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Is Paganism or Atheism More Dangerous to Christianity?

Not long after I emerged from my own period of intense doubt, the Harry Potter series came onto the scene.  I was aware of the Christian criticisms of the series, ie, that it was witchcraft and promoted paganism, etc.  I didn’t think much about those arguments then and don’t today, either, for reasons discussed elsewhere on this blog and for later conversation.  Suffice it to say, in my encounters with ‘paganism’ it was always the case that nature worship or something along that lines was more in play than desires to be ‘witches’ or play with ‘magic.’
Now more than a decade into my own apologetics ministries, my perspective has shifted somewhat.  In particular, I now think that it is the Church itself that is creating its biggest problems.  The Church generates the conditions that create atheists… and also the conditions that create pagans.  In this view, then, it could be suggested that the Church is more dangerous to Christianity than paganism and atheism!  I certainly am of the mind that if we want to do something about these two areas of concern,  we should start with the church rather than merely lashing out at the groups I have mentioned.  But that said, I want to exclude that and focus just on atheism and paganism for a moment.

In my experience (and yes, I admit this is anecdotal), atheism tends to be a stopping off point for many disenchanted Christians on their way to more pagan world views.  Giving people the impression that the really faithful never ask any questions and then exhibiting great ignorance about possible answers gives atheistic apologists an excellent foothold.  The only problem is that the vast majority people find the atheistic world view to be positively sterile.  Richard Dawkins can claim all he wants that he too is in awe of the universe and treat religious experiences as ‘misfires’ but normal people want an explanation for the awe and are unwilling to treat their own experiences of reality as a ‘misfire.’  Sufficiently disillusioned with Christianity at this point, these people set off to find- or construct- a world view that respects their experience of the world while it explains it.

In this sense, then, atheism is more ‘dangerous’ to Christianity because it raises the questions that really are potentially faith-shattering.  Ie, can the Scriptures be trusted if they talk about miracles, what about Bible contradictions, what about the problem of suffering, and pain, free will, etc, and heck, how do we know there is a God in the first place?  These are all issues that I believe there are effective answers to and in fact in most of these examples (and still others we could name), Christians themselves have raised the questions, long before modern atheists thought of them.  The problem is that these answers are not getting out to Christians, and so a lot of them are saying adios.

But they only say adios for so long, because as I pointed out above, while the seeker may find it improbable that there is a God as the Christians understand him, there is something out there.  It burns in their hearts.  Whatever the atheists say, there is something.

Now, I find it easier to work with people who believe in something rather than nothing, and so prefer to work with pagans, as maddening as it can be.

What we need is a change of tactics.  Historically, Christianity has been the only game in town in the West and so it could afford to sit back and transmit what it thought were the essentials.  However, there is a lot more competition these days.  The fact is, there is much in Christianity that can satisfy both pagan and atheists (sincere truth seeking atheists, anyway), but you’ll find Christians more often than not fighting over traditional versus contemporary worship styles or whether or not you should drink alcohol.   Reality is much more holistic than that, and seekers are interested in bigger things than that, and I believe Christianity can speak to them, if only we set about doing so.

Put another way, it isn’t enough to show that we are right on the facts.  Even a broken clock is right twice a day and we have to acknowledge that paganism and other world views have their appeal precisely because  they resonate with certain aspects of reality.  We shouldn’t simply be offering flat repudiations.  We should be showing how we can meet and exceed even those aspects.   We can out-pagan the pagan, out-buddhist the buddhist, out-atheist the atheist, etc, etc.  If Christianity is true- and I think it is- then we offer the complete package.

In principle, at least, I think that is the case.  If we want to engage the world and change the tide, I think we’ll have to do it by showing that we can ‘do’ what our ‘competitors’ can do… and do it better.



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    • Samuel Skinner on February 4, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    I’d argue with you about atheism leading to paganism (I’m an atheist), but I have no idea what exactly you mean by paganism. Do you mean wiccans, hindu’s and non-unitarian christians? Something more general or something more specific?

    • Anthony on February 4, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    To clarify, I’m not saying that atheism leads to paganism. I’m saying that atheism is just a half-way house for many people because it does not respect and account for the deepest longings of the human soul. You may believe it does… I’d challenge that, personally, but the fact is that billions don’t.

    Paganism would be one final destination among many others, by this view. There are many Christians that assert the threat that paganism poses, but I am arguing that it is initially the questions posed by atheism that knocks people away from Christianity. When these people realize that they still have ‘religious experience’ but don’t feel like considering it a mental defect, they often will not give Christianity another look, though they should. But that well has been poisoned.

    I know I haven’t given you the definition you seek but as I am not arguing that atheism ‘leads’ to paganism, I’m not sure it is necessary. If I must provide one:


    “”Paganism” frequently refers to the religions of classical antiquity, most notably Greek mythology or Roman religion,”

    Would serve as a good starting point.

    • Samuel Skinner on February 5, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Trust me, people don’t follow those anymore. It is more likely to be inspired by the religion and take its name and symbology, but it almost completely diverges. Christianity may drift over time, but these people are restarting a religion form scratch. How should I put it…

    You know classical architecture with marble and columns and the like? Well, modern classical architecture looks more classical then the origionals (the origionals were painted, had staues and murals… more lifelike). People are going for the image of something rather than what it actually was. Not to mention much of the focus of certain practices is completely irrelevant. None of these people are farmers and need rain or the like.

    Basically it boils down to spiritual wandering- they feel the need to do something so the scape this together. If the numbers become large enough, then it could become a real religion and face of with Christianity. I’m not seeing that though. Atheism or christianity crushing it is more likely.

    • Anthony on February 5, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    “Trust me, people don’t follow those anymore.”

    You’d be surprised. While talking with atheists forms the majority of my time, over the years I’ve met all kinds. Right now I’m reading a book by Tom Harpur called The Pagan Christ. Incidentally, a lot of what is claimed in this book I have already heard before from atheists.

    “People are going for the image of something rather than what it actually was. … None of these people are farmers and need rain or the like.”

    I once had a long debate with an actual worshiper of Odin. Crazy, eh?

    “Basically it boils down to spiritual wandering- they feel the need to do something so the scape this together.”

    Ok, I see where you’re coming from and I don’t disagree. My definition was just a start. It was meant to ensure that only the Wiccans weren’t singled out, but that there is room for the Druids, etc. I do think that much of what is called paganism today… new age stuff in particular… is Build-Your-Own religion.

    However, I consider Build-Your-Own religion less of a threat to Christianity than atheism because BYORists admit that this ‘spiritual wandering’ is a real thing, and not just a biological misfire.

    • Samuel Skinner on February 6, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Yes, but I doubt they will expand- they don’t have Christianities support network or theological backing. Mostly they are for people who reject Christianity, but not religion.

    If you reject a religion once, maybe we can convince you to reject it altogether. On the other hand without a specific doctrine, it is hard to point out the flaws.

    • rose on March 16, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    pagan don’t reject Christianity there call Christ-Wicca. and they are the three most popular religion in the world. they believe in coexists. that all religion are right in some way. the reason people don’t hear a lot about pagan or Wicca is because they don’t tell people about they religion. you can tell some people are pagan because of the Pentacle they wear. and pagan is not a make your own religion.

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