Thursday, December 10, 2009

Everyone Already Knows What Paganism Is

It seems fair to infer from that universality, however, some set of broadly shared religious ideas and practices ... to put it in other words, the thing so arrogantly called Paganism, being in fact all the many hundreds of the Empire's religions save one, must really have shared certain widespread characteristics.
[Paganism in the Roman Empire by Ramsay MacMullen, p. xii]
Starting early in the 4th century AD a religious conflict unfolded in the Roman world between the followers of a new religious movement that declared theirs to be the one and only true faith and, well, everyone else.

Modern day Christians are the spiritual heirs of those who seized control of the Roman state apparatus and used that power to impose their belief in one and only one God on others by force and violence. Modern day Pagans are the spiritual heirs of those who actively resisted this process of coercive Christianization and who stubbornly persisted in worshiping their old, tolerant Gods and following their old, traditional ways.

The Roman world at the time, by the way, was not "European". The bulk of the Roman population, and the bulk of Rome's wealth, was in it's Asiatic and African provinces.
If long passage of time lends validity to religious observances, we ought to keep faith with so many centuries, we ought to follow our forefathers who followed their forefathers and were blessed in so doing.... let me continue to practice my ancient ceremonies, for I do not regret them. Let me live in my own way, for I am free.
[Symmachus (c.340 - c.402 AD)]


SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

I think it would be helpful if you could speak to reform within paganism itself, because the sleight-of-hand monotheism always attempts is to portray itself as a reform of backwards practices like human sacrifice, injustice, etc., while we know that Rome was famous for outlawing human sacrifice, that Zoroaster reformed Iranian paganism without expunging it of paganism, that there were plenty of deities who stood for social justice, the plight of the orphan, charity, etc. Plato represents one of the most ethical of pagan philosophers, etc. This seems worthy of a post.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

That's a good suggestion.

To me there are three keys to this issue: (1) that Paganism has always been flexible and dynamic, (2) that there is no route by which polytheism can ever gradually change into monotheism, and (3) that monotheism represents a regressive cultural phenomenon, objectively inferior to polytheism by any measure (including ethically and intellectually).

If I were ever forced to specify what king of Pagan I am in just one word I would probably have to say "Pythagorean". Personally I don't support any kind of blood sacrifice, let alone human sacrifice. But as an admirer of Julian I can hardly insist on absolutely disassociating myself from Pagans who engage in animal sacrifice.