Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, seems to be on a crusade against paganism – the original and vibrant indigenous religions across the planet that Christians destroyed in the centuries past.
In a pre-Christmas speech, the pope told some 20,000 pilgrims and tourists gathered in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City: “Even we Christians, who are also the people of God, risk becoming worldly and losing our identity, ‘paganising’ the Christian style.” (1)
Three days earlier in November the pope said at his Santa Marta guesthouse: “The paganisation of life can occur, in our case the Christian life. Do we live as Christians? It seems like we do. But really our life is pagan, when these things happen: when we are seduced by Babylon, and Jerusalem lives like Babylon. The two seek a synthesis which cannot be effected. And both are condemned. Are you a Christian? Are you Christian? Live like a Christian. Water and oil do not mix. They are always distinct. A contradictory society that professes Christianity but lives like a pagan shall end.” (2)
Not only is Francis indulging in hate speech against non-Christians, it seems attacking pagans has become an annual feature for the man in the funny robe. In 2016 in Assisi, Italy, he lamented that indifference among Christians was “giving rise to a new and deeply sad paganism”. (3)
In November 2014, in his daily homily for mass at the Vatican, the pope had urged the faithful against leading a “pagan life” for pagans are “enemies of the cross”. (4)
What’s eating the Pope?
Why is the pope so obsessed with paganism that blasting this group has become an annual pr-Christmas diatribe? The New Advent Catholic encyclopaedia (5) defines paganism: “Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God, and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism and Mohammedanism. The term is also used as the equivalent of polytheism….The word is derived from the Latin pagus, whence pagani (i.e. those who live in the country), a name given to the country folk who remained heathen after the cities had become Christian.”
You get the picture: the reason Francis has been so aggressively vocal about paganism is that Christians are alarmed at its comeback. The church has been fighting paganism – or more correctly, committing genocide of pagans – since the time of Christ, but what is new is its “aggressive resurgence” and its “seduction of so many Christians”. (6)
After centuries of decline and decimation, natural religions are making a comeback in a major way worldwide. After nearly two millennia of blind adherence to so-called monotheism, which divided the world into “believers” and “heathens”, increasing numbers of people across the world, especially in the West, are returning to their roots – the ancient pagan religions based primarily on piety towards divinity and traditional authorities.
To be sure, the presence of more than a billion Hindus who have preserved their ancient dharma – despite 1,400 years of foreign invasions, alien rule and barbaric treatment – is living proof of the resilience of natural religions. While it was the bravery and indefatigable spirit of Hindu warriors that saved India from going down like Persia, Greece, Rome, Egypt and Mesopotamia, in other parts of the world paganism survived only as fragments or as a memory. And yet paganism is rising phoenix-like from the ashes of inquisition, forcible conversion and genocide.
What’s brewing out West?
There is an irresistible surge of paganism worldwide, which has found expression in movies like Avatar, Thor and the Harry Potter series. The success of such movies worldwide suggests a deep desire among people there for a more spiritually satisfying life with the added bonus of a richer pantheism. When you compare the diverse, beautiful and fun loving gods (and goddesses) of pagan religions with the morbid image of a bleeding corpse nailed to a cross, it isn’t hard to see why rational people are deserting Christianity for paganism.
Many American “are no longer seeking solace for their souls in the arms of Christianity… today’s most popular forms of spirituality are those associated with the occult, neopaganism and witchcraft” (7).
In the last several decades, Wicca and neopaganism have gained surprising influence in nominally “Christian” churches, where one might not normally expect to find workshops on astrology, tarot card reading, channelling and goddess worship. “Some witches and neopagans are now senior pastors of large denominational churches. It is an event unprecedented in the history of Christendom.” (8).
Wicca and neopaganism are also surging in popularity on some college campuses, even those associated with “Christian” denominations. One professor, a self-proclaimed lesbian feminist witch, “is spearheading a campaign to turn Christianity into nothing less than a neopagan, goddess-worshipping religion”. (9)
Noted Jewish author Don Feder writes in ‘A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America’ that the United States is no longer a Christian nation. “Ours is increasingly polytheistic,” he says. (10)
Feder’s observation is backed by facts. In the US, there is a burgeoning interest in Druidry, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, Kabbala and Tantra among others. The high profile conversion of actor Julia Roberts to Hinduism apart, there is huge interest in Eastern dharma. This move to pagan – or dharmic beliefs if you will – is aided by the decline of Christianity.
According to the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey, (11) the percentage of self-identified Christians fell 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 per cent.
A more recent survey titled America’s Changing Religious Identity (2017), by the Public Religion Research Institute (12) says there are 20 states in which no religious group comprises a greater share of residents than the religiously unaffiliated. These states tend to be more concentrated in the western US, although they include a couple of New England states as well. “More than four in ten (41 per cent) residents of Vermont and approximately one-third of Americans in Oregon (36 per cent), Washington (35 per cent), Hawaii (34 per cent), Colorado (33 per cent) and New Hampshire (33 per cent) are religiously unaffiliated.”
This drift away from Christianity is causing a dramatic transformation in the way Americans perceive the world. For instance, the proportion of Americans who think religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems” is now at a historic low of 48 percent. (11) More than a fourth of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death, indicating that they dismiss monotheism’s zero-sum offer of heaven or hell.
Old heroes in the New World
Pagan icons and heroes continue to inspire modern nations in the Americas. Take Hatuey, one of the most important people in Cuban history. When the murderous Christian fanatics from Spain landed on the island, killing the peaceful Caobanans indiscriminately, this pagan chief rallied his people with the words: “They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters.”
Hatuey conducted a brilliant guerrilla war from the hills and forests of Cuba, creating terror among the Spanish but was betrayed by a traitor, no doubt a converted Christian. He was captured in February 1512 and burned alive at the stake.
The story that every Cuban child learns is that before Hatuey was burned, a priest asked him if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven. Spanish historian Bartolomé Las Casas wrote of the reaction of the chief: Hatuey, thinking a little, asked the religious man if Spaniards went to heaven. The religious man answered yes… The chief then said without further thought that he did not want to go there but to hell where he would not see such cruel people. (13)
Europe looks back
Across the Atlantic, Europe is a virtual graveyard of abandoned churches. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years,” says Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London. (14)
The continent’s march towards a post-Christian society has been starkly illustrated by research showing a majority of young people in a dozen countries do not follow a religion. The European Social Survey 2014-16 found the Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe, with 91 per cent of that age group saying they have no religious affiliation. Between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands also categorise themselves as non-religious.
In predominantly Catholic Italy, over 60 per cent of Italians have stopped attending confession.
In the UK, a British Unitarian vicar moonlights in his spare time as a Druid, and celebrates ancient pagan festivals. Websites across the country advertise a full calendar of witchcraft festivals in England, Scotland and Wales, as the pagan revival spreads across Britain.
In the 1950’s Britain repealed archaic laws against witchcraft. “Paganism found an ally in the ecological and feminist movements of the 1960s,” says the BBC. Pagan philosophies appealed to many eco-activists, who also saw Nature as sacred and recognised the Great Goddess as Mother Nature. The image of the witch was taken up by feminists as a role-model of the independent powerful woman, and the single Great Goddess as the archetype of women’s inner strength and dignity.”
Every year, thousands of people – pagans, druids and, well, people who like to party all night long – flock to Stonehenge to celebrate mid-June’s summer solstice. By the time the winter solstice swings round on 21 December, the short daylight hours and dismal weather mean significantly fewer people tend to brave the elements to stand by some giant stones in Wiltshire – or at other places of Druidic interest. Most who do brave the winter solstice are, just like King Arthur, Druids. (15)
Across the continent, young European pagans are reclaiming tribal identities. There is a huge revival of native interest in Norse, Celtic, Prussian and other ancient traditions. The Prusi, an indigenous people of former Prussia, thought to be extinct since the Crusades, are among those making a determined comeback.
In 1982 the Prusi discovered the ruins of Truso, a Prussian village described in the Wulfstam’s chronicle 1100 years ago. The village is undergoing reconstruction by the descendants of the Prusi, seeking to recover their heritage. This indigenous cultural renaissance is taking root as far afield as Russia, where Prusi descendants in the Kaliningrad region of Russia are also working hard to recover their pagan Prusi heritage and identity.
The lesson to be learned from the Prusi is that even when native title is dead and gone, colonialism and Christian conversion can never completely extinguish indigenousness in the hearts of the people.
Reasons for revival
There are several reasons for the rapidly growing movement that seeks to rediscover dharma. The most important reason is the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of organised, congregational religion. The mainstream faiths are no longer popular destinations for those seeking spiritual fulfilment. Alienated people, feeling disconnected from modern society, are turning to neopaganism to get in tune with the spirit of the universe.
Another key reason is that paganism – or dharma – does not seek to harvest souls for the sake of numbers. Rational people cannot for a second believe that blind acceptance of an all-forgiving sentient being hiding somewhere out there in space will guarantee eternal heaven. In fact, they are more likely to be repelled by Christianity’s “jealous god” who loves “punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”. (16)
And not content with being jealous, he goes on to incite his followers to commit genocide against innocent people. (17)
The fact that Christianity peddles an infantile philosophy was recognised as soon as it was introduced into the rational societies of Rome and Greece. In his critique of the “washing away” of sins, the Phoenician philosopher Porphyry (234–305 CE) said: “It is indeed troubling and confusing to think that a man, once washed of so much pollution and rot, seems all of a sudden to be pure. Is it not a little curious, this wiping away the stains of a lifetime of immorality simply by getting baptized, as easily as a snake sloughs off its old skin? I ask, who wouldn’t prefer a life of corruption if he knew in advance that all would be forgiven him. Such promises encourage those who hear them to sin.”
To be sure, unlike the congregational faiths, natural religions will never have organised churches or conversion shock troops. However, there are many pagan organisations worldwide, most catering for specific traditions such as Druidry or Asatru, but a few, such as the Pagan Federation in the UK or the Pan-Pacific Pagan Alliance in Australia. Pagan hospital visitors and prison ministers are a recognised part of modern life, and public pagan ceremonies such as Druid rituals and pagan marriages or funerals take place as a matter of routine.
In June 363 CE, Roman Emperor Julian was murdered by his Christian bodyguard. One of the most fascinating – and tragic – figures of late antiquity, Julian was the last pagan emperor. During his short rule this philosopher king fought a valiant battle to save the ancient pagan religions of his empire from vicious attacks by a new, aggressively proselytising and intolerant religion. This new creed was Christianity.
Julian, firmly anchored in the Hellenistic religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans, was a liberal ruler and patronised all religions, including Christianity. The genial emperor was determined to restore the worship of the gods and the honoured Greek-Roman traditions. He tried to stop the Christian attacks on the Greek pantheon; he tried to reverse the policies directed against the pagan Greeks adopted by early Christian Roman emperors. He even intended rebuilding the sacred temple of the Jews.
Julian’s efforts to revive and support the pagan faiths were cut short when he was murdered by his Christian bodyguard during a campaign in Persia. They say, those whom the Gods love, die young; Julian was just 32. With their last patron gone, the pagan religions were doomed. The succeeding Roman emperors banned the worship of the Hellenic gods. Sacrifices to them were forbidden on the penalty of death. Millions of pagans were murdered by Christian goons led by newly converted priests. The Olympic Games, which had been introduced in remote antiquity by the great Greek warrior Hercules, were stopped. The Christians banned Greek studies and philosophy, freezing scientific development in Europe for a thousand years.
More than 17 centuries after Julian’s death, paganism is making a comeback in the West. This revival is a natural phenomenon. It is not led by conversions, allurements, threats or trickery. It is a process that is led by rational, free-thinking individuals rather than organisations that believe they are more powerful than national governments.
Emperor Julian must be looking back from his Elysian Fields with a sense of contentment.
- Breitbart, https://www.breitbart.com/faith/2018/12/02/pope-francis-warns-christians-not-become-paganized-christmas/
- Vatican News, https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-11/pope-francis-mass-christian-societies-end-if-pagan.html
- Catholic News Agency, https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/in-assisi-pope-francis-slams-paganism-of-indifference-48548
- Catholic News Agency, https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-blasts-pagan-christians-as-enemies-of-the-cross-97757
- New Advent, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11388a.htm
- First Things, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/05/pope-v-paganism
- Richard Abanes, ‘Fantasy and Your Family’, pages 108–109
- Richard Abanes, ‘Fantasy and Your Family’, page 265
- Richard Abanes, ‘Fantasy and Your Family’, page 269
- Tomorrow’s World, https://www.tomorrowsworld.org/magazines/2006/november-december/the-pagan-revival
- Gallup, https://news.gallup.com/poll/124793/this-christmas-78-americans-identify-christian.aspx
- Public Religion Research Institute, https://www.prri.org/research/american-religious-landscape-christian-religiously-unaffiliated/
- History of Cuba, http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/oriente/hatuey.htm
- The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion
- BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/9c59499f-1395-43dd-9f7a-120034b05956
- Exodus 20:4-6
- Chicago Now, http://www.chicagonow.com/an-atheist-in-illinois/2013/06/the-hypocritical-and-rather-pathetic-ten-commandments/
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Rakesh is primarily a defence analyst. His articles have been quoted extensively by universities and in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare, and development of the global south; and by international defence journals.
Rakesh’s work has been cited by leading think tanks and organisations that include the Naval Postgraduate School, California; US Army War College, Pennsylvania; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC; State University of New Jersey; Institute of International and Strategic Relations, Paris; BBC Vietnam; Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk; Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi; Institute for Defense Analyses, Virginia; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Washington DC; Stimson Centre, Washington DC; Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia; and Institute for Strategic, Political, Security and Economic Consultancy, Berlin.
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