The Reality of Neo-Paganism

Two days ago (Monday, 21 June 2010) was the Summer solstice (fr. Lat. sol [sun] + sistere [to stand]). The AP reports that “Thousands of New Agers and neo-pagans danced and whooped in delight Monday as a bright early morning sun rose above the ancient stone circle Stonehenge, marking the summer solstice.”  G. K. Chesterton is often quoted as having said, “A man who who won’t believe in God will believe anything.” He may not have actually said that (more here) but it is true nonetheless and the rise of neo-paganism is prima facie evidence of its truth. With their rejection of the Trinity and the incarnation and the resurrection as implausible, remarkably Westerners have given themselves over in apparently growing number to imploring the sun. The old paganism is new again. Of course, my colleague Peter Jones has been chronicling the rise of this movement for years (see, e.g., Spirit Wars).

Why the idea of talking to a fiery rock is more plausible than talking to a resuscitated (resurrected) and glorified God-man is difficult for me to say. As a former pagan I’m sure I would have regarded talking to the sun just as stupid as a once regarded talking to Jesus. The rise of neo-Paganism, of course, is another testimony to the corruption of the human faculties. We really are actively suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (see Rom 1). Left to ourselves our first instinct is not to honor God but to make idols of created reality. Isaiah, Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin were right: we really are depraved by nature. Only grace delivers us from the “bound will” (Luther).

Faced with the cultural consequences of a resurgent neo-paganism some have minimized “doctrinal questions” or “theological questions” in favor of “taking back America for Christ.” Others have responded by minimizing doctrinal clarity in the interests of focusing on piety and evangelism. Both responses are flawed. Worshiping the sun (or whatever other creature) is an inherently religious and theological act. There’s a theology implied and sometimes expressed in neo-Paganism. It is a rejection of the God who is, the God who spoke in the beginning, and the God will judge neo- and paleo-pagans on the last day.

Yes, as a theology, neo-Paganism will result in a culture (which is ironic because etymologically, the word “pagan” means “farmer” or “rustic” and a farmer is engaged in agri-culture) but our target should not, first of all, be the product of paganism but the root of paganism. This was Paul’s model (Acts 17). He did not deliver, on Mars Hill, a lecture about the evils of gambling, dancing, or the theatre. He didn’t propose legislation. Rather, he went right at the heart: the idolatry of the Athenian pagans. They worshipped false gods, even gods for whom they had no names. They were blatant idolaters and Paul mocked them for it. He preached the law. Then he preached the gospel and particularly the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus. Where the Stoics wanted a moral philosophy that would aid them in living better by living according to the universal rational principles, Paul preached a person. Where the Epicureans wanted refined pleasure (experience) Paul preached a proposition: the resurrection is a historical truth with which you must reckon. Implied in it is death and implied in it is life after death and a reckoning. In other words, “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die” is a lie.

Today’s pagans need the same Words that the Athenian pagans needed: the law and the gospel. Let’s pray that as they hear the law God the Spirit will convict them of their sin and their need for a Savior and that as they hear the gospel they will see reality for what it is, that Jesus the Nazarene was raised from the dead, that he really was and is who he claimed to be and may they cry out to the Son instead of the sun.

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