Monday, September 17, 2012

Grieve Indeed the Growth of Neo-Paganism

(Cross-posted at witchesandpagans.com)

Over at Pantheos, Timothy Dalrymple, on his Philosophical Fragments blog, posted about a trip he recently made with the editor of the Pagan channel at Pantheos, Star Foster. After a pretty nice and friendly introduction, though, he lays open his bigoted Christian heart and says:
As a Christian, of course, I grieve the growth of modern Neo-Paganism. ... I find the historical scholarship of the Pagan communities sorely wanting, and the philosophy and theology behind it all is not yet mature.  Although it’s always harder to hear an outsider say it, I think most thoughtful pagans agree (and many say openly) that there is, quite naturally, a lot of growing left to do. 
And then bigotry transforms into condescension as we are treated to:
It’s like watching new religions take shape right in front of you, and observing the processes that transform ideas into teachings, teachings into communities, and communities into institutions and traditions.  Sects are becoming religions.
Like monkeys in a zoo. How quaint! The cute little Pagans are starting to turn into a real religion right before my very eyes! Isn't that adorable? It's like they think they're real people!

I have a bit of historical analysis for Mr. Dalrymple, if I may, who despite his self-claimed status as a "scholar of religion" seems to think that "religion" equals Christianity.

Perhaps the "historical scholarship of the Pagan communities" would be a bit more robust if Christians had not gone around systematically obliterating as many traces of our history, beliefs, and practices as they could.  Thanks to Mr. Dalrymple's forebears, we are forced to make do with fragments, bits and pieces that we are able to cobble together to get an outline of what our ancestors believed and how they acted on those beliefs. If the Christian conversion of Europe had spilled a little more ink and a little less blood, then perhaps those of us who utterly reject the Christian world-view would be able to satisfy Mr. Dalrymple's standards of scholarship.

Alas, we must make the most of what his forebears left us.

Perhaps the modern revival of Pagan and Heathen religions might have happened earlier, and thus would now find themselves in a more "fully grown" state at this point, if there had not been systematic oppression of non-Christian beliefs and practices. Perhaps, if there were no "Witchcraft Acts" in England, or if they had been repealed prior to 1951, we might be in a bit better place right now, compared to Christianity, which had a bit of a jump on Paganism these last thousand years plus.

Alas, we must make the most of what his forebears saw fit to allow us, in the time they saw fit to allow us.

And then we go beyond mere bigotry, beyond condescension, and into complete and utter xenophobic invalidation:
Personally, of course, I don’t want Pagans to find religion, because I want pagans to recognize that the great God above all gods become incarnate and communicated his love and reconciliation to the world through Jesus Christ, the God-man.
Because, dontcha know, Dalrymple really knows what's best for all of us, and if only we'd listen, we'd all agree with him. Because his god is "real" and ours are just... what? Demons? Figments of our collective imaginations? He seems to ask Star with incredulity:
When you honor Hephaistos, do you believe that Hephaistos (and the whole pantheon, for that matter) truly exists or do you honor Hephaistos as a symbol for important truths and values?
I have news for you: your Jehovah isn't "above" Thor or Odin on his best day. Your pathetic god was nailed to a cross. My God wields a giant hammer. Any questions?

Mr. Dalrymple lays accusations and faults at the feet of Paganism and Heathenry which are explicitly and historically the fault of Christianity. And then he has the audacity to say that it is our fault that we are not "mature" enough. Not "scholarly" enough.

Perhaps we should aspire to be as mature as Islam, whose enthusiastic supporters kill, burn, maim, and destroy at the slightest provocation because non-believers violated strictures that their believers are held to, and hold back basic human rights of women, homosexuals, and those who dare to want to follow a different faith.

Perhaps we should aspire to be as scholarly as Christianity, a significant number of whose evangelical adherents believe the Earth to be something on the order of 6,000 years old and who deny undisputed scientific observations of biology, astronomy, and geology in the process.

These are but two examples; one could of course find many more illustrations of maturity and scholarship among the "real" religions.

On second thought, perhaps we should be quite happy with the pace we've been setting. If that's where maturity and scholarship lead a religious movement, we might not want to get there all that quickly. Maybe we might be able to get where we're going with some more ink, and less blood, than the "real" religions spilled while en route.

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