I was going to write about a prominent Ukrainian Pagan politician that was hit (and killed) by lightning, but it looks like I’m going to have to address Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, instead. It’s no secret that Benedict has a special dislike of “paganism” and anything that may even hint at theologically destabilizing the Church’s patriarchal hierarchy (like feminist theology), he’s described pre-Christian gods as “questionable” and unable to provide hope, and engaged in a kind of Holocaust revisionism by saying that Nazi-ism was born of “neo-paganism”, but these were only indirect criticisms of modern manifestations of Pagan religion. Now, he’s directly addressing modern Paganisms in his latest encyclical.
“…it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense…”
To be fair, he also criticizes the idea of nature as mere “raw material”, and promotes an end to “reckless exploitation”. In fact, if this were the extent of Bendict’s swipes at modern Paganism I might have left it alone, but he returns to the subject again later on in the work.
“There are certain religious cultures in the world today that do not oblige men and women to live in communion but rather cut them off from one other in a search for individual well-being, limited to the gratification of psychological desires. Furthermore, a certain proliferation of different religious “paths”, attracting small groups or even single individuals, together with religious syncretism, can give rise to separation and disengagement. One possible negative effect of the process of globalization is the tendency to favour this kind of syncretism by encouraging forms of “religion” that, instead of bringing people together, alienate them from one another and distance them from reality. At the same time, some religious and cultural traditions persist which ossify society in rigid social groupings, in magical beliefs that fail to respect the dignity of the person, and in attitudes of subjugation to occult powers. In these contexts, love and truth have difficulty asserting themselves, and authentic development is impeded. For this reason, while it may be true that development needs the religions and cultures of different peoples, it is equally true that adequate discernment is needed. Religious freedom does not mean religious indifferentism, nor does it imply that all religions are equal.”
Catholicism is the best! Paganism is the worst! Rah! Rah! Rah! Some religions are more equal than others, right Benedict? I love the scare quotes around religion when describing syncretic, magical, and occult belief systems, it really drives home that the current leader of the Catholic Church doesn’t see us as even practicing a valid faith (even if in error). I suppose I should be flattered that the Pope considers us enough of a going concern that we’re mentioned in an encyclical, but I doubt it’s a first step towards understanding or tolerance. After all, if we aren’t “equal” to Catholicism (and other faiths that the Catholic Church deems “real” religions), maybe we don’t deserve the same religious freedoms and protections.
I always expect a bit of triumphalism and rhetoric when a religious tradition talks to itself, after all, if they didn’t think they were the best faith ever why bother? However, some of the conclusions made by Benedict here could have some chilling repercussions for modern Pagans around the world. We are already seeing a rise in Catholic exorcists who see adherence to “New Age” or Pagan religions as a form of demonic possession, isolated instances of growing radicalism among Catholic youth, and a crack-down on practices like Reiki for being “corrupting” to your spiritual health, what actions could result from this latest encyclical where a hierarchy of religious freedom is subtly endorsed?