Why the Vatican Fears Secularism and other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 11, 2009 — 32 Comments

Top Story: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy is holding a special two-day conference with the theme of “God today: with Him or without Him, that changes everything”. Normally I’m not overly interested in the day-to-day goings on of the Vatican, but a couple quotes reveal, I believe, the under-riding fear behind Benedict XVI’s ongoing smears of both classical and modern forms of Paganism. In short, they believe secularism will hasten the growth of modern Paganism(s).

“Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to CEI President Card Angelo Bagnasco for the occasion. In it, the Holy Father said, … “When God disappears from man’s horizon, humanity loses its sense of direction and could take steps towards its destruction.” … In his opening address, Cardinal Bagnasco said that the question of God is linked to that of truth, which “separates man from animals and machine.” For the cardinal, the more the ‘question of God’ is “marginalised and psychologically removed” from culture, the more it “reappears in disguise” and takes the form of today’s interest in the paranormal, the occult, and esoteric religiosity in which reason “is defeated”.”

The process they describe is known to scholars as “re-enchantment”, and far from being antithetical to reason, some see the current trend as one that embraces “secular rationalism” alongside  new-found “esoteric religiosity”.

“To Pagans, the “spiritual but not religious”, the scores of “no religion” agnostics who believe in God, and the many other groupings taking part in the West’s re-enchantment, it isn’t a choice of Dawkins or Pope Benedict. Instead, it is melding of the best aspects of rational and secular progress with the immanent and transcendent spiritual experiences provided by various religions and philosophies. While the old binary view of religion and rationalism continues to duke it out, Pagans are having their (secular re-enchantment) cake and eating it too.”

The Catholic fear, I believe, isn’t (primarily) of the death of reason, but of the birth of competition. Of a post-Christian Christianity that doesn’t mind dabbling in the supernatural now and then, of a coalition of non-Christian faiths who won’t sit quietly and allow the Vatican to continue “asserting the reasonableness of the Gospel” to the exclusion of any other point of view. Of a world that has no problem being religious and living in an age secular rationalism.

In Other News: Author and Pagan scholar Michael York, who attended and presented at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne (check out my audio interview with him), has added his two cents to the wide-ranging post-Parliament discussion over identity and terminology in Wednesday’s post.

“The Indigenous Peoples issued a Statement to the World in which the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493 and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery were exposed for the evils that they were. Angie Buchanan’s argument is that we pagans who follow a European tradition are examples of an earlier and more complete eradication that the indigenous peoples of today are themselves facing. We are allies and not enemies. _Some_ were sympathetic to this reasoning; others less so. Andras’ classification of paganism into Neo-pagan, Reconstructionists and Indigenous I have trouble with – especially when he described the second as intellectual reconstructions as opposed to revivals of indigenous survivals. For me, Neo-pagan includes Wicca as well as much contemporary Druidry and comprises a specific alignment of elements and directions as well as the eight festival calendar. Reco-paganism is ethnic reconstructions _and_ revivals. Geo-pagan is something else that is more vernacular and often less self-conscious.”

I urge you to read the full comment, his follow-up statement, and the exchange between him and Celtic Reconstructionist Erynn Laurie (among others) for some thoughtful expansion on the hot-button issues brought up in the main post. I’d also like to recognize and thank all my commenters for their thoughtful, challenging and respectful discussion on these issues. I like to think that this blog’s reader-commenters present a unique cross-section of the diverse theological, political, and social backgrounds, to be found under modern Paganism’s wide umbrella. As a result of this we often generate more light than heat on controversial subject matters. So thank you.

An extremist Russian pagan group is being blamed for an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir.

“A suspect detained as part of the authorities’ investigation into an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir is believed to be a member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry’s department for the fight against extremism told Interfax on Friday. An explosion occurred at the Sts Cyril and Methodius Church on the premises of the Vladimir State University on December 6, the spokesman said. A pamphlet that was written on behalf of the White Storm group and contained remarks “aimed at inciting ethnic and religious hatred” was found inside the church, he said. “A 28-year-old resident of Vladimir was detained for his suspected role in the crime. The information available to us suggests that he is an active member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths,” the spokesman said.”

Luckily, no one was hurt in the explosion. There have been serious ongoing tensions between modern Russian Pagan groups (both extremist and otherwise), and the state-approved Russian Orthodox Church. Extremist Pagans groups have been listed as suspects in the recent murder of an Orthodox priest, and one group was recently tried and convicted for the murder and harassment of non-Slavic immigrants. The various forms of Paganism in Russia are a complex matter for outsiders to grasp, especially when press coverage focuses almost solely on violent and racist gangs instead of the broader Pagan impulse in the country. I await a serious expose’ on this issue, one that separates the peaceful productive groups from the thuggish gangs who terrorize Orthodox priests and immigrants. Perhaps some Russian Pagans or Russian Pagan ex-pats can shed some light on the matter?

Lahaina News reports on a Goddess Movement conference coming to West Maui in January, organized by Dr. Apela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network, and featuring Kathy Jones and Lydia Ruyle.

“Organizing gatherings is old hat to Colorado. “I’ve done hundreds of them. This is the first one I’ve done about the theme of the goddess, with the central focus on the goddess. Normally, I’m doing gatherings that pertain to indigenous wisdom and spirituality and bringing it together with western science,” she said. “What’s the same about this is that it’s bringing out the ancient ways of understanding life,” she added. Colorado reasoned why the conference is being held on the West Side. “All of West Maui is dedicated to the feminine powers of life. It’s all about the waters, the fresh waters. In the West Maui Mountains up there, it has a big lizard (mo‘o) in the landscape that’s at the headwaters of Kauaula, the red rain. The red water is an allusion to the menses, the blood flow of giving birth,” she explained.”

Oh, and Starhawk is also attending, though that strangely wasn’t mentioned in the article. I do find it somewhat curious that a Goddess Conference held in West Maui doesn’t feature any native Hawaiians on the speakers list (that I can ascertain, there are several names I don’t recognize), an oversight perhaps? Is there some sort of social/political tension that I’m not clued in on? Perhaps some of my Hawaiian readers can fill me in.

In a final note, I normally don’t plug individual business on my blog, but I think this is a good cause. Witchy Moon is teaming up with Operation Circle Care to make it super-easy to send a Pagan solider a care package this holiday season.

“WitchyMoon Magickal Pagan Superstore today announced that is supporting Circle Sanctuary’s “Operation Circle Care” program to collect Yule gifts for Pagan soldiers stationed overseas. As part of this sponsorship, WitchyMoon will be selling care packages on its web site, which can be sent to Pagan service members abroad. WitchyMoon will be offering a 25% discount on all care package items. “Through this Yule program, we are sending a very powerful message that we care about our Pagan troops, which are working hard to defend America,” says Lady Falcona, proprietor of Witchy Moon”

You can find out more about Operation Circle Care’s care package program, here. Perhaps Witchy Moon’s generosity of spirit will inspire other Pagan retailers to offer similar deals. If you have a business that is working with Operation Circle Care, please drop a line in the comments and let my readers know.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Cardinal Bagnasco's comment, boldlined in your post, is a dogmatist's awareness that the human religious/spiritual impulse is a constant but takes differing forms. It's cast as the description of a threat, which tells you something about his psychology and the group psychology of the Church. We Pagans, who aren't even organized enough to pass the US Army's sniff test for qualifying Pagan military chaplains, are seen as a threat by the Catholic Church. Remarks like that disclose where the Church thinks its own weaknesses are.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

    • Robert Evans

      The religious/spiritual impulse isn't a constant. If it was either everyone would be a mystic, nun, monk, etc…, or no one would. It's a variable. But you're probably right about everything else.

      I'll infrequently salute the constellation Orion, attributing no mystical properties to it at all, and that's the entire extent of my spiritual impulse. (Otherwise, a deity could appear before me, and the most I'd do is ask it some questions then continue on with my life as if nothing had changed.)

      • Robert Evans

        Or maybe you're right, and it is a constant, but confounding variables moderate its effect. It'd be interesting coming up with an experiment to test that.

  • I have always known that in time an Awakening of the minds would come and those controlled and organized religions would be the ones who would feel the hit. The Vatican states “When God disappears from man’s horizon, humanity loses its sense of direction and could take steps towards its destruction.”, when you deny the Mother and Father then they so deny you, however, I do not see where God or the Goddess has disappeared from the Horizon, they Rise and Set every morning and every night. They are right before us, in Nature, in the Sun, the Moon, the life born and life passing to renew. It is when humanity denies that all things are of the Goddess and God that destruction in ones' life can occur.

    Balance is important for the Light exists both in light and in the darkness.


    • Gwynfox

      Respectfully, which Romans do you speak of? With a thousand year history (two, if you recognize the Eastern Empire) that is a whole lot of ground to cover. Speaking purely of the West, are you talking about the moderately intolerant, heavily Etruscan early Rome; The more inclusive republic; the tolerant if and when it suits us early imperial; or the arguably rightfully paranoid, xenophobic, and desperate later (Christian) imperial. I agree that the greater portion of Western Rome's history is one of generalized tolerances… However one can argue that the moving of cultural icons to the capital is, as a political tool, a form of gunboat diplomacy. Hostage taking as insurance is a practice likely as old as man, so i will digress.
      The greater threat of a "tolerant" Rome is something most of us take for granted, Syncretism. What gives our Pagan eclectic brethren historical relevance was also a tool of oppression. The argument goes something like this…
      "You know (insert God name here)? We like him here too, we call him (blahblahblah), and he did all these neat things over here for us (so you are not a special and unique snowflake), and you know what? I betcha he wouldn't like these things you guys are doing (practices that do not agree with the way of the Roman state). Considering we gave you all these nice things, and (cough cough) we won (of course) maybe you should listen to us (rather than those crabby old men hiding in the forest outside town)."
      Thus, for oral traditions, the inclusion of new, different and deviating stories, built around a control mechanism designed to increase reliance on Rome, and diminish the power of history and separate culture, This was, I argue cultural genocide writ large.
      It so happens that the "devil's bargain" the late imperial made with Christianity, facilitated by the actions of a "tolerant" Rome, laid the foundation for the utter whitewashing of the indigenous cultures of Europe. Many cultural teachings world-wide argue that destroying a man's good name is equal to or greater a crime than killing him outright.

      @ others, In as much as the Romans (and later conquerors) did a whole lot of both (killing names and people) to the indigenous peoples they displaced. The first steps toward any true healing is the recovery of lost identity (of all involved), and the mutual acceptance of identities.


      • That's a very negative appraisal, I would say, of what Rome was and what it did, religiously, when it encountered other polytheists in a polytheistic world. You can't take away Rome's- or any other successful empires- ability to live among the natives as they felt right. Rome was just as native to Europe as anyone else. They had their own perspective on Gods, probably many as you pointed out, and in a world of polytheism, they have a right to share it. And they did. And let's face it- maybe the Gods DID favor them; they created an empire the likes of which the world never saw again- and no conquerors never gave back so much to the world they conquered.

        I don't, in the end, want everyone following under one empire with one emperor or even one republic with one senate. But if I had to have it, I'd want one like Rome that didn't care if I kept my old chief and my old tribal gods and my old tribelands, so long as we sent them a tribute every month or every year. That sure beats the alternatives out there. I don't personally like the fact that Rome did so well, historically. If they hadn't, then Christianity wouldn't have, either. But they did. And we have to accept this as part of the necessary unfolding of things. I believe there is a greater piece of the puzzle here.

        Rome wasn't perfect, but it wasn't all evil either. I think they had a lot of wisdom in their culture. That doesn't mean I would have preferred to live under them, if I had to live back then!

        • Piss. I meant to type "No conquerors ever gave back so much…"

  • Gwynfox

    Robin, actually, I agree for the most part. I don't think the appraisal was unfair however. They chose a most efficient and expedient program of assimilation. The wisest among us may well have chosen a similar path in their stead. Despite these things, it was cultural modification, disinformation and destruction that any of the modern world powers simply pale when compared to. This is not for lack of trying mind you, just in the modern information age such massive campaigns are more easily identified, and often vilified.
    The Roman Empire is harder to typify than most would have it. It is a long interwoven series of stories, some excellent, and some are admittedly harder to stomach than others. Rome gave much to it's world. How much is debatable. My biggest sticking point with the "glory" of Rome, and my biggest question of it's actual contribution stem from the same event, The first burning of the Library of Alexandria by Julius Caesar's troops. Admittedly it does color my view of Roman intellectual and cultural hegemony.

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