The Future of Paganism
What is the future of ethnic religion in a hostile world? Does it have a future at all? Currently, much of the world is in the throes of violence created by the increased polarization of monotheistic religion, a process that is by no means recent but a culmination of many centuries of hostility and even open warfare. The root cause of this violence is to be found in the nature of monotheism itself. By claiming sole possession of Truth and of a path to the afterlife, Abrahamic monotheism is torn in three separate and mutually exclusive trajectories. Christians await the Parousia, or Second Coming of their Messiah. Jews wait for the first coming of their own Messiah. And Muslims await the Mahdi. All of these occurrences signal the End Times, the Final Days, when their religion and their religion alone will be left triumphant on the battlefield, their adherents called to their proper places at the right hand of their God.
It is not a pretty picture for those caught in the middle of this mounting cycle of violence. No one wants to be the "constructed other" - the Canaanites - caught in a destructive maelstrom of monotheistic hysteria.
Muslims in particular have become increasingly strident about the necessity - and inevitability of cleansing the world of opposition to their teachings, insisting that the day will come when all will bow towards Mecca. But they are not alone.
In the United States, Fundamentalist Christians want theocracy; seeing the End Time near they are increasingly vocal about preparing for this day by standing in opposition to what is necessarily to them the workings of Satan.
Monotheists of these Abrahamic families comprise today some 54% of the world's population. Just a little over one-half of all the people on this planet belong to these three Abrahamic religions. The violence embraced by them, the Eschatological nature of their doctrines, holds the other 46% of the world in thrall. We are hostages to their violence. In the nuclear age, this is a frightening thought.
Ethnic religions of one sort or another comprise just a few percent of the world's population. Most have long fallen prey to their larger neighbors, and Christianity and Islam in particular have proven to be very unpleasant in that regard, showing little tolerance for deviation. Of those few percent, modern day "Pagans", that is, those practicing the religions of ancient peoples, be they Greek, Roman, Celt, Germanic etc, comprise about a million people all told, much less than 1%. For example, in the United States there are perhaps 10-20,000 Heathens at most.
What chance do so few people have to hold onto their identity, and not only hold onto it but establish themselves as legitimate alternatives to their larger and more aggressive neighbors? After all, Pagans do not proselytize, so they depend largely upon self-conversion of people leaving one of these other religions to increase their numbers. They do not have central hierarchical structures - in fact they have very little structure of any kind - making it difficult to gain recognition by the government. Wicca is fairly well known and recognized by the Federal Government yet Wiccan soldiers killed in action are not currently recognized by the Veterans Administration, which refuses to place Pentacles (the symbol of Wicca) on their grave markers. The situation for a Heathen would be much the same. And what about Hellenes, or Romans, or Celts or any of the other ancient religions now undergoing a revival?
The situation, while perhaps not dire, is certainly serious. If not threatened with immediate extinction, still ethnic religions are under attack and seem doomed to the dustbin of history. Aggressive efforts are being made by Christianity and Islam in particular to build their numbers, and lacking hierarchical structures ethnic religions are in a very poor position to resist these inroads. They have no one to speak for them, no one to argue in favor of their ancestral ways, no one to unite them in common cause. A people defending their way of life, for instance by slaying a missionary, instantly create a martyr and set in motion the certainly of their own doom. Movies are made about these martyrs, making them heroes. The poor exploited adherents of ancient ethnic religions, the actual victims of the tragedy, are the enemy whose demise is celebrated by Christians the world over. In so many ways the attitude of Christianity towards indigenous people has not changed since the 19th century, when the Native American was made the target of large scale conversions. Ethnic religion is seen as primitive and must give way before an evolutionary process which understands Christianity to be superior in every way. Christians do not question this process. The resulting genocide of native cultures goes unremarked in the world press.
All that can be done at this point is to raise awareness. By speaking out we can make known the ongoing genocide that is not only destroying ancient cultues and belief systems but is making the world an increasingly dangerous place in which to live. By speaking out, we can make people aware that there are alternatives to the Abrahamic religions. We can make them aware not only that these religions exist, but that they are legitimate expressions of reverence for the Gods.
Many millions of people today are agnostic or atheistic. Many of these same people find themselves in this category not by choice, but as a result of the failings of the monotheistic religions to address their spiritual needs, needs that would have been met by their ethnic religions had monotheism not stamped them out in a centuries long tidal wave of extermination. These people are not only looking for something else, they are unaware that there is a something else. The monotheistic religions have seen to that, and only the Enlightenment has created a new awareness for what has been lost - our stolen Western religious heritage.
By speaking out we can make them aware that there are alternatives. Ancient alternatives, the religious expressions of their ancestors, from whatever part of the globe, of ancient customs and traditions long forgotten or ignored. By speaking out, we can make people aware of the fact that monotheism is not natural, but is a late comer to the religious landscape of the world, and far from being natural, is an unnatural perversion of religion that has spread only through violence and repression, or "by the sword". That Christians and Muslims insult each other by appeal to this slur is a sad irony, a case of the pot calling the kettle 'black'. For monotheism has only ever been spread in this manner, whether by the Pharaoh Akhenaton, by the Jewish priests of the seventh century BCE, by the Christian Roman emperors and European kings of the fourth century on, or by the rulers of the Islamic rulers who succeeded Mohammed.
The world would be a happier, safer place if returned to the tolerance of polytheism, where there is no competition between Gods or between worshippers of those Gods, where there is no wrong answer to the God Question, where all may worship as they wish, unvictimized by priests and rapacious, competitive hierarchies. We can work towards this day by taking the first step, and that is awareness. If there is something to return to, people will find their way back, but this will only come about if people are allowed to know that they have a home in the traditions of their ancestors.
As Pagans grow in number, Christianity will react. Growth will bring increased danger to the new movement. It is unlikely though that this growth can be stymied, at least in the United States unless a long tradition of freedom of religion should be stymied with it. This is the current agenda of the Religious Right in North America and their efforts cannot be ignored. The imposition of Christianity as a National Religion is the ultimate goal of these Fundamentalist groups, along with a distortion of the past that would make Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and other noted deists into Christians founding a Christian nation, a danger which in fact they spoke out very strongly against.
If Paganism is to survive and prosper, we must be willing to fight for our beliefs. We must all be activists and lose no opportunity to have our case heard by the public. People fear what they do not know. We must help them get to know us. When they get to know us as their friends, neighbors and co-workers, they will see that they have nothing to fear. We're just people like them. Education is our greatest ally.
Let us make is so.
Paganism is the "constructed other"
54% of the world's population belongs to one of the three branches of Abrahamic monotheism - 1% are Pagans