Friday, August 20, 2010

Paganism: A Religion for the 21st Century

Paganism: A Religion for the 21st Century - by Shanddaramon (Astor 2009)

This is a short book which starts out by defining terms: paganism, religion, and spirituality mainly. It ends up being a useful exercise but makes the early part of the book a bit slow and boring which is too bad because the latter part of the book is fairly interesting.

Except for the slowish early parts this would make a good book to be read by one’s non-pagan friends and family members. It is intelligently written and would be helpful getting outsiders to understand just what modern paganism is about.

He condenses all the diversity of paganism into what he calls the “Three Pillars of Paganism:

1) The sacred exists within and beyond all things making all things and creatures sacred.

2) Because of our inherent sacredness, we are free to make our own spiritual and life choices but we know that we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of those choices.

3) All things exist in cycles and we celebrate and honor those cycles both personally and communally.

He calls these three statements Sources, Choices, and Cycles and suggests that in his observation most pagan groups try to abide by these three basic themes.

Next he goes into the social philosophers three eras of modern history – Pre-modern where Church, aristocracy, and rulers. Then the Modern era where Reason gained in importance and religion had to adapt to science and industrialization. Technology became the secular god. Man molded nature so much that environmental degradation came about. Postmodernism brought about consensual ideas of equality and inclusiveness, the sacred in all things, holistic worldviews, and unity coexisting with diversity. He contrasts the ideas of immanence – the sacred within all things and transcendence – the goal of going beyond the fetters of ordinary existence. He concludes that Paganism should be inclusive of both ideas and indeed they are not as contradictory as it may seem. He says that,
“Modern Paganism has all three qualities needed for a Postmodern religion: it is personal, inclusive, and holistic.” He notes also regarding postmodernism that life became even harder to reconcile with traditional (mostly Western) organized religion with one exception in the U.S. – evangelical Christianity seemed to adapt to the era – especially the new ‘Mega Churches” with “child care, counseling, dating services, health programs, meals, and personalized study groups.” – although of course the theology did not change.

Regarding the diversity in paganism he states that, “Deists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, nature mystics, and others can all equally be Pagan practitioners and can adapt their practices as each one grows individually and through their own cultures.”

Next is a chapter about what it means to be Pagan – with general list of what Pagans do and do not do – which serves to debunk common misconceptions that never seem to go away in an ignorant and resistant populace.

The last chapter is entitled – Simple Pagan Practices – based on his three pillars idea. Basically be aware of the sacred as much as possible and at all times and places. Practice keeping to a responsible intent. And practice observing various cycles to attune to nature.

Overall – a thoughtful little book. Maybe there is hope for Paganism after all.

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