The Inevitability of Scripture

Aside from the problem of factually incorrect information, the idea of false prophets in a religious movement without doctrine or scripture is odd. Writers espousing diverse views should be the very essence of a non-scriptural, non-doctrinal religious movement built on personalized religion. Yet, the more unusual the perspective, the more challenging the idea, the more definitive the language, the more likely the writer will be met with a negative reaction.

The sacred right to a highly personalized belief system ends at the written word. When writers are imbued with undue importance and influence their work can be considered an imposition when it does not align with current trends in Pagan thought. No believer wants to hear heretical words from someone who fills a position that they consider the place of a lesser oracle or a minor prophet. When a writer's work confirms someone's beliefs they are considered authoritative; when they do not they are an imposition and an act of hubris.

It's interesting to compare this to another religion's early literary tradition. Christianity gave birth to countless texts and many gospels, with only a select few making up the canon we know today. The difference is that the early Christian texts were considered Divinely inspired and were weighed for validity based upon which conformed to the teaching of the church. Pagan texts are the individual expressions of humans and beyond factual accuracy have no litmus test for validity. Quite literally, one Pagan's written treasure can be another Pagan's printed rubbish.

Part of the reason the work of Pagan writers is such a matter of contention is the idea that what is written perseveres, for good or ill. Factually incorrect information may persist for generations and must be continually debunked by the community. Yet, the marketplace of ideas trends toward worthy and strong ideas surviving and the dross falling by the wayside. From all the inconsequential rubbish printed by Gutenberg and the other early printers, the Bible and other important documents survived. Just so, the endless swamp of GeoCities websites folded while sites like Witchvox and The Wild Hunt prevailed.

A Pagan with a scriptural background may consider the works of Pagan writers more authoritative than the teaching of Pagan leaders. The leader teaching from an oral tradition or personal experience is considered subjective when compared to the written word. It's worth considering whether the rise in Pagan solitaries is due to Pagans placing more emphasis on distant writers than on local teachers. The rise in solitaries most certainly correlates with the abundance and availability of Pagan books, articles, and other texts.

With so many Pagans creating highly personalized individual religions influenced by distant writers, rather than local communities with common values and liturgy, the ability to communicate effectively with other Pagans is diminished. While it is possible to become familiar with the more prominent traditions and authors, it is impossible to be well enough acquainted with each individual's religion to be certain of having any point of reference or common ground as a foundation for spiritual fellowship.

When religion becomes a highly individualized concept the ability to share spiritual convictions effectively is constrained. Pagan religions being minority faiths, it may fall to an individual to explain both Paganism in general and their faith in particular from scratch. While every Christian holds the Bible in some form of reference and uses that common ground to explore their spiritual similarities and differences, for Pagans no such frame of reference exists. Even the broadest of generally accepted Pagan virtues, such as tolerance, holds no consistency across the spectrum of Pagan religions.

A text is preserved in two basic ways: either a committed group of people preserves it over time due to the importance they give the document, or its preservation is a fluke. The Torah is a good example of the former and the Saga of Gilgamesh a good example of the latter. That which is preserved is but a fraction of what is written. Consider all that was published on the internet in the year 2000 and how many of those documents are still available today.

Despite its non-scriptural, non-doctrinal grassroots emergence, the future of Pagan religions will depend on the written word. Among all the dross certain texts will be given importance and preserved. Those who preserve the texts will slowly form a set of scriptures and commentary, much like Judaism. These preserved texts will form a point of reference both within Pagan communities and in interfaith dialogue. This isn't a future Pagans expect but it's hardly a future that Christians of the first and second centuries envisioned either.

Judaism and Catholicism, their traditions, hierarchy, and scriptures, did not spring forth fully formed but emerged from plural movements. The Hebrews were a polytheistic people who gradually formed a lasting monotheistic tradition. The Catholic Church emerged from the wildly diverse, contentious, and autonomous body of churches exploring and experimenting with the Christian faith. Pagans may think their movement is new, but it follows old patterns.

9/30/2010 4:00:00 AM