10th May 2023

‘Paganism’ is making a comeback and reputedly is one of the fastest-growing religious movements in Britain. Unsettling! Isn’t Christianity supposed to have replaced the religions of idols and demons, of magic spells and cruel ritual sacrificing of youngsters to ensure the fertility of the land and people? The maypole may be a harmless relic of bygone paganism, but people surely don’t want more than that?

Well, some people evidently do. Established religion, certainly Christianity they feel, is too other-worldly, obsessed with sin, and dragging us away from our roots in the natural world; so let’s just celebrate the mysterious powers that are already around us in nature. At the winter and summer solstices at Stonehenge, it’s claimed, we really do feel in touch with the forces of dying and rising, much more so than in church rituals and preaching. Much more exciting.

I recognise the attraction in that, but also the drawbacks. It’s not just that paganism has harboured forms of violence (so too have some forms of Christianity); nor just that in the 20th century we saw just how sinister a religion of ‘blood, race and soil’ could become, and how catastrophic its outcome; nor even that it can be an example, as Paul puts it (Romans (1.25), of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. More immediately, it offers no hope. It’s essentially focused on the past and keeping things as they are. The Gospel by contrast invites us both to enjoy the world as God’s gift, and also to live by the promise of its – and our – being made gloriously new in love.

Keith Clements