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What is a Pagan?
Catholic Exchange ^ | June 17, 2009 | Mark Shea

Posted on 06/17/2009 4:14:46 PM PDT by NYer

“Paganism” is a term fraught with all sorts of connotations. It originally meant something like “country dweller”, “rustic”, or even “hick”. That’s because (contrary to popular myth) Christianity did not spread among the Hee Haw-watchers of antiquity, but among the city dwellers and urban folk. The very last people to receive the Faith were the rural folk who clung to the worship of the old gods and the customs of their ancestors long after Christianity had become thoroughly established in the cities. So the term originally referred only to “country folk”.

However, because the country folk were devoted to the various gods of the Gentiles, “pagan” came to mean something else: a worshipper of non-Christian deities. And as those deities receded into the past and became conflated with the demons of both revelation and of the medieval imagination, “pagan” came to take on a much darker significance. It became fraught with imagery of devils, horned gods, and all manner of wild witchery (which paganism was sometimes, in fact, fraught with). To call somebody a “pagan” in this sense was no longer to describe where they lived, but to say something desperately dark about their soul.

Finally, in these latter days, “pagan” has taken yet another turn and is now used in some circles as a compliment. Among a growing number of people, “pagan” now means “post-Christian religionist who is attempting to rescue reverence for Nature from the hands of evil Judeo-Christian earth rapists”. The notion behind this version of “pagan” is that there was once a magical far-off time when humans dwelt in harmony with Mother Earth, everybody was comfortable with their various Jungian archetypes, and all was well as we worshipped the “gods” and “goddesses” who both expressed the beauty of Nature and got us in touch with our inmost selves (and lots of libido to boot). Who needs all that stuff about sin, dying to self and the need for redemption? The great blunder of the human race was when the old gods were swept away by the evil Judeo-Christian God. We have to return to our natural state of innocence with the gods (and especially the goddesses) of Nature that reigned before God mucked everything up. Then we will find the happiness we are all seeking.

The first thing to note about paganism, is the last thing that I note: it is seeking something. Paganism is, according to G.K. Chesterton, a search. Chesterton had a very high regard for pre-Christian paganism. He famously said that paganism was the attempt to reach God through the imagination. He declared, “Paganism was the largest thing in the world and Christianity was larger; and everything else has been comparatively small.” The thing it is seeking is the thing we all seek: the thing St. Thomas says we can’t not seek—happiness.

But that brings us to our second point, namely that paganism takes two basic forms: pre-Christian and post-Christian. Pre-Christian paganism was, says philosopher Peter Kreeft, a virgin. Post-Christian paganism is, he adds, a divorcee. And that matters enormously because there are two basic reasons people ask questions: to find something out and to keep from finding something out.

Pre-Christian paganism was (for the most part) an attempt to find God. It was (as we shall see in our next discussion) often alloyed with all sorts of error and hampered by original sin. But the fundamental goal was a search for God. As such, it was ordered toward reality, though much hampered in the pursuit by the effects of sin.

Post-Christian paganism is, first and foremost, a search for an escape from God. It is a hunt for the blessings of heaven without the trouble of submitting to heaven. As such, it is ordered toward unreality, though much hampered in the pursuit by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Now it should be noted here that merely living in the 21st Century does not automatically make you a post-Christian pagan. It is quite possible for pre-Christian pagans to exist in this day and age. I well remember a woman I worked with who was spurred by Joan Osborne’s song “One of Us” to remark: “Wouldn’t that be a cool idea for a story?”

“What?” I queried.

“Well, suppose God became a human being. Wouldn’t that be a great idea for a story?”

I remarked, “Yeah! You could call it ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ or something.”

She had no clue that this was what Christianity taught. It was, even at this date, news. And she was amazed.

But others are, in Chesterton’s phrase, “weary of hearing what they have never yet heard”. These divorcee post-Christians are looking, not for God, but for something—anything—else.

Understanding that is the essential first step. Next time, we will discuss the next step.


TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Ministry/Outreach; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: catholic; pagan

1 posted on 06/17/2009 4:14:46 PM PDT by NYer
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To: Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; nickcarraway; Romulus; ...

What a great idea!


2 posted on 06/17/2009 4:15:17 PM PDT by NYer ("Run from places of sin as from a plague." - St. John Climacus)
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To: NYer
A Cliche Came Out of its Cage

1

You said ‘The world is going back to Paganism’. Oh bright Vision!
I saw our dynasty in the bar of the House
Spill from their tumblers a libation to the Erinyes,
And Leavis with Lord Russell wreathed in flowers, heralded with flutes,
Leading white bulls to the cathedral of the solemn Muses
To pay where due the glory of their latest theorem.
Hestia’s fire in every flat, rekindled, burned before
The Lardergods. Unmarried daughters with obedient hands
Tended it. By the hearth the white-arm’d venerable mother
Domum servabat, lanam faciebat. Duly at the hour
Of sacrifice their brothers came, silent, corrected, grave
Before their elders; on their downy cheeks easily the blush
Arose (it is the mark of freemen’s children) as they trooped,
Gleaming with oil, demurely home for the palaestra or the dance.
Walk carefully, do not wake the envy of the happy gods,
Shun Hubris. The middle of the road, the middle sort of men,
Are best. Aidos surpasses gold. Reverence for the aged
Is wholesome as seasonable rain, and for a man to die
Defending the city in battle is a harmonious thing.
Thus with magistral hand the Puritan Sophrosune
Cooled and schooled and tempered our uneasy motions;
Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears . . .
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop!

2

Or did you mean another kind of heathenry?
Think, then, that under heaven-roof the little disc of the earth,
Fortified Midgard, lies encircled by the ravening Worm.
Over its icy bastions faces of giant and troll
Look in, ready to invade it. The Wolf, admittedly, is bound;
But the bond will break, the Beast run free. The weary gods,
Scarred with old wounds, the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand,
Will limp to their stations for the last defence. Make it your hope
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them;
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second, final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.
Take as your model the tall women will yellow hair in plaits
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men,
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim.
Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know your betters and crouch, dogs;
You that have Vichy-water in your veins and worship the event,
Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune).

---C. S. Lewis

3 posted on 06/17/2009 4:20:07 PM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: NYer
Pre-Christian paganism was, says philosopher Peter Kreeft, a virgin. Post-Christian paganism is, he adds, a divorcee.

Important distinction! A good example is Haiti, where pagan worship of deities easily shifted into Catholicism due to missionary work.
4 posted on 06/17/2009 4:21:57 PM PDT by bdeaner (The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor. 10:16))
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To: NYer

Pagan=~Liberal=~Democrat


5 posted on 06/17/2009 4:25:50 PM PDT by cruise_missile
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To: NYer

6 posted on 06/17/2009 4:26:55 PM PDT by Larry Lucido
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To: AnAmericanMother
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih shantih shantih

The Wasteland - T. S. Eliot

7 posted on 06/17/2009 4:30:30 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear (The cosmos is about the smallest hole a man can stick his head in. - Chesterton)
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

bttt


8 posted on 06/17/2009 4:32:09 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear (These fragments I have shored against my ruins)
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

Shall I eat a peach?


9 posted on 06/17/2009 4:38:56 PM PDT by B-Chan
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To: cruise_missile

Vacuum Cleaner=~Horticulturist=~Placebo


10 posted on 06/17/2009 4:52:01 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear (These fragments I have shored against my ruins)
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To: onedoug

Ping


11 posted on 06/17/2009 4:54:02 PM PDT by windcliff
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To: NYer

He played shortstop for the SF Giants in the 60s.


12 posted on 06/17/2009 4:57:44 PM PDT by csmusaret (http://www.aipnews.com/)
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

I do not think that they will sing for me.


13 posted on 06/17/2009 5:10:52 PM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: AnAmericanMother
What is a Pagan?

I don't know. Anglicans? Protestants in general?

14 posted on 06/17/2009 5:15:51 PM PDT by OldCorps
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To: OldCorps
Anglicans, at least Episcopalians, are not pagans.

They have none of the Pagan virtues. Which was C.S. Lewis's point, I think.

15 posted on 06/17/2009 5:25:58 PM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: windcliff; stylecouncilor

16 posted on 06/17/2009 6:55:34 PM PDT by onedoug
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To: NYer

The Greco-Latin derived “pagan” has indeed acquired some of the connotations you state.

The Anglo-Saxon “heathen” has not, so far as I know.

But both mean “country-dweller,” “rustic,” or even “hick.”


17 posted on 06/17/2009 7:52:45 PM PDT by scrabblehack
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To: NYer

Great article. Thanks.


18 posted on 06/17/2009 7:59:29 PM PDT by Salvation (With God all things are possible.)
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What is a Pagan? - I always thought they were a biker gang...


19 posted on 06/17/2009 8:03:50 PM PDT by sbl.htral
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To: AnAmericanMother

I’ll have to print that out and read it to Bill. He’s learned to appreciate poetry, slightly, this year.


20 posted on 06/18/2009 5:28:45 AM PDT by Tax-chick (Visit the updated Tax-chick page for news, recent photos, and LOLcats.)
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To: Tax-chick
It might lead him into the Edda and the Norse sagas.

Lewis engages in an inordinate amount of classical and Northern name-dropping in that poem! Even having taken Greek, Latin, and one semester of Old Norse, I had to look up some of the references.

21 posted on 06/18/2009 6:57:21 AM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: AnAmericanMother

Anoreth read all the epics, including some of the Norse sagas, but Bill hasn’t taken a shine to that yet.

(Anoreth is in Day Two of Basic Training. *snicker*)


22 posted on 06/18/2009 7:02:59 AM PDT by Tax-chick (Visit the updated Tax-chick page for news, recent photos, and LOLcats.)
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To: Tax-chick
SO glad you're snickering!

Hubby and I look at each other periodically and laugh.

Son is on his third week at Parris Island. We finally got a form postcard from him with his mailing address. Were thinking about sending him really snarky greeting cards, but hubby pointed out that they would make the DI pick on him, and he will doubtless be picked on enough without our help.

USMCRD Parris Island has a nice website with a daily calendar on it. You can actually follow along and see what the boys are doing on any given day. TODAY he has a Combat Conditioning march . . . and Saturday an 8 mile forced march in full pack.

< snicker >

23 posted on 06/18/2009 7:13:30 AM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: Larry Lucido

That looks like Dan Akroyd on the right. But that can’t be right, can it?


24 posted on 06/18/2009 8:33:31 AM PDT by kinsman redeemer (The real enemy seeks to devour what is good.)
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To: kinsman redeemer

Dan Akroyd, Tom Hanks and and Harry Morgan himself in Dragnet 1987. Our heros went undercover against the P.A.G.A.N.s (People Against Goodness and Normalcy). “Welcome, fellow PAGANS. Don’t forget your goat leggings!” Great movie!


25 posted on 06/18/2009 8:38:54 AM PDT by Larry Lucido
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To: AnAmericanMother

Just thinking of her having to get up in the morning starts the day off right for me. I should go to the CGs website and see if there’s any information like the Marines’.

When we get an address, I’ll send her nice letters with news of Vlad’s toilet training and Frank’s spews, and reminders to go to church!


26 posted on 06/18/2009 9:04:48 AM PDT by Tax-chick (Visit the updated Tax-chick page for news, recent photos, and LOLcats.)
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To: Tax-chick
Check and see if her training battalion has a website.

Our little darling's company has a Yahoo discussion board. SOME of the mothers are worrying about their offspring. Most of us, however, are not.

27 posted on 06/18/2009 9:07:35 AM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: Tax-chick
Son is going through an irreligious phase. I pointed out to him that this is (a) just a phase; (b) pretty silly to set his own semi-educated reasoning powers up against 2,000 years of the finest minds in Christendom, but he ain't seeing it.

His recruiter told us that he had to report in the clothes he stood up in with only his SS card and DL. He added, "He can bring a Bible." Hubby said, he's not into that Bible stuff just now. Recruiter said, "He can bring a religious medal to wear." Hubby added, he's just not into that God stuff in general. Recruiter said, "Well, after he's been there three days he'll be calling on the Almighty just like the rest of them." We LOL'ed.

28 posted on 06/18/2009 9:10:31 AM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: onedoug
A true classic.

Thanks for reminding me of this great movie.

29 posted on 06/18/2009 9:15:55 AM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear (These fragments I have shored against my ruins)
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

Sure.

I like your handle, from Hamlet.

If you live in or near Hollywood, the Independent Shakespeare company is offering Henry V & The Tempest, free up in Barnsdal Park. Just Google them for all the info.

Everything Good....


30 posted on 06/18/2009 9:37:31 AM PDT by onedoug
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To: AnAmericanMother

Anoreth doesn’t want to get away from the Church - just from the family, which I can’t blame her since I regularly feel that way myself (except for the baby, of course). She said she wasn’t allowed to bring any books. I assume they’ll have Bibles available, if the urge to read it strikes her, and I’ll send hers when she has a permanent room somewhere, along with some Shakespeare histories and art supplies.


31 posted on 06/18/2009 10:25:30 AM PDT by Tax-chick (Visit the updated Tax-chick page for news, recent photos, and LOLcats.)
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To: AnAmericanMother

Humph - the packing list does say she could bring a Bible or other religious book. She probably didn’t take it just to pull my chain. Anyway, as untidy as she is, it’s better off here for now!


32 posted on 06/18/2009 10:44:18 AM PDT by Tax-chick (Visit the updated Tax-chick page for news, recent photos, and LOLcats.)
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To: Tax-chick
Untidy! I'll see your untidy and raise you.

My son's room looks like it was bombed with 500-pounders containing the contents of Arab dustbins.

I told him many a time, "My standard of cleanliness is MUCH lower than that of the USMC, and you don't even meet it!"

33 posted on 06/18/2009 11:12:34 AM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: AnAmericanMother

The mess in Anoreth’s room was mostly dust. And dead leaves from the plants she never watered.


34 posted on 06/18/2009 11:45:38 AM PDT by Tax-chick (Visit the updated Tax-chick page for news, recent photos, and LOLcats.)
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