Christian Attitudes Towards Paganism

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Today is Easter, the holiest day in the Christian liturgical calendar, and most Christians will be out attending church and engaging in family get-togethers. So I thought this would be a good time to look at some upcoming and recently published books that look at Christian-Pagan relations. While most titles of this sort still treat modern Paganism as an insidious evil to be rooted out, there does seem to be some softening in position, and at least one volume that engages in real dialog.

We will start with the most hostile of recent works, Linda Harvey’s “Not My Child: Contemporary Paganism & the New Spirituality”, which uncovers the “casual occultisms” that lead teens to “radical” (and by inference, dangerous) Pagan spirituality.

“The author compares the modern version of ancient practices – “neopaganism” – to core biblical principles and exposes the flaws, including the gender and sexuality risks inherent in these radical new beliefs. The fingerprints of evil are all over what appears to be innocent packaging of youth activities and entertainment.”

People like Harvey represents those ultra-conservative groups within Christianity who believe that any social changes not mandated by the Bible are precarious evils to be battled at all costs. In their view, the rise of modern Paganism confirms all that they fear: the resurrection of Christian-persecuting pagan Rome (usually led by the Antichrist). A persecution narrative that they cling as tightly to as some Pagans do the myths regarding the “Burning Times”.

Slightly less hostile in tone is “Generation Hex: Understanding the Subtle Dangers of Wicca” by Marla Alupoaicei and Dillon Burroughs (not to be confused with the 2005 book on modern magick) . While the book talks about Paganism as something one becomes “caught up” in due to “spiritual hunger”, they at least claim to interview several Pagans in the process of writing the book.

“In Generation Hex, Marla Alupoaicei and Dillon Burroughs explore the history, culture, and practices of Wicca. As part of their research, they interviewed travelers to historic Salem, Massachusetts, consulted practitioners of leading neopagan conferences in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and dialogued with several current and former adherents of Wicca and other forms of witchcraft to evaluate the past and present of this growing spiritual tradition.”

If “Not My Child” represents the “isolationist” camp, then books like “Generation Hex” (and “Wicca’s Charm”) strike closer to something very like engagement with modern Pagans. You could call it “limited (or impaired) engagement”, where one or both camps are hostile, or are engaging in dialog in order to ultimately debunk (or demonize) the position of the other.

Which brings us to an upcoming book that promises a full and open dialog between Pagans and Christians, “Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue” (out now in the UK). The book, edited by John W Morehead, is a wide-ranging discussion between Pagan author and political scientist Gus diZerega and Australian Christian theologian Philip S. Johnson on a variety of social and theological issues.

“A fascinating dialogue between a Pagan and a Christian. Gus DiZerega, an American pagan and and an academic engages in debate with Philip Johnson, an Australian Christian theologian. The two debate questions such as the nature of spirituality, who or what is deity, how humans relate to the divine, the sacred feminine, gender and sexuality, and the teachings and claims of Jesus. At the end of the book another Pagan writer comments on what Philip Johnson has argued, and another Christian comments on what Gus DiZerega has argued. Paganism is acknowledged as the fastest growing ‘religion’ in western Europe and this book helps readers to engage with it and with orthodox Christian belief.”

Here we have (in theory) the most positive manifestation of Pagan-Christian relations. Respectful (and mutual) discourse without either camp using the opportunity to fear-monger or “score points” on the other. While “Beyond the Burning Times” may not lessen the tide of books from the previous two categories, it certainly represents a way forward from hostility and isolationism. Views that won’t do either side much good as modern Paganism continues to grow. Expect to hear more about “Beyond the Burning Times” as it reaches its American publication date (June 20th).

Have a good day, and may my Christian readers have a happy Easter.