Religion takes on dark and light forms as well. It can be manipulated by a institutional hierarchy for its own enrichment and power. This is a permanent possibility because religions are where human communities interact with the Sacred. There is always a question of balance between the human and the More-than-human, and the balance can tilt towards the mundane or to the Sacred.
Whether it be megachurch preachers, Catholic hierarchies, or Aztec priests, religion has a long history of being subordinated to the love of power and domination by those at the top of the hierarchy. At the same time, it enables every practitioner to more easily keep in mind the greater context of meaning within which they live their lives. A great many religious people are far more sincerely spiritually oriented than a great many who have risen to the top of organizational hierarchies.
So I hope it is clear that I am not saying religious anything is always better than its cultural dimension. On the other hand, when culture and religion are in harmony with the Sacred I think circumstances are optimal for us to live our lives well as individuals and as communities.
Growing Pagan Culture
I think the interrelationships between culture and the Sacred, mediated by religion, is fascinating. The longer I have been a seriously practicing Pagan the more I have come to see many things differently from how they are viewed by mainstream America. I increasingly have been able to see hidden monotheistic assumptions in even apparently purely secular undertakings, as I described in my previous post on ethics.
I do not think we NeoPagans have more than the barest hint of a Pagan culture here today. This cannot be avoided. We have to start where we find ourselves, inheriting 1500+ years of coercively enforced transcendental monotheism that has shaped every aspect of how most of us were initially raised and the world we took for granted, even when we felt alienated from it.
Up to the 1950s, we had long been reduced to small groups practicing secretly, so secretly that it will likely always be debated how far back those groups really extend. Today hundreds to thousands of us gather at annual public events, teaching and learning from one another. But this is all very new, basically within less than a single lifetime. We are still learning and exploring how the world changes when we take seriously the insight and even experience that the Sacred is everywhere, is not dominated by a single personality, and can be directly interacted with given the right motivations and knowledge.
America's NeoPagans are Pagans without much of a Pagan culture, although one is growing. It will truly begin to put down roots when second and third generation Pagans have grown to adulthood surrounded by Pagan assumptions as so many of us grew to our present positions surrounded by monotheistic ones.
If many Lithuanians celebrate Pagan culture without much Pagan meaning, many of us are captivated/motivated/dedicated to honoring Pagan meanings within a culture that systematically denies them.