historical conflicts?

          The more you talk, the more inexorably reminded I am of the Baptist Trail of Blood theory of the Hidden True Religion. You just push the Suppression by the Forces of Judeo-Christian Evil back a bit further and posit the Re-Emergence of the True Religion a bit later–and then urge us not to look at history too closely since it’s wrong or unnecessary or both, depending on whether or not it suits what you want to pretend is true.

        • Pancho

          Okay, I missed this earlier but I really need to respond to it:

          Kauko @1:12 pm wrote:
          “Your Catholic Church is arguably the number one organization in the world responsible for the attempted extirpation of indigenous cultures and religions. What Christians did in the Americas, Africa and Asia in more recent centuries was but an extension of what it began among European peoples.”

          Whoah there. Let’s talk about the Americas, shall we? Where have indigenous people have maintained the greatest presence, by and large? The Catholic countries. Which countries, for the most part, are the most influenced by Pre-Columbian (and African) cultures in customs, folkways, language, cuisine (those corn tortillas at Taco Bell didn’t come from Spain, you know), language, etc? The Catholic countries. Which countries experienced the greatest amount of intermarriage between Indians, Africans, and Europeans? The Catholic countries. I could go on.

          Don’t get me wrong, things certainly weren’t perfect by any means but you can’t lay the blame on the Catholic Church for the extirpation of indigenous cultures. And have you taken a look at Sub-Saharan Africa lately? Are you willing to tell the folks in Nigeria and Uganda that their Church is extirpating their culture? The folks in the Phillipines? The descendants of the secret Christians in Japan?

          You have a misguided sense of history in the Americas so I suspect your sense of European history may be similarly misguided.

        • Irenist

          “Its very nice to read history told that way, but, as with most things, history is far more complex than ‘Oooo the evil Pagans were all out to kill the righteous Christians’. ” True, Kauko, history is nuanced: the ubiquitous simplistic neo-pagan/atheist myth about Hypatia of Alexandria is probably the best example of what happens when that nuance is ignored. But as a rejoinder to those pagans hereabouts claiming that Christianity was just a long train of abuses of pagan folk by evil patriarchal Christian meanies, it seemed appropriate to balance the scale.

          “The whole Maccabean war was actually more likely a civil war among the Jews which Antiochus decided to intervene in and not the attempt to stamp out Judaism that the suspect history books you obviously read say it was.”

          From the opening pages of Josephus’ “Wars of the Jews”:

          *
          “1. AT the same time that Antiochus, who was called Epiphanes, had a quarrel with the sixth Ptolemy about his right to the whole country of Syria, a great sedition fell among the men of power in Judea, and they had a contention about obtaining the government; while each of those that were of dignity could not endure to be subject to their equals. However, Onias, one of the high priests, got the better, and cast the sons of Tobias out of the city; who fled to Antiochus, and besought him to make use of them for his leaders, and to make an expedition into Judea. The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months. But Onias, the high priest, fled to Ptolemy, and received a place from him in the Nomus of Heliopolis, where he built a city resembling Jerusalem, and a temple that was like its temple (1) concerning which we shall speak more in its proper place hereafter.

          2. Now Antiochus was not satisfied either with his unexpected taking the city, or with its pillage, or with the great slaughter he had made there; but being overcome with his violent passions, and remembering what he had suffered during the siege, he compelled the Jews to dissolve the laws of their country, and to keep their infants uncircumcised, and to sacrifice swine’s flesh upon the altar; against which they all opposed themselves, and the most approved among them were put to death. Bacchides also, who was sent to keep the fortresses, having these wicked commands, joined to his own natural barbarity, indulged all sorts of the extremest wickedness, and tormented the worthiest of the inhabitants, man by man, and threatened their city every day with open destruction, till at length he provoked the poor sufferers by the extremity of his wicked doings to avenge themselves.”
          *

          Motivated by Antiochus’ paganism? No. An example of monotheists not being history’s only meanies? Yes. Adequate for the limited purpose for which it was offered.

          • Mark Shea

            I’m always amused when anti-Christians regurgitate some boilerplate, retold a million times by Dan Brown true believers, about the Shocking History of Evil Christians and preface it with some variation on “It may surprise you to hear that Christians have flaws.”

            Duh. The myth that Catholics have never ever heard about the dirtbags in Catholic history and live in a hermetically sealed mental universe utterly ignorant of criticism of their perfect Church is one of the most fetchingly smug aspects of the Internet anti-Christian.

            Newsflash: You cannot live in millennial America without getting a constant, daily, hourly diet of people telling you what’s wrong with you for being Catholic.

            • Irenist

              The “Newsflash: Borgia Popes!” attitude always reminds me of
              1) the Evangelical conceit that we Catholics mustn’t know our Bibles on account of them being in Latin and chained up in churches, and
              2) the last few decades of secularist Hollywood movies exposing “the dark underbelly of suburbia” as though it were still somehow shockingly, bravely “transgressive” to deplore the mores of the 1950s.
              Since neo-pagan discourse has been (caveat: in my personal experience, which surely doesn’t apply to how EVERY grove and coven and chatroom does things, lest the carpers cavil) dominated by devotees of both of these popular myths, seeing that sort of thing in this discussion is sadly expected.

              • Mark Shea

                Yeah. The strange kinship between neo-pagans and Christian fundamentalists is one of the more unexpected developments, until you realize that an awful lot of it has the same motive force: extend the middle finger to one’s previous religious tradition (which, for a lot of these folks, is the Catholic Church). And yes, the peculiar habit of “bravely facing the applause” is also charming: “I don’t care how risky it is, I’m going to come right out and say that Catholic views on contraception and sexuality are not popular with most people!” Quelle courage.

    • Irenist

      Come to think of it, that’s only Greco-Roman pagan violence. There is also the fact that among the world’s other polytheists (i.e., pagans), we have the following:
      1. The druids used to burn men alive inside their “wicker men.”
      2. Norse pagans would kill slaves for the funerals of their owners.
      3. Meso-American po5lytheists used to tear out the hearts of their sacrificial victims.
      4. In the Indian State of Orissa, violent mobs of Hindu polytheists have, in the last few years, been responsible for the murder of Christians and the rape of at least one Catholic nun.
      5. In Sri Lanka, mobs of Buddhists (who generally accept the polytheist cosmology of Hinduism) attacked Christians in November, 2006.
      Christianity has had some episodes of shameful violence. So has polytheism.

      • Irenist

        Oh, and then there were all those Christian monks slaughtered by pagan Vikings as they pillaged almost every monastery in Northwestern Europe. To say nothing of the Christian civilians they murdered, raped, and kidnapped into slavery. There’s so much pagan violence in history, I keep forgetting some of it.

        • JoshthePagan

          This whole pagans were bloodier then Christians and vice versa conversation is moot. Humans during those centuries were bloody in general, but not all on either side were for violence. Most people want to be left in peace.

          Look at the world today, is it any different? Many Americans are afraid of Muslims even though they are truly no different from Christians in how they live. The western world today is fairly safe, but in the poorer nations it is not so. Humans have come so far and yet haven’t.

          Pagans and Christians alike have had their bloody past because humanity has a bloody past. All that matters is how we live today. Have we learned anything? If we point fingers, we will get nowhere.

          • Mark Shea

            We agree completely. Well done.

    • Rosemarie

      +J.M.J+

      >>>Theodosius began prosecuting non-christians in 381 in 392 he issued a law banning witchcraft

      Actually, the ancient Roman Empire outlawed witchcraft and used to execute accused “witches” long before it became Christian.

      • Mark Shea

        Although cursory acknowledgement was made of the fact, many of the pagans up in arms about Fr. Longenecker seem to forget that pagans believed in evil spirits and saw witches and magicians as a menace too.

        • http://sarenth.wordpress.com Sarenth

          With their own cultural definitions on what a witch and a magician was as well, rather than blanket condemnations. No ancient Pagan culture was a monolith, and similarly, the taboos on magical practice in those cultures differed culture to culture. Binaries that we understand today as evil are different from what the ancients would have seen because they lived in a different world. The spirit of fire that heated your home could burn it down if you were not careful. A spirit that invited plague, drought, pestilence, etc. needed to be kept at bay, even destroyed. The definition of what is evil, as much as what is good, has changed in the intervening years since Paganisms the world over worshipped their Gods.

          • Mark Shea

            An excellent exposition of YOS’ point that nature religions make the concept of nature (upon which the scientific method built) impossible. Thanks for that testimony supporting the fact that science was stillborn everywhere but in Christian Europe.

  • Em

    “What puzzles me about neo-paganism is why it wastes all this time inventing a fake synthetic paganism based on some suburbanites’ supposings about what esoteric sects did centuries ago…”

    This is a rather broad and uncharitable assumption. I’m sure there are some Pagans who are creating new practices based on their imaginings of an idealized pagan past, though I see no reason to discount the value of their spiritual experiences because of this. However, what I see most often in the modern Pagan community are practices based on a combination of serious academic study of pre-Christian religions and on instructions from/interactions with one’s Gods. For example, many of the Pagan women who have begun veiling do so because their Gods instructed them to do so. The suggestion that Pagans are “playing at fantasy” completely disregards the relationships Pagans have with their Gods, and does nothing to foster sincere interfaith dialog.

    • Mark Shea

      Just so you know, here is how I evaluate the Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions (from the Catechism):

      842 The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race:

      All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .331

      843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”332

      844 In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them:

      Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.333

      845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.334

      ****

      This has in view, of course, pre-Christian paganism (which is a virgin seeking Christ) and not post-Christian paganism concocted by Westerners inventing religion as a fig leaf for rejecting Jesus.

      I am frankly skeptical of the quality of the “academic study” alleged by neo-pagans, particularly since, even on this very thread, about half the rhetoric from pagans is, “Who cares that there’s no historic basis for this stuff, it is emotionally satisfying to me” and the other half is dubious stuff about Christians supplanting the Old Ways with a gloss of Dan Brownian rhetoric and 19th century war of Science and Religion chat. It does look uncommonly like playing at fantasy. As to the “instructions from their gods”, Paul’s reply still seems sound to me: “Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Acts 14:15-17

      There are only two views of the “gods” of paganism. They are either imaginary–mere projections of wish fulfillment fantasies, metaphors for the cycles of the crops, Jungian mental models, etc. Or they are real spiritual beings claiming for themselves the honor due to God alone. If the former, then my point about paganism being “playing at fantasy” stands. If the latter, then Paul’s analysis as he compares the Eucharist to the cultic sacrifices in the pagan temples of Corinth seems sound to me: “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Cor 10:19-22)

      As a Catholic, I do not acknowledge the existence of any God but the God of Israel. No creature, visible or invisible, is to be honored with the worship due him alone. Any creature that claims such worship for itself is a liar, even if it be a superhuman spirit. All superhuman spirits are his creatures and, if they are not evil spirits, freely worship and adore him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is the actual nature of the real universe in which we live. Catholics have a solemn obligation to face that fact. We can make common cause with pagans on a lot of things, but we cannot acknowledge any of the gods of paganism.

      • Em

        Because of this point of view, I see little reason for Pagans to continue interfaith dialog with Christians. Goodbye.

        • ivan_the_mad

          What point of view? That of a Christian adhering to and expounding the dogmas and doctrines of his faith? Then it’s not simply with Christians that you see little reason to continue interfaith dialogue, it’s everyone. In fact it would be more accurate for you to say start rather than continue. It’s pretty axoiomatic to interfaith dialogue that the participants believe their respective creed.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            It’s also a little difficult to begin or continue interfatih dialogue when one participant believes firmly and resolutely that the other is only worshiping demons of his own faith. You can’t have a “Let’s see where we can meet up and get along” if it starts, “Let’s see where you’re wrong.”

            • Mark Shea

              Actually, I made it clear that there are plenty of places where Catholics and pagans make common cause.

              • Vision_From_Afar

                No you didn’t. You made it abundantly clear (several times) that you view Neo-Pagans as a bunch of suburbanite dilletantes living out a Tolkien-esque fantasy in an effort to give Christians the middle finger while screwing themselves silly. You only want “common sense” with “pagans” who fit in your narrow, never-heard-of-Christianity box.
                You can’t keep changing what constitutes Pagan in your arguments. Either you acknowledge the “virgin” pagan and loathe the “divorcee” Neo-Pagan, or you can’t make up your mind and just like to argue.
                Also, I stand by my point that if you’re going to completely belittle our faith, it makes it rather hard to have any interfaith dialogue. It’s not like we would come to the table and tell you that Jesus never existed and you’ve been fooled by a Trickster God this whole time.

                • Mark Shea

                  I don’t change it. Paganism is “non Abrahamic religion”. It consists in various ways, of the attempt to worship and serve creatures instead of the Creator. Neo-paganism is primarily a reaction against Christianity (typically, in America, that means Protestant Christianity, though it also embraces Protestant complaints against Catholic Christianity when these are useful). It is pagan insofar as it too worships and serves creatures instead of the Creator. But it is synthetic in that it tries to claim that it is recovering “ancient spirituality” when it is, in fact, offering a dubious reconstruction based on shoddy scholarship and (as one reader here put it) “instructions from our gods”. Some of it is a fig leaf for thoroughly postmodern relativism and libertinism, some of it has other motivations.

                  I don’t “completely belittle” your faith. I have taken rather a lot of time to say what I like and admire about paganism. You, in contrast, have not (as far as I can see) managed to say a single solitary word in gratitude to or praise of the massive and overwhelming debt you owe the Christian tradiition. That is typical for reactionaries. As I say, the relationship between our two traditions is not symmetrical because all religions are not equal. Yours is fundamentally a reaction to mine and therefore must define itself in opposition to mine. Mine is not a reaction to yours and I am therefore free to acknowledge all sorts of good stuff in paganism. I simply also note that I am not bound to agree with paganism when it gets thing wrong, as it does, for instance, when it errs by worshipping creatures instead of the Creator. You, in contrast, are bound by your creed to relentless find nothing but evil in my tradition and give no quarter to any claim of originality or virtue there. And this you have done.

        • Pancho

          “Because of this point of view, I see little reason for Pagans to continue interfaith dialog with Christians. Goodbye.”

          See, if you just explained why this point of view is wrong, from your own point of view, *that* could’ve been a basis for further dialogue. There would be something to discuss.

          If would really help if one of the neo-pagans could point to what it is they believe because it’s awkward when what’s being discussed is unclear. I’ve seen statements that this or that interpretation is wrong, that this or that description is outdated, that you can’t pigeon-hole modern pagans into certain types, but as far as I can remember there hasn’t been any actual explanation of beliefs, or practices other than Nicole’s statement of pantheism up above.

          • kenneth

            I don’t have a problem with Catholics or anyone else saying that for personal or theological reasons “I find paganism to be deficient on x,y and z points.” I don’t have any problem with people who say they spent some time on this or that pagan path during their search and found it was not for them or didn’t answer their questions. I really only have a problem with people who make sweeping pronouncements on what we are all about that are obviously based in ignorance and arrogance. I have a problem with lots of Catholics and other Christians who have never raised a finger to do any significant research on us or experienced anything of our religions who wear their ignorance as a badge of honor while saying “I don’t need to look further. I know your movement is nothing more than (fill in the blank).”

            I don’t respect that for the same reason that Catholics don’t respect people who proclaim their entire religion to be “nothing more” than the face presented by, say, the Borgia popes or Cardinal Law or Michael Voris, or some neighborhood bully you hated as a kid who happened to be Catholic.

            I also don’t respect people who, in that same vein of ignorance, proclaim that we have no sincerity or spiritual depth because we aren’t true to what the ancient pagans did and don’t live like them in every regard. That’s a little like the federal government mocking Indians for not being “red enough” because they didn’t manage to retain their original lands or culture. It’s a little like an Ivy League sociologist telling a black guy that he’s not “keeping it real” because he doesn’t fit the ghetto stereotype of what authentic black men should be. It’s even more like having us tell you that your own Christianity isn’t real because you haven’t personally faced blood martyrdom like your early progenitors.

            Modern paganism, like Catholicism or any other religious movement, has the full range of people and the full range of depth and sincerity. We have fools and posers in paganism. Having grown up Catholic, I know for a fact that faith also has those folks. We also have people of such wisdom and presence and grace that your hair stands on end when they enter a room. The whole spectrum of blessed/venerable saint phenomenon in Catholicism attests the existence of such folks in your faith as well. Most of us are everyday slobs who fall somewhere in the middle. So to it is with sincerity of faith. We have those who wear it as a lifestyle accessory and those who orient their entire lives toward the practice of their faith and who are profoundly changed by it.

            There may or may not be room or reason for “interfaith dialogue.” If you don’t think what we’re doing is worth engaging, don’t engage it. If you do, do a bit of homework on the subject and whether you think we’re delusional or just badly misguided, give us the same presumption of personal sincerity in belief and practice that you would want extended to you.

            • Mark Shea

              Yesterday, I was instructed that it doesn’t matter that neo-paganism is unhistorical rubbish: “I don’t claim that modern paganism is an accurate re-production or continuance of any particular historical tradition. To me, it’s power and beauty derives from the fact that it is in no way dependent upon the survival of ancient texts, or languages or cultures.” Translation: Who cares if massive amounts of neo-paganism tells documentable lies about its ancient origins. It makes me feel good.”

              Today, I am instructed that the failure of critics is that they do not do sufficient research.

              Meanwhile, your own historical claims regurgitating the Dan Brown history of the Church vs. paganism received a severe drubbing from Ye Olde Statistician.

              It’s always easier to sit in a combox and engage in random heckling of Catholics than it is to actually offer a defense of your own ideas, isn’t it?

              And I’m perfectly aware that the most of the people playing at being pagan are ordinary middle class slobs. That’s my point.

              • kenneth

                I just think you’re trying to hard to employ a “gotcha” indictment of us based on a belief which most of us simply no longer hold and which a majority of us currently practicing never held. The belief in modern Wicca or other neopagan religions as intact survivals of ancient times certainly had a romantic cache at one time. It was based on poor scholarship and has been in full retreat ever since more rigorous scholarship began to dig into the problem as early as the early 1990s.

                Most of us have not tried to cling to this old canard in the face of good evidence and most of us feel no need to do so, for reasons I have already laid out. People who come to Wicca or talk it up on the claim that its the inheritor of an unbroken ancient provenance are simply not representative of the mainstream of the movement. I understand where that impression lingers. There are still plenty of older books in circulation and old ideas in news accounts or the occasional loon who swears that his family spirited away and preserved the secret rituals of the Pendle Witches who were hung in 1612.

                It’s just not useful to try to discredit someone based on what they no longer are or never were. It makes no more sense than if we tried to discredit Christianity on the basis that “you all” believe in Arianism or Donatism or geocentrism or Six Day Creationism. It’s good for a moment of high courtroom drama in a debate, but it doesn’t hold up to examination.

                I can respect an argument from faith. If you tell me, as you have, that you simply find the Catechism’s account of reality more persuasive than mine, I can dig that. When people go out of their way to ridicule us based on false information or to tar us all as losers or moral degenerates, that doesn’t tend to bring out my best nature.

                • Mark Shea

                  So all that crap you said up above about the alleged history of Christianity and paganism vis a vis science that YOS torpedoed was just a specimen of the crap scholarship you don’t expect anybody to believe? All you really meant to say was “Who care if it’s true so long as it’s emotionally satisfying”? Cuz it sure didn’t sound that way.

                  • kenneth

                    All I said relative to science and religion, or meant to say, is that the endeavor and discipline of science was not uniquely a Christian one. People had been doing some very good work at uncovering natural explanations of the natural world for a long long time before Christianity came on the scene. They also got some stuff spectacularly wrong and were much better theorists than experimentalists.

                    At any rate, there was clearly not some quantum jump from universal superstition and ignorance to scientific enlightenment that came about from the ascendancy of Christian theology. We can quibble about how dark the “Dark Ages” were, but by any standard, it was an underwhelming period of advancements in any field of knowledge related to science. When science did get rolling full force again, some of it was due to influences of institutional Christianity, some was in spite of it, and still more had to do with unrelated or tangential factors of politics and economics.

                    I will even assert that neopagan concepts made some contributions. Much of the imagery and conceptual framwork of neogpagan religion is, in fact, what Bonewits called “mesopagan” – syncretic sorts of beliefs which were Christian but also eyeball deep in occultism. Alchemy was a classic example. That art/science/philosophy was full to the brim with concepts borrowed from the Kabbalah, and from the swirl of Gnostic, Neoplatonic and Hermetic traditions which were at play in the days of early Christianity and which had recycled concepts which had been percolating throughout the Near East for many centuries prior. These concepts of elemental forces and nature, as allegorical and imprecise as they were, led to ALL of our knowledge base of inorganic chemistry, modern pharmacology and mining metallurgy.

                    Christianity produced some wonderful patronage of science. It also produced the Galileo fiasco. That may have been an anomaly, but it was not a small deal. Christian opposition to Darwin’s work has been much more problematic. That’s not a Catholic thing, but I am not nearly alone among scientists when I say that it has done tremendous damage to our nation’s ability to compete in the sciences.

                    Science as we know it is the product of ancient (and less ancient) pagans, devout Christians, skeptics, popes and cardinals, wild-eyed Protestant radicals, con men and geniuses (sometimes in the same body). It is the sum of this roiling mass of contradictions that is humanity. I only raised the point initially to challenge the idea put forward that ancient paganism was inherently irrational and unscientific and that therefore we moderns were somehow living a lie by employing scientific medicine etc. I think the general picture I’ve painted here would be considered a reasonably fair and accurate broad-stroke bit of scholarship, at least in the sort of bar napkin abridged version that time and space allows for on blogs.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      You have painted only a melange of bromides and generalities, equivocating on the term “science.” But the mere accumulation of facts, lore, and rules of thumb is not “science” any more than (in Poincare’s memorable formulation) a pile of bricks is a house. Neither is mathematics the same as “science.” And until the Western invention of the telescope, astronomy was a specialized branch of mathematics. (Until then, those points of light in the sky were not even supposed as being physical bodies, save by Christians.) Neither is mere inventiveness or technological advance the same as “science,” although the Christian world was notable for the way in which it embraced and applied technology. Still less so does “science” consist of lucky guesses that seem kinda sorta similar to things we have discovered. (Aristarchus no more developed a heliocentric model than Jonathon Swift discovered the moons of Mars.)
                      Your plea might count for more if you provided actual examples of pagan science other than the Aristotelian tradition among the Greeks. And Aristotle, you may remember, convinced himself that there was a single Godhead that moved the rest of the world. There was a gulf between his thought and the polytheistic folks who wore magic hats and conducted extispicy on women.
                      Because the Latin West selectively copied Greek texts on logic, reason, and natural science, Moderns have assumed that the ancient Greeks were devoted to logic, reason, and natural science, and have interpreted what we have in the light of that theory. Thales said that water was the principle of existence of all things. In what manner is this scientific either in its conception or its nature?
                      + + +
                      Experimentation is difficult until the pagan belief that an experiment is unreliable is shaken off. Don’t worry, though. You can’t make bricks without straw, and the Christians could not invent science without Aristotelian natural philosophy; but that doesn’t make the guy who mows the hay into a brick-maker.
                      + + +
                      The Galileo case is interesting because in essence Galileo was demanding that the heliocentric hypothesis be taken on faith while Church authorities wanted to see empirical proof. (And the only reason that were demanding facts was that Galileo had taken to reinterpreting Scripture on his own tick. The Church had always recognized metaphorical readings, but they weren’t about to change simply on Galileo’s say-so. The consensus of settled science was against him.) Huxley himself said that the Church had the better case. We know of at least one instance in which Galileo suggested observations that would support heliocentrism, but which in his notebooks he had already carried out and failed to find the evidence. That was flat-out dishonest. When the empirical proof was finally available in the early 1800s, the Church lifted its ban on professing heliocentrism as settled fact.

            • Ye Olde Statistician

              I really only have a problem with people who make sweeping pronouncements

              You mean like the very first comment in this thread?

        • Irenist

          To monotheists, there is One Creator and many creatures. Only the Creator is worthy of worship. Any spiritual being (i.e., an angel) that would usurp that worship is logically an angel morally depraved by pride, akin to Melkor/Morgoth in Tolkien’s legendarium (i.e., an angel of the sort usually dubbed a “demon”). (An angel like St. Michael that accepts the worthiness for worship of God alone is akin to Manwë, the loyal deputy of Eru Ilúvatar in the Tolkien legendarium).

          As demonstrated by St. Augustine in “The City of God,” no intellectually coherent monotheism like Judaism, Christianity, or Islam can accept the worship-accepting gods of paganism (or Hinduism for that matter) as anything other than either non-existent figments of the imagination or necessarily demonic as a matter of basic logic, any more than an intellectually consistent Elvish denizen of Middle Earth could accept Melkor/Morgoth or Sauron as anything other than demonic after their plain rebellion against Eru Ilúvatar. That’s how monotheism works.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Question: Whether pagans worship a creation rather than a creator.

    1. Aristotle showed that since there are some things in the world whose potentialities are being actualized, there must be a primary actualizer. Details need not detain us and are found in his Metaphysics. This primary actualizer is purely actual and contains nothing potential in itself.

    2. There cannot be two purely actual beings. Suppose, sec. arg., that there were two. To be distinct one must have some power or attribute X that the other lacks. But such a lack is a potentiality, and the being lacking in X is potentially X and hence could be actualized by another. Therefore, it would not be a primary actualizer, contrary to supposition.

    3. Hence, while there might be a plethora of divine beings — called ‘gods’ by the pagans or ‘angels and djinni’ by the muslims, Jews, and Christians — there must be a purely actual divine being logically prior to them and from which they take their acts of existence. (That is, their existences are made actual by the primary actualizer.)

    4. Hence, those who worship the angels/djinni/gods are worshipping that which is created rather than the primary actualizer which is the creator.

    5. Plotinus reached many of the same conclusion following a different line of reasoning (Platonic) and had even concluded that this Godhead would have three distinct hypostases (“persons”). This “pagan monotheism” was already superceding the Old Time Religion by the time of Trajan, when Pliny (iirc) complained about empty and derelict temples. This was well before emperors exercising eminent domain turned the derelict temples over to Christians. Most Neoplatonists did not practice theurgy.

    (This was not the case among the Egyptian pagans, who were not big on logic and reason and where many rural temples were still going concerns. Rural temples in Upper Egypt were indeed taken without imperial rescript by the turbulent Nitrian monks. But even in Egypt, the Upper City of Alexandria, influenced by Greco-Roman rationalism, had abandoned the Egyptian gods for some form of Neoplatonism.)

  • Thomas R

    If I were to really think on it I’m not sure one can say much about paganism, as a religion, because I’m pretty sure there never was a “Pagan religion” as such. It’s a blanket term for a variety of religions who’s origin apparently came from a word meaning something like “rustic.” (I thought it came from a word for “forest” but whatever)

    Generally I’d guess polytheistic, animistic, and/or shamanistic religions that revere nature are “pagan” but even those vary a good deal in history and outlook. Inuit indigenous religion is quite different than Norse paganism and neither is really all that much like Inca religion. So in some ways this talk about the violence or tolerance of pagans might naturally run into the issue of what we even mean. Khoisan/Bushman pagans never got into the kind of mass-violence Roman pagans did.

    But to be honest I think I lean a little toward the anthropological view that the term “pagan” is just not all that useful. Terms like “animist” and “shamanist” have problems too, but are a bit better.

    • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

      I avoid the term “paganism” like the plague.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daughtersofeve/ Crystal Blanton

    The ignorance and misinformation displayed here is disheartening. I have a lot of respect for others beliefs, even if I do not understand or agree. It is sad to see that this is not reciprocated and that someone would give off information about something that they do not understand. I hope that the religious community at large can give more respect than displayed here.

    • Chris M

      Could you be a little more specific re: misinformation and ignorance? Thanks!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daughtersofeve/ Crystal Blanton

        I could say it myself but here is a great response that already says much of it.
        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2012/07/my-religion-is-just-as-fake-as-yours/

        • Mark Shea

          The suicide bomber approach to interreligious dialogue. I’m quite happy to see Jason frankly concede my point that neo-paganism is fake. However, he has not really established the falsity of Christian claims. He has merely gratuitously asserted it. What is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously denied.

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/panmankey jason

            Christianity is certainly just as fake as Paganism, if not more so. Christianity is built around the belief that Jesus “literally rose from the dead,” Modern Paganism is not built around the idea that Modern Witchcraft is a pagan survival. Our myths add romance to Contemporary Paganism, but they don’t define it.

            I did establish that “Christianity is fake” and it’s easy to do. If you are going to go to the scholarship well to refute Modern Paganism as an ancient pagan survival, I’m going to go to the same well when it comes to Christianity. No serious Jesus scholar would ever make the claim that Jesus “arose from the dead.” It’s a ludicrous statement. History doesn’t deal in miracles, period. To me, the “literalness” of my myths is irrelevant, but it’s what most Christians hang their hats on. In addition, it’s an accepted fact that Paul did not write all the epistles attributed to him. These are things not even being argued in scholarly circles. If a few Pagan Creation myths not being literally true make my religion “fake” than most Christians have been living a lie for the last 1700 years.

            When I wrote my rebuttal of your ignorance about Modern Paganism I did so thinking you might be a gracious person, reading this thread that’s obviously not the case. The beard is still impressive though.

  • Will

    My fundamental problem with current “paganism” is that what seems to really matter to its adherents is how awful somebody’ else’s religion is. (See soc.religion.pagan and alt.pagan). Anything goes, as long as it isn’t THAT!
    If I wanted to make a full-time occupation of NOT being Christian, I could have gone with my father’s version of Judaism (May there be no more in Israel like him).
    Or, as the Cherokee-with-the-Jewish-name said on Magicknet on being greeted as “fellow pagan”: “If I wanted to identify myself by what I am NOT, I might as well call myself Not Tom Mix.”

    And if this be “demonizing”, make the most of ti.

  • Ted Seeber

    Part of my falling away from the church as a teenager and young adult was a brief foray into neo-paganism, including use of the Andrew-White Tarot Deck.

    Which quickly became, what I now know, as a way to objectively practice the coping skill of reading a person’s past from the clothing they wear (the Tarot Deck is just a randomizer in fortune telling).

    I repented of this in college, and only played Dragon Poker with my tarot deck for a while (including some fanfic rules I found online from Robert Asprin’s hilarious Myth Adventures series- that made full use of my beautiful tarot deck by including the background color as potential wild cards).

    From this I learned not to worry about neo-pagans or even most atheists, they’re usually just adolescents going through a stage, and assuming they live long enough and don’t end up committing Columbine-style suicide by cop, they will return to the One True Faith.

  • anna lisa

    Fascinating thread. I don’t mean to insult anyone here, but it is clear to any passing reader that one group here is discussing paganism with a solid understanding of history, while the other resorts to emotionalism and fuzzy reasoning. My only experience with paganism has been a smattering of articles, religious literature etc. but seeing pagans up close at the Summer Solstice parade in our town has been a bit eye popping–especially when the guys wear nothing but body stockings, horns and furry goat legs. they might want to try a different PR approach.

  • Jeffrey Quick

    As a former Gardnerian Wiccan and present Catholic, I probably have something to contribute here.
    The reason Westerners don’t generally go in for active historical forms of paganism is that few if any of them are sexual religions. The central traditions of modern American Neo-paganism involve a Lord and Lady, who do what differently-gendered beings naturally do, and their followers do likewise. The Wiccan Rede is designed to allow people to filter out the more subtle forms of “harm” that uncontrolled forms of sexuality bring. The Cup Blessing/Great Rite in token is explicitly sexual, and the circle itself, the doctrine of polarity, and skyclad worship are implicitly so. Now, I know these are not parts of various paleopagan revivalist religions. But the post-hippy witch is the predominant Neo-pagan culture, and it has influenced the whole thing.

    The main problem with Neo-paganism is that it doesn’t work. Marriages and families are unsustainable. Prosperity tends to escape those who substitute green candles for elbow grease. It encourages self-examination, which is a good thing, but without belief in solid rules, the self-exam becomes self-delusion, and an attempt to lift oneself to enlightenment by ones own bootstraps. Even Gardnerianism, which allows for the filtering out of the most obvious mental cases, just trains more sophisticated head cases. And it’s interesting that no religious movement, not even Islam (which unlike Christianity requires pagans to convert or die) sends Pagans frothing at the mouth as Catholicism does. I took that to be an endorsement. I realized that most Christians have lives that function much better than those of most Pagans. And then I saw that the attempt to define morality for oneself on subjective grounds was doomed to failure due to the self-interest of the definer. The moral computer was broken. And that breakdown fit the definition of “original sin” well enough.

    I knew Isaac Bonewits and one or two of his wives, though not so much after the tainted tryptophan that ruined his health. A fine mind, but that’s not enough ultimately.

    • Mark Shea

      Agreed. What is overlooked in religious discussions is often simply the fact that a religion claims, among other things, to be an explanation of the human condition. Catholicism’s truth claim are not “We like things to be this way, so we will baldly assert they are and tell people who disgree to shut up.” They are “This is the way things are and we have to either deal with that fact or collide with reality when reality doesn’t budge.” Neo-paganism doesn’t work because religion is not a wish fulfilment fantasy. It is a response to the fact that God, the universe, and human nature have particular characteristics we ignore at our peril just as we ignore gravity and the laws of physics at our peril.

      • Irenist

        The failure to understand this seems to lie behind the mainstream media narrative that the Pope won’t change the rules about contraception and homosexual activity because he’s a mean old Nazi. It’s like complaining that physicists won’t change the law of gravity after a plane crash–how can the physicists be so darned mean? The failure to understand that there is a difference between announcing preferences (what Jungian-archetype neo-pagans do) and discovering and reporting the truth about reality (what the Magisterium and science–in very different ways–do) seems to be at the root of relativists’ error. They should read more Richard Rorty and accept that either they need to either recognize the distinction between the reality and pleasure principles (as Freud put it), or stop claiming to know anything about the universe at all. Some of the pagan complaints on this thread remind me of the old SNL “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy” segment that asked something like, “Why does 2+2 have to equal four? Can’t you believe what you believe while I believe in my heart that it equals five and we can all just get along?”

        • Mark Shea

          Yeah. And a lot of other stuff. “Why do Christians complicate things with stuff like the Trinity?” is, to Christian ears, like asking “Why do physicist complicate things with quantum mechanics and that nonsensical business of light acting like a particle and a wave?” Christians are stuck, like everybody else, with trying to make sense of the data they have. Turns out God is weird–like the physical world he made.

      • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

        Mark: What laws of nature do you believe Neopaganism is denying?

        • Mark Shea

          Depends on the neopagan, I reckon. The real issue is not that it ignores laws of nature, but the Lawgiver.

    • kenneth

      If all we wanted to do was to justify our sexual proclivities and appetites, we could do with a hell of a lot less fuss than pagan religion, or any religion at all. There’s no stigma whatsoever in our society to being an agnostic/atheist/purely secular humanist or materialist pleasure seeker.

      For that matter, if one is the least bit creative and astute, one can find perfect cover for relativistic and even predatory behavior within the most conservative of established religions. Some of the most strict forms of Islamic theology and societies provide ample theological cover for (male) promiscuity via disposable marriages. Fr. Maciel didn’t enable his lifestyle by Wicca or any other supposedly hippy-dippy free love philosophy. He did it by wrapping himself tightly in one of the most tightly buttoned down theologies of human sexuality that the race has ever produced. By making himself the very embodiment of piety in public, he was able to indulge himself at a level that would be the envy of any pagan libertine or polyamorist that I have ever met. People can and do use neo-pagan religion as an intellectual cover for their promiscuity, but nobody needs to do so, and people whose interest is limited to that will usually drop the charade and trappings in short order to focus on the underlying hunt. I have had some personal insight into many of the sexual subcultures out there these days. I can tell you that every religion, including Catholicism, is very well represented among all of those demographics.

      It is also not true to state that all modern pagans are inherently libertines in contrast to some monolithic conservatism of the ancients. Their beliefs and practices were tremendously varied. There were ascetics, and celibates and advocates of “traditional family values” and there was sacred prostitution and orgies and mythologies ripe with incest and rape and everything else under the sun.

    • kenneth

      You have any solid stats that show that neopagan marriages and families are “unsustainable” at any significantly greater rate than the general population or their counterparts in Christianity? Christians as a whole ain’t exactly bowling a perfect game in this regard. Everything I’ve seen shows that most Christian groups don’t do really any better than the general population when it comes to divorce, which is to say that their odds of success are a little better than a coin toss. Out of wedlock births are becoming the new norm, ranging from about a third to almost 80% in some demographics. Some of the highest rates are found within social and ethnic groups which report the highest levels of church attendence and religious identity. Pagans, for all of our recent growth, cannot begin to account for the demographics behind these trends.

      Your whole body of evidence about the supposed inherent superiority of one religion or another seems to derive from some self-selected personal observation. You knew some flaky pagans in your younger days and since growing up, getting a haircut and a job and becoming Catholic, you’re associating with people who are perhaps more economically and socially stable. Based on that, we’re supposed to believe that it must be the religion, and nothing else, that accounts for these differences in the lives of people surrounding the Young You and the Current You?

      • Mark Shea

        Have you noticed that your presence here over the months has not been to advance your own beliefs but simply to heckle Catholics for theirs? Have you noticed that when you *do* advance your own case, it is incoherent and gets destroyed by people like Ye Olde Statistician? Have you noticed that when that happens, you resume heckling?

        Something ex-Catholics, whether Fundamentalist or pagan, tend to do is not actually *leave* the Church they are leaving. Instead, they hang around, spray painting the building and smashing windows with rocks while perpetually claiming that they are so totally *over* the Church.

        Mhm.

        • kenneth

          How am I heckling anyone for their beliefs? I do not recall ever saying or implying that anyone is a fool or a poor character for being Catholic, nor even for thinking that their faith has better answers than mine.

          I am challenging attacks on what I believe which have been based on personal attacks of us as people and have had virtually no engagement with any serious question of theology. My intent has never been “to advance my beliefs”. I’m not here to evangelize or convert anyone. We have no Great Commission and I don’t get any time off from purgatory or free itunes or any other sorts of incentives for getting anyone to “make a decision for Cernunnos” or anyone else. I mostly come to this particular forum to engage various cultural and political issues of the day, many of which touch on religion in one way or another.

          • Mark Shea

            Come on, Kenneth. 90% of what you do here is point out the faults of Catholics. And you still haven’t replied to YOS, by the way.

            • kenneth

              I’m pointing out the faults of some arguments put forth by some Catholics, not Catholicism. I believe many of the rocks I’m sort of throwing back originate less from the doctrine of Catholicism than from the personal biases of people who happen to be Catholic. YOS has made a lot of points at a lot of intervals. I’m working to engage them as they pertain to some of these various issues.

              • Vision_From_Afar

                Honestly, I’d drop this thread, Ken. Mark is employing the “You’re being defensive” Defense. Simply make the accusation first, and any reply no matter how well written or polite will simply seem to be defensive, making the accuser seem that much more mature and right by virtue of not being “defensive” himself and recognising your own “inadequacies”. It’s a cheap trick, used by someone who can’t get past his own arrogance to see what the argument is actually about.

                • Mark Shea

                  The argument began when a couple of writers on the pagan channel gratuitously chose to take some remarks by Fr. Dwight Longenecker that were not directed at them in the slightest as an attack on them and then fire back some anti-Christian boilerplate. I remarked on this. Jason responded. I replied. Here we are. Kenneth has been here for months, offering heckling attacks on various issues in Catholic life. I have never bothered to discuss neo-paganism till now. Meanwhile, neo-pagans in this thread are offering bad defenses of their position and worse “history” which informed readers like Ye Olde Statistician are exploding.

      • Jeffrey Quick

        Well, Kenneth, none of us have anything more than personal observation to go by in choosing a religion. Another term for that is “free will.” I would agree that “Christianity” is responsible in part for the illegitimacy and high rate of divorce… a “Christianity” that has followed the popular culture in denying that sin (especially sin of the sexual kind) exists. But the responsibility there is borne by Christians, not Christianity. But there’s clearly a difference between those who practice their faith and those who just wear it as a label; see http://www.crosswalk.com/family/marriage/divorce-and-remarriage/the-christian-divorce-rate-myth.html

        “You knew some flaky pagans in your younger days and since growing up, getting a haircut and a job and becoming Catholic, you’re associating with people who are perhaps more economically and socially stable.” I was a pagan for 25 years, so yes, maybe I was slow in growing up. But I knew a fair number of pagans in responsible jobs, and a number of leaders in the community. I mentioned Bonewits. Judy Harrow performed my 2nd wedding (she’s in Adler’s _Drawing Down the Moon_). I had clergy who worked for DFAS (the military payroll office). So I don’t think it’s a social filtering effect,frequent as those are.

        • kenneth

          So is a person’s religion the determinative factor in their success and happiness, or is it not? Or are the standards applied differently to each religion? You seem to be saying that a person’s Christianity is what makes happy and successful Christians that way. When they fail at marriage or some other avenue of life, then their faith has nothing to do with anything. It’s all on them. Yet when some individual pagans have life setbacks, it’s all due to their religious system. Your body of evidence that “paganism doesn’t work” seems to rest entirely on an observation that Bonewits or someone had some tough spots with polyamory or open marriage. That is proof of nothing at all other than the fact that plural marriages are tricky to pull off. Even the most ardent supporters of the practice will tell you that. If that’s your basis for saying pagan families and marriage are “unsustainable” you’re off base on another count because polyamory, while it is found within pagan communities, is by far not the typical model of pagan family or marital structure.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daughtersofeve/ Crystal Blanton

      I am so sorry but this is so not true… I am 100% Pagan, married and with my husband for over 15 years. Not sustainable… I disagree fully.

  • Joseph Q

    I do not know much about paganism. I just want to point out a parallel between people who create neo-pagan communities using some telescope that looks back into time to paganism while there are real paganists practicing right now and how there are people who create new small non-denominational Christian communities based on what they see as the ancient early Church while the real Early Church is the biggest Church around – the Catholic Church.

  • Pancho

    Nobody’s mentioned that there’s a certain level in which Christians can and have engaged with pagan mythology that is non-threatening to the Christian, even friendly in a way. I haven’t read it yet but isn’t C.S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces” a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche? He places fauns and dryads in Narnia, after all. Tolkien found inspiration in the Finnish Kalevala, too. Christians can find beauty in mythology and shards of truth.

    • Ted Seeber

      Nostra Aetate Section 3 comes to mind.

  • Randi

    Spot on! I really enjoyed reading this.

  • Alisa Rose

    As an anthropologist who has studied both pagans of the past and present I can tell you that your views are wildly off-center.
    Neo-Pagans, while not strict traditionalists, do use archaeological and historical bases upon which they build a contemporary practice (much like any Christian applying the Bible to how one interacts with the post-modern society). There is very little ‘creating out of thin air’ in the faith, and is, in fact, archaeologically supported more deeply than Christianity (in the sense that their practices are ancient and can be shown to be so, not that Persephone went to the underworld and rose again in Spring. As a previous Christian I know its tempting to say the things you have, but unfortunately you are running your mouth off with emotions and not facts. While, I don’t agree with everything Jason says, he is a well read Pagan and self-made scholar.

    Additionally, your comment of pagans asking for baptism is offensive not only to pagans but to all oppressed communities. Thousands were baptised under threat during The Inquisition and millions were murdered for having held to their practices and being ‘proven’ to consort with the devil. Much like in Ireland where the O so holy St. Patrick threatened Druidic priests and priestesses into joining the Catholic faith (through which Druids attempted to mask and thereby save their practices), but most were walked over the Cliffs of Moher, with their tongues cut out (which is where the lore of Patrick driving the Snakes from Ireland comes from as there is no archaeological or paleontological evidence for wild snakes having ever inhabited Ireland). The church has driven thousands of native and pagan spiritual beliefs to extinction and many have been lost or nearly so. So, how can you blame someone who wants to return to their roots from trying to reconstruct that practice with the what little bit the church left them? Paganism is far more academically driven than you realize is based in more than just a desire to rebel. I don’t see why someone would dedicate their lives to seeking the last remnants of their ancient father’s faith just for the sake of flipping off the church.

    Your view of paganism is offensive and limited. As an academic scholar of culture and traditions, you dishonor a people by misrepresenting them. As an anthropologist there is nothing I dislike more than seeing someone misrepresent a people. Also, Maori’s are not cannibals. When you say Maori you encompass a current nation of what was previously thousands of separate tribes. If you want to discredit a people at least do the research, which will take a lot longer than an afternoon chat with any pagan you happen to meet and read up on a few articles. Be a real academic and honor those you speak of by representing them truthfully, even if you dont agree with them.

    • Mark Shea

      By “anthropologist” do you mean “degreed at a credible university in a program of religious studies and/or history” or do you mean “I’ve read a lot of stuff on the internet and my gods have instructed me”? In short, documentation please? I since there does seem to be, for instance, rather a lot of documentation that Maori were cannibals (http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=ie7&q=maori+cannibalism+facts&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&rlz=1I7ACAW_enUS400) and rather sparse documentation for your claim that the Patrick and the snakes legend is a veiled reference to some Druid slaughter. Indeed what sticks out in Irish history is that it is, from all I have seen, one of the rare moments in Christian collisions with paganism when there is no bloodshed (and the bloodshed was, as you know, often Christian blood in antiquity). As to the rest of what you right, it seem to me to boil down to saying that, yes, I am right: neo-paganism is a boutique sect that is really just a form of Protestantism that is not about recreating ancient paganism, but about inventing a particularly silly new religion as a way of extending the middle finger to the previous religion of the sectarian.

      As to your “History is written by the victors” rubbish, this is no doubt why we have no knowledge of Greek and Roman paganism, nor about any Irish history not approved by the Brits, nor about the American South before the Civil War, nor about Nazi Germany.

      In fact, of course, it was Christians–particularly Irish ones–who saved large amounts of pagan antiquity from the cultured and urban pagan Vikings.

      “Take, for instance, that remark about the Dark Ages and the Nordic
      common sense. It is tenable and tolerable enough to say
      that the Dark Ages were a nightmare. But it is nonsense to say
      that the Nordic element was anything remotely resembling sense.
      If the Dark Ages were a nightmare, it was very largely because
      the Nordic nonsense made them an exceedingly Nordic nightmare.
      It was the period of the barbarian invasions; when piracy
      was on the high seas and civilisation was in the monasteries.
      You may not like monasteries, or the sort of civilisation that
      is preserved by monasteries; but it is quite certain that it
      was the only sort of civilisation there was. But this is simply
      one of the things that the Nordic gentleman does not know.
      He imagines that the Danish pirate was talking about Tariff Reform
      and Imperial Preference, with scientific statistics from Australia
      and Alaska, when he was rudely interrupted by a monk named Bede,
      who had never heard of anything but monkish fables. He supposes
      that a Viking or a Visigoth was firmly founded on the principles
      of the Primrose League and the English Speaking Union, and that
      everything else would have been founded on them if fanatical priests
      had not rushed in and proclaimed the savage cult called Christianity.
      He thinks that Penda of Mercia, the last heathen king, was just about
      to give the whole world the benefits of the British Constitution,
      not to mention the steam engine and the works of Rudyard Kipling,
      when his work was blindly ruined by unlettered ruffians with such names
      as Augustine and Dunstan and Anselm. And that is the little error
      which invalidates our Nordic friend’s importance as a serious historian;
      that is why we cannot throw ourselves with utter confidence
      and surrender into the stream of his historical enthusiasm.” – G.K. Chesterton, addressing enthusiastics for Germanic Nordic paganism in 1925. That particular enthusiasm issued in rather a lot of mischief a few years later, and was also the product of Catholics who rejected the evil repressive Church in favor of imaginative reconstructions of what they declared to be the “ancestral paganism” of their pre-Christian Deutschvolke forebears.

    • Ted Seeber

      The problem with self-made scholars is that they have an awful tendency to never look at their own faults, only the faults of others.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Thousands were baptised under threat during The Inquisition and millions were murdered for having held to their practices and being ‘proven’ to consort with the devil.

      Thousands of pagans? When was this, and where? The inquisitorial courts had no jurisdiction over non-Christians; only over heretics. These courts were ad hoc during times of crisis, such as the Albigensian crusade; and what records have survived mice and mold and fire indicate that the vast majority of sentences were acquittals, penances, prayers, and other such.
      Up until the Renaissance, the official church position was that there was no such things as witches, (as close as you could get to “pagans” by then) and held that they were deluded to boast of magical powers. For example, Vincent of Beauvais, to disabuse a woman convinced she was a witch who could pass through keyholes, locked the door and chased her about the room with a stick, while exhorting her to escape through the keyhole. We suppose that facts may be considered bigoted when they refute beliefs; but even Charlemagne, no shrinking violet he, found it necessary to issue a Capitulary for Saxony declaring it criminal for anyone acting on a heathen belief in magic to burn or devour the flesh of accused sorcerers. (This suggests that pagan Germans did not treat witches very nicely.) When Archbishop Abogard of Lyons (9th cent) learned that rustics in his diocese believed that witches destroyed their crops with hailstones and colluded with men from “Mangonia” (who sailed ships through the sky to steal crops), he felt obliged to tell his flock that men could not control the weather, sail ships through the sky, or wield any magical powers. Also there was no such place as Mangonia. Rather disillusioning, that. He had to personally intervene to save four “captured Mangonians.” Later, when the Spanish secular courts were arresting and executing people for witchcraft, it was the Spanish Inquisition that intervened and had them all set free.
      As for millions executed for pagan practices, again we have to ask when and where these things took place. Always be suspicious of casualty figures that constitute a sizable fraction of the total population.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        Here ya go: http://www.holocaust-history.org/~rjg/witches.shtml
        We can quickly toss aside the “millions” executed, but anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 were indeed killed. I don’t doubt a percentage of them were false accusations, but the bulk were probably local “wise-women” practicing some bastardization of pre-Christian Paganism and the nearest version of “Christianity”.
        (I’ve tried to submit this comment 5 times. Is this thing broken?)

  • Sadwyrn Emrys

    Correct me if I am wrong, but weren’t Catholicism and Christianity brand-new made-up religions (with an evolving new book) circa 33 – 100 C.E?

    Sadwyrn

    • Mark Shea

      You’re wrong. Christianity is brand new in one sense: that Jesus entered the world at a certain point in history. “We are of yesterday” remarks Tertullian in response to this complaint. But the whole claim of Christianity was that it was the fulfillment of prophecies rooted in Jewish antiquity and that Jesus in fact precedes all history. Neo-paganism claims historic roots too (The Return of the Old Ways). In short, both claim to be rooted in history. However the Catholic claim is actually credible whereas the neo-pagan claim is not (which is *why* some neo-pagans here are saying, “Who cares about the historically baseless claims. It feels good.”) The Catholic Church never took that route and, in fact, rejected people like Marcion when they tried to simply scrap the Old Testament. It is a religion irrevocably rooted in history.

      • Sadwyrn Emrys

        what makes the Neo-Pagan claim not credible? just your opinion ? and what makes the Catholic claim credible? just your opinion? is my opinion not as valid as yours? isn’t everyones opinion valid?

        I don’t believe those of the Jewish faith have verified the fulfillment of their prophecies.

        is your view of time really the eternal circle? that would be interesting.

        All religions are equal, including Catholicism. Any religion that claims to be better than others is bigoted.

        • Cinlef

          All religions are equal, including Catholicism. Any religion that claims to be better than others is bigoted.
          ______________________________________

          Your aware that pretty much every major religion (Christianity, Islam, the various branches of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, etc) all claim to be the “best” ( i.e. only true) religion right? Most of them do this explicitly (especially the Abrahamic faiths) but all of them do so indirectly by virtue of making various truth claims about the nature of reality that differ from the truth claims of other religions.

          Indeed the alternative is incoherence, Catholicism may be true (spoiler alert: It is, but that is a separate discussion and you need not know/agree to grasp my point). Islam may be true, but since they both make mutually exclusive truth claims they CANNOT BOTH BE TRUE (and this example works for any two religions)

          This is really really basic stuff

          • Sadwyrn Emrys

            As I said… bigoted (intolerant). “spoiler alert” indeed **shakes head**
            It is no wonder the world is in the shape it is today.

            I believe you have mis-applied the rules of logic to favor your version of the truth.

            • Mark Shea

              Saying, “I disagree with you” is not saying, “You have no rights.” Only one person in this conversation is reflexively calling people bigots and it’s not the Catholic.

            • Ye Olde Statistician

              Well, we mustn’t apply logic, I suppose. Did you know that Tychonic astronomy, Ursine astronomy, Copernican astronomy, etc. were all true? And to prefer any one of them over the others — or even to reject all of them in favor of Keplerian astronomy — is sheer bigotry?

            • Cinlef

              The only rule of logic at play here is the law of non-contradiction: You cannot have both X and not-X. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_non-contradiction)

              Religions make mutually exclusive truth claims, thus they cannot all be equal since all but one of them must be false. Strictly speaking it is also logically possible that all religions false and that either atheism or some religion not practiced/discovered by humans is true. In the latter case however you still have a hierarchy of religions inasmuch as they would range from less true to more true depending on how closely their truth claims matched up with hypothetical religion X. Indeed that is how many religions (like Catholicism and Islam) evaluate the relative merit of other religions.

              In any event the statement “all religions are equal” is pretty much prima facie false.

              Now its possible we are talking at cross purpose and what you meant to say was that “all religions ought to be treated equally under the law” or something of the sort which is of course an entirely different question.

              • Mark Shea

                It should be noted that the Law of Non-Contradiction was formulated by a great pagan thinker.

              • Mark Shea

                Also, it should be noted that the question of the truth claims of different religions is entirely different than the question of the morality of the different adherents. A good Samaritan pagan is closer to the kingdom of God than a theologically correct Catholic who robs, cheats and rapes.

        • Mark Shea

          what makes the Neo-Pagan claim not credible? just your opinion ?

          No. The fact that it claims to be the Re-emergence of the True Old Religion after centuries of oppression when it is, in fact, ahistorical rubbish concocted by the imagination of post-moderns saying “F*** you” to Christianity. I prefer the straightforward and honest “F*** you” to the ridiculous pretense that this tissure of imaginary “historical recreation” has anything to do with history.

          and what makes the Catholic claim credible? just your opinion?

          No. The massive intellectual, historical, spiritual evidence for the Catholic claims. You may not like those claims. But the fact remains that those claims have deep roots in history, deep philosophical grounding, and deep roots in the human race. Your religious claims are an ad hoc, ahistorical invention rooted in very recent protest. The claims of the Church are an obvious and organic growth from both Jewish and pagan historical roots.

          is my opinion not as valid as yours?

          Depends on what your opinion and mine are about. If your opinion is that the moon is made of cheese and an astronomers opinion is that it is made of rock, your opinion is wrong. You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.

          isn’t everyones opinion valid?

          Absolutely not. Some people are of the opinion that the world is flat. Others are of the opinion that women should be beheaded for wearing a bikini. Even you don’t believe “everyone’s opinion is valid”. In fact, you are writing specifically to deny that proposition here.

          I don’t believe those of the Jewish faith have verified the fulfillment of their prophecies.

          The apostles and 5/6th of ancient Jews thought exactly that the prophecies had been fulfilled.

          is your view of time really the eternal circle? that would be interesting.

          My view of time is that it is a wheel rolling toward a destination, not spinning pointlessly in a void. The seasons have cycles and history rhymes (which is how the gospel fulfills the types and shadows of the Old Covenant, with the Passover Lamb foreshadowing Jesus the Lamb of God). But it’s all heading toward That Day when Christ returns in glory.

          All religions are equal, including Catholicism. Any religion that claims to be better than others is bigoted.

          In other words, all religions are equally superior to the Catholic faith, which is wrong.

          No. All religions, even the strangest ones, have something right about them. Polytheism is superior to atheism because it acknowledges the reality of the supernatural. Ethical monotheism is even more accurate because it understands that there is but one God and that he demands righteousness, justice, mercy, love. Judaism is closer still since in Israel, that God has revealed himself though the various covenants of their history. Christianity recognizes that in Jesus Christ, that same God has become a human being for our sake. Various Protestantisms preserve various aspects of what Jesus handed to his Church, such as prayer in his Name, the Bible, works of mercy, etc. Orthodoxy preserves this and the sacraments. Catholic faith preserves all this and the unity of the Church with the Petrine office. An *atheist* has to say all religions are equal–and wrong. A Catholic is free to say all religions have something on the ball, but cannot pretends that “all religions are equal”. Since you yourself don’t believe that either in the case of the Catholic faith why do you demand Catholics believe it?

          • Pancho

            ” Sadwyrn: I don’t believe those of the Jewish faith have verified the fulfillment of their prophecies.

            Mark: The apostles and 5/6th of ancient Jews thought exactly that that. ”

            Sadwyrn should read this chapter from Stark’s book “The Rise of Christianity”, “The Mission to the Jews: Why It Probably Succeded”: https://www.humanscience.org/docs/Stark%20%281996%29%20Rise%20of%20Christianity%203-4.pdf

            “Perhaps only a sociologist would be foolish enough to suggest that, contrary to the received
            wisdom, Jewish Christianity played a central role until much later in the rise of Christianity—
            that not only was it the Jews of the diaspora who provided the initial basis for church growth
            during the first and early second centuries, but that Jews continued as a significant source of
            Christian converts until at least as late as the fourth century and that Jewish Christianity was still
            significant in the fifth century. In any event, that is the argument I shall make in this chapter.”

            Read the rest.

            • Sadwyrn Emrys

              Interesting article. The title is fantastic: Rodney Stark (1996) The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant
              Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries

              I will note that the conclusion of the paper says: “the rise of (the tiny and obscure Jesus Movement) was long and perilous” . As I first commented in this thread, even Catholicism and Christianity were new and made up at some point. My thanks for the resource pointing this out, though with the word “Probably” in the title of the chapter, I am reluctant to use it anywhere else.

              As for 5/6… I will visit my local Synagogue and ask a current body of practitioners.

              And to correct the mis-interpretation of another comment I made: “All religions are equal”. I meant what I said. My religion is not better or superior to Catholicism, and Catholicism is not better or superior to mine. I do find it interesting that the automatic assumption when I said “equal” was that I really meant “better”. Even more telling is how it was interpreted as “all other religions are equally superior to Catholicism”.

              Since my simple sentences cannot be read and interpreted correctly, I will withdraw from this conversation.

              • Mark Shea

                “New” =/= “made up”. You seem not to have a read a word I said.

                It’s fascinating to see pagans abandon the claim that theirs is the True and Ancient Religion and freely admit the whole thing is a modern synthetic fake, if only they can just take Christianity down with the same claim. It makes clear, once again, that the real goal is simply to reject Christianity. As I say, a boutique form of Protestantism.

                Of course what you mean is “better”.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            MS: The fact that it claims to be the Re-emergence of the True Old Religion after centuries of oppression when it is, in fact, ahistorical rubbish concocted by the imagination of post-moderns saying “F*** you” to Christianity.
            VFA: And this is where your argument goes off the rails. “True X Religion” (be it Old or New) isn’t something modern Pagans claim. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, we don’t claim primacy. Sure, there are some “F-You Xtianity” Pagans out there, but there are gobs of “F-You Pagans” Christians out there, writing false and scandelous accounts of pagan goings-on. We didn’t create the Satanic Panic of the 90s, Christians did, because having a common enemy/boogyman helps keep the “flock” together. You can see the same behaviour with some of the anti-Islamic rhetoric now. (I realize the Church doesn’t *fully* buy into these events and shaming, but we’re talking Christianity as a whole here.)

            MS: No. The massive intellectual, historical, spiritual evidence for the Catholic claims. You may not like those claims. But the fact remains that those claims have deep roots in history, deep philosophical grounding, and deep roots in the human race.
            VFA: Lack of credible, academically sound historical evidence before ~200 CE doesn’t help your case much. The only real religion that can trace back that far is forms of Confucionism and other Eastern philosophies, because they didn’t have to deal with the Uphevals that Europe did. I suppose you’ll claim that the various and sundry pagan myths that mirror the Christian Jesus myths of his birth and resurrection constitute those “deep roots”? Since you’re so happy with direct citation start with: Dionysus, Horus, Mithras, and even Buddhism.

            MS:You are not entitled to your own facts.
            VFA:Neither is your religion entitled to its own facts.

            OP:isn’t everyones opinion valid?
            MS:Absolutely not. Some people are of the opinion that the world is flat. Others are of the opinion that women should be beheaded for wearing a bikini. Even you don’t believe “everyone’s opinion is valid”. In fact, you are writing specifically to deny that proposition here.
            VFA: Absolutely, with the caveat that said opinion doesn’t harm others (your delightful beheading anology). Jefferson said it best, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. ” You seem to almost be on a crusade (pardon the pun) to belittle and deny the belief of those who aren’t out to convert you, aren’t out to drag you to their ceremonies…you know I don’t know what Pagans did to make you so disgusted with us.

            MS:The apostles and 5/6th of ancient Jews thought exactly that the prophecies had been fulfilled.
            VFA: 5/6ths? That’s an awefuly exact number. Citation? Please make sure that this Citation doesn’t count 2nd generation Jews who followed Jesus as actual Jews who happened to belong to the Christian sect and not as Christians (which they technically were at that point), because that will skew your numbers something fierce.

            OP:All religions are equal, including Catholicism. Any religion that claims to be better than others is bigoted.
            MS:In other words, all religions are equally superior to the Catholic faith, which is wrong.
            VFA: That’s not what the OP said at all. You’re the one who singled out Catholics as opposed to Evangelicals, Jews, or Muslims. I don’t necessarily agree with as harsh a term as “bigoted”, but certainly “arrogant” fits the bill nicely.

            MS: No. All religions, even the strangest ones, have something right about them.
            VFA: You’ve got that much right.

            MS: [heirarchy of religions, as determined by Caholicism] … A Catholic is free to say all religions have something on the ball, but cannot pretends that “all religions are equal”. Since you yourself don’t believe that either in the case of the Catholic faith why do you demand Catholics believe it?
            VFA: It’s the confusing dichotomy that you allow that many religions have it correct to a degree (synchrotism), but only Catholics have it all (primacy). Pagans have a hard time reconciling this, because we believe the same, except without *any* claims of primacy for anyone. It’s those claims of primacy and superiority that gets us riled. In terms of viewing the spiritual and the divine, all religions really are created equal.
            Problems occur when we bring everything back down to earth and one gets deluged in claims of primacy, of “rightness” for all at the expense of the few, and in some cases, even hate (yes, hate. I’m sure you’ve seen the video of the 10-yr-old singing about how the gays are gonna burn in hell. Don’t try and tell me that’s not hate (I know he’s not Catholic, but we’re arguing about “all religions” here)).
            I think that’s enough for now.

            • Mark Shea

              I’m getting ready to hit the road. So, briefly:
              And this is where your argument goes off the rails. “True X Religion” (be it Old or New) isn’t something modern Pagans claim. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, we don’t claim primacy. Sure, there are some “F-You Xtianity” Pagans out there, but there are gobs of “F-You Pagans” Christians out there, writing false and scandelous accounts of pagan goings-on. We didn’t create the Satanic Panic of the 90s, Christians did, because having a common enemy/boogyman helps keep the “flock” together. You can see the same behaviour with some of the anti-Islamic rhetoric now. (I realize the Church doesn’t *fully* buy into these events and shaming, but we’re talking Christianity as a whole here.)

              Sure it is. One of the constant claims made on behalf of neo-paganisn is that it is the re-emergence of the Immemorial Religion brutally suppressed by Christians. it’s the Baptist Trail of Blood narrative, with the True Religion going into hiding a little earlier and re-emerging a little later. And yes, I’m aware that a few Fundamentalists and Evangelical have panicked about neo-pagans and I think it rather silly. As I say, I have a high view of paganism and even of neo-pagans. I was a pagan myself (in that I was not raised Christian and sought God through the imagination as pagans do). I just don’t pretend that the synthetic, post-Christian ad hoc affair concocted specifically in reaction to Christianity bear much resemblance to historic rooted pagan cultures.

              VFA: Lack of credible, academically sound historical evidence before ~200 CE doesn’t help your case much. The only real religion that can trace back that far is forms of Confucionism and other Eastern philosophies, because they didn’t have to deal with the Uphevals that Europe did. I suppose you’ll claim that the various and sundry pagan myths that mirror the Christian Jesus myths of his birth and resurrection constitute those “deep roots”? Since you’re so happy with direct citation start with: Dionysus, Horus, Mithras, and even Buddhism.

              You clearly don’t know much about New Testament scholarship, nor about patristics. The attempts to argue that Jesus is merely a rehash of pagan myth founders on the rocks of historical reality. You’re relying on The Worlds Sixteen Crucified Saviors and other crude 19th Century scholarship, popularized by Dan Brown. I would recommend the Da Vinci Hoax for, inter alia, its takedown of this sort of embarrassing “Christ is warmed over paganism” “scholarship”. Even the skeptic sites keep Kersey Graves (author of World’s Sixteen) at arms length. As I mentioned earlier, one of the constant strategies of paganism is to try to constantly say that everything in Christianity is just warmed over paganism. It’s just not. The obvious, overwhelming and massive debt Christianity owes is to the Old Testament. So, for instance, the myth that Christmas is a warmed over solstice celebration is a myth. It owes to Jewish and Christian scripture and tradition and the attempt to link it to the solstice is a modern effort. Also, how come it’s always only Christmas we hear about? (Oh, and by the way, all the real scholarship is now basically admitting that Mithra is a ripoff of Christian themes. There is indebtedness *to* Christianity in paganism, as well as some Christian indebtedness to pagans.

              VFA: Absolutely, with the caveat that said opinion doesn’t harm others (your delightful beheading anology). Jefferson said it best, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. ” You seem to almost be on a crusade (pardon the pun) to belittle and deny the belief of those who aren’t out to convert you, aren’t out to drag you to their ceremonies…you know I don’t know what Pagans did to make you so disgusted with us.

              I’m not disgusted. As I say, I have a high view of paganism. I much prefer an enchanted view of nature to the ruthless materialism of modernity. It demonstrates a very healthy apprehension of and desires for a sacramental view of reality. That’s why pagans made great Catholics in antiquity. I merely point out that a) paganism errs in worshiping and serving creatures instead of the Creator and b) the synthetic, post-Christian form of Protestantism known as neo-paganism is historically and intellectually incoherent and, as you are demonstrating, based on stunningly bad “scholarship”. What prompted me to write is simple: a neo-pagan decided to take something a friend of mine wrote as an attack on neo-pagans when it was no such thing. I replied. He replied. I wrote this in reply. Here we are. If you check my archives, you will see that I seldom discuss neo-paganism, though I do discuss paganism.

              VFA: 5/6ths? That’s an awefuly exact number. Citation? Please make sure that this Citation doesn’t count 2nd generation Jews who followed Jesus as actual Jews who happened to belong to the Christian sect and not as Christians (which they technically were at that point), because that will skew your numbers something fierce.

              I gave the citation. Here it is again. Sociologist Rodney Stark says those who identified as Jews numbered about six million in the first century. By the fifth century, that number was about one million. Where did they go? They became Christians. Today’s Jews are the heirs of those who did not become Christian.

              OP:All religions are equal, including Catholicism. Any religion that claims to be better than others is bigoted.
              MS:In other words, all religions are equally superior to the Catholic faith, which is wrong.
              VFA: That’s not what the OP said at all. You’re the one who singled out Catholics as opposed to Evangelicals, Jews, or Muslims. I don’t necessarily agree with as harsh a term as “bigoted”, but certainly “arrogant” fits the bill nicely.

              The Catholic faith claims, among other things, that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one comes to the Father but by him. It claims that there is no salvation apart from him. It claims that the fullness of revelation he offers subsists in the Catholic communion. This is not the same as crudely claiming “We’re right and everybody else is wrong” and, in fact, one of the things that sets the Church apart from other religions is its rejection of both pagan indifferentism (“All religions are equal”) and fundamentalist exclusivism (“We alone are right and all others are totally wrong”). All religions are not equal. Religions are fantastical diverse and complex and have much to recommend them and much that is obviously false. So resurgent race worship under the cobbled-together neo-paganism of the Nazis was not “equally true” with “all men are made in the image and likeness of God”. Worshipping Satan and worshipping God are not equally true. And saying all religions are equal is not equally true as saying “One religion is the fullness of revelation.” Somebody *has* to be wrong when faced with such competing claims. And there are lots of other competing claims. It is, frankly, juvenile to try to deny this.

              Much turns on the word “better”. If it means “morally superior” then the question remains, “In its teachings, or in the practice of its adherents?” I submit that, say, “Love your enemies” is a better moral teaching than “Cut out the beating heart of your captured prisoners of war”. On the other hand, only a fool would say that a Catholic mafia don who orders a hit on a rival is “better” then Gandhi, merely because he is Catholic and the latter is a pagan. So does neo-paganism when it offers the complaint of Christian brutality against pagans. In short, neo-paganism says that it is superior to Christianity and obviously does not believe Christianity to be equal to neo-paganism. We can’t help making such evaluative judgments.

              Now I think that when speaking of a religious tradition we compare like with like, best with best, not best with worst. So I would compare Gandhi or Confucius, with St. Thomas or Jesus, not with some anti-semitic peasant in the First Crusade. And I submit that the Christian account of reality is more coherent than the neo-pagan account. Are there good and nice neo-pagans? Of course. But is neo-paganism a true account of reality? No. It has serious flaws, many of them pointed out by the best pagan thinkers, such as Aristotle. Polytheism and the worship of creatures is the fundamental flaw. And that means, among other things, that no: all religions are not equal. But since neo-pagans themselves acknowledge this and make it a keystone of their complaint against Christians, I don’t need to belabor that.

              VFA: It’s the confusing dichotomy that you allow that many religions have it correct to a degree (synchrotism), but only Catholics have it all (primacy). Pagans have a hard time reconciling this, because we believe the same, except without *any* claims of primacy for anyone. It’s those claims of primacy and superiority that gets us riled. In terms of viewing the spiritual and the divine, all religions really are created equal.

              What is confusing you is that your (surprisingly fundamentalist) take on Catholicism insists on seeing a dichotomy when in fact there is not one. It is fundamentalism that divides the world into either/or. It is the typically Catholic habit of mind to think in terms of both/and. It is not “syncretism” to acknowledge that pagans have a lot of things right. It is common sense. Pagans discovered and invented all sort of good things. Christians believe that pagans are made in the image and likeness of God and that whatever good things pagans have, think and do are good gifts from a good God to creatures who are made for communion with him and who already reflect his image. The notion that it’s white hats/black hats is fundamentalism, not Catholic. And, by the way, Catholics would not say “Catholics have it all” but rather that Christ has it all. The Church is the fullness of revelation, not because Catholics, who can’t tell their butts from a hole in the ground, have it together, but because the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. The pope and bishops screw up and have to go to confession for a reason. The claim of superiority is a claim directed at Christ, because he is God incarnate, not at Catholics.

              Problems occur when we bring everything back down to earth and one gets deluged in claims of primacy, of “rightness” for all at the expense of the few, and in some cases, even hate (yes, hate. I’m sure you’ve seen the video of the 10-yr-old singing about how the gays are gonna burn in hell. Don’t try and tell me that’s not hate (I know he’s not Catholic, but we’re arguing about “all religions” here)).
              I think that’s enough for now.

              In other words, you agree with me that not all religions (for instance, religions that teach little kids to celebrate gays burning in hell) are equal (to religions that do not practice this form of child abuse). I agree totally. That’s why you should abandon this nonsensical claim of indifferentism and figure out how to rightly order a heirarchy of religious truths.

              By the way, just to correct some more of your bad scholarship (though I’m sure YOS will do it too), you need to also familiarize yourself with the *real* history of the Library at Alexandria. The movie “Agora” is not scholarship and everything you think you know about the destruction of the library at Alexandria by evil Christians is wrong.

              Okay. I’m hitting the road. Further arguments with your dubious “scholarship” will, I hope, be conducted by YOS.

              • Irenist

                A mere shadow of YOS here, but to repeat what I said upthread (you really need to read the whole thread for cites, VFA) about cites before 200 A.D. (or C.E., if the fig leaf assuages anything):
                Jesus Christ was crucified c. 30 A.D. The earliest Gospel account of His life dates from c. 60 A.D. The writings of St. Paul are even earlier. The earliest writing attributed to a Pope other than Peter, the First Epistle of St. Clement, dates to c. 80-140 A.D. There is an unbroken line from Jesus’ disciple John the Apostle to John’s student Polycarp to Polycarp’s student Ignatius. John’s students left another Gospel. Polycarp and Ignatius left surviving epistles. From the time of Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, there is continuous documentary evidence of Catholic Church history from the late Roman Empire through the Middle Ages until today. The documentary record for Christianity is extraordinarily solid, and does not rest merely on the Bible. Far from it.

                • Vision_From_Afar

                  I did find the cite, and I found it lacking. It was a jump of several centuries’ worth of population changes, wherein we completely discount conversions from other faiths (pagans!) and the fact that people breed and children generally follow their parents faith, and breed on their own, so on and so forth. That 5/6s figure is (even at the cited text) a “best guess”.

                  • Mark Shea

                    Translation: I will ignore the fact that the Jewish population went from six to one million and go on insisting that “most Jews rejected Jesus”. More of that “scholarship” neo-pagans are famous for.

                    • Vision_From_Afar

                      More like: It’s 6 centuries, and you can’t chalk up that level of population decline solely to conversion (I’m not saying some didn’t convert, merely that claiming that all or a majority did is delightfully wishful thinking). I’m done with this line.

                    • Mark Shea

                      Actual sociologist who has done the research vs. gratuitous combox assertion. Which shall I choose?

                    • Vision_From_Afar

                      Actual sociologt who quotes “most scholars” (no source) with a ballpark estimate of two centuries (fourth or fifth century)?
                      “Some scholars have noted that, by the fourth or fifth century, there were only a few hundred thousand, at most a million, people who identified themselves as Jews. What happened to the millions of others? The most likely answer, it is suggested, is that they became Christians.” – from the cite
                      Again, this is a best guess. There is zero population data for nearly five hundred years, and the only offered solution is the one you’re just going to jump on? Be my guest. I’m afraid I need better “research” than suggestions and likelihood before I’ll believe 5/6ths of a tight religious community that held on to their faith for centuries would turn around and convert en masse that quickly.

                    • Pancho

                      VFA wrote:

                      “Actual sociologt who quotes “most scholars” (no source) with a ballpark estimate of two centuries (fourth or fifth century)?”

                      He cites his sources in his book. Stark does indeed sources and figure throughout it and it’s profusely footnoted.

              • Vision_From_Afar

                Re: Alexandria
                Did you even read your own source? Christians tore it down and burned every piece of it they could find, even in the historical references. Sure, it may not have been the mob displayed in the movie, but it happened all the same. I fail to see how you’ve corrected the point that Christians tore the (final) Library of Alexandria down.
                To quote the eyewitness:
                “So perished that marvelous monument of the literary activity of our ancestors, who had gathered together so many great works of brilliant geniuses. In regard to this, however true it may be that in some of the temples there remain up to the present time book chests, which we ourselves have seen, and that, as we are told, these were emptied by our own men in our own day when these temples were plundered—this statement is true enough—yet it seems fairer to suppose that other collections had later been formed to rival the ancient love of literature, and not that there had once been another library which had books separate from the four hundred thousand volumes mentioned, and for that reason had escaped destruction.” -Paulus Orosius, vi.15.32
                Though he doesn’t mention books specifically, the reference to “other collections” implies that new books and scrolls had been created since Aurelian sacked the city two centuries earlier (or maybe he was referenceing Ceasar’s idiotic move in 40CE), at least until it was torn down.

                • Mark Shea

                  Reading comprehension fail. Seriously, go back and read the TOFspot *thoroughly*.

                  • Vision_From_Afar

                    Weren’t you leaving?
                    I read it twice, with my blinders off. I never said the movie was fact, merely that you’re glossing over what really happend.

                    • Mark Shea

                      No. I’m really not. Since you seem unable to read Flynn’s work, perhaps the documentation provided by this atheist historian will content you. Money quote:

                      Even hostile, anti-Christian accounts of this event, like that of Eunapius of Sardis (who witnessed the demolition), do not mention any library or books being destroyed. And Ammianus Marcellinus, who seems to have visited Alexandria before 391, describes the Serapeum and mentions that it had once housed a library, indicating that by the time of its destruction it no longer did so. The fact is that, with no less than five independent accounts detailing this event, the destruction of the Serapeum is one of the best attested events in the whole of ancient history. Yet nothing in the evidence indicates the destruction of any library along with the temple complex.

                      Still, the myth of a Christian mob destroying the “Great Library of Alexandria” is too juicy for some to resist, so this myth remains a mainstay for arguments that “Christianity caused the Dark Ages” despite the fact it is completely without foundation.

                      It is the combination of your easy crediting of pseudoknowledge like the “Christian destruction of the Library at Alexandria”, your stunning ignorance of actual real scholarship about the NT, and your head-patting “It may interest you to know” condescension that is the real arrogance on display in this conversation. As I say, I can and have given all sorts of props to paganism (Hypatia is one of paganism’s boasts). I don’t need to pretend that Christianity has no black marks on its record. “All have sinned…” as the NT says. But you have been stunningly uncharitable, in addition to simply being wrong about many assertions of fact. You should rethink your approach. You’re doing it wrong.

                      PS. Note that when the subject is the destruction of the Serapeum, “five independent accounts” is regarded as massive documentation from antiquity. But when the subject is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you carelessly toss this aside, while urging me to take seriously the supposings of “scholars” based on massive guesswork about the cultic practices of people who, in many cases, deliberately chose not to reveal their mysteries in writing lest the unwashed profane the sanctities.

                      We actually have a ton of written information on the cultic practices of the Jews because they wrote down a ton of stuff. And yet even with *massive* documentation from original sources like the OT, its hard to precisely re-enact the cultic life of ancient Jews. Why then, should I take seriously “reconstructions” of scholars based on guesses about what pagans may have been up to in their (supposed) rites? Christianity has a paper trail and a tradition of commentary on that paper trail that stretches back to within a decade or two of the Resurrection. I’ll take that over the sketchy guesses of “scholars” who can’t even get their facts straight about the Library at Alexandria, much less what an Iron Age Druid who left no records may have been up to.

                    • Vision_From_Afar

                      I quoted directly one of your “five independant accounts” who stated that there was literature carried off when the temple was demolished, and you have yet to address that. Why?
                      When the subject is the resurrection, you don’t have five independant accounts, you have several accounts of closely affiliated people relating what happened years or decades previous. I’m not carelessly tossing anything aside.
                      Like your sociologist account on the massive Jewish disappearance, I’m simply asking for a higher standard of account. Here you’ve got five direct, written, eye-witnesses within weeks or even days of the events, a wee bit more believeable.
                      So which is it, do we have zero information because no one wrote anything down to keep it from the unwashed masses, or do we have massive amounts of information that still don’t tell us what we want to know?

                    • Mark Shea

                      Mkay. I see you aren’t really interested in dealing with reality. Nice talking to you. Anytime you want to actually reply to the O’Neill piece and not grab a quick proof text that sides with your preconceived urban legend. let me know.

  • Craig

    There is a rather good book about the actual historical roots of wicca (in the 19th and 20th century) _The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft._ The author, Ronald Hutton, is a real historian with a solid grasp of method. He is also quite generous about wicca as a spiritual phenomenon (rather too generous, in my opinion).

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Because I enjoy this sort of thing:
    MS: Could you document where I said all pagans or pagan religion is demonic? Thank you.
    VFA: Considering you took his comment out of context from the comments on your original blog post, copying most of your original reply to make *this* blog post, that kind of rhetoric is actually childish and unnecessary. In *your* comment to which he was replying, you stated
    “He notes that belief in evil spirits is also part of the pagan tradition (one of the constant strategies of neo-pagans is to constantly claim credit for everything in Christianity).”
    Thus you tie pagan belief in evil spirits to demonic influence. You’re welcome.

    MS:My view of paganism (real paganism, I mean, not the synthetic variety called neo-paganism) is actually quite high and much more nuanced.
    VFA: You mean you’ve read a lot of Chesterton and Lewis and now have a Romanticized vision of the pre-Chrisitan pagan for his/her firmness of belief and faith, while simultaniously intellectually sneering at the parts of paganism you don’t like. Like a lot of C&L fans, you’ve dragged this view to the present and slap-dashedly applied to the Neo-Pagan movement, complete with the “high and nuanced” view of the *old* pagans, while sneering at both the old and the new. The only thing high and nuanced here is your attitude.

    MS: I’m not sure what engaging your article by proxy means. I was not super interested in your article.
    VFA: It means exactly what your second sentance said. You weren’t interested, so you skimmed it, decided that “Jason doesn’t think demons exist” was the main thrust of the article, so that was all you countered with. The main point (granted, you had to actually *read* to find it) was that “demonic influence” was, and is, used as a tool of societal and religious control on the outliers of the faith. You completely missed his point and argued by setting up the “demonic influence is real” straw man.

    MS: As I say, I don’t spend much time fighting with neo-pagans.
    VFA: Judging from the vast number of counter-comments you’ve posted in this article, I beg to differ, sir.

    MS: The movement seems to me to be what the Irenist describes: a boutique sect. It seems to me to be a particularly unrealistic species of Protestantism based on an even more fictional history than the fictional Baptist history of the Trail of Blood.
    VFA: Protestantism? Really? Considering we don’t worship Jesus in any way, shape, form, or fashion, please explain that leap of logic for me. Or are you simply using Protestantism in its literal sense “a protested, and divisted religion seperate from the Catholic Church”? I suppose that *could* apply…

    MS: It’s massively anachronistic. It is driven (like all revolts) by a perception of some real evils that need righting. In particular, it wants to restore a kind of sacramentality to the world that has been ruthlessly crushed by the materialism and scientism of the 20th century.
    VFA: That’s a rather sweeping generalization. In my experience (which I would argue is a bit bigger than yours in this regard), it is driven by a lack of fulfillment in the institutionalized religions ruling the world today. In particular, it wants to restore a kind of closeness and tribal comraderie to the world that has been ruthlessly crushed by the “holier-than-thou” religious movements of the 20th century.

    MS: It protests the violence in Christian history while overlooking the violence of human history.
    VFA: Considering a large segement of Christian violence was perpetrated due to the religion of their foes, it’s not an inelegant argument. Everyone has their share of atrocities, and yet the primary arguement of many Christians (perhaps not all, but many) against Pagan reconstructionism is “You want to go back to all that violence and bloodshed?!” The protesting reply merely points out that in earlier times, this is very much the pot calling the kettle soot-stained. Most reconstructionists aim to worship as the early pagans would have done, had they been allowed to evolve the modern ethos we have today (anti-slavery, women’s rights, etc.). No one is advocating going back to human sacrifice.

    MS: What puzzles me about neo-paganism is why it wastes all this time inventing a fake synthetic paganism based on some suburbanites’ supposings about what esoteric sects did centuries ago, when there are lots of real pagans running around in Asia and the global south they could just go join without all this laborious re-inventing of an almost entirely fictional wheel.
    VFA: What puzzles me about your critique is why it cannot fathom that Neo-Pagans of every stripe want to worship as their ancestors had, rather than pillaging foreign religions. All pagan faiths may be created equal, but not everyone can wear the same size shoe. I suppose you don’t understand because you can’t see the trees (different traditions) in the forest (of “fictional” paganism), and recognize that a birch (Hellenic) isn’t an ash (Norse) isn’t an olive (Egyptian), etc.

    MS: The focus of the neo-pagans is on pretend recreations of ancient euro-paganism, based on fictionalized history , coupled with modern notions of relativism and libertinism that would have often baffled and horrifed many ancient pagans (who were by no means a monolith).
    VFA: No, really, insult those who have speant DECADES pouring over academically sound archeological texts, attempting to glean a better understanding of euro-pagans. Does it take two hands to paint with a brush that broad?

    MS:So when you consult an actual pagan rooted in an actual historic pagan tradition like, say, the Dalai Lama on things like sexual mores, he sounds disappointingly more like Pope Benedict than like some sexually liberated votress of a goddess from a Joss Whedon fantasy universe dressed like a Frank Frazetta heroine.
    VFA: Ah, so your real beef is pagans is the sexual liberation. Oddly enough, you might find that a good deal of reconstructionists sound disappointingly more like Christians than your feminazi Wiccan straw-woman. I think your deeper issue lies with femanism and sexual liberation (which while tied to some forms of Paganism, it didn’t originate there), and you’re just using paganism as an easy scapegoat.

    MS: Neo-pagans also carefully ignore the fact that the last thing *those* pagans did was ask for baptism.
    VFA: Christians also carefully ignore the coercion that occured for sometimes year before they did “ask”. (See my reubttal to YOS)

    MS: That’s because, of course, the *real* motivation of neo-pagans is not to return to past religious traditions but to react against present ones and invent new ones.
    VFA: So why is that such a bad thing? We’re not asking you to convert. Paganism grows because people are drawn to it by themselves, not through coercion.

    MS: It wants theism and sacramentalism and a certain Middle Earth/world music/koyaanasqatsi multicultural fantasy aesthetic, as well as some of the trendier aspects of postmodern feminism dressed up in cool robes, all while ignoring the actual lot of women in the overwhelming majority of pre-Christian antiquity and the fact that it was the Christian tradition that, due to the influence of the Blessed Virgin, essentially invented the idea that the love of woman could be ennobling (a concept foreign to, for instance, the pagan Greeks, who saw women as breeder units for male citizens).
    VFA: For someone who dismisses so much of Paganism, you sure know a lot about such a diverse movement. Earlier you accused pagans of constantly countering Christian arguments with the atrocities of Christians past. How is this ANY different? Also, you obviously need to study better on the pagan Greeks, where women could actually own property, a right that took centuries under “Christian tradition” to come back into style. You continue to confuse the SCA (lovely bunch of folks, mostly Christians, bless ‘em), feminists, and Pagans. Though there are some lovely Venn-eqse collusion between the three, none are wholly contained within another, which is why your arguments continually fall off-target, blasting the “dress-up” of SCA or the liberation viewpoint of the feminists while missing the pagan viewpoint that is both and yet neither.

    MS: And all this anachronism is indulged in by neo-pagans while ignoring the real flesh and blood pagans who happen to not be ethnically related to dilletante suburban Americans and Europeans (except for a dash of cool Native American spirituality–also ignoring the fact that vast numbers of Native Americans asked for baptism too).
    VFA: The First Nations “asked” for baptism because more often than not medicine and aid (which they desperately needed due to the good Christians stealing their land and displacing them forcably while ignoring earlier treaties) were threatened to be withheld without conversion. See my earlier argument about how not all Pagans are the same.

    MS: I suspect this may be due to the fact that dilletante suburban Europeans and Americans don’t *really* want to adopt the lifestyle of a 15th century Maori cannibal, or eschew western science (a fruit of Christianity) in favor of shaking mistel branches at statues when they have a toothache, or live the hardscrabble hand to mouth existence of a hunter/gatherer on the Veldt. That’s getting in touch with a lot more Nature than dilettante suburbanites want.
    VFA: So because I want to enjoy the last 1000 years of progress while worshiping the Gods of my ancestors, I’m a dilettante? Does the fact that you want to not be fed to Lions or martyred by the state for being a divisive sect (and early Christians were VERY divisive) mean YOU are a dilettante? Or just sensible?

    MS: The real heirs to all that was best in paganism are, in fact, Catholics. If you want actual contact with cultural currents and thoughtforms that take you back to remote antiquity and connect you, not only with pre-Christian pagans, but with ancient Jews as well, then look there.
    VFA: Considering how much syncretism exists in the Christian Church today, I’d believe it. Naming the celebration and date of your God’s resurrection to coincide with the equinox celebration of a European Goddess (Eostre), to co-opting blatant pagan traditions at Christmas (gift giving: Saturnalina, trees: Yule, mistletoe: Druids), the Catholics have certainly been busy becoming “real heirs” to paganism. The claims of primacy also lead us back to ancient Jews, who decided the best way to remain stable and whole against their enemies was to dedicate themselves to a single god, discarding all the others they had been worshiping.

    TM: There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation.
    VFA: ..of WESTERN human civilization.

    TM: No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre.
    VFA: Chinese dynasties much? Doesn’t help that the only real reason the Church stands so long and tall is because it stamped out any opposition as best it could.

    TM: The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila.
    VFA: …sword in one hand, Bible in the other, happy to martyr for the cause?

    TM: The number of her children is greater than in any former age.
    VFA: Her breeding policy might have something to do with that.

    TM: Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe.
    VFA: …wherein Christianity is quickly loosing it’s members. You had a good run, but pluralism is the new word, and you’re going to have to live with it.

    MS: Since Macauley wrote this, the Catholic Church has–largely in lands that were pagan a century ago, experienced a 7000% percent growth.
    VFA: [citation needed]

    MS: Pagans (real ones, not synthetic post-Christian suburban Protestant ones) are still searching for and finding Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
    VFA: Nothing left to say to this. Go in (mis-informed, arrogant) peace.

    • Mark Shea

      Oh dear. The Massive Reply Strategy.

      VFA: Considering you took his comment out of context from the comments on your original blog post, copying most of your original reply to make *this* blog post, that kind of rhetoric is actually childish and unnecessary. In *your* comment to which he was replying, you stated
      “He notes that belief in evil spirits is also part of the pagan tradition (one of the constant strategies of neo-pagans is to constantly claim credit for everything in Christianity).”
      Thus you tie pagan belief in evil spirits to demonic influence. You’re welcome.

      Mentioning that pagans believe in evil spirits is not saying that pagans are demonic. It’s just not.

      VFA: You mean you’ve read a lot of Chesterton and Lewis and now have a Romanticized vision of the pre-Chrisitan pagan for his/her firmness of belief and faith, while simultaniously intellectually sneering at the parts of paganism you don’t like. Like a lot of C&L fans, you’ve dragged this view to the present and slap-dashedly applied to the Neo-Pagan movement, complete with the “high and nuanced” view of the *old* pagans, while sneering at both the old and the new. The only thing high and nuanced here is your attitude.

      Neither Lewis nor Chesterton have a romanticized view. What they have is a fair and generous views that takes in both the good and the bad of paganism and is about as far as you can get from Satanic Panic analyses. Make up you mind. Do you want generous analyses of paganism or Satanic Panic analyses?

      VFA: It means exactly what your second sentance said. You weren’t interested, so you skimmed it, decided that “Jason doesn’t think demons exist” was the main thrust of the article, so that was all you countered with. The main point (granted, you had to actually *read* to find it) was that “demonic influence” was, and is, used as a tool of societal and religious control on the outliers of the faith. You completely missed his point and argued by setting up the “demonic influence is real” straw man.

      Actually, your mind-reading skills are off. What I read was Star’s remarks. I didn’t say or think Jason doesn’t think demons exist since, as I noted, he mentions the pagan acknowledgement of the existence of evil spirits and (as is the custom with pagans) makes sure to mention the “we got there first” strategy that pagans always deploy in discussions of Christianity. I’m perfectly aware his point was that Christian discussions of the demonic make pagans feel threatened. My point is that Fr. Longenecker was not talking about pagans, but that Jason chose to assume he was anyway.

      VFA: Judging from the vast number of counter-comments you’ve posted in this article, I beg to differ, sir.

      Um. no. Read my blog. I seldom spend time talking about neo-paganism. I take time *here* because a lot of people are showing up, saying a lot of rubbish.

      VFA: Protestantism? Really? Considering we don’t worship Jesus in any way, shape, form, or fashion, please explain that leap of logic for me. Or are you simply using Protestantism in its literal sense “a protested, and divisted religion seperate from the Catholic Church”? I suppose that *could* apply…

      Right.

      VFA: That’s a rather sweeping generalization. In my experience (which I would argue is a bit bigger than yours in this regard), it is driven by a lack of fulfillment in the institutionalized religions ruling the world today. In particular, it wants to restore a kind of closeness and tribal comraderie to the world that has been ruthlessly crushed by the “holier-than-thou” religious movements of the 20th century.

      In other words, my analysis is sound. It’s a protest movement.

      VFA: Considering a large segement of Christian violence was perpetrated due to the religion of their foes, it’s not an inelegant argument. Everyone has their share of atrocities, and yet the primary arguement of many Christians (perhaps not all, but many) against Pagan reconstructionism is “You want to go back to all that violence and bloodshed?!” The protesting reply merely points out that in earlier times, this is very much the pot calling the kettle soot-stained. Most reconstructionists aim to worship as the early pagans would have done, had they been allowed to evolve the modern ethos we have today (anti-slavery, women’s rights, etc.). No one is advocating going back to human sacrifice.

      Your faith in the Spirit of evolution is quaint and touching. Meanwhile my arguement is not that neo-pagans want to return to bloodshed and human sacrifice. It is more that their worldview has no particular antibodies against such a return and that this is because it has no theology of the fall or original sin and therefore no way to really face the darkness of the human heart effectively. Even *with* the grace of God, humans have a terrible time doing it. Because I do not believe all religions are equal, I can and do freely confess that some forms of paganism dealt with the darkness better than others. So does Chesterton, who argues that we should be grateful that the paganism of Rome defeated the paganism of Carthage. But I see no particular reason why we shouldn’t return to human sacrifice if we do not with ruthlessly non-egalitarian intellectual arrogance, privilege the mystical Christian insistence that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and not embrace, instead, the pagan Greek notion that some people are natural slaves and talking plows. Paganism’s basic flaw is not bloody mindedness. It is that it worships the creature instead of the Creator and therefore has no place to hang its ethical hat that is not, ultimately, personal preference or the Will of the Strong.

      VFA: What puzzles me about your critique is why it cannot fathom that Neo-Pagans of every stripe want to worship as their ancestors had, rather than pillaging foreign religions. All pagan faiths may be created equal, but not everyone can wear the same size shoe. I suppose you don’t understand because you can’t see the trees (different traditions) in the forest (of “fictional” paganism), and recognize that a birch (Hellenic) isn’t an ash (Norse) isn’t an olive (Egyptian), etc.

      You really need to abandon this mindless indifferentism. You don’t think Aztec human sacrifice is equal to whatever you imagine peaceful earth-affirming Druids were up to. You certainly don’t think Christianity is equal to your own (allegedly) tolerant beliefs.


      VFA: No, really, insult those who have speant DECADES pouring over academically sound archeological texts, attempting to glean a better understanding of euro-pagans. Does it take two hands to paint with a brush that broad?

      Your reliance on The Worlds Sixteen Crucified Saviors and related Dan Brown pseudo scholarship does not persuade me that neo-pagan reconstructions of supposed ancient euro-paganism is sound. It is one of the more fetching traits of neo-pagans that they will claim their “scholarship” establishes their claims to reconstruct the past while blithely ignoring the 2000 year paper trail of Christian scholarship. This, and the fact that they suddenly abandon this and switch to arguing “Your claims are as fake as ours” suggests a certain lack of confidence in your own position, as well as a stunning ignorance of the Christian scholarship.

      VFA: Ah, so your real beef is pagans is the sexual liberation. Oddly enough, you might find that a good deal of reconstructionists sound disappointingly more like Christians than your feminazi Wiccan straw-woman. I think your deeper issue lies with femanism and sexual liberation (which while tied to some forms of Paganism, it didn’t originate there), and you’re just using paganism as an easy scapegoat.

      Thank you, Dr. Freud. No. Just pointing out that neo-paganism is a fig leaf for thoroughly post-modern notions, not a Return to the Old Ways.

      VFA: Christians also carefully ignore the coercion that occured for sometimes year before they did “ask”. (See my reubttal to YOS)

      Not at all. We simply point out that the neo-pagan narrative which sees nothing but coercion is vastly overblown and, in many cases, just plain false (see YOS’ rebuttal of the silly claim about the Inquisition persecuting pagans).

      MS: That’s because, of course, the *real* motivation of neo-pagans is not to return to past religious traditions but to react against present ones and invent new ones.
      VFA: So why is that such a bad thing? We’re not asking you to convert. Paganism grows because people are drawn to it by themselves, not through coercion.

      It’s not a bad thing in and of itself necessarily. However, it is a bad thing in that it results in people like you incoherently arguing (above) that your brilliant “scholarship” is helping to Return to the Old Ways while just now you are admitting that all you are really doing is reacting to the present–which was my point. The notion that Christianity is running around coercing everybody is one of the fetching myths of current paganism. I wonder how long till people notice that it’s not happening.

      MS: It wants theism and sacramentalism and a certain Middle Earth/world music/koyaanasqatsi multicultural fantasy aesthetic, as well as some of the trendier aspects of postmodern feminism dressed up in cool robes, all while ignoring the actual lot of women in the overwhelming majority of pre-Christian antiquity and the fact that it was the Christian tradition that, due to the influence of the Blessed Virgin, essentially invented the idea that the love of woman could be ennobling (a concept foreign to, for instance, the pagan Greeks, who saw women as breeder units for male citizens).
      VFA: For someone who dismisses so much of Paganism, you sure know a lot about such a diverse movement. Earlier you accused pagans of constantly countering Christian arguments with the atrocities of Christians past. How is this ANY different? Also, you obviously need to study better on the pagan Greeks, where women could actually own property, a right that took centuries under “Christian tradition” to come back into style. You continue to confuse the SCA (lovely bunch of folks, mostly Christians, bless ‘em), feminists, and Pagans. Though there are some lovely Venn-eqse collusion between the three, none are wholly contained within another, which is why your arguments continually fall off-target, blasting the “dress-up” of SCA or the liberation viewpoint of the feminists while missing the pagan viewpoint that is both and yet neither.

      It’s different because I freely acknowledge the greatness of paganism, while neo-pagans have an extremely difficult time acknowledging any goodness in Christianity. When they do, they nearly always attempt to claim that this is only due to lingering pagan influence, that Christianity always and only constitutes an act of theft from pagan and, where it contributes anything, that contribution *always* debases and destroys what was good in paganism. Christians think that God perfects nature, and that therefore there’s all sorts of good stuff in paganism because paganism comes from human beings and human being, though tainted by sin, are good and made in the image of God. Deal with it: neo-paganism is *essentially* a reactionary movement: against Christianity before it is for something else. Christianity is not essentially a reactionary movement against paganism. It disagrees with paganism on some points. But its raison d’etre is not to oppose paganism, but to worship Christ. Pre-Christian paganism was also not constituted as a reaction to Christ and so, because the essence of *that* paganism was a search, it was open to Christ and pagans freely converted in droves. But neo-0paganism is, emphatically, constituted as an anti-christian reactionary movement. So the relationship is not symmetrical.

      VFA: The First Nations “asked” for baptism because more often than not medicine and aid (which they desperately needed due to the good Christians stealing their land and displacing them forcably while ignoring earlier treaties) were threatened to be withheld without conversion. See my earlier argument about how not all Pagans are the same.

      You need to familiarize yourself with more than the history of English Protestant American abuse of Native Americans. The conversions after the apparition at Guadalupe (an apparition that was a massive rebuke to Spanish colonialism in which Mary took the part of the Aztecs, not the Spaniards) was peaceful. (Note how you only focus on one side of the story while I am aware of both sides, even as you adopt the “You may be interested to know” tone of the pagan instructing the Christian whose whole picture comes from “America: The Light and the Glory”. Pagans should really stop talking as though the dark chapters of Christian history are known only to them.)

      VFA: So because I want to enjoy the last 1000 years of progress while worshiping the Gods of my ancestors, I’m a dilettante? Does the fact that you want to not be fed to Lions or martyred by the state for being a divisive sect (and early Christians were VERY divisive) mean YOU are a dilettante? Or just sensible?

      No. Because you want to focus exclusively on the failure of Christians and minimize at every turn the massive debt you owe them, while pretending to reconstruct cultic practices we actually know little about, you are a dilettante, particularly as a historian. Your appeal, for instance, to the supposed Christian destruction of the Library at Alexandria is a surefire sign of dilettantism.

      VFA: Considering how much syncretism exists in the Christian Church today, I’d believe it. Naming the celebration and date of your God’s resurrection to coincide with the equinox celebration of a European Goddess (Eostre), to co-opting blatant pagan traditions at Christmas (gift giving: Saturnalina, trees: Yule, mistletoe: Druids), the Catholics have certainly been busy becoming “real heirs” to paganism. The claims of primacy also lead us back to ancient Jews, who decided the best way to remain stable and whole against their enemies was to dedicate themselves to a single god, discarding all the others they had been worshiping.

      Your ignorance is showing. The resurrection does not coincide with the equinox. It coincides with Passover. That’s because Christianity is rooted in the Jewish, not the pagan tradition. It’s called “Easter” not because its rooted in German paganism, but because you are an English speaker. In Romance languages, it’s called by some derivation of “Passover”. That Christians borrow from pagan traditions of gift-giving, trees, mistletoe, etc means that Christians like human things, not that Christian beliefs are pagan. In short, the practice of the Church has been to fill pagan forms with Christian content, never to allow pagan content to fill Christian forms. And, by the way, your belief that Christmas comes from Feast of Sol Invictus is pseudoknowledge, something neo-pagan “scholarship” appears to abound in given what you and an alleged “anthropologist” in this thread have said.

      TM: There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation.
      VFA: ..of WESTERN human civilization.

      Take it up with Macauley.

      TM: No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre.
      VFA: Chinese dynasties much? Doesn’t help that the only real reason the Church stands so long and tall is because it stamped out any opposition as best it could.

      Citation needed.

      TM: The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila.
      VFA: …sword in one hand, Bible in the other, happy to martyr for the cause?

      Citation needed. Be sure to distinguish between the action of secular colonial powers and the work of Catholic missions. St. Isaac Jogues, for instance, is not noted for his sword in hand. Handling sword would have been hard when he had his hands maimed. And here I thought you were upset by analyses that simply and only focus on the bad and never ever mention the norms, which were not coercion since it is a doctrine of the faith that it cannot and must not be coerced.

      TM: The number of her children is greater than in any former age.
      VFA: Her breeding policy might have something to do with that.

      And here I thought you were in favor of human sexuality. But no. Macauley is referring to converts. And he’s writing to an English public that has only recently allow Catholics to legally exist.

      TM: Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe.
      VFA: …wherein Christianity is quickly loosing it’s members. You had a good run, but pluralism is the new word, and you’re going to have to live with it.

      Christianity was born in pluralism and asserted pluralism as part of it essence from the start. That is what “catholic” means. The whole “You guys are dying” thing may be believable to dilettante suburbanites who get all their info from their peers, but that 7000% growth rate tells a very different story.

      MS: Since Macauley wrote this, the Catholic Church has–largely in lands that were pagan a century ago, experienced a 7000% percent growth.
      VFA: [citation needed]

      Irenist supplied this. Neo-pagans love to brag about their growth rate in terms of percentages. If you start with one pagan and add another pagan, you have a staggering growth rate in terms of percentage, not so much in terms of numbers. When you start with millions of Catholics and talk about a 7000% growth rate, you’re talking real numbers. Now you may want to try to attribute that to “sword in one hand, Bible in the other”. But you and I both know that’s a lie. The real story of the 20th century has been free conversions of pagans to Christ, couple with the greatest period of Christian martyrdom in the history of the Church. This is largely due to totalitarian regimes and Islam, though Hindu pagans have done a bit to slaughter Christians too.

      MS: Pagans (real ones, not synthetic post-Christian suburban Protestant ones) are still searching for and finding Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
      VFA: Nothing left to say to this. Go in (mis-informed, arrogant) peace.

      And the horse I rode in on.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        Okay, let’s pick and choose, since you don’t like the massive reply. :)
        Do you want generous analyses of paganism or Satanic Panic analyses?
        You’re not doing the SP analyses, you’re doing the privilaged illectual analyses.

        In other words, my analysis is sound. It’s a protest movement.
        Just because we reach the same conclusion doesn’t mean your route to get there is the same, or correct.

        It is one of the more fetching traits of neo-pagans that they will claim their “scholarship” establishes their claims to reconstruct the past while blithely ignoring the 2000 year paper trail of Christian scholarship.
        This doesn’t even make sense. Your scholarship on Christianity’s antiquity somehow negates scholarship on a different subject?

        The notion that Christianity is running around coercing everybody is one of the fetching myths of current paganism. I wonder how long till people notice that it’s not happening.
        I guess you don’t follow what some of the Evangelicals are doing in Africa, then?
        http://articles.cnn.com/2008-06-12/world/kenya.witches_1_witch-hunt-western-kenya-killings?_s=PM:WORLD
        http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/09/23/us-religion-witchcraft-idUSTRE58M4Q820090923
        http://www.iheu.org/nigerian-witch-hunter-helen-ukpabio-bringing-gospel-hate-us

        Because you want to focus exclusively on the failure of Christians and minimize at every turn the massive debt you owe them, while pretending to reconstruct cultic practices we actually know little about, you are a dilettante, particularly as a historian.
        I’m not focusing on their failures, and I appreciate all of the work that the world has been able to do thanks to the peace brought about by centuries of slowly consolidated religious power, followed by the industrial revolution, which I think kicked things off beyond the control or aid of the Church. I admit the Church helped get things started. I just think a lot of history is more than a little biased, is all.

        Christianity was born in pluralism and asserted pluralism as part of it essence from the start.
        You make me laugh. It asserts primacy and syncretism from a privilaged perspective.

        This is largely due to totalitarian regimes and Islam, though Hindu pagans have done a bit to slaughter Christians too.
        Religious intolerance is not limited to one religion.

  • Irenist

    “MS: Since Macauley wrote this, the Catholic Church has–largely in lands that were pagan a century ago, experienced a 7000% percent growth.
    VFA: [citation needed]”

    Citation provided:

    Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-33813?l=english
    THE CATHOLIC EXPLOSION
    Missionary of Africa Priest Speaks of Challenges and Promise in 7,000% Growth
    ROME, NOV. 11, (Zenit.org).- In just a century (from 1900 to 2000), the Catholic population of Africa went from 2 million to 140 million.

  • Irenist

    “TM: No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre.
    VFA: Chinese dynasties much?”

    I think you mean the Japanese Imperial family, yes? The Manchu have fallen on some rather hard times, what with the humble later life of Comrade Pu Yi (i.e., “the Last Emperor”) and whatnot. How euro-centric of you to mix them up….

    • Vision_From_Afar

      My intent was to reference historical continuity (not necessarily the dynasty itself, but the buildings, texts, etc.). The Chinese have shifted a wee bit, I agree. You got me there.

      • Irenist

        Your willingness to admit error is admirable. I apologize for my “Raven Starmoon” snark below.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          lol, no worries. We all get snarky here. I’m more guilty than most.

          • Irenist

            Well, it sounds like we’re going to continue to disagree extensively, but darn it if I’m not starting to like you, VFA.

            • Vision_From_Afar

              D’aww. :D
              I don’t think Mark and I will ever see eye-to-eye on this, so I’m gonna quit while I’m…well…wherever I am now. I’ll drop by now and again though. Cheers, mate. Hope to see you around.

  • Irenist

    “TM: There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation.
    VFA: ..of WESTERN human civilization.”
    Wikipedia is your friend:
    “The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is an East Syrian Rite, Major Archiepiscopal Church in full communion with the Catholic Church. It is one of the 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in the Catholic Church. It is the largest of the Saint Thomas Christian denominations with around 3.8 million believers…. It is believed that St. Thomas the Apostle landed at Kodungalloor which was then known as Muziris, in 52 A.D. St. Thomas is said to have preached and established Christian communities in different parts of India and he died at Mylapur in 72 A.D. It is also believed that St. Thomas founded seven churches or communities in Kerala; at Kodungalloor, Niranam, Kollam, Chayal, Kottakkavu, Kokkamangalam and Palayoor.”
    * * *
    Or if you prefer Middle Eastern non-western goodness to South Asian, try another Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Bishop of Rome:
    “The Syriac Catholic Church belongs to the See of Antioch (which, prior to his departure to Rome, Saint Peter had established) and extends it roots back to the origins of Christianity in the Orient. And in the Acts of the Apostles we are told that it is in Antioch where the followers of Jesus for the first time were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).”
    * * *
    This is to say nothing of the half-millennium of contributions to Catholicism made by native peoples of the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, and the Americas, which don’t go back to the days of the Flavian Amphitheater, but are certainly venerable enough.

  • Irenist

    “Naming the celebration and date of your God’s resurrection to coincide with the equinox celebration of a European Goddess (Eostre)”

    In almost every European language but English, Easter is named for some variant of the word Passover (Hebrew Pesach), e.g., Pascua in Spanish and Pâques in French. Even in Anglophone Catholic liturgies, Easter is referred to as “the Paschal feast.” That the early Anglo-Saxon converts kept their old name for a springtime holiday doesn’t make Easter a borrowing from paganism. When Anglophone neo-pagans make this argument, I always despair of the failures of Anglophones to learn any other languages.

    As for the date of Easter, it is synchronized with the timing of Passover in the Jewish lunar calendar. The Last Supper was a Passover Seder. Good Friday was the following day, and Easter was two days after that. So the Christians of the first century Roman Empire (many of whom were among the 5/6 of diaspora Jews to convert–and no, you can’t disprove by pointing to the existence your local synagogue full of the descendants of the other 1/6) set the date that way. They did not invent a time machine and travel 400 years into the future so they could ask the Anglo-Saxon invaders of England (who were still Germans back in the first century, you know) when they should have their Paschal holiday.

    VFA, your grasp of basic world history seems, sadly, to be par for the neo-pagan course. Read a history book some time authored by someone whose name doesn’t sound like Raven Starmoon or whatever.

    • Vision_From_Afar

      Bunnies? Eggs? Was that part of passover too? So those of germanic descent decided to keep the name of the spring celebration they were already performing at the time of conversion. You don’t see syncretism there? Eostre was a germanic goddess, not Frank, not Prussian. I see no reason for other languages to adopt the name (espcially since you’re using Romance languages for your argument, which are all syncratic anyway) when it was the germanic peoples who were the ones converting. I fail to see why this punches holes in the fact that the Church apparently signed off on this, quite literally and effectively borrowing from paganism.
      They didn’t have to travel 400 years into the future: it was set on the equinox, which most pagans celebrated anyway. Like those who celebrated Eostre.

      • Irenist

        As Mr. Shea has remarked above, the practice of the Church has been to fill pagan forms with Christian content–much as the form of the soul informs the matter of the body. There is nothing astonishing in this.

        For eggs and bunnies, I’ll give you another Wikipedia cite:
        “The idea of an egg-laying bunny came to the U.S. in the 18th century. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the “Osterhase” (sometimes spelled “Oschter Haws”). “Hase” means “hare”, not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the “Easter Bunny” indeed is a hare, not a rabbit. According to the legend, only good children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their caps and bonnets before Easter. In 1835, Jakob Grimm wrote of long-standing similar myths in Germany itself. Grimm suggested that these derived from legends of the reconstructed continental Germanic goddess *Ostara.””

        You’ll be happy to see that Grimm shared your Ostara/Eostre theory. That “Eostre” etymologically derived from some sort of proto-Indo-European “Ostara” or “Austro-” root may very well be the case for Anglophones who now say Easter. But the idea that the “date” as you said, of Easter/Passover derives from Germanic tribesman rather than from ancient Jewish tradition as applied by Christians is laughable. As for the bunnies and eggs…the German immigrant origins of these U.S. customs no more make the ancient feast pagan than the Irish immigrant Samhain-derived customs of Halloween or the Aztec-derived customs of Dia de los Muertos make the Christian feasts of All Souls and All Saints pagan. Christian content, pagan forms.

      • Mark Shea

        I repeat: The typical Catholic practice has been, where possible, to fill pagan forms with Christian content (why piss off the locals by killing off all the harmless fun? That’s what Calvinists, not Catholics, do). But that’s not syncretism except in the shallowest sense. What Catholic teaching did not do was adopt the worship if pagan gods, or take up human sacrifice, or approve of polygamy, or fill Christian forms with pagan content. Your ancestors retain a linguistic archaism, not only with “Easter”, but with the names of the days of the week. Other linguistic traditions do not (all the romance languages). All this means is that while local culture kept some old words, they were filled with Christian content. Friday kept the phoneme devoted to Freya, but it became the day of the Jesus’ Passion. Only a Fundamentalist would think this somehow means Catholic faith “comes from” paganism. You really need to think more deeply about the Catholic tradition’s engagement with paganism. It is curiously like that of Fundamentalism. You and a Bible Christian both imagine that because the Church filled pagan forms with Christian content this therefore “proves” Catholic faith is “really” pagan. No. It just means Catholic faith believes that grace builds on nature and that there is much that is good and human in paganism.

      • Pancho

        “So those of germanic descent decided to keep the name of the spring celebration they were already performing at the time of conversion. You don’t see syncretism there? ”

        English speakers also use the name of Norse gods for certain days of the week. Just because one’s Baptist grandmother says “Thursday” doesn’t mean she worships Thor, or because she says “Friday” does it mean she worships Frigga. A Baptist church that advertises Sunday School doesn’t worship the Sun. These are all cultural remnants, like the name Easter, or like the modern Olympic games, where currently no one in the Olympic Village in London is worshipping the Olympian gods.

        There was no need for Christians to travel 400 years into the future. They were originally Jewish and and their celebration of Christ’s Resurrection was a successor to Jewish celebrations tied to the Jewish lunar calendar. It was observed about the same time as Passover before Christianity reached the Anglo-Saxons and would’ve continued had the A-E’s never even reached Great Britain in the first place.

        • Pancho

          Sorry, by A-E’s I meant A-S’s, that is Anglo-Saxons.

  • http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/ P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    So, let me get this straight:

    1) The only way that the modern Pagan religions are “truly…pagan” is that “it makes the fundamental mistake of worshipping the creature instead of the Creator”;

    2) Modern Pagan religions aren’t “real pagans,” but some that are include the “lots of real pagans running around in Asia and the global south”;

    3) And, finally, “The real heirs to all that was best in paganism are, in fact, Catholics. If you want actual contact with cultural currents and thoughtforms that take you back to remote antiquity and connect you, not only with pre-Christian pagans, but with ancient Jews as well, then look there.”

    So…Catholics are more “pagan” in all the best ways than the “real pagans” like Tibetan Buddhists and Jews, which must mean (by your own definition of what “truly *is* pagan”) that they worship “the creature instead of the Creator”? Which, I suppose, brings us into Arian territory, since Catholics are pretty heavily Jesus-worshippers, and after all, “there was a time when He was not”!

    If anything in my previous paragraph seems in error, then I think you’d better go back and try to nuance your statements and definitions of what “truly *is* pagan” a little bit more.

    It really is unfortunate that you feel as free as you do to spout off ignorant statements about perfectly valid religions like the various forms of modern Paganism (and there are a lot of them), as well as a great number of other religions that aren’t creedal monotheisms, rather than practicing the best parts of your own religion–which, interestingly, are not the parts that are original to it nor started with it–including “loving your neighbor as yourself.” But, then again, that’s a long-established tradition in your religion as well, which you invented for yourselves and didn’t appropriate from any other religion–Jewish, ancient polytheist, or otherwise–namely, taking your own perceptions of things and assuming they are gods-ordained Truth.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Re: Library of Alexandria
    Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand corrected and concede defeat in relation to my rants on the “Christian sack of the Library”. I was…misinformed, and I stand corrected.
    Nothing to see here, move along.

  • Pingback: Google


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X