Guest Post: The Pagan Worldview in a Post-Constantinian World

[Nicole Youngman is a sociologist at Loyola University in New Orleans. She's been Pagan over 20 years and is active in a grove of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. She also does volunteer work with the Master Gardeners of Greater New Orleans.]

Listening to fundamentalists talk about the looming threats of “witchcraft” and “paganism” can be a decidedly surreal experience. They use the terms in a variety of ways: sometimes they’re talking about actual Witches and Pagans, sometimes they mean anything that doesn’t meet their definition of “Christian,” and sometimes they mix it all up willy-nilly and throw in a few Harry Potter references for good measure. Despite our best efforts to explain who we are and what we do (and don’t do!), they never seem to get their facts straight—or they get things halfway correct in all kinds of weird ways—and they still can’t manage to pronounce “Samhain” correctly. How are we supposed to make sense of all this? I think the core difficulty we’re facing is that it is simply not possible to educate some of these people about our beliefs and practices in any meaningful way, because their underlying belief system renders them incapable of accurately processing and absorbing the information we’re trying to get across. There is no way to convince them that we’re not really a threat, because they perceive the fact that we even exist as deeply threatening.

Fundamentalist Christianity is at its core a deeply dualistic worldview: there is God and there is Satan, there is heaven and there is the world, there is righteousness and there is sin, there are Christians and there are those who follow Satan. From this perspective, we mere mortals are constantly forced to choose sides: we’re either for God or against Him. With no middle ground and no shades of gray, the battle between the people of God and the people of Satan is an ongoing zero-sum game in which one side must ultimately destroy the other and rule the cosmos. One of fundamentalists’ central beliefs is that everyone in the world must be converted to Christianity—not the wishy-washy “lukewarm” variety, mind you, but the good God-fearing “Bible-believing” version. In this worldview, Christians’ primary job is to fight Satan’s influence by following what they call the Great Commission: using the authority given to them by Jesus to convert all the nations of the world to their belief system.

Pagan belief systems are, of course, entirely outside of this framework, but trying to get that point across to fundamentalist friends, family members, or co-workers—most of whom have been immersed in this worldview their entire lives—is invariably frustrating as, well, hell. We don’t even believe in Satan, we keep trying to explain; how could we be worshipping him? We don’t see reality in terms of a great cosmic war between ultimate Good and ultimate Evil, and we certainly don’t mean Christians any harm by wanting to live according to a different belief system. On the contrary, we’d really just like to be left alone to follow our religion while we leave them alone to follow theirs, and it would be awfully nice if they’d stop harassing us about our beliefs every time we’re in the same room. Maybe we do wear funny robes sometimes, and our jewelry may look a little strange, but we like kids and animals and plants and books and computers and ice cream and all kinds of good stuff; if they’d just let us live our lives in peace we’d be quite glad to return the favor.

With more liberal Christians, this approach can actually work—once they figure out the basics of who we are and what we generally believe, they’re fairly likely to shrug and dismiss us as eccentric but Mostly Harmless. A few of the more thoughtful ones might even find us interesting, and be willing to have a genuine dialog with us, at which point we’ll be quite glad to return that favor, too. Fundamentalists, however, cannot do this. It’s literally impossible for them—it would require breaking out of their either/or theological and conceptual framework, which would send their entire belief system tumbling down. Meanwhile, the fact that non-Christians and non-fundamentalist Christians continue to exist around the world, living out in the open where everyone can see them, presents a real problem for fundamentalists, whose “dominion theology” –most recently manifesting in the “New Apostolic Reformation” movement—clearly states that other religions are to be wiped out and that Jesus has given them the authority to rule the world.

But while these “Bible-believing” Christians are busily trying to spread their gospel to all those other “non-Christian” nations, they’re having an increasingly hard time enforcing it in the parts of the world they thought they had already conquered. Europe and the predominantly English-speaking world—regions having what we refer to loosely as a “Western culture” or “Western civilization”—are showing serious signs of backsliding into multiculturalism. More and more, people of quite different religious belief systems (or none at all) are managing to live peaceably together, working towards a common set of shared moral precepts on which to base their government policies and everyday cultural interactions. For fundamentalists, these changes mean that they are no longer allowed to be in complete control of Western societies’ public or private spaces, and can no longer expect their own worldview to be constantly and unquestioningly mirrored back at them. Fundamentalism thrives best when its adherents—particularly children—simply aren’t exposed to any alternative ideas that might lead to questioning and analytical thinking; when people who are different from them live openly and outside of their control—however peacefully this may be occurring—such people are seen as an invasive threat that must be fought against at all costs.

Actual Pagans and a more generalized “pagan worldview,” then, are seen by hardcore fundamentalists as an invading force that is out to destroy their world, both in the sense of attacking their churches and families and of bringing about the downfall of Western civilization itself (which for them is synonymous with Christian thought and social order). They make no distinction between efforts to limit their right to control all aspects of our culture and social structure and a concerted effort to wipe out Christianity that would deny Christians’ right to exist at all. This longstanding theme in contemporary fundamentalist thought was nicely articulated by Peter Jones during his appearance on Janet Mefferd’s radio program a few months ago:

And the problem for Christians is simply this: that for 1700 years, the state defended and supported the Christian faith, and really all these radical Pagan groups of the mystery religions of the ancient world disappeared, and I believe we are moving into what I like to call a post-Constantinian age and I mean by that the government is no longer defending the Christian faith but is actually promoting the Pagan faith… I think in the future it will be very difficult for Christians to speak clearly the worldview of the Christian faith without receiving all kinds of sanctions… So don’t be surprised as this pagan ideology takes over our world that the classic distinctions we have known for 1700 years begin to disappear and we find ourselves totally marginalized as a group of right-wing cultists. This is coming and it’s coming very quickly, and we have to learn how to survive as the early church did in that kind of a culture.

The possibility of peaceful co-existence is never entertained here; Christians are either entirely in control of the government and the culture, or they’re being actively persecuted by those who do not share their worldview. Because their theology insists that Jesus has given them the authority to be society’s ruling class, denying them the right to have control over all aspects of society is perceived as denying them the right to practice their religion at all. When we non-Christians claim the right to exist openly and without discrimination, they turn around and frame our efforts as religious persecution directed against them. Because they have always striven to wipe out any competing belief systems—sometimes by force—they project that motivation onto us, insisting that we must be out to do the same to them and will gleefully do so as soon as we somehow gain the same power over them that they have for so long held over us.

In discussing what Mefferd describes as paganism’s “threat to the Christian church,” Jones also explains a common distinction fundamentalists make between “small-p paganism” and “capital-P Paganism.” When fundamentalists use the term “pagan,” it is important for those of us who are actual Pagans to realize that they are not always talking about us specifically, but rather about more generalized “non-Christian” ideas that have infiltrated society and thus threaten to infiltrate their own carefully guarded world as well.

One is the sort of radical small group…of Pagans who meet together in forests and worship some kind of pole or tree, and are very tied to the seasons like Samhain [mispronounced “Sam-hane”] and other times of the year. That’s a very specific form of Paganism that enjoys being called Pagan, and you have within that system the whole Wiccan movement, witchcraft, and they are very easily identifiable… But if we were to think that that is the only kind of paganism it seems to me that that would be missing the whole point of what is actually happening, because while they are known for their specific rites and practices, there is such a thing as a world-view of paganism, and really that statement covers every religion and every human being which does not and who does not affirm God as the creator of heaven and earth. So you have a much larger category of people who would be aghast to hear you call them pagan who in effect really do worship nature in some kind of way. [emphasis added]

Jones goes on to explain that the small-p paganism is actually much more dangerous and insidious than the self-described Pagans; while you can see the latter coming and stay out of their way (I guess because of the poles?), the “pagan worldview” is what is really starting to take over the West, spouted by dangerous types like Oprah, postmodernists, and yoga teachers.

Because fundamentalists cannot parse anything outside of their either/or worldview, they try to explain the existence of “Pagans” and “paganism” by concluding that there are only two possible religions—those that worship “the Creator” and those that worship “the creation” (extrapolating from one of Paul’s letters at Romans 1:25). Any religious perspective with a concept of immanent deity—animism, duotheism, pantheism, panentheism, some forms of polytheism, etc.—must then fall into the latter category. Deity and “the world” must remain forever separate—there cannot be anything sacred about the physical world, because that is Satan’s domain. Unlike other Christians (and Jews and Muslims) who more logically conclude that because God made it, the world must be essentially good—even given that humans have screwed up a lot of it—fundamentalist Christians argue that because the world is ruled by Satan, it must therefore be essentially evil. Asserting that the world itself is divine and sacred is therefore the height of Pagan/pagan heresy. From Jones’ perspective, then,

paganism as a system wants to get rid of distinctions [i.e. between men and women, acceptable and abhorrent forms of sexuality, etc.], and my hunch is it wants to get rid of distinctions because it finally then removes the distinction between God and the creation. The fundamental evil in paganism is the statement that God, the creator, is distinct from the creation…So that’s the conflict that’s always been, but in the Christian West that conflict seemed to go away for a long long time. And now it’s back with a vengeance, and we as Christians need to know how to be faithful to the Lord, speak the truth, live the truth, whatever that costs.

Again, there is no possibility of peaceful co-existence in this perspective, no acknowledgment of the potential for practitioners of different religions to have an interesting dialogue and learn from one another, no prospect of someday creating a government that truly allows people of all religions (and none) to practice openly without fear of persecution.

What are actual Pagans—and whoever fundamentalists are considering “pagan” these days—to make of such nonsense? How can we be a “threat” to the “Christian church” when we feel like they’re threatening us? I think we need to begin by understanding that our fears—and our definition of “threat”—are very different from theirs. We’re deeply tired of being verbally harassed and insulted, of having our rituals disrupted, of being afraid we’ll lose our jobs, of having to worry that so-called Christians will be vicious to our kids or even try to take them away. Despite their ongoing persecution complex, Christians simply do not have to worry about any of these things happening to them just because of the religion they practice; they can go about their daily lives safe in the assumption that the vast majority of people out there will perceive them as normal, ordinary, nonthreatening regular folks.

What fundamentalist Christians are afraid of is that they’ll no longer be able to take their cultural and political dominance for granted—that, like us, they’ll become just one of the world’s many subcultures, and have to deal with the fact that most of the other folks out there in the big wide world don’t share all of their beliefs. We Pagans are used to that, and I daresay that as long as we’re treated respectfully and left to practice our religions in peace, we really don’t mind it at all. Life’s more interesting in a diverse crowd, after all, and Paganism itself is nothing if not diverse! Those of us who are parents also have less of our identity and emotional energy wrapped up in trying to ensure that our kids will grow up to be just like us than fundamentalist parents do. While I’m sure most of us would like for our kids to choose to be Pagan, I think we’re generally comfortable with the idea of exposing our kids to a variety of belief systems so that they can find out for themselves which path “clicks” for them. Fundamentalist parents, however, live with the constant fear that their kids will be led astray by “the world.” When the rest of the world no longer echoes their belief system back at them over and over again, they have to work harder to keep their kids tightly encapsulated in a bubble that doesn’t allow the penetration of any other ways of life or thought. So they send their kids to Christian schools, listen to only Christian music and radio programs, watch only Christian TV and movies, and spend hours and hours in church, all in the hopes that they can shut out all those small-p “pagan” influences that might invade their homes and go after their children. With any luck, their kids will never have to actually see any big-P real-life Pagans out there, either. You never know, we might smile at them and say hello or something, and heaven knows where that might lead.

This, then, is why Janet Mefferd and her colleagues are so terrified of the thought that “paganism is mainstreaming.” With the age of Christian dominance of the West starting to come to an end despite their best efforts, other people are no longer easily bending to their authority, and some non-Christians are even insisting that the government should protect their rights to be different. Fundamentalist kids are increasingly likely to be exposed to ideas their parents don’t like, and might even find some of those ideas worthwhile and interesting. More and more people are walking around in public with pentacles and triskeles and Thor’s hammers hanging around their necks, daring to assume that they will be treated civilly by everyone else out there. Life gets more complicated when yours is literally no longer the only worldview in town—pretty soon, you end up having to deal with the real world the way it really is, just like everyone else.

So are we big-P pagans, or those amorphous small-p “pagan” ideas, really “a threat to the Christian church?” In terms of Christians’ right to exist, to follow their own religion in the privacy of their own lives, of course not. Despite their silly ideas that we’re somehow after them or their kids, we don’t go around seeking converts in their schools or hog-tying them in front of Harry Potter movies. We’re really not that interested in them, truth be told, and we’d be more than happy to just leave them alone. The key difficulty here, however, is that they will never be willing to do the same for us because their core theology simply will not allow it. They can never be satisfied with the basic right of being allowed to live their own lives as they see fit; they want power and control over everyone else’s public and private spaces as well. By simply existing out in the open, Pagans and people interested in “pagan” ideas do in fact present a substantial challenge to the fundamentalist Christian worldview. We are living proof that not everyone agrees with their theology and not everyone will tolerate their continued efforts to maintain an oppressive, monocultural society “in Jesus’ name.” We don’t proselytize, but we do write and teach and share ideas with anyone who’s interested—and THAT is what these people are truly afraid of.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Ursyl

    Good article, thank-you.

    However, I found myself confused in some parts as to whether you were speaking for yourself or paraphrasing/quoting Mefford and such until after I’d gotten to the end of that paragraph. Might there be a way to edit in a means of distinguishing those paragraphs for those of us with more easily confused brains?

    How does one get through to such folk? Surely there must be some way to crack through the shell that not following their religion is not the same as wanting to destroy it.

    • Anonymous

      I would say the point is, there is no way to get through to them. And this is important to know.

      When I hung around PR people, there was a rule of thumb that ran something like this: 20% of the people you’ve already got, and 20% of the people you’re never going to get, thus, you should [ut your energy and resources into reaching the middle group. Working to reach the top 20 is a waste because you’re only preaching to the choir–you already have them. Working to reach the bottom 20 is a complete waste of time and resources, because the simply will not hear you. But if you’ve got the top, and can get a substantial part of the middle, the bottom 20% don’t matter so much.

    • Nicole Youngman

      Sorry! Some of the formatting from my original document got lost in translation to the web so it’s hard to tell where the quotes end. Working on it.

      • deerwoman

        If Patheos allows you to use standard HTML coding you could place the longer quotes within blockquote tags. That should solve the issue :)

        • Nicole Youngman

          Yeah, I wrote it up in Word originally. I’m gonna have to learn to use other formats! :)

      • Ursyl

        Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/paganMusing tigresslilly

      I think the point of the article is that for the extreme Christian fundamentalists, simply having that voice that doesn’t conform to their God in a public place is a threat to their world view. There will never be any explaining away that we aren’t Christian or that we don’t follow all their rules.

      Expressing that we have no desire to interfere with their faith and that we may even think their faith is equally valid will not satisfy these people. For the most extreme, nothing but complete conformity and submission will eliminate the threat they perceive.

      Our view on a threat or persecution and their view is essentially different. There may even be large groups of people who realize we have no interest in conversion and do not care. That we present an alternative and that we may entice people away from “the way” whether intentionally or not, is to them a huge threat that must be squelched.

  • Arachne

    “We’re deeply tired of being verbally harassed and insulted…of being afraid we’ll lose our jobs…” Happens to me every week: I work at a place that is mostly, 100% Conservative Christian (Catholic.) A staff member (a higher-up) keeps asking me on occasions as to why I never wear a cross. So of course, in order to perhaps keep my job (that I actually do, infact, like, besides the fact of obvious religious discrimination) I then had to begin to wear a cross, and agree with their fundamentalist idealogies. I don’t want to keep pretending to be something I’m not. The first day I started to work there, I was invited to anti-abortion rallies, ‘anti-homosexuality’ speeches, church groups, Christian women’s groups, you name it. So I’m opressed, but employed.

    • Crystal Kendrick

      That’s horrible. Might I ask what you do? Your situation really underscores the importance of why we as a community have to keep fighting for our basic rights- rights that technically are guaranteed by the constitution but aren’t always recognized- and for equal footing. No one should have to choose between oppression (the real kind, not the made up type where fundamentalists think anything short of complete dominion is oppression) and the ability to financially support themselves, or keep their children, what have you.

  • Anonymous

    Now I have an earworm of the chant: “We’re still here / We’re still here / Sixteen hundred years / and we’re still here.”

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    “And the problem for Christians is simply this: that for 1700 years, the state defended and supported the Christian faith, and really all these radical Pagan groups of the mystery religions of the ancient world disappeared …”

    The world-view of the ancient mystery religions most definitely did not “disappear”. Certainly the great mystery cults could not carry on as before, but the Pagan world-view of the Mysteries is not dependent on the existence of such full-blown cults with their professional priesthoods, public holidays, elaborate rituals, etc. In particular, Hermeticism definitely continued as a major spiritual component of European culture and is still alive and well today in various guises. Hermes, among many other things, is the God of deception and misdirection, and it is quite appropriate that he played such a central role in the survival of the Pagan worldview masquerading as “mystical Christianity”.

    • Nicole Youngman

      Right, and that’s part of the quote from Jones, in case that wasn’t clear from the formatting.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        It’s still unclear to me what you (and Jones) think was going on during the intervening 1700 years. I think there is a great deal of evidence for the continuous survival of the Pagan worldview in a fairly complete and conscious form all during that time.

        • Nicole Youngman

          You’d have to read more of Jones’ work in-depth, I think, to fully answer that, but I think the short answer is that he and his co-believers THINK they had pretty much driven Paganism, the Mystery Religions, etc out of existence and now those religions are coming back and are threatening Christian civilization. It’s a core part of their belief system: Christianity somehow rescued the barbaric world from the evils of Paganism, and now Paganism/paganism is rearing its ugly head again and must be stopped. They aren’t interested in evidence to the contrary, of course.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            Jones is trying to have it both ways then – and he is doing so in a way that is very typical. On the one hand Christians cannot bear to part with the triumphalist myth that their new, shiny religion had no trouble vanquished the old, degenerate Pagan Gods back in the day. On the other hand, they also cannot bear to part with their paranoid worldview according to which they are perpetually surrounded by evil, powerful, Satanic enemies.

            But to get a good idea for just how well the Pagan worldview survived, largely intact, throughout all of European history, an excellent resource is Nicholas Campion’s “A History of Western Astrology, Volume II: The Medieval And Modern Worlds”, which actually goes all the way back to late antiquity, despite the title. The major theme of the book is the survival of Hermetic philosophy (which lies at the heart of traditional astrology). Here is a very nice in-depth review of Campion’s book for anyone interested: http://www.skyscript.co.uk/rev_c2.html.

          • http://hearthmoonblog.com/ Hearth Moon Rising

            I have ordered this book. Thank you.

          • Nicole Youngman

            Thanks, will definitely have a look! And yes I think you’ve nailed it re: Jones’ attitude.

          • Kiara

            I have also ordered Vol 1 & 2. Thanks!

  • Erica Watson

    It’s a very disconcerting problem… but you’ve hit on the core of it here, namely the belief that God is separate from His creation, and we are all separate from each other, rather than there being an indwelling and all encompassing divinity that connects us. This former is so antithetical to the idea of an Omnipresent Living Deity that dwells in the heart and mind, and whom even the stones praise, that I simply fail to see how fundamentalists miss the contradiction.

    But if they must insist on all the aspects of creation being separate from each other, then for heaven’s sake, let each take responsibility for its own spiritual well-being. Interconnectedness is healthy, co-dependency is not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rheana-Powers/100000387813389 Rheana Powers

    Thank you for a beautifully written article! I think you are absolutely correct in why we cannot have any reasonable conversation with fundamentalists. You cannot talk rationally to a closed mind. Thank you for this contribution of insight to our community!

  • AMH

    Good article but I question this in my admitted ignorance of Christianity “Deity and “the world” must remain forever separate—there cannot be anything sacred about the physical world, because that is Satan’s domain.” Isn’t this a portrayal of Christian hersey like gnosticism rather than a Christian world view? I think this should have been more fleshed out and if I am correct that this is a heretical Christian view, the denomination of Christians thus described should be stated rather than using the term fundamentalist, which is a blanket inditement of a rather large swath of people. One almost might think the author biased for not being more forthright. But I did get something out of the article that was positive.

    • Jack Heron

      You’re correct in principle – but the Manichaean/dualist view of the world as being an irredeemable sink of Satan is pretty popular amongst a swathe of Calvinist-inspired fundamentalist movements. Enumerating them is pretty difficult due to the fractious nature of American Protestantism and the fact that it commonly crops up as an attitude or unspoken assumption rather than as an article of faith listed in a confessional document. Nevertheless, there are a good load of Christian denominations like this who refer to themselves using terms like ‘Fundamentalist’ or similar and so the author’s use of the term, though imprecise, is reasonable enough.

      Briefly, the orthodox Christian view (that is, of mainline Protestants, of Catholics and of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox denominations) is that the world is fallen but was created to be good. In other words, it’s an essentially good thing with a massive fatal flaw (this is also the theology regarding people). And the whole point of Christianity is that God and the world are not wholly separate and were very noticeably not separate on a certain occasion in the first century – though that is still a very different approach to the presence of the sacred in the world than that taken by many pagans. The author touches on this too.

      • AMH

        When you say Calvinist inspired I get edgy. Calvinism is part of the Baptist faith from what I understand and since before Obama was elected, the Church of Christ have had the same hell fire and brimstone probelm that is often laid at the Baptist door. What raises my suspicions, is pagans doing the religious gardening of Christians who want to smeasr other branches of their faith with the fundmentalist brush and academics who do the same thing.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          You conflated Obama and the Church of Christ. Obama belongs to the *United* Church of Christ, a different outfit altogether.

          • Jack Heron

            Sects maniacs, we are.

          • WhiteBirch

            *thumbs up* I giggled.

          • Crystal Kendrick

            Yes. Unfortunately, I was raised in the Church of Christ. It’s a completely different outfit than the United Church of Christ.

        • Jack Heron

          Well, I say ‘Calvinist-inspired’ to distinguish them from mainline Calvinist churches (eg. Presbyterian Church (USA) ) who don’t take the ‘worldly things are sinful’ approach. The relationship between Calvinism and Baptists is complex and I don’t pretend to know a heck of a lot about it, but as I understand it many Baptists are Calvinists, but not all.

          Christians are sects maniacs.

          • Anonymous

            Calvin preached “the total depravity of man” among other things. He also taught that people are materially blessed according to their spirituality – and you can see that among fundamentalists today, with the prosperity gospel.

            I grew up in the 50s/early 60s between Baptist and Methodist churches, and the Baptists then were not steeped in all the Calvinist doctrine that they seem to be today. What happened was that the more Dominionist elements took over, and the SBC became what it is now. Many mainline protestant churches have been or are being steeplejacked by the Dominionists.

            I’m not a Pagan, but I suppose I am a pagan because I am a Deist. Many modern Deists are best described as “panentheists”, and that is where I fall. We find God in Nature and reason. I enjoy this blog and find much in common with Pagans.

            There has been a lot written lately about the very phenomenon that the author mentions – the inability to communicate at all with the fundamentalists. Their brains really ARE different, and they really DO respond differently to the same stimuli.

            Talk2Action, AlterNet, and Care2 have all had articles on the topic in the last couple of weeks. And if you have not yet read “The Authoritarians”, please do! (Robert Altemeyer is the author, and the book is available for free online.) It does more to explain this mindset than any I’ve read.

      • Wdaytonking

        I would add that, in its early years, Christianity was largely a Jewish cult that spread throughout an occupied people. Churches were very local and autonomous with little central governance, and so there was much more diversity in theology, belief, and even scripture. With the canonization of the Bible by what became the Catholic Church, the writings of Paul were given heavy sway, including his (essentially Gnostic) teaching that the ‘carnal’ body was corrupt and sinful. The official canon created the possibility of heresy, while the power of state gave the leaders the power to impose doctrinal rigidity. Many fundamentalist churches (particularly Evangelicals) deny any relationship to the Catholic Church, yet most of their doctrine is handed down directly from the ancient Catholics and accepted without question, even when it is very loosely based in or outright contradicts the Bible they claim it to be based on. Original sin, the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality, the virgin birth, and many other ridiculous ideas are the result of this hereditary lineage.

        • Anonymous

          But of course, “original sin” isn’t very original. Most mythology has an innocent and uncorrupt people who had a “fall”, often brought about by a woman – fancy that. (Pandora, anyone?)

          But if you remove “original sin” from the equation, then their whole religion collapses, since no sin = no need for “salvation”. Thus the heavy emphasis on inerrancy and the “Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” mentality.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            I think that “original sin” is indeed a very “original” idea only found in Christianity.

            The Pagan concept of a past “golden age” is fundamentally different from the Christian idea of the “Fall”, because the Pagan concept is embedded in a cyclic view of time wherein the process of decay is eventually, and naturally, followed by a process of regeneration and the Golden Age returns once more.

            The Christian concept of “original sin” is inextricably embedded in the Christian linear view of time, which begins with “the creation”, continues to “the fall”, then comes “the incarnation”, followed eventually by “judgement day”. There is no cycle, just a linear progression of events.

            Also, Pagan ideas about “degenerate” ages (the ages following the Golden Age) do not go so far as to insist that we now live a world that is fundamentally “sinful”, nor that human nature is fundamentally “sinful”. Even at the lowest ebb of the cycle, human nature is still first and foremost marked by its close kinship with the Divine, and the physical Cosmos is still viewed as a place that is alive, rational, and Divine.

          • Anonymous

            I didn’t mean that Christians didn’t have a different way of viewing a/the “fall”, but rather that other religions had/have similar myths.

            It’s the peculiar stress on “salvation”, I suppose, that sets them apart. But even the idea of blood sacrifices and substitutional atonement are borrowed.

            Early Christianity evidently was a lot more freeform and communal than what was made into doctrine by the likes of Augustine and later Calvin. They are the ones who harped so heavily on “man’s sin nature”, and which the fundies today are so focused on.

            Interesting about the “cyclical” nature of pagan beliefs versus a linear one. I hadn’t really ever thought much about that, but you are right. So is “linear” a hallmark of monotheistic religion, or just of Christianity? I’ve never heard a Jew talking about “end times”, for example.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            phatkat: “I didn’t mean that Christians didn’t have a different way of viewing a/the “fall”, but rather that other religions had/have similar myths.”

            There is definitely a kind of similarity. But I think that what Christianity did amounted to a “bait and switch”, where they introduced something that looked familiar, but that was really fundamentally different.

            As far as cyclic versus linear views of time, cyclic views predominate outside of the Abrahamic religions. As a general rule ancient Pagan cultures had a cyclic view of time, and so do Buddhism and Hinduism. Abrahamic religions also tend to have a very “short” view of time, so that the Universe as we know it has a definite starting point only a few thousand years ago and will end sometime in the not too distant future. While non-Abrahamic religions tend to view the Universe as beginningless and endless.

  • Siribear

    Excellent article!

    I”ve got a few ideas to toss into the mix, from delving into the roots of Christian hatred of the natural world as background research for a novel.

    It appears the idea of separating God from Nature goes far, far back into the Jewish experience during Pre-Christian times. There were two visions of nature – one as the (cultivated) garden, and the other as the ‘roaring, howling wasteland.’

    Later, Christian theology was informed by Manichean dualism, through St. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. The inherent sinfulness of nature was a result of Adam’s fall.

    Those two threads combine to create the ‘anti-nature’ aspect of some (not all) Christian theology. That negative view of nature colors (some) Christian’s perception of pagans, and Pagans.

    The view of Nature as sinful, as you’ve shown above, is the ‘Cause Belli’ for condemnation of pagans, and Pagans.

    What I have not been able to track down is the *reason* for Christianity’s ongoing extreme sectarianism – the fundamentalist need to eliminate all other beliefs.

    In its early years, Christianity was much more of a mystery religion. It appears that the Constantinian conflation of the Roman State with Christianity was the fertile ground from which sectarianism sprang – religion being used to promote the ends of the state.

    However, that historical fact does not speak to the psychological underpinnings of 21st C. sectarianism, and the insistence of fundamentalists that it’s their way or the highway.

    This fundamentalist attitude (which you rightly describe as being out of touch with reality), I simply cannot understand.

    My question to you would be “What’s driving this?” Why, after a century of Christian theological opening to appreciate the good in other religions, interfaith councils, and various apologia by the Pope, are U.S. fundamentalists going on the warpath?

    Something happened to fuel this retrograde movement. Something more than the desire to once again conflate religion with the state.

    What social need is being served?

    • Nick Ritter

      Concerning your research into Christian hatred of the natural world, I might recommend Alain de Benoist’s “On Being a Pagan” for a good overview of that sort of thing, as well as the writings of Jan Assmann, perhaps specifically “The Price of Monotheism”.

      I disagree with what I think is your implied thesis, that Christianity was fine and harmless until Constantine got involved. I think that Constantine’s backing gave power to a religious movement that it would have been better to keep powerless.

      The endless sectarian strife that occurs within the history of Christianity has to do with what Assmann calls “the Mosaic distinction,” that is, the idea that one god is true and all others are false and their followers inimical; that profession of a faith brings with it a list of enemies. I think that this kind of religion is energized by setting up an inimical relationship between “the Elect” (which you’re one of, if you go to the right temple, worship the right god in the the right way, etc.) and “the Damned” (everyone else), so that “the Elect” are kept in line and kept working for the cause by (often imagined, trumped-up) threats from “the Damned”.

      It might seem like a damned uncomfortable, unhealthy – and overly melodramatic – way to live, but people do get a strong a sense of community and purpose from it, regardless of whatever damaging or stunting effects it has otherwise. That is the social need being served, that sense of community and purpose.

      In those instances where Christianity has effectively conquered large populations and swaths of territory, the need for an enemy causes sectarian splits and hunts for heretics.

      So, no, we can’t convince these people that we’re not the enemy, because they *need us* to be the enemy. Facts don’t matter, who we really are doesn’t matter, because this is not about us, really. This is about their need for an enemy to drive their internal narratives of being a pious minority surrounded by enemies, which provides them with community and purpose amongst themselves.

      • Anonymous

        I would go further. I would posit that this “recent resurgence” of this kind of absolutist thinking is politically motivated and supported financially. If you look carefully at the juncture of the political and religious right, you will find many of the same people playing a large part in both.

        Any kind of “freethinking” is a danger to the corporatist hive mindset, but extremely authoritarian religion is an asset. Freethinkers rock the boat. Submissive, authoritarian followers do not.

        As to “hatred” of the natural world, I’m not so sure that is the right word. Their Bible tells them to subdue it, and I think that is more the mindset – dominion.

        • Nick Ritter

          “I would posit that this “recent resurgence” of this kind of absolutist thinking is politically motivated and supported financially.”

          Except that this absolutist thinking isn’t recent. I think it was in the cultural background for a few decades, and has received political and financial backing from people who thought they could exploit it, bringing it back into the public limelight. Without that backing, such a worldview might be largely regulated to poor rural communities (at least in this country), but it would still be there.

          “As to “hatred” of the natural world, I’m not so sure that is the right word. Their Bible tells them to subdue it, and I think that is more the mindset – dominion.”

          Perhaps for some, but not for all. There are certainly Christians out there who hate the natural world.

          • Anonymous

            Well, “recent” is relative, I suppose. Yes, it has been going on for at least 4 decades that I have been aware of. But 40 years is actually pretty recent in the grand scheme of things.

            Poor people have traditionally been more prone to fundamentalist religion. There are probably a plethora of social reasons, including insecurity, a need for affirmation, and even the “pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die” promise of a “better place”.

            This, of course, serves the corporate masters well, because those with that mindset will suck up far more abuse than any kind of independent mind. (LOL, I’ve often said that some jobs require a much higher BS tolerance than I possess.) It’s the same mindset that enables a suicide bomber, albeit on a less dramatic scale.

            As to hating the natural world. I suppose if you mean “biblical” hate, as in turning your back on it because it isn’t spiritually important, I can agree with you. They certainly do that. And they probably emotionally “hate” modern culture.

            I live in Arkansas, and goodness knows, there are plenty of them here. Ugh. One of them is my Congressman, and the Senators are the same.

  • Kilmrnock

    Aye , that pretty much sums up the fundie thought pattern .God and Jesus are up in heaven watching us .Satan is down here …….futsing around w/us .Trying to corrupt and manipulate we mere humans , us sinners.B/c satan is here , the earth is corrupted as well , is evil.God and earth are seperate .Heaven is the realm of God , Jesus and the angels /saints we mere humans are down here on earth , including the dead ones ………..awaiting Jesus’s ressurection.That along with their idea we are satan worshippers makes a meaningful dialog with the fundies virtualy impossible

  • Kilmrnock

    And for Gods name where did they get the idea of origonal sin , that even an innocent newborn child , carries the sins of adam and eve .What a horrendous concept .I understand that the Judeo Christian faiths use guilt to control their followers , but my gods that is awful Kilm

    • Crystal Kendrick

      “Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I did an original sin…I poked a badger with a spoon.”

    • Scylla (Root and Rock)

      From what I have understood and been told – this stems from the belief once held that a man’s “seed” was tiny, fully-formed, people. That merely grew like a seed in the “fertile soil” of a womb. So, in that reasoning when Adam sinned, all of his seed sinned with him, and since they were fully formed all of THEIR seed sinned… and so on and so on and so on.

  • http://hearthmoonblog.com/ Hearth Moon Rising

    When people are afraid, they move into black-and-white belief systems, and they try to impose their beliefs on others. These defensive Christian movements thrive on fear, and the leaders stoke this fear. When people feel more secure, they may still hold conservative Christian beliefs, but they don’t feel a need to impose them.

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    Manichaean Dualism, especially inspiring the framework of fundmentalist Christian thinking only posits a bleak worldview based on adversarial opposites that only leads to alienation…from the world, head from heart, male from female, self from body, humankind from Nature…is it any wonder why these bifurcated juxtapositions have created a world based on so much hatred and bigotry?

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    I see this mindset as scapegoating. The world is going to heck in a handbasket, crime rampant, drugs are destroying whole societies, those social structures held dear are crumbling… we need someone to be at fault for this. People with a dichotomy mindset need a scapegoat. A manifest version of their devil.

    Talk-talk-talking to them isn’t going to do anything. We can’t convince them that no one group of people is at fault.

    Other societies have experienced this, in the 1930s in Europe, in Southeast Asia in the late 50s to early 60s, in Bosnia and surrounding countries in the present day, in modern Africa and India with the witch hunts. Even here in America with the Red Scare. In all of these instances, a small minority made things horrid for another small minority, and tore apart their countries in the process.

    And yes, the Dominionists are only a small minority — 8% of the so-called “Religious Right”. But they’re enough to cause some trouble for the other small minorities — Gays and Pagans.

    In the past conflicts mentioned above, there were those who were skeptical that anything would happen, relying on the police and military to keep them safe. They thought they could vote their way out, bribe their way out. Others fled the country. Many believed in the power of humanity and stayed, only to perish in wars, concentration camps, ethnic cleansing.

    None of them used the powers of the press. None of them offered armed resistance (well, not until the bitter end, anyway, after it was too late).

    Here is what we must do:

    * Lead exemplary lives ourselves. Work, contribute to society, pay taxes, take wonderful care of our own children and elders, educate ourselves, join groups outside of our own religious communities, where we can be seen as the decent, law-abiding, hard working people that we are.

    *Strengthen our own religious communities. Network, talk with people online, attend Pagan events, participate in holiday rituals, charities, rites of passage and service projects. Paganism / polytheism is about more than reading books. Babysit your covenors’ kids. Go to Witches’ night out. Show up at Pagan Pride.

    (Sure, it scares the 8%. So what. It shows the other 52 to 68 percent of Christians that we’re nice people.)

    *Pray, do spell workings, build shrines to our Gods / ancestors, communicate with spirit helpers, perform acts of magick, walk the dreamworlds, do ritualized dances, drumming, healing. It works, and it makes us feel empowered.

    * Use the power of the press. Even if it’s just “meet the Witch” for Halloween, or a tie-in with a remotely Pagan event, such as Mardi Gras, Spring Equinox, Earth Day. When there is a conflict, call a reporter. Look at how much positive press the Strivelli family and Turner family received for their issues with the public schools. Get your group’s name on a “highway sponsor” sign. Attend a community cleanup or charity as a group, wearing “Pagan and Proud” or “Happy Green Coven” t-shirts.

    *Despite all this, there’s still the 8% who won’t think we’re nice, and who may be dangerous. So (and some of youse ain’t gonna like this) arm yourselves. Purchase a firearm that you can handle, load, and clean, by yourself. Take a gun safety class. Visit the shooting range. Get comfortable with your weapon. Consecrate it, give it a name. Then if people are standing outside your door with torches, you’ll be ready. Mentally and emotionally steel yourself for this event… while praying and doing ritual and hoping that it never happens.

    (Anti-gun? Want to remain peaceful? Remember, so were the Orthodox Jews in Poland at the start of the Nazi occupation. When the occupation was over, there were NINE Jews left standing in Warsaw. Nine.** Think about it before you reject the idea of personal protection.)

    *Vote. If Rick Santorum becomes our candidate, even I, the Pagan Conservative, might have to vote for (gag, wheeze) Mr. Obama. I’tll nearly kill me, but not as much as someone in office who will actively work to remove First Amendment rights. Familiarize yourself with candidates, their platform, their voting record.

    *Protest. In the past, I’ve been very vocal about “protest is silly” but it seems to have worked quite well at the Halloween event sponsored by area Pagans at our nation’s capital. Others believe that it’s a very positive thing to do… worth a try. Peaceful, organized, focused protest.

    ** statistic is from National Geographic magazine.

    • Anonymous

      Obama IS a conservative, LOL. I’m a liberal, and trust me, he isn’t. He is more like a “Goldwater Republican” than a Democrat.

      • Crystal Kendrick

        “Obama IS a conservative, LOL. I’m a liberal, and trust me, he isn’t. He is more like a “Goldwater Republican” than a Democrat.” Or W with a less vacant smile.

        • Anonymous

          And the ability to use 4 syllable words. ;o) Correctly.

    • Briar

      I agree with you about what we must do, especially in regards to arming ourselves. I know there are many who would deny the necessity of being prepared to defend ourselves with arms, but that won’t stop those who would do us harm.

  • Crystal Kendrick

    Ooh, the terror that is Oprah [trembles while cowering in corner].

  • Tenosce

    I haven’t posted here in a while, but this is a brilliant analysis.


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