Monday, June 8, 2009

Newt and the Pagans

As most have doubtless heard, former Speaker of the House and conservative brainbox Newt Gingrich mentioned paganism at Rock Church in Virginia at the "Rediscovering God in America" conference. He made the following declaration:

Which has got the whole pagan community in a tizzy. For those who can't see the YouTube clip, the quote is "We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism."

Speaking as both a practicing Pagan of 20 years and a registered Republican (yes, there are a few of us out there), I think this is being blown out of proportion. Gingrich was clearly not referring to neo-paganism as it is found in the United States today.

Given the context in which he was speaking, he was using the term "paganism" in the Biblical sense of the term, analogous to the Israelites who found themselves surrounded by (and ultimately "corrupted"-- in the view of the authors of the OT-- by) the pagan cultures of the Canaanites and etc. In that context, "paganism" stands for anything that is thought to be contrary to the will of their God, and conservatives certainly don't have a monopoly on claiming that particular high ground ("liberation theology" anyone?). In the actual quote, he makes reference to the New Testament, and the situation where the early Christians found themselves, surrounded by what they perceived as ungodliness, and their struggles against it. And you know, in their religion, that's pretty much a fair case to make. I may not agree with it, but I don't claim to practice their faith. I leave offerings of beer to spirits who live in trees and rocks. I'm going to cast aspersions?

Now, one could make an argument that to use the term "paganism" in such a generically perjorative sense is not only rude and insensitive, but factually inaccurate. In an academic setting that would certainly be the case. But given where Gingrich was speaking (and to whom), it could be argued that "paganism" was a term that his audience would understand, given the context. And yeah, it was a bit of red meat to the crowd; once again, conservatives don't have a lock on *that*, either.

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