In this day of respect for diversity and tolerance of all people and beliefs, we have created fertile ground for the resurgence of paganism; defined as a faith pre-dating Christianity or something other than. The popularity of mediums and fortune tellers and the acceptance of Wicca, witchcraft and animism, renewed interest in Native American practices, radical environmentalism, the New Age movement, renewed interest in Greek mythology and theology as well as the virtual worship of virility, fertility and sex in our society give ample evidence of paganism on the rise. We have gone from respect of diversity and tolerance of differing ideas to total freedom of expression and the embracing of anything and everything. Stepping over the line separating freedom from license, we now deem aberrant behavior as not only permissible but admirable. In fact, the only belief system it is o.k. to be intolerant of is Christianity, portrayed as the perpetrator of all that ails mankind, practiced by people of intolerant dispositions and bigoted zeal.
It has become impolitic - impolite - improper to disagree. Well, I disagree with that! We can witness about our faith, proselytize those of other faiths and convince those of no faith while respecting people with differing points of view. To disagree is not intolerant, nor does urging acceptance of Christian principles necessitate repudiating one's culture. We can embrace cultural differences while renewing religious ideals. However, being tolerant doesn't mean we become all-inclusive or all accepting. We must allow for other ideas and beliefs, but we don't have to believe one is as good as another. To seek truth, take a firm stand and make a statement of faith is not intolerant.
To believe that everyone is right or at least not wrong, that every religion is merely a different path to the same God is the essence of tolerance today. But is it correct? When we stop seeking truth, accepting the ordinary in place of the extra-ordinary; when we label all things good rather than seeking for better and best - we usually lose all sense of right and wrong and lose touch with God altogether. The ancients had numerous gods and goddesses. Even when a local god was considered preferable they didn't want to offend any others, so respect was shown to all. Their faith degenerated into superstition. They believed in everything in general, nothing in particular. In essence, they truly believed in nothing.
In reality, paganism survives because not everybody accepts Christ. Rather than becoming fearful and upset, believers need to practice the best responses of the early church. The intermittent rise of paganism forced the early church to rethink who they were, question their own belief system and evaluate their dedication to the one who called them to faith and faithfulness. It forces us to collect our thoughts, marshal our forces and compose a reasoned, understandable defense of faith in God and obedience to his Son.
Man's need of God has never been more evident, both in his godless behavior and in the restless seeking of purpose and direction; the desire for a sense of peace expressed by people verbally and in the practice of all kinds of "religious" behavior ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Man needs God whether he will admit it or not. That "God-space" in his soul will be filled, but with what and with what results? The situation Christians find themselves in today; facing government policies and public attitudes of distrust, intolerance and dislike are not unlike those the early church found itself confronted with numerous times. Many have preached tolerance - intolerantly. Adversity made them stronger, made them better, made them more vocal, not less. They went from ordinary to extra-ordinary, showing themselves to be different but not exclusive, not better than but better than they were before.
A petition authored by the Montgomery-based Pagans In Action: Council for Truth, a worldwide coalition of pagan groups, has accused the church of desecration of sacred sites, forced conversions, propaganda against pagan beliefs and execution of "non-conformists." The pagans, "a global spiritual movement that draws it's inspiration and traditions from indigenous pre-Christian religions," demanded an apology along with Protestant, Jewish and Muslim believers persecuted through the ages. They have a point. The church has made mistakes throughout the centuries, especially when it became too closely allied to the governing powers of its day. The church has been and always will be more effective when it follows the dictates of Christ. The admonition to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to those who ask freely, and love one's neighbor and enemies quickly come to mind. (Matthew 5:38-49) Those are the conditions and responses that fostered the church's tremendous growth and influence. They are said to have, "turned the world upside down." (Acts 17:6) Not by economic or military power or political influence - they had none at this point; but with the power of persuasive speech and positive interaction. It is worth remembering that hundreds of years before the Inquisition and the Crusades, when the church had no power but of spirited verbal persuasion, they succeeded in changing the hearts and minds of people on a massive scale. As a result, the governing powers, both religious and political - feared, envied, hated and persecuted them. (First!)
Christians were the first separationists, believing they must worship as their conscience dictated rather than as the government, whether of Jerusalem or Rome demanded; despite public opinion and consequences. The church has much to ask forgiveness of. But the demands of native peoples, pagans, even some Jews and Muslims have become exceedingly one-sided and out of proportion. Muslims killed Christians by the thousands, Jews tried their best to exterminate the movement of Christ in its infancy, the death and destruction within the church between Protestant and Catholic is appalling. There is plenty of blame to go around, repeated demands for apologies become counter productive.
Historically, whenever paganism has risen, the Church has been persecuted; it's buildings confiscated and destroyed, holy relics and sacramental utensils defiled. Christians were killed or driven underground, losing all their possessions and ability to prosper. Many surviving women and children were sold into slavery and raised as pagans. Ridiculous untruths were told regarding the traditions and practices of the church. The very things they now indignantly accuse the church of doing! But the church survived - no -it flourished under persecution by returning to the basics. Love of God and fellow man. Dependence on God for direction and survival. Dedication to living up to God's expectations in all things. Once again, we need to stop reacting to the world and its views and be busy in the active lifestyle of a follower of Christ. The early believers did so and changed the political, scientific, economic and moral face of the world.
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