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Expanding civilizations, religions, and faith

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences.Originally published at

Expanding civilizations, religions, and faith

Except for a few central issues, I really try not to tread on people's beliefs. I don't have time for one thing.

But every once in a while, something comes up that is just too silly.

David Warren
was writing about the Gulf oil mess and rules and regulations. He made some great points about the limits of government ability. But then he tossed in this tidbit.

I like to dwell on the wisdom of our ancestors. It took us millennia to emerge from the primitive notion that a malignant agency must lie behind every unfortunate experience. Indeed, the Catholic Church spent centuries fighting folk pagan beliefs in things like evil fairies, and the whole notion the Devil can compel any person to act against his will -- only to watch an explosion of witch-hunting and related popular hysterias at the time of the Reformation.

In so many ways, the trend of post-Christian society today is back to pagan superstitions: to the belief that malice lies behind every misfortune, and to the related idea that various, essentially pagan charms can be used to ward off that to which all flesh is heir. The belief that, for instance, laws can be passed, that change the entire order of nature, is among the most irrational of these.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the "triumph" of Christianity actually cost European civilization science, wealth, and much of what made life good.

This has nothing to do with the merits of Paganism or the faults of Christianity.

That's important. Read it again.

And yes, I know that paganism wasn't Paganism as we recognize it today. That's not the point. Nor is it important which had better beliefs or more superstitions.

It's one of my working theories. Cultures and civilizations expand when they have trade, immigration, and tolerance. Without trade, immigration, and tolerance, cultures contract and become more insular.

It's a generally accepted flexibility of thought that makes trade, immigration, and tolerance possible. The more trade, immigration, and tolerance there is, the more vibrant and
interesting the culture becomes. You never know what will cross pollinate or what will take root where.

Thanks to Constantine, Christianity went from several competing groups to one ruled by a Church and an Emperor. Dissent was ruthlessly suppressed. Variations from the cultural norms were destroyed. This isn't inherent in Christianity, but it was inherent in the Christian belief system that the Council of Nicea propagated.

Believe me, there are forms of paganism that are just as intolerant. And oddly enough, those also retreated into themselves.

How we treat the Other may well be
the defining characteristic of a great human civilization.

And then we get
Stephen Hawking. Yes, that Stephen Hawking.

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.

Two tiny little problems there. Religion does work for many people, but not necessarily because of authority. Faith works for many more, and not necessarily because of authority.

And the other problem. Well, it's hardly worth mentioning, but
science is the bastard child of magick.

Oops! I revealed an untold truth!!

Religion, faith, and the desire to control or at least predict the universe led to science. In many ways, they still intertwine.

Just something for you to think about on this Wednesday.

Posted: Wed - June 9, 2010 at 02:02 PM  Morality & Modern Life

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