Yes, there is a spiritual revival breaking out in the United States, but it is not good news. In March, National Geographic celebrated that fact that “at least 1.5 million people in the United States identify as Pagans—up from 134,000 in 2001.” And Nat Geo is getting all evangelical about this revival, telling readers “Here’s how to immerse yourself in the cultural traditions of Pagan communities” with notices to local events. They also offer definitions to essential pagan terms like “wiccan,” “druid,” “heathen” and “witchcraft” that they believe folks should familiarize themselves with.
The conservative Jewish magazine Commentary is also recognizing the revival with a cover story “The Return of Paganism,” in their May issue. They take a significantly less ceremonious view, lamenting,
Everywhere you turn these days, pagans are afoot, busily hacking away at the Christian and Jewish foundations of American life and replacing them with a cosmology that would have been absolutely coherent to followers of, say, Voltumna, the Etruscan earth god, or to those who worshipped the Celt tribal protector Toutatis.
Commentary continues, “If you think the above paragraph is a little bit overblown, consider the numbers.” They cite data from sociologists of religion explaining that in 1990, only about 8,000 Americans practiced some form of paganism. In 2008, that number shot up to 340,000 Americans practicing some form of naturalistic religion. They concur with National Geographic that the pagan faithful now number 1.5 million, making it one of America’s fastest growing faith practices.
So what is paganism?
It is ancient and naturalistic. A very diverse collection of beliefs that rejects God in favor of various lesser gods who are famously capricious and must be constantly appeased. Everything is divine, and thus nothing is.
What do pagans believe?
Commentary puts it bluntly: “The answer, while wonderfully complex, may be distilled to the following principle: Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” It is a way to reject religion, while still being spiritual.
Christians have had a long and contentious relationship with the pagans. Commentary explains that if you want to explore the origins of the word “pagan,” the great Augustine is the place to start. The fuller title of his greatest work, City of God, is De civitate Dei contra paganos. In English: On the City of God Against the Pagans. The opening line in that tome explains, “Augustine censures the pagans, who attributed the calamities of the world, and especially the recent sack of Rome by the Goths, to the Christian religion…”
Sound familiar? Attack Christianity. There truly is nothing new under the sun.
National Geographic explains pagan celebrations can be found all over America and directs their readers to Wiccan activity in Salem Massachusetts, covens in Asheville, North Carolina that worship at the local Mother Grove Goddess Temple, the Pagan Community Retreat center which is “a family-friendly camping festival for Pagans in southern California;” and of course Sedona, Arizona which is a whole city given to paganism.
But not to be outdone, New York City has its own annual “Witchfest – A Pagan Faire” which exists to raise funds to erect a “NYC Wiccan Family Temple.”
Paganism is a house big enough for all kinds of beliefs and practices. There is not one common practice, save for the rejection of Judaism and Christianity and the embrace of nature, believing that everyone and every thing is a part of the Divine. The demonic is usually present in various forms. Sexual and gender diversity is welcomed.
Commentary explains, “We must understand that the good, old-fashioned faith traditions [Judaism and Christianity] that the pagans so often reject as oppressive, patriarchal, racist, misogynistic, or any number of other trendy terms have seen it all before.”
Indeed they have.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
We have seen paganism rise and fall before. Commentary is hopeful about paganism, in the way that Christians are. They explain, “We’re long overdue for another cycle of pagan defeat; let’s do our best to bring it on soonest.”
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