Thursday, January 10, 2013

Our Flirtation with Paganism

            Over the past fifty years we have been sliding down a slope into paganism.  Over time the slope has appeared to become steeper, the slide more rapid, and the descent more difficult to halt and reverse.  Its cessation requires a robust faith, concentrated effort, and a strong voice countering evil.  Whether as a society we any longer have the will and the strength to reverse the slide is questionable. 
            The sad fact is that we do not even know that we have adopted various forms of paganism.  But like the wolf in sheep’s clothing we have too often become pagans in religious garb, namely by embracing one of paganism’s most cherished tenets – fatalism.
            Fatalism holds to the belief that the God who created and sustains the universe has become impotent, unable to contend against the societal forces arrayed against him.  As his power lessens, that of paganism ascends.  Our slide into paganism is illustrative of the problem facing Christianity today.  As mankind has become more self centered, as we surrender ourselves to the way things are, as we become less shocked and more complacent concerning the many facets of evil around us, our view of God as active in all parts of the universe and particularly in the affairs of history, diminishes.  We become accustomed to evil.  When we lose our moral outrage towards evil, believing that its practice in society is inevitable, we fall prey to helplessness and despair.  When we abandon the crime infested areas of our inner cities as irredeemable places we conclude that God has limited power to change things.  The fatalistic viewpoint that this is just the way things now are, and that we must learn to live with it, comes straight out of paganism. 
            The biblical picture is vastly different.  Nowhere in the pages of Scripture do we find fatalism advocated.  We are constantly told that we have a choice: “Choose life, not death!”  “Choose whom you will serve”.  Instead of callousness towards evil, which paganism embraces, we are called to moral indignation.  But unless we have an all encompassing belief in a God who acts, in a God who controls the affairs of history, we will find ourselves grasping hold of paganism more than of God.
            The early church father, Tertullian, living in the days of pagan Rome, called for Christians to become the “soul” of the culture in which they lived.  He believed that the Church could transform society in this way.  He was well aware that in so doing, he was calling Christians to a life of sacrifice, even to the point of death.  The Church heeded his exhortation.  It was a mere century after his death that the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.
            The culture in which we live is quite similar to that of Tertullian.  Both cultures have experienced wide-spread corruption and disregard for the sanctity of life.  The early Christians, rejecting fatalism, believed that God was calling them to redeem their culture.  They took a stand for God, willing to risk everything.  Choosing God’s way always requires risk, and it is in the area of risk where we often will discover where our true allegiance lies.  The acceptance of risk requires faith.  The question before all of us is this: “Am I willing to step out in faith, much as Abraham did when he left Ur of the Chaldees for an unknown land, risking everything to stand against the evil in the society around me?”  To answer “No” suggests we have transferred our allegiance to paganism, believing that it is more powerful than God.

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