Paganism vs. Rationalism

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.” – CS Lewis

No one who knows anything of pre-Christian pagan cultures will deny a marked difference between their beliefs and those of the post-Christian “pagans” today.  The old pagans told fanciful tales that still excite our wonder to this day.  They seemed to realize, even in the darkness of their ignorance, that there was something greater than man at work in the world.  They were aware that they had something that set them apart from the animals and that there was some sort of ethical code by which they should probably live.  There was something within them that made them value family, love, and things beyond their control.  From Japan to Sub-Saharan Africa to Nordic Scandinavia to the North Americas, these pagans knew they were not the lords of the earth.

The rational modern neopagans exhibit no such common sense.  They believe themselves too “grown up” to believe in “fairy tales”.  By their reckoning, the revelations of “science” will save mankind and must be treated as ultimate truth.  Anything that is not seen must not be believed unless it can be crunched into a scientific theory (no matter how absurd, if you can create scientific jargon for an idea then it must be feasible).  “Music” is reduced to a product for profit and the stories they tell overlap so often to betray their stunted imaginations.  To them, the ultimate destiny of man is to work a set number of hours in an architectural structure so uninspired in design that it can be only described as “cubic” or “rectangular”.  There is nothing beyond man and the earth he inhabits.  The only difference of philosophy is between those who believe man is almighty and can use the earth as he chooses and those who believe earth is equal to man for man is mere animal.  Neither thought nor credence is given to man’s immortal soul and intellect or his duty to be a good steward of the earth.

The Rationalist: Something only those who read all of ‘Narnia’ will get.

The great tragedy that many seem to not realize is this: Christians birthed rationalism.  Between Protestantism and the Counter-Reformation reaction to it, something happened to prompt an attempt to make religion “respectable” and “decent”.  Sermons became the centerpiece of Sunday worship, the faithful were herded into pews like cattle, hymns became predictable and repetitive to appeal to base emotions, and the children were banned from the church lest they disturb the “proper” people within.

Western Christians of the Dark Ages and Middle Ages managed to preserve much of the old pagan stories and legends, believing that things from their old pagan past were not necessarily evil unless it directly opposed the Faith.  We have one monk with such mindset to thank for delivering us the Old Saxon tale of ‘Beowulf’ and we have many other monks – who seemingly used every minute of their “leisure time” – to thank for preserving the old stories and myths of their ancestors.  Without them, what would we know of Valhalla, Asgard, Olympus, faeries, elves, sprites, fawns, vampires, and the legendary heroes of the ancient world?  Could Tolkien or Lewis have exercised their talents to give us Narnia or Middle Earth if the Medieval Church had been rationalistic?

God Forbid!

Rationalism destroys faith.  Rationalism annihilates the beautiful Golden Legend, questions the existence of Sts. Joachim and Anna, sows doubt about the “real” authors of the gospels, prohibits St. George (the Vigilante’s own patron saint) from being portrayed slaying a dragon, condemns sinless infants to hell, erects an image of a totalitarian pyramidal legalistic church with a mere man as the absolutely infallible “Dear Leader” giving all the orders from above.

The irony of it all is, man NEEDS myths and legends.  Without the tales of the saints or the Golden Legend, Christians restricted by rationalism create new and less-interesting myths to fill the void: an immaculately conceived youthful St. Joseph, a talisman piece of cloth that gives the wearer a free ride to heaven, and Marian apparition after supposed Marian apparition that tells the same unimaginative story.

In the face of deconstructionism, is it not wise then to look back on our pre-Christian roots to see God working to influence our pagan ancestors?  Should we not lend more credence to the legends of saints and sinners instead of pietistic and devotionalist sentimentality?  Can we not “be like unto little children” to realize our own smallness and let God use our seemingly boundless imaginations for his good?

What good is it to be a Catholic if our faith is polluted by “enlightenment” and 19th century rationalism?  If we can choose between being a modern “respectable Christian” and an old “pagan Christian”, why would we ever choose the former over the latter?

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