Paganism and the Decline of "Religion"

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 26, 2011 — 81 Comments

Back in March the BBC reported on a study that predicted the extinction of religion in nine countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland. The mathematical model used to make this prediction is very similar to one used to predict the extinction of languages. The idea is simple: as the population of religiously non-affiliated individuals grow, their preferences start to become attractive to more and more people.

Pagans dance in "nonreligious" Estonia. Photo: BBC.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.”It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. […]  In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.” The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category. They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them. And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

This trend isn’t isolated to Europe, a new study by Duke Divinity School professor Mark Chaves, a specialist in the sociology of religion, says that religion in the United States is “softening”.

In “American Religion: Contemporary Trends,” author Mark Chaves argues that over the last generation or so, religious belief in the U.S. has experienced a “softening” that effects everything from whether people go to worship services regularly to whom they marry. Far more people are willing to say they don’t belong to any religious tradition today than in the past, and signs of religious vitality may be camouflaging stagnation or decline. “Reasonable people can disagree over whether the big picture story is one of essential stability or whether it’s one of slow decline,” said Chaves. “Unambiguously, though, there’s no increase.”

Another sociologist, Bradley Wright, notes that “it’s not random who’s leaving churches, as Christians affiliated more through the Republican Party, liberal, marginal churchgoers became offended and left.” At his blog, Wright points out that religion in American society has become increasingly polarized, with the people who find religion only “somewhat” important (you know, the “Christmas and Easter Christians”) a dwindling population.

“The last two years *may* represent a change in the importance of religion. While the most devout religious people (i.e., “extremely important) hold on to their beliefs, there is a significant drop in those who religion as “very” important, with these people appearing to transition to viewing it as only “somewhat” important. It’s too early to tell, however, whether this is a robust long-term trend. If it is, it could portend further polarization—as the middle ground of religious importance disappears.”

Most telling is the opinion of Chaves, who, according to the Associated Press, doesn’t think these trends “can be reversed by ramped-up evangelism or other conscious decisions by religious groups.” Now it should be noted that people with “no religion” aren’t without religious beliefs or ideas, a large number claim to believe in a divine power, and a recent study of the religiously unaffiliated  in the Pacific Northwest showed that many of them had adopted an informal sort of nature worship.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

So when we are talking about the decline of “religion” in the West, what we really seem to be talking about is a decline in traditional “churched” congregations. These “unchurched” individuals aren’t becoming atheists or religion-free agnostics, but are instead building their own spiritual practices, or turning to decentralized open movements like modern Paganism. Nor is that a trend isolated to the United States, as a recent BBC piece focusing on religion in Estonia, the world’s “least religious” country, will tell you.

“It is one in a chain of events that led the majority of Estonians away from God, but that does not mean they do not believe in anything at all. About 300km from Tallinn I journey to the forest to meet a group of nature lovers – nature worshippers you might call them. “We are pagan,” says Aigar Piho, father of eight children from the village of Rouge in southern Estonia. Sitting on a log in a forest clearing he tells me: “Our god is in nature. You must take time, sit down and listen.” Like many Estonians Aigar is spiritual. He defines his religion as Maausk – a form of Estonian nature spirituality – in which the trees and earth are cherished objects that possess power. Aigar says his place of worship is the forest yet with neither ceremony nor routine nor religious text, it is hard to say it is an organised religion.”

Sounds pretty religious to me! But I would say that, wouldn’t I? In any case, the idea that people who have “lost” religion will turn to Paganism, the New Age, self-constructed spiritualities, and nature-based religions isn’t just wishful thinking on my part, just listen to Bron Taylor, author of “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”.

“Where this cognitive shift has been made, traditional religions with their beliefs in non-material divine beings are in decline. The desire for a spiritually meaningful understanding of the cosmos, however, did not wither away, and new forms of spirituality have been filling the cultural niches previously occupied by conventional religions. I argue that the forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings.”

It should be noted that these trends, while relatively fast-moving on a societal level, aren’t likely to produce massive shifts in power structures or political allegiances in the near future. Pagans, nature-worshipers, and the “spiritual but not religious” demographics will still have to deal with increasingly polarized mainstream religions fearful of a post-Christian future. That said, if you are looking for the hopeful note in all the stories lately about extreme and increasingly reactionary trends among the dominant monotheisms, here’s your light at the end of the tunnel. The promise of a more Pagan tomorrow.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Byron

    Folks in the media often ask me how many Pagans there are in WNC. We can’t know the answer because there are those who publicly self-identify in an Earth-religions category ad then there are those others who say–I don’t go to church really. It’s when I’m up in the mtns hiking or when I’m kayaking or in my garden–that’s when I feel God. They may still be culturally Christian (soft) but their spiritual base is in the land.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7T7JYFPQSTL6RDWCLR2HMKVRXE John Medellin

    Thanks for covering this, Jason. I find that this is generally a topic that most people won’t cover, either because the spirituality described here is not taken to be “real religion,” as the mainstream media would probably consider it, or because there seems to be a lot of hostility towards religion in general, which is slightly understandable given the current political climate. Still, what you’re talking about here is good news, and relieving news at that.

    There was an article at the Pew Research Center a while back (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1434/multiple-religious-practices-reincarnation-astrology-psychic) that covers this very phenomenon in brief. The closing comments read as follows, “In fact, this year’s survey finds that religious and mystical experiences are more common today among those who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (30%) than they were in the 1960s among the public as whole (22%).”

    I think that some people might view this as an “Aha!” moment meant to insinuate that religion is alive and well in the face of the encroachment of religious non-affiliation on the dominant monotheisms, especially Christianity. However, it also points out the most obvious, which is that when people abandon organized religion en masse, they also start to have mystical experiences en masse. Coincidence? I think not.

  • Shawn Mcnulty

    It’s a symptom of how deeply Christianity is embedded in the assumptions of our culture that scholars and other observers of this trend equate a decline in people identifying as christian with a decline in belief in invisible, non-material beings. Or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking on the part of rational-materialist authors who want to believe that a post-Christian west would be a “rational” one in which people didn’t believe in gods, spirits, etc. Either way, it’s a gross mischaracterization to imply that those of us engaged in nature-based spirituality have rejected the belief in gods, etc. I certainly haven’t.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    In the current Fall 2011 issue of UU WORLD, the magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association, UU minister Dan Harper takes on one of these end-of-religion projections and critiques it much the same as above — that the study makes an essentially self-invalidating assumption that adherence to a religious organization of the Protestant model is the same thing as being religious.

    This kind of scholarship is the flip side of Dominionism, stoic acceptance rather than orchestrated panic at a perceived end of religion. Both miss the fact that people are religious, have been since before any current form of organized religion, and will go on doing so whatever the fate of those current forms.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

    I’m amazed that people are still selling the secularization thesis. People like Peter Berger who first advanced the theory have since completely reversed their position. Check out his interview on NPR’s Speaking of Faith: http://being.publicradio.org/programs/globalization/index.shtml , and his book *The Desecularization of the World*: http://www.amazon.com/Desecularization-World-Resurgent-Religion-Politics/dp/0802846912/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1314403039&sr=8-1. And keep in mind that Berger was one of first secularization theorists, but began to admit in the 1980s that he had been wrong. At least as far as I understand it, the academic consensus now is that “religion” has to be recognized as much broader than Protestant pews, and far from disappearing, religious sensibility has just transformed — as it will continue to do. If this were an U.S. news report, and not the BBC, I would have to agree with Baruch that this sounds like the someone trying rile Christians up into fearing that they’ll be a minority anytime soon.

    By the way, anybody know anything about Maausk?

  • LogicGuru

    Depressing. I love the Church–the ceremonies, the art, music and architecture. I couldn’t care less about this soppy “spirituality.” When the Church goes down we will all be the poorer–will lose out on all that art, and on the machinery for producing mystical experience. My God is the Church: I worship the Church, I adore the Church, and I am disheartened that this glorious thing is dying. Why don’t people understand what will be lost if the Church goes down?

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Out of curiosity, what amazing art has the “Church” produced in, oh, say, the last 20-30 years? What enticing cultural counter-narrative has it produced to compete with the secular arts?

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

        Well, there’s the narrative which tells a privileged group that they’re actually persecuted and under an existential threat by us, atheists and “socialists”. Not very artful, but it clearly sells well.

        • LogicGuru

          ‘Scuse me: I am a socialist. And I have no sympathy for Evangelicals or the Religious Right.

      • Hbuchy

        The trappist monks still make some of the finest ales in the world;-) speaking of which, Thomas Merton, though a bit older than 20-30 years. Another more contemporary is the Jesuit, Daniel Berrigan. Not only an activist but an amazing poet. This isn’t to support LogicGuru, but if you looked a bit deeper than the “church”, you’d be surprised.They just don’t ‘compete’

    • Anonymous

      I honestly don’t think Christianity will ever completely disappear. Certainly the Christian artwork and icons we’ve already got will endure, as examples of medieval and early modern art forms if nothing else. I listen to Gregorian chants and old Christian hymns, and I’m proudly Pagan–so even if Christianity becomes less common, Christian art and music will IMO continue to thrive.

      Besides, religions may enter into decline, but they’re quite hard to kill off altogether–the existence of TWH (a Pagan site run by Westerners) is proof of that by itself. Even if Christianity loses popularity, some people will turn to it for answers, just as some people turn to Buddhism, or Paganism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or Sikhism, or any of the other thousands of religions out there. The only way to completely kill off a religion forever is what was done to a lot of Native American tribes–kill ALL the practitioners, burn all their possessions, and basically wipe out the people and culture that produced the religion. It should go without saying that no sane person wants to do this.

      And I’m not really sure how my religion is “soppy,” but to each his own. :)

    • AnonGuest

      I don’t think the RC Church is going to die out completely, nor all the associated art and lore be erased.

      I grew up post-Vat-II – raised with all the guilt but didn’t even get a side-benefit of learning Latin. And where messloads of the music commonly played at church was by SJ John Foley. ow. ow. I feel cheated *goes off to mope*

    • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

      Did you know that there were many depictions of people with wings before Christianity took the image over and narrowed down what that was supposed to represent or evoke? http://oldgoths.blogspot.com/2009/06/old-mythology-in-india-men-in-fishing.html That’s just one example of what you might find when you look outside the tremendous contributions Christian art has to offer.

      As an artist, I don’t think we’ll lose a rich history of art. Quite the opposite. As Christianity looses it’s tight grip on what art “is,” on what it should and should not be, on what is sacred, it will be like an unbinding.

      An unbinding.

      Rather than turn our backs on and ignore Christian art, more people will then be inclined to learn about art before the church, during monotheism’s reign, and what we want to make of art now and in the future. Rich symbolism, for example, already is and will continue to open up rather than decline. We will develop a more panoramic and enriched historical appreciation for art, rather than for what art “is” (entrenched dated dogmatic-views-at-large alert).

      A more panoramic appreciation for art already has been blooming in many sectors for quite some time. I see it in the art surrounding movies and video games as well as in the art doll world. I see it in the digital art world I see it in art dolls. Art dolls are those that are created as artistic and spiritual expressions rather than the type to be played with. They may be added to an altar of a variety of religions, mounted on the wall, or put on display. They are often rich with eclectic, fairy, Pagan, Christian, humanistic, and other beauty and symbolism. They may reflect many times, mythologies, folk tales, fictional genres, values, cultures, and countries from around the globe. They may be futuristic or shamanistic. They can be anything you want.

      Right now, yes, many in the West have retreated from art appreciation and are content to buy pretties at Walmart. Many art or craft fairs are suffering, as a consequence. I know they are in WI.

      The pendulum will swing, however, and already the stirrings of another potential Renaissance already exist. And when people catch on that an artistic and intellectual Renaissance is capable of stirring things economic (!), more will be inclined to join in, appreciate, invest in art,

      So, yes, much of the last Renaissance was entangled with the Church and old masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were often funded by Christian patrons, even popes, but that Renaissance will not define, cannot define, all Renaissances to come.

      The interest is there, the human spirit is boundless, the structures and institutions to patron the arts, they will develop.

      • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

        I do SO hate it when Christians act as though Christianity invented everything, whether it’s art, sponsoring art, rituals, or (in other discussions), morality.

        • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

          I agree.

          When my youngest was in middle school, she questioned her music teacher as to why he was including Christian songs and he replied that the church really invented and had the best music. (He got sacked. He was good at getting on people’s nerves in more than one way.)

          Ugh.

    • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

      I suggest visiting the Athens, Rome, and Karnak, for a taste (but only a taste, since Christianity came and stamped out the religion of the artists) of the art made and supported before Christianity.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LG7AWNDB6VADL2M4KVEYGCBSSY Elbryah

      The “Church” took many of its customs and traditions from the pagans of that time period. If you take the time to read, visit and investigate what we are about, you may find that we are very similar in quite a few ways, while remaining very different in others. Pagans for the most part are not into power over, but into teaching people how to balance and use their internal power within to become strong in and of themselves. There are pagan groups that practice a very “High” or ceremonial program. There are others that will be more middle of the road – and there are a few like me who worship primarily on our own – but remain strong members within our larger local community.

  • LogicGuru

    Whether the Church produces or creates art isn’t the issue: it maintains art–church buildings and their furnishings–and performs art. It puts on elaborate ceremonies that aren’t available in secular life. You can perform church music in concert, but it isn’t the same experience as performing it liturgically, with all the visuals, the smells and bells. Aesthetic experience goes beyond the aesthetic surface and a concert performance of music intended to be part of liturgy isn’t as good as the performance as part of a church service: it’s the difference between masturbation and a good fuck.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      “Whether the Church produces or creates art isn’t the issue.”

      I would say that’s very much the issue. If the “Church” (and I assume you’re talking about the Catholic church, and not, say, some evangelical mega-church), wants to stay engaged it needs to participate and have real cultural dialog. It can no longer depend on tradition and atmosphere alone to pack the pews, as evidenced by the flourishing of the church-tourism industry.

      “a concert performance of music intended to be part of liturgy isn’t as good as the performance as part of a church service”

      I suppose that would depend on the concert. I’ve actually attended a large number of Catholic services, and they weren’t the poetic upholders of deep religious aesthetic experience you’re holding them up as. Excellence, inside and outside the church isn’t something that can be manufactured in thousands of pews (or concert halls) across the world.

      “the difference between masturbation and a good fuck”

      I’d say both experiences have their charms, just don’t assume that only the Catholics (or Orthodox, or High-Church Anglicans) are getting “laid” (to use your metaphor).

  • LogicGuru

    I’m not talking about the Roman Catholic church–they’ve been doing a pretty crappy job on the aesthetics lately. I’m Episcopalian. And I don’ assume that only religious believers are getting laid. I’m just suggesting that good liturgy–and no one does it better than Anglicans–is a slam-bang good fuck. Not a replacement for other aesthetic or sexual experiences, but just more. The more the better, and when the churches gutted and turned into condos, or museums, we humans are going to be missing out on one of the good things of life. Moreover, beyond aesthetics proper there is mystical experience, and liturgy produces it. Meditation is difficult. Liturgy produces it automatically.

    • http://www.myspace.com/kadynastar Khryseis_Astra

      Given where you’re posting, it might behoove you to research where most of that liturgical format actually came from… ;)

      • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

        “It might behoove me to be heaved, fly out like a human comet..”

        “Uh guys, we might not want to rhyme with comet…”

      • Anonymous

        Shh…don’t tell him his church was founded over divorce! :P

        But yeah, the Episcopalian Church is basically Diet Catholic–all the same liturgy and saints with none of the popes!

        • LogicGuru

          Sounds good to me. Throw out the ridiculous ethics and keep the aesthetics.

    • http://castwidethecircle.wordpress.com/ Grimmorrigan

      “Meditation is difficult. Liturgy produces it automatically. ”

      Speak for yourself. I find mediation to be one of the simplest things in the world. You sit down…you shut up…and you’ve got a good start. Liturgy on the other hand…particularly anything I’ve heard in a “Church” is a horrible pity fuck.

      • LogicGuru

        I am speaking for myself. I’m sure some people can do meditation, but others, including me can’t. I have to have liturgy to do it. Why is church a horrible fuck? You go and enjoy and get high. I used to go on drugs and it was a real kick. What’s the problem? I’m actually serious in asking that.

        • anon

          do you know where you are?
          most people here wont be fond of your comments, so, i dont know what you are trying to show/prove…
          if you want to meet pagans who still enjoy the church, then move to europe. over there, due to the fact that they tend to be more cultural Christians and have less baggage and persecution complexes as in the usa, you’ll meet more that will still go to church…and even those traditional witches who practice dual faith.
          look at this youtube video: this is barbara lee, she is a witch, in this clip, she is still enjoying a quite time in the church…
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIcHZbR1m6g

          • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

            I take issue with the term “persecution complex”. To borrow from a recent post of Jason’s, “It’s Not Persecution If They’re Actually Doing It To You and Yours.”

          • anon

            then we agree to disagree….
            persecution is a very serious word…and with its own standards…
            i dont see pagans getting arrested unwarranted, beaten, tortured or murdered….

          • Mia

            “i dont see pagans getting arrested unwarranted, beaten, tortured or murdered…. ”

            Seriously? It’s like that in Europe??

            Now I’ve wanted to visit Austria before, but if all that’s true then I’m packing my bags tonight and staying there!

          • Mia

            Sorry, forgot the comment system was weird. I was replying to anon, not Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

        • No Bod E

          Because it is one that you are paying for. Kinda like the difference between having sex with someone who cares about you and having sex with a prostitute.Don’t kid yourself. The Church is in the business of making money.

          • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

            Wait, they’re bringing back the sacred whores? And the booze? finally, a church that might be worth going to.

          • Anonymous

            They never lost the booze. Remember the Eucharist? :P

          • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

            If they did that, church attendance….IT’D BE OVER NINE THOUSAND!

        • http://castwidethecircle.wordpress.com/ Grimmorrigan

          The problem is…I that Liturgy is not my kind of spirituality. Sitting in a pew and listening to a religious figure ( many of whom have less secular life experience than I do), tell me story time, is not my kind of experience. If you like it great, go, enjoy, but lauding the praises of a Christian experience to a group of Pagans is not good communication. We’ve got different experiences and different manners of approaching the divine.

          The only classical sermon I want to hear would be from the Vicar of Dibley.

          • LogicGuru

            Don’t listen to sermons. They’re stupid. What matters is liturgy, the ritual.

        • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

          I like liturgy, too, and also happen not to be great with meditation. Christianity did not invent liturgy. It did not invent ritual. Old rituals, full of power and tradition are being revived, and new rituals will be grown and accumulate power and tradition of their own.

        • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

          It’s fine between your ears and behind your eyes. It suits you. You may thrive on it. It is going to fall short when communicating with people of vastly different perceptions, experiences and needs if you seem to go beyond merely stating your tastes and even remotely sound a dogmatic/rigid in your views, as if your preferences and views of what is and should be even begin to define/frame the discussion.

          If I had my way, everyone would have a giant case of STFU during ritual or time spent in nature. Ritual would have symbolic gestures and dances rather than the spoken word, and music, while fantastic, would be kept to a minimum. That would suit me. I’m a visual thinker. Nature walks, dancing and hours of researching art followed by making art are literally awe inducing, get me high naturally.

          Your ideal of a wonderful service is something I’d like avoid like the plague, even though I grew up going to church and visiting churches and other places of worship in the U.S. and Europe. It’s hard to ignore the theology or that if you keep on going to the barbershop, you’re likely to get your hair cut, or at least get a trim.

      • Anonymous

        Depends on the person. I have NEVER felt comfortable or fulfilled in any Christian church, and I’ve been to services from several denominations. However, my parents feel genuinely closer to their god at a Catholic Mass, and they too have “shopped around” to get to that point.

        I’m personally Pagan because my Goddess speaks to me in ways that YHWH doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean Christianity itself is objectively better or worse. It’s just not right for US, personally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

    I agree that sitting in pews in not going to work for most Pagans. And most of us here have probably had pretty mind-/soul-numbing experiences in the churches that we came from. But if we are to take anything away from LogicGuru, I think it should be this: There is something to be said for the need for high quality ritual. We can disagree about whether the Episcopal church qualifies. Clearly it works for LogicGuru, and probably does not work for others. But I know that a lot of public Pagan ritual falls short too. I think we shouldn’t be above looking around to other traditions (even Christianity) to see what they may be doing right in the area of ritual. Dancing around a Maypole is great, but there are some Pagans who enjoy more formality. See the description of the “High Episcopagan” type in this essay, “A Field Guide to the Modern Pagan” http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usfl&c=wars&id=2099

    • Anonymous

      THIS. Thisthisthis.

      I always thought that the mix of informal “come as you are” open circles, and smaller, formal rites was Paganism’s great strength. You can be exactly as solemn or silly as you feel is right.

    • LogicGuru

      I sometimes wonder how things would have gone if Julien the Apostate had lived longer and succeeded in promoting his version of Neoplatonic paganism. I have no problem with paganism. The fact however is that Christianity is our culture religion–it carries our cultural myths, produces the art and maintains the infrastructure. Why not participate and believe and behave as you please? As I do.

      • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Christianity has not “cultural myths” worth mentioning. If has some very effed-up crap that it tries to imprint upon people’s psyches, but that should be stubbornly resisted and systematically undone.

        Up until 150 years ago, education in the West was measured by how well one knew the Pagan classics in the original Greek and Latin. We have not become more Christian during the subsequent decline of classical learning, but we have become dumber, and the two are easily mistaken.

        • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

          Part of my experience of coming to Paganism in general was learning how much I missed in not learning about the classics. I envy people in earlier times who had a good classical education as a matter of course.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

        “Why not participate and believe and behave as you please?” How about: Why participate, if you want to believe an behave as you please? Because it’s mainstream? If you think a popularity contest should determine one’s religiosity, then you’re probably addressing the wrong group.

        • LogicGuru

          Of course because it’s mainstream–because it has the buildings, the infrastructure, the going myths. That’s the easy way. If there were pagan temples on the ground and sacrifices on a regular basis I’d be a pagan.

          • Bookhousegal

            Well, we *are* Pagans, and we’re not presently much impressed by such things, nor presently in the market for them. While Christians in their gilt cathedrals idololize their ‘Early Christians’ narrative, those mythical people hiding out, celebrating in small groups, often hiding, having a more-simple faith and getting through…. We live through being treated like that, like we ‘deserve it,’

            Christians do to us much of what they still want to blame ‘Pagans’ for… Now you say you want temples and sacrifices?

            No.

            Not like that, at least.

            Maybe Christianity doesn’t get this yet, despite wanting to enslave us to some sacrifice…. but no one said it better than ‘Aradia:’ Gods don’t demand sacrifices:

            People do.

            Make no mistake about things you think we Pagans ‘should’ be doing or do do.

            Are you trying to prove something, kid?

          • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

            I’d like to provide a dissenting voice against the anti-sacrifice current here. Among many other things, sacrifice was also not invented by Christianity, and some form of sacrifice (not necessarily crucifying Judean carpenters or sacrificing 100 cattle) was and can be understood as an important part of knowing and respecting the gods.

          • Nick Ritter

            I second Djutmosu: there’s nothing wrong with sacrifice.

          • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

            …Yuck. I can’t help but find that…well, disgusting. I was under the strange impression that religion isn’t about what’s easy and mainstream (even if it is), but what IS, for the individual, for the divine, for one’s experience of the spiritual and the numinous. And in a nation of people whose ancestors have forsaken the gods, what IS is not the same as what is easy or mainstream. I won’t wage a crusade (ha!) on you for your choice, but that certainly doesn’t mean I’ll agree with it, or not find your rationale repellent, and frankly, insincere, false, and weak.

          • No Bod E

            What makes you think pagan temples would be doing sacrifices? The christian church is the one that revolves around a sacrificial ritual.

          • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

            I don’t see why pagan temples (as a whole) wouldn’t be doing sacrifices, and depending on the /kind/ of pagan temples, many reasons for them to do sacrifices.

            Note, however, that I didn’t say /all/ pagan temples would/should do sacrifices. It’s clear that some temples and some groups, even a lot wouldn’t. But here would be/are also some that /do/.
            Just saying that, like most any blanket statement about Paganism, you’ll find more than a few substantial exceptions.

          • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

            Not so. Many Pagan cultures had sacrifice. My own people often hanged criminals and kings who were doing a very bad job in honor of Odin Allfather, the Hanged God. But we were a practical people, who saw no reason to not execute the laws and sacrifice to our Gods in a grand 2 for 1 deal. :D

          • Nick Ritter

            There is so much for you to learn about paganism, real, old, honest paganism, and sacrifice.

          • http://castwidethecircle.wordpress.com/ Grimmorrigan

            Wow…wow….how very very sad. If this is really how you approach faith then I feel pity for you. How very pathetic…

      • Syna

        Because your liturgy does nothing for me. I’m a former Episcopalian, and I see the logic to your thinking, but a) I think that more pluralism is desirable and b) the myths just aren’t cutting it. I’ve had sacred experiences with Christianity whatsoever.

        Within the framework of paganism, on the other hand…

  • Lori F – MN

    This has to be one of the strangest conversations I have ever read on here. I have gone to church, several ‘flavors’ but NEVER have I left a church euphoric. with the exception of my wedding day – but that was a different thing all together.
    Most of the churches I went to I could recite the service – with the exception of the sermon – completely. I suppose that could be considered meditative, but for a kid it’s just boring.
    LogicGuru are you sure you aren’t mistaking euphoria and meditation for a good nap? Perhaps when you are looking for a new church you should tell the minister that you are looking for a church that makes you feel like you have had a good fuck. Let us know how that works for you. Otherwise you are just a troll.

    • Grimmorrigan

      I swear I’ve not heard this much boner talk about sermons since I took that Female mystics course. An entire semester of starving Catholic ladies drinking pus and having an orgasm, taling communion and having an orgasm, have a wet dream about Jesus and ahving an orgasm. Hell even their deaths were like some Hentai I’ve seen…bolts of light shooting into sky vaginias.

      ^ this is what grad school and an internet connection can do to a person. ::shudder::

      • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

        Now show me on the doll where Jesus touched you. ;D

        • Lori F – MN

          Snort!

        • Anonymous

          *points at her head* Well, some of His followers did a number on THIS organ…

        • http://castwidethecircle.wordpress.com/ Grimmorrigan

          He tried to touch my heart but the authorities caught him in time.

      • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

        Clearly, Yahweh must be a tentacle monster. “YAMETE~! ^#^”

        • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

          YHVH’s tentcacles of spiked forced intrusion.”

          Wait, WHAT!?” AAAREEGGEEEE!!

          • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

            xD Domo Arigatou.

    • LogicGuru

      Try St. Mary the Virgin, NYC–Solemn Evensong and Benediction is especially good.

    • LogicGuru

      I’ve left churches euphoric, e.g. San Marco after a Latin mass by Gabrielli sung from the balconies. What more do you want? Of course evangelical Christianity is shit. What do you expect? You gotta do high church. I am not a troll: I worship the Church and get turned on by liturgy. I want to promote it.

      • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

        I “liked” your response not because I agree very much with you at all, but because I appreciate your appreciation of the importance of ritual, of liturgy, and structure. I have to give you credit for that.

    • Anonymous

      I have most definitely had euphoric experiences in church. Through the music, mostly, the type of hypnotic, rolling gospel jams that take you outside of yourself and connect you with a more transcendent type of reality. Lots of drums, lots of repetition. Lots of building, building to a musical and emotional climax.

      Perhaps because I grew up secular, and religion wasn’t imposed on me at an early age, there isn’t a whole lot of bitterness or baggage attached to my memories of being in church. It just wasn’t for me, so I left Christianity, but I grew a lot during my time in it and look back fondly at much of my experiences in the church.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks Jason. This was a very informative article.

  • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

    My mother was born in Estonia and my ancestors were established in Nordic countries (so you know that picture of dancing in Estonia really caught my eye). Other than tidbits I’ve come across on the Net, I don’t know that much about Paganism in Estonia, Finland and Sweden.

    I do know generations of my Estonian ancestors did not go to church…except for maybe Easter and Christmas simply because they loved beauty, ritual, seeing friends, and celebration. My mother said straight out that they didn’t believe in the Christian theology (though they were identified as Lutheran on official records). That was the extent of the conversation. My grandparents simply never discussed or mentioned religion to me once.

    In sharp contrast to the in-your-face American politicized religion subject to the ravages of financialization, I got the distinct impression that my family and ancestors before them had the attitude that religion was not something to be pushed on others — religion was more of a private choice and matter, more along the lines of **having an opinion.** This seemed to be very deep rooted. I think it’s even rooted in the linguistics? I don’t know if any of them were or are inclined toward any earth religion, in the Old World. They did enjoy nature though. Taking walks/hikes and trips to the seashore were done religiously. ;) But that’s very much part of the culture. My mother brought that with her to the U.S. and I grew up camping, walking, hiking and collecting seashells.

    My mother’s family was rooted in the academic world too and I definitely didn’t get an impression that being close to the earth and the stars was irrational, less civilized, inferior, the wrong path. I didn’t get any of that Rationalism vs. Religion crap either. There seemed to be more of a holistic sense of things.

    So here I am, in America, and I’d be labeled as unaffiliated because I’m quite eclectic. Even though I was brought up Lutheran, due to my American father’s influence, and Republican. I’m not Republican anymore either, no (laughs). The party has indeed become too theocratic and I found the economic and social premises it rests on shifting, often shifty and extremely faulty. I don’t like the dualism between the two major parties either. It leads to too much dysfunction, corruption and a distinct lack of appreciation for a robust and demanding educational system.

    I’d love to visit Estonia, Finland and Sweden and partake in Earth Religion gatherings. That’d be awesome, in the true meaning of the word.

    The mathematical projections were insightful, it’s just that the map isn’t the religious (organized religion) vs. the irreligious (unaffiliated). Yeah. So the math is on the right track but the filter with which most are viewing it is sorely dated, due to lack of open dialog on the topics coupled with a really thick fog of dogmatic rhetoric chock full of false dichotomies.

    “The model indicates that in these societies the perceived utility of religious non-affiliation is greater than that of adhering to a religion.”

    Use that sentence as a starting point for conversation in different groups and the results are going to go in different directions sometimes, of course. Continuously map that out and then you’ll get an even better picture of the changing landscape.

    Many of of the younger ones here (small city, WI) are Pagan or Pagan-friendly (more pluralistic, increasingly practicing **active listening**) while much is left out of the conversation in larger circles…major media, the entertainment industry and the older generations. My generation (I’m 50).

    And then times passes…

    Yup.

  • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

    I’d just like to point out that Paganism isn’t necessarily inimical to liturgy and structured ritual. In fact, the ancient religions had plenty of it. I know many modern Pagans seem to belong more to the free-flowing, loosely-structured school of devotion and ritual. (Is ritual the right word? I can’t think of a better word.)

    And for any fellow Easterners hunkering down under the wrath of the ironically-named Hurricane Irene (consult a baby name site or ask a Hellenist why it’s ironic), stay safe and stay dry!

    • http://www.myspace.com/kadynastar Khryseis_Astra

      That’s pretty much where I was going with my earlier comment… the origins of the liturgical format for the RCC and many of the sects that came after was heavily “borrowed” from the religions that came before them. The nice thing about our religions is that there’s just as much space for ecstatic, free-flowing worship as the more “structured” ritual & worship. It doesn’t have to be either/or; I prefer a good mix of both.

      Also hoping everyone on the coast stays safe and sound! :) If anyone’s seen HBO’s Rome, the character Eirene’s name is pronounced correctly… I find myself saying it over and over at random intervals, hoping the meaning of the name will win out. (It means Peace or Peaceful.)

      • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

        YES. It really doesn’t need to be either/or. And for someone who hasn’t had a chance to watch Rome, could you give me an approximation of how Eirene is pronounced? :)

        Also, I lucked out with Irene. No damage, no outages, no blown roofs or windows. :)

  • David

    Apuleius Platonicus, can you for once just shut your mouth. You seem to pop up everywhere – every blog, every forum, yahoo group, and your own pathetic little blog, sprouting your bigoted opinions as if they’re “facts” (and any Pagan, like myself, who doesn’t agree with them is a “heretic”). I think everyone gets it – you don’t like Christianity or Islam, well, some people do, including Pagans. So, go back to reading your pathetic Islamophobic books (I’m sure you’re a great fan of Robert Spencer), and digging up every negative thing Christians have done and copying and pasting it onto your little blog (you’re one of the things I hate about bloggers – people who think their opinions are “facts” and love it when mindless morons kiss their asses in the comments sections “oh, what a great post”, “you’re so amazing”, “that’s exactly what I thought too”, etc).

    Also, you seem to think the sun shines out of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and, no doubt you believe the universe revolves around them, when, they were not the “greatest” cultures, they were just 2 of many ancient cultures that existed, the only reason their influence spread so far is due to the fact that both those cultures embarked on brutal campaigns of imperialism (but, I’m sure people like you Curt, or whatever you like to call yourself online, will defend them, afterall, they were “bringing the light of civilization to the savages”, just like the British were when they were forging their pathetic empire (BTW, I’m from the UK)).

    Anyway, in regards to the OP, personally, I don’t see Christianity disappearing and neither would I want it too, just as I don’t want Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Islam, Judaism, Native American religions, or even Atheism to disappear. I also don’t see Paganism growing, personally, if anything I’d say Agnosticism will become more dominant. As a Pagan, personally, I don’t honestly care about Pagan growth trends, and, I very much love what the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Thubten Chodron said:

    [QUOTE]One of the chief misunderstandings that we ignorant beings are prone to is “the sports team mentality” towards religion. We identify with one sports team or religion and then, juxtaposing it with another, think that ours has to be the best. We cheer for our religion, and try to convert others to it so that it will have more members. We think that the more people believe in it, the truer it must be. We put down other religions in an attempt to prove to ourselves that ours is supreme. This is a useless pursuit, one that leads to disharmony and even violence in society, and is contrary to the real intent of all religions. Born from fear, it is an activity that does not solve our insecurity but instead accentuates it.[/QUOTE]

    I’ve seen that sports team mentality occur with Christians, Atheists, Muslims, Pagans, and even Buddhists. All people seem to think that their religion is the greatest (as Apuleius seems to think of Paganism – everything great is Pagan, everything evil is either Christian or Muslim, no doubt he’s a great fan of Guantanamo Bay, as, judging by his posts, he believes all Muslims and Christians should be sent there). The true goal of a religion should be to work on yourself, to transform yourself first before any thought of changing the world, so, to be honest, I couldn’t give a shit how many Pagans there were around (I’m in London, but, the closest I get to the “Pagan scene” is certain occult and esoteric shops I sometimes visit, I don’t attend Moots, or Pagan Pride days. If someone wants to do all that, then, fine, but, IMO, if you believe a religion is successful just because of the numbers of adherents it has, then, that’s quite a shallow view of religion and spiritual growth.

    Anyway, I’m sure Apuleius or one of his supporters or someone else will probably disagree with me a lot, probably call me a “Pagan traitor/heretic” or some other such shit, and, I don’t actually care, because, I have a life away from blogs, I don’t normally comment on posts, and the fact is, having known Apuleius on other forums, I know what he and others like him are like (quite frankly, they’re boring individuals who say nothing different – “Christianity sucks, Christians did this, Muslims are evil, Islam is a death cult, Monotheism is intolerant” over and over and over again). So, Apuleius, continue sprouting your drivel, continue obsessing over your beloved Julian (who, BTW, only chose Paganism over Christianity, as he saw the latter as symbolizing is tyrannical and oppressive uncle), continue blaming the evils of the world on Christianity and Islam, continue thinking that everything good in the Western world, in some way, derives from ancient Hellenic or Roman Paganism, continue thinking that way, as I doubt you’ll change, and I’m sure you’ll still have your legion of moronic (usually American) Pagans who’ll adore everything you say, as though it were Gospel, to be honest, this will, probably, be the last time I ever respond to you (I’ve already stopped going to certain forums and blogs, as I got tired of your constant BS), and, for those that disagree with everything I’ve said in this post, well, again, I don’t honestly care, as, like I said, I have a life, one that doesn’t involve me thinking everyone who wears a Cross must “be out to get me”, but, then, again, perhaps it’s the American mindset, from what I’ve seen, as a Brit, Americans of all stripes seem to feel the need to put others down – American Christians do it to non-Christians (and even other Christians they disagree with), American Pagans do it, Atheists, even some American Buddhists (I know not all Americans do this, to those that don’t, you’re part of the good in the U.S., sadly, you don’t get much airtime).

    David.

    • anon

      this is exactly the reason i adore pagans from europe…
      way more objective, base you paganism on what you believe/do instead of defining yourself with what you dont believe in comparison to gasp! evil christianity….you guys dont seem to crave being accepted and dont take offense easily either..but as you say, it is a cultural difference…

    • anon

      also, beautiful quote, by the way. it is part of human nature to take sides and adopt this us. v them…
      this attitude that you see in american paganism has become very known not only in the pagan community but also among non-theists and other non-pagans…it has become even something to poke fun of, just google pagans or wiccan persecution complex/victimhood…and you will see from non-theists to others poking fun at the victimhood feeling that is prevalent in american pagan mentality….although mind you, not all of us (pagans) feel that way…however, we dont get as much air time either….

    • LogicGuru

      There are two reasons I worry about growth for a given religious group:
      (1) One doesn’t want to be in a despised minority but more importantly
      (2) It takes lots of members to support the infrastructure–to maintain buildings and their furnishings and organize rituals.
      Truth is I’m a Christian rather than a pagan because there are church buildings on the ground and rituals organized. If I were living in India I’d be a Hindu. If I were living in ancient Greece I’d be a pagan. I think it would be great if there were enough pagans around to build and maintain temples and do rituals. But I also hope that Christianity doesn’t die out because we need to maintain the churchbuildings and do the liturgy.

      • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

        I disagree with your reason for being Christian rather than a pagan, but giving you more credit because you made two very good points before that, about not wanting to be a despised minority, and about needing numbers to support infrastructure and rituals.
        I’ve spoken with a Catholic relative who is active in church groups and affairs, who vents to me about people taking the church (building/parish, not the institution of the Roman Catholic Church) for granted, asking everything, giving nothing, helping with nothing, leaving trash on the pews and stuff. Every time, I tell her those parishioners have no idea how good they have it. I’d love to have a Kemetic temple in my area that I could go to routinely.