Wednesday, April 8, 2020

AFFLUENCE, POLYTHEISM, AND PAGANISM





Why is paganism experiencing such a resurgence in the West? The late Margot Adler, a self-proclaimed pagan (polytheist, spiritist) had explained the appeal of Paganism:

·       They had become Pagans because they could be themselves and act as they chose, without what they felt were medieval notions of sin and guilt. Others wanted to participate in rituals rather than observe themselves. (Drawing Down the Moon)

Adler explained that “Polytheism is…characterized by plurality…and is eternally in unresolvable conflict with social monotheism,” which she equated with “imperialism.” Why? Truth and monotheism deprive us of our autonomy – our choices – by claiming that there is one Truth to which we all must conform. However, plurality allows us to be in-charge. As a result, feel-good, subjective “truth” reigns. The pagan is at the steering wheel to choose any lifestyle, sexual or otherwise. In line with this resurgent religion of old, Adler affirmatively quoted a pagan priestess:

·       “It seems like a contradiction to say that I have a certain subjective truth; I have experienced the Goddess, and this is my total reality. And yet I do not believe that I have the one, true, right, and only way. Many people cannot understand how I find Her a part of my reality and accept the fact that your reality might be something else. But for me, this is in no way a contradiction, because I am aware that my reality and my conclusions are a result of my unique genetic structure, my life experience and my subjective feelings…This recognition that everyone has different experiences is a fundamental keystone to Paganism; it’s the fundamental premise that whatever is going on out there is infinitely more complex than I can ever understand. And that makes me feel very good.”

Ignorance is a great excuse. If objective truth is unknowable, then the priestess cannot be guilty for what she does. She didn’t know otherwise, right? No one can point an accusing finger, not even her conscience.

Why has paganism received a new lease on life in Western civilization? Survival is no longer a pressing issue, at least prior to the coronavirus. Affluence has given us more opportunities to pursue our pleasures. Correspondingly, we want a belief system and a choice of gods/spirits that will endorse our pleasures and lifestyles and will love us no matter what we do.

Drawing from historian Rodney Stark’s Discovering God (HarperOne, 2007), Regis Nicoll has written:

·       With the rise of civilization, people began moving away from high gods toward polytheism. This move reflected their desire for gods that were more approachable. The Greeks, Sumerians, Egyptians, Mayans, and Aztecs had a rich assortment of deities with limited, specialized powers. Not only were these gods more human-like, but they were less morally demanding than the gods of yore. In fact, the gods of the pantheon were unconcerned with moral behavior, as evidenced by their own petulance and penchant for puerile pranks. Their interest in human affairs extended only to ensuring that they received the worship and devotion owed to them. Hence, with the rise of polytheism, the moral dimension of religion was eclipsed by elaborate systems of ritual and sacrifice. (Salvo Magazine; Winter 2019, 23)

This reminds us of the pagan ritualistic celebrations of nature and sex. If their various gods are satisfied by an offering, perhaps also associated with an orgy, without quibbling about the morality of the ritual, then why should pagan ritualists feel any reservations! But perhaps they should and be more careful about rejecting the moral requirements of a righteous and demanding God.

Many scholars have adopted the theory that paganism had been the first religion. According to them, monotheism was a later development associated with developing civilizations, which saw the need to morally constrain its citizens. Consequently, if these moral constraints simply came about out of necessity, why should the pagan allow himself to be bound by these human inventions!

However, the ancient Chinese letters (pictographs, characters) seem to strongly affirm the Genesis account of a single and righteous Creator God and contradict the claim that monotheism represented a later development:

·       The pictographic word for “to create” in ancient Chinese is composed of the components “to speak/talk” and “walking”—consistent with the Genesis account of God using His mouth to create and Adam being created fully mature and thus able to walk, as follows.

·       Kang and Nelson recognize that this etymology retains information from Genesis 2:7, since Adam (whose name means “ground” in Hebrew) was made from and received the breath of life from God, and was created fully formed, able to walk and talk, etc.

·       Interestingly, the Chinese have a memory of a seven–day week, depicted pictographically as “the returning seventh day”—which is itself a monument to the creation week.

·       Recollection of the Garden of Eden is also evident in the ancient Chinese word for “garden.”

·       If this does not link to the Genesis account, why else would the early Chinese combine the ideas of “two persons” who received the “breath” of life after the first one of those two persons (Adam) was made from the “dust” of the earth?

·       Additionally, the pictographic characters for “boat” and “flood” recall information recounted in the adventures of Noah and his Ark–borne family, as recorded in Genesis 6–9. These Chinese characters recall that there were exactly eight survivors of the worldwide Flood. https://www.icr.org/article/genesis-chinese-pictographs/

In light of this, paganism and polytheism seem to represent a subsequent rebellion against a morally demanding God.

What are the costs incurred by paganism? If paganism promotes the violation of God’s moral laws, we should expect to find costs. In the same way, there are costs associated with violating His physical laws, as when we defy gravity by jumping from a building. Similarly, when a culture violates moral laws by having sexual intercourse with children or by sacrificing them to their gods, there are obvious costs.

However, traditional Western culture has been so thoroughly deconstructed and de-legitimized that it is now easy for pagans to tell themselves, “Even if there is a cost, it is no worse than the costs imposed by Western religion.”

However, the costs of paganism seem to be profound and are associated with the deterioration of society. This should not be surprising if everyone is doing what feels right to them. For one thing, in view of the driving force of our sexual appetites, faithfulness to one’s family will not always feel right, but restrictive – monotheistic. But exercising sexual freedom is no way to raise a family. In The Case for Marriage, Linda Waite & Maggie Gallagher have written:

·       Both married men and married women feel healthier that those who are divorced, separated, or widowed, according to research. In their study of the health of men and women nearing retirement age, Waite and Hughes found that wives were about 30% more likely to rate their health excellent or very good than the same-aged single women were and 40% less likely to say their health is only fair or poor. Husbands showed similar advantages over unmarried men. Married men and women are also less likely than singles to suffer from long-term chronic illnesses or disabilities.” (49)

·       Married men are only half as likely as bachelors, and about one-third as likely as divorced guys, to take their own life. Widowers face about the same suicide risk as divorced men do, except for younger widowers who are up to nine times more likely than married men to commit suicide. (52)

·       40% of the married said they are very happy with their life in general, compared to just under a quarter of those who were single or were co-habiting. The separated (15% very happy) and the divorced (18% very happy) were the least happy groups. The widowed were, perhaps surprisingly, just about as likely to say they are very happy as singles or as cohabitors—22%.” (67)

·       A large body of research shows that marriage is much less dangerous for women than cohabitors…1987-88 National Survey of Families and Households: Married people are much less likely than cohabiting couples to say that arguments between them and their partners had become physical in the past year (4% of married people compared to 13% of the cohabiting).” (155) “Cohabiting women are 8 times as likely as to be unfaithful than married women” (157)

·       A preschooler living with one biological parent and one step-parent was forty times more likely to be sexually abused than one living with two natural parents.” (159).

·       [Trial marriage] provides some but not all of the same emotional benefits of marriage, yet only for a short time and at a high price. Breaking up with a live-in lover carries many of the same emotional costs as divorce but happens far more frequently. People who are cohabitating are less happy generally than the married and are less satisfied with their sex lives. In America, long-term cohabiting relationships are far rarer than successful marriages.” (74)

A study published in the New Oxford Review found:

·       One in ten [trial marriages] survives five or more years…The divorce rate among those who cohabit prior to marriage is nearly double (39% vs. 21%) that of couples who marry without prior co-habitation.”

·       Men in cohabiting relationships are four times more likely to be unfaithful…Depression is three times more likely…The poverty rate among children of cohabiting couples is five-fold greater…and 90% more likely to have a low GPA…Abuse of children is 20 times higher in cohabiting biological-parent families; and 33 times higher when the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend.

·       Cohabitation is bad for men, worse for women, and horrible for children. It is a deadly toxin to marriage, family, and culture. (www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?print=1&did=0907-schneider)

In light of these findings, it should be no surprise that thriving cultures are closely associated with committed heterosexual marriages and not with paganism. John J. Davis (Evangelical Ethics) writes of the work of British Anthropologist, J.D. Unwin:

·       After a comprehensive study of both Western and non-Western cultures throughout human history, Unwin concluded that the record of mankind “does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it had been absolutely [heterosexually] monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs.” Unwin observed that a society’s adoption and maintenance of heterosexual monogamy as a social standard “has preceded all manifestations of social energy, whether that energy be reflected in conquest, in art and sciences, in extension of the social vision, or in the substitution of monotheism for polytheism.” (p. 116)

Paganism has an eye towards the present fulfillment of desires. Wisdom sees beyond the demanding present. There is little doubt that paganism presents a platter of immediate pleasures. But as too much sugar begins to poison the body, paganism will poison everything it touches.

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