What do I think of Steven Smith’s book published by Eerdman’s? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
We all know what happened in history. The world was largely pagan and then Christianity showed up and within a few centuries, Christianity became the religion of the West and paganism was defeated. Today, there are people who follow Asatru and other similar belief systems and say they worship pagan deities, but pretty much, Thor has been reduced to a comic book character and superhero in the movies. Paganism is pretty much dead.
But what if it isn’t?
What if it never died?
No. I’m not saying anything about Christians copying the pagans in this like the pagan copycat thesis. Instead, we’re talking about worldviews, not in the sense that it’s a belief about gods, but rather a belief about where the sacred lies. Paganism largely placed the sacred in the world, especially in the area of sexuality.
Christians said there was sacredness in the world, but the source of that sacredness was outside of the world and lies in God Himself. Christians are to agree that there are good things in this world, but the things are not the end in themselves. The greatest joy is to be found in God alone.
Modern people might be puzzled at the way Rome reacted in the past to Christianity. Why were Christians persecuted? What about live and let live? What about freedom of religion? Couldn’t the Romans just accept that the Christians only worshipped their God?
And what about the Christians? Couldn’t they just go along and kind of pay lip service to the idea of the Roman deities? Unfortunately, for both sides, that would have been disloyal. The Christians were not to give any indication that these deities were real. The Romans saw the Christians as dishonoring the gods and thus a threat to the well-being of the state.
Today, we live in a world where it seems to be Christianity vs secularism and so it would strike people odd to hear talk about paganism, but what if secularists were actually modern-day pagans? Not in the sense that they worship other gods, but they place the sacred, or we could say the ultimate, in this world. In a sense, they must. If this world is all there is, then whatever is worth living for must be in this world.
An important part of all of this is the role that symbols play. While this was written before much of the Trump era, many of us were stunned to see the tearing down of statues and other such events. Why were these turned down? The same reason. Symbolism.
For those who wanted them torn down, these statues were symbols in some way of racism and the symbol could not be allowed to continue. It’s possible to debate if a statue really was a symbol, but it seems undeniable that the people wanting them removed saw in them vestiges of racism. Much of our political discourse is really about symbolism.
What about sexuality, which is where much of our fighting takes place? Consider the fact that a restaurant or baker or florist or photographer can say they don’t want to use their services to celebrate a ceremony that they do not encourage, such as two homosexuals wanting to declare themselves married. Most of us would think the thing to do then is to go down the street to the next business and hear them say “Sure. We’ll cover that for you!”
However, what happens is the original businesses are instead sued. Now why is this? Why would you want the services of someone who you know is opposed to your view like this and doesn’t celebrate what you celebrate? The answer is not that they want those services from them, but because these people are symbols of something they don’t like, disagreement with their position.
In our world, the culture wars are largely about sexuality. What I find ironic is that the Christians are the ones treating sex as sacred and the pagans are the ones that are not saying that, though they are treating it as an ultimate. If we admit that sex is for anything or about anything, then we have to set up some standards for sexuality and what is right and wrong, although some do still hold, as most people today definitely condemn rape.
The idea on the left has largely been privatization. You can have your religion and you can practice it, but it must be private. In public, you must go along with us. This is exactly the response of Rome in the beginning of the Christian era. We are still fighting the same battle.
There is so much more in Smith’s book that cannot be broken down easily, but it is an eye-opening one that is worthy of your time and attention. I recommend you go out and get it as soon as you can and read it. It has certainly shifted the way that I look at the culture wars.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)