I shit on a lot of neo-pagans on Twitter recently and frankly, I’m not sorry, but I did say I would explain myself and I will do that. I had a much longer version of this but it basically got into an argument that couldn’t escape the “first causes” trap.
I argue that pagans choose their religion because it tickles their fancy and not because they actually believe that Valkyries are going to usher them into Odin’s hall. It is not a reality to them in the same way devout Muslim fears Allah or a Christian endeavors to see Jesus return again, but a superstition based entirely on personal preference.
One fellow believes in a nebulous “higher power” but I ask don’t you want to know who this higher power is? By what principles it works? I must admit that I see people who believe in a “higher power” as someone who believes in gravity but denies the laws of physics are real.
2 Timothy 3:5 sums up my thoughts on this spirituality “…having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” I refer to a belief in religious customs—with or without an organization, scripts, or pantheon—ungrounded in any sincere confidence that the theology is indeed reality. All religions are subjective to the outsider, but I fail to see how you can take comfort in something that doesn’t have a firm underpinning in at least it’s own reality.
Many new-age or neo-pagan devotees have admitted they adopted their beliefs for superficial reasons that appeal to an aesthetic they admire. I’d gonna bet you didn’t actually read the Bible in detail or bother to understand it.
I am being slightly hyperbolic, but I see neo-pagans as “Wow, this pagan religion has cool stories and characters. I’m going to believe that.” Congratulations, you are the same as the nerd who likes Star Wars so much that he decides to change his religion to Jedi because Luke Skywalker is cool. The Germanic tribes Caesar fought didn’t get a choice to be pagan or not.
Of course, in the modern world everything is relative so by the logic of relativism I’m equally crazy for believing the Bible is real. The difference is I believe that YHWH and his human form Jesus are indeed real and powerful, that is, supernatural and extant. I seriously doubt most of those who claim to be neo-pagans believe that Thor and Odin are real in the same sense that devout Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe their god is real.
So, getting down to it, is a pagan prayer or ritual really going to appeal to the “higher power” to save my life or am I just putting my mind in order for battle? Am I putting my faith in Mars to see me safely through the war or am I better off taking a Xanax, doing some breathing techniques, and having faith in Kevlar? Reading Kipling might give me a better understanding about my experience and feelings, and Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day Speech might inspire me before the attack, but neither will keep me alive.
For instance, the Bible would be about as much comfort as Kipling to me if I didn’t believe that Jesus (who is the God of the Bible) was real. Psalm 91 is just a poem, not a prayer. In a world where spirituality is ungrounded in a firm theology, it’s all just a psychological balm. That’s all it might be, but until we can scientifically prove it I’m going to stick with the Bible.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.