The Pagan Revolution
By Reed Benson
Do you feel alienated by the culture that now surrounds us? Do you sense that you have become a stranger in your own land? Do you flinch at the fetid, immoral swampwater in which all of us are expected to swim? Each passing year makes it more difficult for me to adjust to the new social and moral realities that engulf our nation. Do you feel the same way? So how can these dramatic changes be accounted for? What is driving them?
What follows is an attempt to explain some of the underlying ideas that are pressing upon this nation a whole raft of changes that the faithful remnant of Christ's Church do not want. Yet, here it is upon us: paganism. Many will say, "What do you mean? I see no pagan religions; they died out long ago and only survive in the forms of legends, fairy tales, and an occasional fantasy movie." If only that were true! The fact is that most of the post-modern thinking is not new, but just a revival and repackaging of the fundamental ideas of ancient, pagan religions. What is new is that the proponents are deadly serious and are influencing politics, public policy, and social practices in twenty-first century America.
Natural Isn't Always Good
Let us begin with an old and true premise about the nature of man, a precept that pagan thinking has dethroned in recent years. The absence of this basic Christian principle has allowed the wicked and dramatic alterations in our society to intensify. Here it is: every person is born unregenerate, wicked, and distorted in his mind, heart, and soul. From the womb all are damaged from the inside out. This is our natural condition, and in this state we cannot access an entirely holy and perfect God. We are utterly unfit for His righteous presence and cannot come to know Him. This natural condition finds us so thoroughly dysfunctional in our spiritual personhood that we do not even recognize our broken condition. We cannot really know God; in fact, we are hardly even aware that we cannot know Him. This natural born circumstance leaves us bereft with respect to our own resources. Consider the words of Saint Paul: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Even on our best days, when we are operating with the brightest and most innovative of our own thoughts, we cannot really get things right because we are operating from a flawed platform, or in computer jargon, we are using a damaged operating system. That is why Paul also stated, "the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than man" (1 Corinthians 1:25).
In this natural condition we instinctively react against God and do one of two things: many say there is no God, a declaration observed and noted long ago by the psalmist: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psalm 14:1). But a more common and much more subtle reaction is trying to remake God in our own image. Man sets the parameters of what God is like, man defines God's disposition, man tells himself that God would never do this or that, and that God must always act in such and such a manner. These presumed defining qualities of God are not gleaned from Scripture, God's revelation of Himself to man, but spring from our own mind, our own sense of justice, our own inclinations. The result is thus not the God of the Bible, but a deity we call God that is merely a reflection of our own selves. We have remade God in our own image. Although we have not carved a god out of wood or stone and bowed down to it in a tangible sense, we have just as certainly done so in our hearts. While we assume we could not be so primitive and backward as to break the second commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" (Exodus 20:4), that is truly what we have done in that we have defined God's characteristics, set God's priorities, and circumscribed the limits of God's thinking. This god we might assume is Jehovah, but because he is not a product of Jehovah's revelation of Himself to us in Scripture, but rather the product of our own ideas, he is just as much an idol as Baal, Molech, Thor, or Zeus. The only difference is that the ancient pagans were bowing with their bodies, while we bow down with our hearts.
Not only are we damaged from the womb and filled with sundry sorts of self-deception, the entire world is also distorted. Nature is fundamentally fouled up and is not what it seems. The natural world looks beautiful, but in reality it is cruel and deadly. As an avid hiker and outdoorsman, I know this fact well. There are few things I enjoy more than gazing at the sublime majesty of a snow-capped peak, the spray of a mountain stream, the shimmering gauze of clouds as they envelop a timber-clad slope. Green grassy meadows, deer browsing on new shoots of growth, and a multitude of other wilderness scenes gratify me deeply. Yet how fully I realize that the apparent tranquility and quiet loveliness is deceptive, for that wild world has grave hazards, deadly if overlooked by one who is naive and uninformed. Consequently, I do not remain long in the natural world. I tramp about a bit, sleep overnight sustained by all of the tools and trappings I have carried in, and then I exit the world of untamed nature for the comforts of civilization, an environment of real mattresses, hot showers, superior food, clean clothing, and a perfect indoor climate: warm and dry.
What is this natural world really like for its permanent inhabitants underneath the postcard imagery? It is filled with thorny, prickly growths at every turn that pluck and tear at the flesh of all who pass by. Other plants are poisonous and surreptitiously leave their toxic secretions on victims who will discover later the detrimental effects of their journey. Mosquitoes, flies, and insects of an innumerable variety constantly swarm, seeking a tiny target of exposed skin to attack. Carnivorous animals prey on other beasts, killing and eating them when they make the slightest mistake. Many other creatures that are not killers steal food and resources from species that have long labored to gather it all up. The natural world is generally too hot or too cold, sometimes the extremes of temperature becoming absolutely deadly. Sunburn, wind exposure, chilling rain, lightning, hail, heavy snowfall, and freezing ice all add their sorrows. And on occasion there are even natural disasters of a horrific character: tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. In cold climates there are sudden avalanches and crushing river iceflows. In tropical regions, mysterious fevers and diseases kill without mercy.
Indeed, the natural world, untamed by intelligence and hard work, is cruel and deadly, a gross distortion of the perfect world God created when He declared his handicraft "very good" (Genesis 1:31). This harsh and intimidating environment was where Adam and Eve found themselves when they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. Some of the parting words Adam heard must have rung in his ears for quite a long time, " . . .cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:17-19).
So we see that natural is not always good. Man in his natural born condition is damaged, fallen, even craven. And the natural world of mountains, trees, and wildlife is also distorted, cruel, and deadly, significantly different from God's original design.
Becoming a New Man
Man's innate, fallen, damaged condition is why we have to become a "new man," as Paul described: "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:10). Repentance and acknowledgment that through the blood of Jesus Christ our debt of sin is paid is the only way we can initiate the work of the Holy Spirit to renew our inward person and make us a "new man."
Jesus, of course, taught this before Paul, calling it something different: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." (John 3:3-7).
Whether one chooses to call this conversion "putting on the new man," or, in the words of Jesus, being "born again," the event is one and the result will be the same. The problem of innate brokenness, distortion, and sin has been eradicated. Eternal life is now available in the presence of a perfect and holy God.
The Importance of Baptism and Circumcision
Becoming a new man is not only spiritual, but has a physical counterpart: baptism. Jesus spoke of this when He stated that a man must be "born of water." Later in His ministry among His final words we find these: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). Baptism’s centrality to the Christian faith cannot be over emphasized. It is mandatory and is the commanded outward mark of an inward state of true repentance. Yet, the Old Testament did not require baptism, but rather a corresponding mark instead. This was circumcision. Consider the foundational passage for circumcision, and note the stress God places upon it, including its enduring presence among Abraham's descendants: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee . . . And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:7,9-14). Notice that the rite of circumcision was to be for all of Abraham's descendants for an "everlasting covenant." It was to be further imposed on all who lived under Abraham's authority, presumably slaves. And please observe the critical nature of this rite; failure to circumcise was a "broken covenant." Two related probing questions can now be posed: why did God choose circumcision? And, why did it have to be performed so early in a male-child's life?
The answer has already been provided in this essay, although perhaps not with complete clarity, so here it is: mankind is born broken, distorted, and wicked—not wholesome, good, and pure. The cutting off of the foreskin was an outward symbol and acknowledgement of this fact; it was an act of repentance on the part of the father to admit that his son—the heir of his house, the strength of his own body, the hope of his family, the future of his personal dynasty—was damaged, broken, corrupt, and lost in sin.
If that is the case, what does the choice not to circumcise represent? The refusal to remove the foreskin of the son is an act of pride and arrogance of the father, who perhaps does not want to admit that his son, the heir of his house and the strength of his body, is damaged, broken, and sinful. It is an outward display of a defiant spirit that wants to say, "My son, this fresh little piece of me, is perfect, undamaged, and pure. He is a chip off the old block, for the apple does not fall far from the tree. He is an absolutely fine fellow; he has to be, just look at his Pop!"
Many are quick to point out that Saint Paul teaches circumcision is not required for salvation: "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called" (1 Corinthians 7:18-20). They are correct: baptism is now a required rite, not circumcision. Yet, let us not dismiss circumcision’s importance, recalling that at its institution it was a central feature of an "everlasting covenant." Furthermore, consider what Saint Paul actually did when faced with a choice of whether or not to circumcise: "Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek" (Acts 16:1-3). Paul had to make a recommendation to his young apprentice Timothy: circumcise or no? What did Paul choose? He chose to circumcise Timothy. He did so to enhance the credibility of his youthful assistant and maximize his ministry’s effects. Knowing that this fleshly rite was an everlasting covenant, knowing that to perform the act was an acknowledgment of man's sinful condition, knowing that failing to do so was a statement of pride, Paul chose to circumcise.
God's Law Is Unnatural
Now that we know what nature is really like, both the outward (trees, animals, rivers), and the inward (man's innate instincts), we can see that God's Law and standards of morality are entirely unnatural, contrary to the fallen world. God's Law, while not impractical, is abstract, literally out of this world, revealed by special revelation not available by studying the natural world. Some argue that Natural Law (the study of nature) reveals eternal principles from which we learn how to govern ourselves: that is, murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, adultery is wrong, and so forth. If this is true at all, it is only to a limited extent, for while some animal species exhibit admirable qualities, many more display only base and even disgusting inborn habits.
However, God's Law, as revealed in the Bible, has no such dichotomy. While there are records of godly men who failed in limited areas of life, the Law lifts a high and consistently honorable standard. Indeed, it is so lofty and comprehensive in its calling that it is impossible for mere mortal man to keep all of its precepts. Its source is not from man, not from nature, not from discovery, but by revelation of a holy God; a bequest from the only perfect mind to a race of men in desperate need of something pure, noble, and good. The divine character of the Law of the Bible is why the Psalmist made this startling claim: "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (Psalm 19:7).
Not only is the Law perfect, but it converts the soul! How can that be? Many believe the New Testament teaches that the Law is a burden to be cast aside and forgotten. No! No! The problem is not the Law; it is man! Without the Law, man continues under the delusion that he is without flaw, that his innate instincts are right, good, and proper, when just the reverse is true. The Law reveals man's flaws and thus compels him to see himself as the wreck that he really is. It drives him back to his Creator, hoping and searching for mercy now that the Law has humiliated him. In this state of humility and contriteness, God will grant His clemency. But without the Law, man remains arrogant, filled with self-importance, utterly unable to receive God's grace. It is in this manner that the Law is an invaluable component in the conversion of man's soul. It changes man from pride to meekness, thereby doing the work that God intended.
The Return of Paganism
Paganism rejects the premise that every person is born unregenerate, wicked, and distorted in his mind, heart, and soul. It insists we are not damaged from the inside out from the womb and that our natural condition is good, noble, pure, and unspotted. Paganism asserts that whatever God or gods exist are no purer than we are, only stronger. Thus, we can access them and their power as we are, without any alteration on our part.
The explosion of technology has made traditional Christianity seem irrelevant. While some people reject all spiritual values and espouse atheism, many more search for alternative spiritualities, or paganism.
Paganism's appeal is simple. Nature is unspotted and pristine, both the external (trees, rivers, animals, etc.) and the internal (man's natural instincts). Since man's instincts are undamaged, paganism makes no demands for moral restraint or change. In contrast, Biblical monotheism displays God's primary attribute: holiness. Christianity declares that all of nature, including man's instincts, is distorted. Thus, biblical monotheism does make moral demands.
The Primary Features of Paganism
It may be fruitful to show just how pagan America has become. This can be clearly seen by listing the notable features pagan thinking displays and practices.
1. Paganism is natural; it is all about "pristine" nature and man's "goodness." How many times have you heard environmentalists, not even radical ones, talk about how nature is perfect in its wild condition. That is not how our pioneering forefathers saw nature, for they had a true biblical view that it needed to be subdued from its dangerous condition and improved through hard work and intelligent management. Deadly beasts, noxious plants, and extremes of drought and flooding needed to be eradicated so that productive and useful plants and animals could be encouraged.
2. Paganism is polytheistic. You are accountable to only one god of your choice. This was the ancient way in pagan Rome, Greece, Sumeria, Scandinavia, etc. Do you like war? Serve Mars. Partying? Bacchus. Sex? Diana. If your tastes change, then change the deity you prefer.
3. Paganism is polyvalent. No single moral standard governs the lives of all men. Mars has one set of rules for his adherents. Diana has another. Bacchus yet another. No one can tell me what is right or wrong; what is "right" for you is "wrong" for me, and vice-versa.
4. Paganism is non-egalitarian. Different standards for different groups lead to factional competition. The will to power becomes the only rule. "Might makes right" displaces the principle of stable laws. Oppression of one group over another becomes common. Consider how in our society women have the "right" to murder children in their womb. Abortion is a horror copied directly from the pagan playbook.
5. Paganism is pantheistic or animistic. Nature is celebrated as divine: not only external nature (trees, mountains, rivers), but internal nature (instincts like sex, aggression, pride). There is no distinction between the Creator and the created.
6. Paganism spiritualizes human instincts and thus celebrates violence, hedonism, and orgiastic practices. Sexual activity and all of its associated immoral sidelines are the most celebrated feature of paganism in America today. Abortion is protected so that women can have sexual intercourse as often as they choose without any consequences. Fornication among young people is as common as ordering a pizza, and to them, of no greater significance. It is simply a matter of gratifying one's urges.
7. Paganism is idolatrous. Human nature becomes the measure of all things. The human instinct of intellectual pride is manifested as the worship of science. Science is then bent to the will of craven man satisfying his own lusts.
The Primary Features of Biblical Monotheism
1. Biblical Monotheism is unnatural; it points us to a divinity outside of this world. God is not in the rocks, trees, and rivers. God is in heaven. People assume that getting out into nature gets them closer to God; but that is a clever lie of Satan. It does get them away from current distractions in their life, but it only sets them upon other distractions of a more subtle sort. People who go to nature to find God really end up worshipping nature and getting lost in paganism. Nature is fallen; you will not find God in the mountains, rivers, and trees, but only a counterfeit spirituality. Knowledge of God is through divine revelation, or the Bible.
2. Biblical Monotheism is monotheistic. All are accountable to one divine being.
4. Biblical monotheism is egalitarian, not in outcome, but in process. God is no respecter of persons, and all are equal before the law: "Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 24:22). Biblical Christianity is not a socialist stewpot where equal outcomes are guaranteed. Indeed, people will end up with a wide variety of wealth and benefits in life. Nor does everyone start from the same position, for some are born healthier, smarter, or with better family connections. But everyone is equal before the law, and the law is designed to judge all with equity and truth.
5. Biblical monotheism is theistic. There is a fixed distinction between the Creator and the creation. External nature (trees, mountains, etc.) is not divine, not perfect, and not pristine, but fallen, damaged, and distorted. Internal nature (man's instincts) is also distorted.
6. Biblical Monotheism calls for the restraint of instincts (sex, aggression, pride) and an infusion of divine assistance to regenerate the believer into a new man. This is what it means to be born again. It is the central experience of true Christianity.
7. Biblical monotheism is anti-idolatrous. It is also and anti-humanistic, not in the sense that humans are not valued, but rather that humans are not worshipped. It observes that the indulgence of instincts provide instantaneous pleasure, but not joy. To celebrate instincts and worship pleasure ultimately leads to emptiness, despair, and death.
Most of post-modern thinking is not new, but just a revival and repackaging of the fundamental ideas of ancient pagan religions. Please recognize its insidious influence in our lives and resist! Get back to your Bible, recognize your own fallen condition, and plead the mercy of our Father in heaven for your life, your family, your community, and your people!