Sometimes people go so far over the top with their propaganda that they actually tell the truth.
That happened this week with the right-wing website The Federalist and this essay by Sumantra Maitra titled Climate Worship Is Nothing More Than Rebranded Paganism. Here’s the quote that’s getting everyone’s attention:
We’re seeing sexualized dances, hallucinogens, worshiping nature, confessing sins in pagan animism, worshiping purified teen saints, all to promote a supposedly greater cause.
You say that like it’s a bad thing…
Denying the reality of climate change
I’ve linked to the article for reference, but it’s really not worth your time to read. There are a couple errors that need to be pointed out, starting with the statement that “Conservatives don’t disagree that climate is changing … and would like to see an actual cost-benefit analysis of the radical changes being demanded.”
No, Mr. Maitra, conservatives do deny the reality of climate change. And your cost-benefit analyses don’t consider any costs or benefits other than dollars. You think lives – human and otherwise – are so cheap they’re inconsequential.
I wish this wasn’t the case. I really would like to see some small-government approaches to dealing with climate change. We need all the ideas we can get. But “we can’t do anything or the stock market might go down” isn’t an answer.
The idea of conservatives calling any form of concern for the Earth “paganism” or worse is nothing new. In 2011 I wrote this post in response to conservative Christians calling environmentalism “the Green Dragon” and trying to associate it with Satan. Their primary goal was to discourage moderate and liberal Christians from taking that whole “caring for God’s creation” thing seriously.
Nature doesn’t care what religion you are
Maitra is also wrong when he talks about how people have “lost their old Judeo-Christian faith” – mainly because there is no such thing as Judeo-Christian faith. “Judeo-Christian” is a post-World War II concept designed to mitigate anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and in light of how Jewish soldiers fought side by side with Protestants and Catholics (and people of pretty much every other religion in the world). Christianity and Judaism share common roots but they are different religions.
More important to this situation is that by and large, the massive environmental desecration that is causing climate change is a result of a Christian empire. Some Jews are part of that empire, but it is a Christian thing, and largely a Protestant thing at that.
It’s inaccurate to label what’s going on “climate worship.” Besides, Nature doesn’t care what religion you are and certainly doesn’t care what you believe. Nature only cares that you respect and promote the maintenance and diversity of life.
People are leaving Christianity because it doesn’t speak to their lived experiences
Still, in all the pearl-clutching lies and half-truths, Maitra hits on something important: more and more people are losing faith not just in Christianity, but also in the religion of Empire and its myth of perpetual growth. And because we are not only homo sapiens but also homo religiosus, we went looking for something else.
The steps in this process are important. Christianity has been losing influence for 500 years, and that decline has accelerated rapidly since about 1960. But it hasn’t come from proselytization. Pagans haven’t been coming into churches or standing on street corners preaching the gospel of Mother Earth and the Old Gods.
Rather, people have been leaving Christianity because they couldn’t honestly believe what they were told they had to believe, and because they found no meaning in the worship, rituals, and practices of their churches.
There’s a divorce in progress. The Church accuses those who leave of infidelity, but the real cause is that the Church has abused many of its members and ignored their needs for centuries. And while divorce used to be nearly impossible to obtain, today it’s easy.
The instinctual truth of Paganism
Meanwhile, the beauty and power of Nature speaks to us, just as it spoke to our ancestors for thousands of years before the rise of Christianity – or the rise of empires. Nature is beautiful and terrible, life-giving and life-taking. Despite its pain and difficulties and tragedies, Nature is not “fallen” – Nature is good.
The pleasures of Nature, which include food, drink, and sex, are good and holy and should be enjoyed and celebrated. We don’t always do a good job of enjoying them respectfully, and sexual abuse is as much a problem in Paganism as it is in Christianity – and in every other religion. It is a human problem, not a religion problem. But the answer is to be found in building a robust consent culture, not in denying our most basic physical needs.
The Old Gods never died, and while They may have gone away for a while, They are back, and They are calling to all who will hear. Polytheism is humanity’s default religious position – monotheism requires constant coercive reinforcement or people will intuitively recognize the multiplicity of the Divine, and will form relationships with many spirits.
Magic is stealing fire from the Gods, and it is also our birthright as humans. Those in power have long tried to outlaw it because they feared its skillful application against them. Yes, witchcraft is rebellion, but it is rebellion against unjust and unaccountable authority. People are taking up magic and witchcraft because they are tired of being told they should be thankful for what scraps are thrown to them.
It doesn’t take a prophet or a preacher to convince people that Nature is good, the Gods are many, and magic is real. They just have to stop listening to those who are trying to keep them under control long enough to hear what their own hearts and minds are telling them.
And they are.
[It does take experienced practitioners to develop and articulate the most effective ways to do these things, so that everyone doesn’t have to figure it all out by themselves. That’s another post for another time… and one I’ll probably write before too long.]
A propaganda failure; an unintentional affirmation of Paganism
At the end of the day, Sumantra Maitra’s essay is not religious so much as it’s political. He’s trying to use religion to discredit those who understand the reality of climate change and are trying to do something about it. But he’s doing that very poorly. He’s appealing to the authority of a “Judeo-Christian” religion that never existed and an empire that is in serious decline.
More importantly, he’s trying to ridicule something people intuitively understand is natural and good.
So let us “sing, feast, dance, make music and love.” Let us care for Nature. Let us worship the many Gods and honor the many spirits who live among us. Let us practice our magic.
Because it is Paganism that speaks to the experiences and needs of people here and now, not the religion of Empire.