“One could almost say that, with the dawn of each new age, some people become more subtle and enlightened, and the remaining idiots figure out better ways to make the world a more unpleasant place.”
(Lon Milo DuQuette, from Angels, Demons and Gods of the New Millenium)
So. If it is true that Christianity is collapsing, or transforming (depending on whichever viewpoint anyone cares to embrace), what is it that those of us who are Pagan to do? Is it just that we need to stay out of the way while the old structures collapse, like an alphadon hiding in the trees while Tyrannosaurs and Styracosaurii stomp and roar their last?
Do we creep around the edges and gradually take the place of the old reptiles? Or do we work on being a different thing altogether, whatever that may be?
For now I think our diversity is helping us. Like the proto-mammals, there are lots of different kinds of us and we move quickly and adapt quickly. Adaptation is the key. Religion is an ossified thing, and people like Dawkins and Hitchens are right to be suspicious of it. Expanding to attain our own divinity, whether you call it “gaining enlightenment,” or “attaining knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel,” or “unifying the Three Souls,” or however you put it; that is the future of spirituality, I think. At least any kind of open spirituality.
The more restrictive and doctrinaire a faith becomes, the less adaptable it becomes, and the less adaptable it becomes, the more it is likely to sicken and die from being stuck in time.
The formulae of the Old Aeon no longer apply; the Sun will rise again. Life is Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination*. Life and death are one thing and each one participates in the other. There is no fear of death because there is no death; the ego is only a crafty and useful illusion behind which every one of us is a Star, pursuing a grand orbit through the body of Nuit Herself whose beginning and end are unknown to us, and we revel in the not-knowing.
More people are realizing this, although they are putting it in their own way. The “rise of atheism in America” (1) is skepticism, partly fueled by the frightening specter of the Religious Right and partly due to the inability of rational people to believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and their inability to see the church – any church – as the final arbiter of behavior and belief. The struggle that Christianity has before it is not our struggle as Pagans. If Christianity is to last another century it must be transformed, by Christians. In many ways our best response to the death throes – or the birth pangs – is to stay out of the way and avoid being eaten, like our far-distant ancestor the alphadon. For us to interfere in it one way or the other is unwise because it is not our battle. It is their battle. They have to make their religion relevant; we have no obligation to them to obey it or to regard it as anything but another religion.
Hopefully, hopefully, we can evolve past religion. I believe in spirituality but I don’t believe in religion. If my spirituality is helped by religious acts, like the Gnostic Mass, then that is fine. But failed foolish doctrine and orders from on high will never work for long. It will either foster rebellion or insanity.
Ross Douthat (2) accuses America of various types of heresy. Who is it that determines what heresy is? At one time Christianity itself was a heresy. And to be truthful, if we look at the first century Christianities and compare them to 21st century Christianities, all of them are heretical to one another and the arguments degenerate to name-calling, which ends in endless desperate infighting to prove obscure points of dogma that absolutely no one cares about if they are in their right mind.
I think that the proper response to this death, or transformation, of Christianity is to continue our own work. In a sense I agree with Dauthat when he talks about a spiritual “…narcissism, where the things we already want to do, we tell ourselves, are things that God wants us to do, too.” The gratification of the ego, and the justification of that gratification as somehow divine, is one of the great traps of modern Paganism. We can’t destroy the ego, because it’s a handy fiction and it’s part of our makeup. However, following it unquestioningly, and making up reasons to follow it unquestioningly, is a dead end road.
I think the thing that we might want to do as Pagans is to look back, in order to look forward. If we look at pre-Christian thought, we may get guidance toward post-Christian thought. Pagans made the great literature of the ancient world; they built the monuments, they created art and science. If we were to somehow undo the burning of the Library at Alexandria and prevent the murder of Hypatia, what kind of world would we have seen? Maybe this time around we can build our own Library of Alexandria, and call on our own Hypatias to come forward, and bring a bright Paganism full of skepticism and wonder into being. We can all abide by the light of our own Star and realize that there is a universe where we can all shine.
*thank you to Gene Roddenberry and The Kybalion