Saturday, January 1, 2011

Enlightened Paganism: We are getting there.

[this post can also be read at Pantheon: The Pagan Blog At Patheos here]

Question posed by Star Foster at the Pantheon blog:

Why do you think Paganism has had a revival over the past 100 odd years? Is it simply due to the decriminalization of Witchcraft and divination? After 1500 years of oppression, why now?

My Answer:

In 1755, Jean Jacques Rousseau published his Discourse on Inequality, in which he argued that equality is the natural state of humanity, while inequality is something artificially imposed by human beings upon each other. This sentiment was echoed 21 years later when American Independence was announced to the world with the declaration that "all men are created equal." Four score and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln emphatically rededicated the United States to "the proposition that all men are created equal."

But a century after Lincoln's speech, inequality continued to be the law of the land in the US. And even though we have made a great deal of progress since then, genuine equality remains an aspiration that we still strive for, rather than an accomplishment that we can boast about.

The Enlightenment (exemplified by Rousseau and Jefferson), was not only a time when the ideal of human equality was declared. It was also a time when a full-throated critique of Christianity began to be heard openly in the western world for the first time in 1500 years.

As with human equality, it has been a long and difficult road from articulating the rejection of Christianity to making that rejection a reality. But we are getting there. I don't think it is any coincidence that the same historical period ("the 60s") that gave birth to social movements intent on eradicating, once and for all, all vestiges of inequality based on race, sex and sexual orientation, also witnessed the modern Pagan revival reaching never before imagined levels of success.

Previous phenomena like Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Deism, Theosophy, etc, were all imperfect and incomplete attempts to break free of Christianity and to re-establish the unfettered religious freedom that was taken for granted in the ancient world. Warts and all, Wicca and many of the other forms of Paganism that have arisen since the middle of the 20th century are significant improvements over those earlier efforts.

The tremendous religious freedom, and the resulting incredible range of religious diversity, that was characteristic of ancient Paganism is the goal toward which modern Paganism, properly understood, continues to struggle. Paganism is not yet another rival religious sect to be placed alongside Christianity, Islam and the other so-called "great religions", much less is it's place next to Raelianism, Scientology, and other "New Religious Movements." Rather, Paganism is simply what people do naturally, in terms of religion, when we are free to do as we please.

Freedom and equality are not imposed according to someone's grand scheme. Freedom and equality are the naturally resulting conditions that exist in the absence of oppression and inequality. But if oppression and inequality have reigned overly long, then it is only with great difficulty that the natural state envisioned by Rousseau and Jefferson is discovered once again. The same kind of difficulty is evident in our still halting attempts to return to a more natural kind of religion that is free of all coercion and that naturally and spontaneously manifests the innate spirituality of homo religiosus.

But we are getting there.