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Author Topic: Why Did Paganism Fail?  (Read 37286 times)
Altair
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« Topic Start: March 26, 2008, 06:33:56 pm »

A long time ago, the world was dominated by religions we would now classify as "pagan". Today, the Western world and big swaths of the East as well are dominated by the monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).

So what happened?

I'm not so good at history--science is my forte--but I recognize that there probably isn't any one answer for how paganism was displaced in primacy in disparate cultures in disparate eras. Nonetheless, it's striking how thorough the change has been in so many cultures with so many different situations.

I don't buy "evolutionary" arguments--that monotheism is more "advanced" than the various types of paganism (obviously, or I wouldn't be pagan). Yet I'm also leery that it was solely a matter of conquest (adopting the religion of the conquerors either at the point of a sword/gun or out of convenience), though that was a big factor in some cases. And I recognize that in many instances, paganism just took on a subtler guise (e.g., santeria and the other syncretic religions).

Ye Cauldronites who know your history backwards and forwards--and there are a lot of you!--please shed some light on this for me, if at all possible.

[And then there's the inevitable follow-up question: Why the pagan resurgence, however marginalized we may be, and why now?]
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« Reply #1: March 26, 2008, 08:13:10 pm »

Yet I'm also leery that it was solely a matter of conquest (adopting the religion of the conquerors either at the point of a sword/gun or out of convenience), though that was a big factor in some cases. And I recognize that in many instances, paganism just took on a subtler guise (e.g., santeria and the other syncretic religions).
I think this is part of it... in combination with the fact that most religions that are popular now (Christianity) have some view of the afterlife involving heaven. And, if you weren't good, you didn't go there and went to hell. (In the tiniest of nutshells.) I wouldn't be surprised if that fear turned a lot of people away from the pagan religions.

I don't know nuttin' 'bout no religious history, but that makes sense to me. Wink I think this is a very interesting subject, however, and one I've wondered about before. Hopefully other people can be more insightful!

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[And then there's the inevitable follow-up question: Why the pagan resurgence, however marginalized we may be, and why now?]
Backlash? Like, every fad eventually comes back in style somehow. ha. I also think the internet has increased this, because it's so much *easier* to find information (the good and the bad...) online these days. But maybe I just a bit biased about that.
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« Reply #2: March 26, 2008, 08:40:15 pm »

Yet I'm also leery that it was solely a matter of conquest (adopting the religion of the conquerors either at the point of a sword/gun or out of convenience), though that was a big factor in some cases. And I recognize that in many instances, paganism just took on a subtler guise (e.g., santeria and the other syncretic religions).

That's the reason I bought into.  I know that certain African countries people are expected to be (I think) Muslim, but still practice the ways of their tribal religion secretly.

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And then there's the inevitable follow-up question: Why the pagan resurgence, however marginalized we may be, and why now?
Two thoughs. 
1.  A false sense of resurgence due to more pagans coming out of the woodwork because: a. less fear of persecution, and b. easier to connect with one another (via places like this). 
2. Real resurgence due to paganism being more 'advertised'.  It's hard to join a religion you've never heard of, and with the internet, more books on paganism, more pagan groups, ect, it's a lot easier for someone to hear of it.
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« Reply #3: March 26, 2008, 09:06:10 pm »

2. Real resurgence due to paganism being more 'advertised'.  It's hard to join a religion you've never heard of, and with the internet, more books on paganism, more pagan groups, ect, it's a lot easier for someone to hear of it.

And it's a *lot more accessible to younger people than it was when I was a younger person. There is a lot more out there that is geared specifically for young people, for good or ill. I think that makes a big difference too, there is getting to be a little more balance, it seems, b/w cranky middle aged ladies like me and teenage girls. And boys! There seem to be more guys around than in the olden days, or maybe that's just my cranky middle aged lady imagination.
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« Reply #4: March 26, 2008, 09:36:56 pm »



So what happened?

I'm not so good at history--science is my forte--but I recognize that there probably isn't any one answer for how paganism was displaced in primacy in disparate cultures in disparate eras. Nonetheless, it's striking how thorough the change has been in so many cultures with so many different situations.

I don't buy "evolutionary" arguments--that monotheism is more "advanced" than the various types of paganism (obviously, or I wouldn't be pagan). Yet I'm also leery that it was solely a matter of conquest (adopting the religion of the conquerors either at the point of a sword/gun or out of convenience), though that was a big factor in some cases. And I recognize that in many instances, paganism just took on a subtler guise (e.g., santeria and the other syncretic religions).




In some cases it was a matter of conquest.  Across N. Africa to some extent.  As the Moors took most of the Spanish kingdoms it was to your advantage to convert, if not because of threat of death (in some cases) but it was much easier to make a living and surive.   In Norway, good old King Olaf (St. Olaf) declared Christianity was the county religion, convert.  Most did.  Islam as it moved into what is now Indonessia was still in a very militant stage, so Hindus were 'persuaded to convert.  The only iland that remained Hindu was Bali.

The strange thing is that much of Islam was more tolerant of Christians and Jews than Christianity.  It didn't last but there was a period of tolerance.
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« Reply #5: March 26, 2008, 10:34:02 pm »

A long time ago, the world was dominated by religions we would now classify as "pagan". Today, the Western world and big swaths of the East as well are dominated by the monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).

There major things, I think:

First, both Christianity and Islam offered both a better-sounding and a more sure afterlife than most of the Pagan religions they encountered seemed to offer their adherents.

Second, both Christianity and Islam had commands from their founders to spread the religion. Pagan religions not only lack such commands, in many cases they were specific to a culture or region and not some that could easily be spread even if they had wanted to do so.

Third, when Christian or Muslim people conquered an area it became strongly advantageous to convert (for better jobs, more pay, influence, etc.) even without any force being applied to make people convert. The reasons for this, of course, relate back to the second point. And most people really don't have strong religious commitments that would prevent them from converting for such benefits. Few religions outside of the Western monotheisms expect their adherents to die rather than convert.
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« Reply #6: March 27, 2008, 01:57:37 am »



Plus you could actually get *more* rights by converting to Christianity.  For example, Christians were not meant to own other Christians as slaves, so it was a good way to remain/become a free man.
I think Koi contibuted to a similar thread back on Delphi...I'll try and look it up after work today.
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« Reply #7: March 27, 2008, 06:24:45 am »

First, both Christianity and Islam offered both a better-sounding and a more sure afterlife than most of the Pagan religions they encountered seemed to offer their adherents.

Second, both Christianity and Islam had commands from their founders to spread the religion. Pagan religions not only lack such commands, in many cases they were specific to a culture or region and not some that could easily be spread even if they had wanted to do so.

Both of these are good points.

I also think it might have had something to do with the 'ground rules' as it were that are set down by religions such as Christianity or Islam. There is the Bible- inspired by God (Yes I realise some denominations would argue this today...) and the Qur'an- directly the word of God as written down by Mohammad.

Consequently, there's a lot more to 'go on' as far as what to do and what not to do/what is right and what is wrong etc. Often I think that people like such stability, perhaps even more so in the era that the major monotheistic religions were getting big.
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« Reply #8: March 27, 2008, 08:28:48 am »

Plus you could actually get *more* rights by converting to Christianity.  For example, Christians were not meant to own other Christians as slaves, so it was a good way to remain/become a free man.
I think Koi contibuted to a similar thread back on Delphi...I'll try and look it up after work today.

I recall the discussion, which focused on Christianity's displacement of indigenous religions in the Americas.

Conquest--either point of sword/gun or, perhaps more commonly, adoption of the religion of the victors out of convenience/necessity (better for business, escaping slavery, etc.)--would seem to be a big vector in the spread of Abrahamic faiths. For Christianity, then, the switch of ancient Rome from paganism to Christianity would have been key, since the Romans held sway in Europe. With Christianity planted there, it was exported to other parts of the globe in subsequent waves of European colonization and/or conquest.

So how did Rome switch from paganism to Christianity? They had inherited a well developed, long-standing pagan religion from the Greeks that deeply influences Western culture to this day; I expect that would have been tough to oust. What would induce Romans to abandon that faith for the obscure religion of a small Jewish splinter group? Was it, as Randall posits, the appeal of the afterlife (wasn't there a Greco-Roman equivalent, the Elysian Fields? Or am I mischaracterizing G-R beliefs?) and the command to evangelize?

There's got to be a historical record on this--I'm just thoroughly clueless--so please, enlighten me! (and/or point me to books or websites that detail the switch)
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« Reply #9: March 27, 2008, 08:45:37 am »



So how did Rome switch from paganism to Christianity? They had inherited a well developed, long-standing pagan religion from the Greeks that deeply influences Western culture to this day; I expect that would have been tough to oust. What would induce Romans to abandon that faith for the obscure religion of a small Jewish splinter group? Was it, as Randall posits, the appeal of the afterlife (wasn't there a Greco-Roman equivalent, the Elysian Fields? Or am I mischaracterizing G-R beliefs?) and the command to evangelize?

There's got to be a historical record on this--I'm just thoroughly clueless--so please, enlighten me! (and/or point me to books or websites that detail the switch)

"AD 381" and the earlier book "Closing of the Western Mind" by Charles Freeman cover the early politics of the Christian church and the deliberate actions of the Roman state to stamp out paganism.
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« Reply #10: March 27, 2008, 09:05:57 am »


If you're interested in a personal/religious viewpoint:

I think that what happened is that the *story* stopped working for some reason.  There were a multitude of stories about what was going on, some worked better than others, but it was confusing.  Christianity offered simplicity.  That simplicity had a lot of appeal to it.

That didn't mean the other gods went away - but it could mean they went quiet for a while.  After all, the Divine (again, all my view!) cares more about results than the particular method - people reaching for that Divine in the way of a monotheistic religion is just fine.  I also think they fell short - they found/created a new god they said was the Divine, but human minds can't comprehend the whole darn thing.

Of course, that story didn't work for everyone, and so the other gods continued to lurk around the edges of our culture.  They continued to get their work done behind the scenes.  They just wore other faces or worked in silence.

Now people are seeking their stories again, and talking to each other about them, and they are coming back out into the public eye because simplicity, as appealing as it is, doesn't always work.  And we're realizing that and searching for something that does.

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« Reply #11: March 27, 2008, 09:19:28 am »

If you're interested in a personal/religious viewpoint:


I find your idea interesting, esp. since as I've been pondering this, I've been guessing along similar (though less metaphysical) lines:

It could well be that the practice of Roman paganism had gone on so long and become so entrenched and bureacratic that it was becoming moribund and/or corrupted in the eyes of many Romans. Along comes Christianity--esp. early Christianity, in a pure form where Christians lived what they preached--and it's a compelling new alternative with a fresh point of view.

Fast forward 2000 years or so: Maybe the practice of Christianity in the Western world has become so entrenched and bureacratic that it (or some brands of it) is perceived as moribund and/or corrupted by many Westerners. Along come various stripes of paganism to offer a compelling, fresh perspective.

Similar to your thoughts. But the above is pure guesswork on my part.
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« Reply #12: March 27, 2008, 09:23:43 am »

"AD 381" and the earlier book "Closing of the Western Mind" by Charles Freeman cover the early politics of the Christian church and the deliberate actions of the Roman state to stamp out paganism.

Thanks, I'll check those out.
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« Reply #13: March 27, 2008, 09:37:52 am »

Ye Cauldronites who know your history backwards and forwards--and there are a lot of you!--please shed some light on this for me, if at all possible.

Well, I'm no history major but I'll toss in a couple of points I can recall from my American Indians classes back in middle school and college.

One, Christianity, especially Catholocism during the period of colonialism, is much more structured.  When compared to the pagan religions of the indiginous peoples they conquered Christianity was also a lot simpler.  You go to church one day a week, accept Jesus as your savior, confess your sins and be absolved of them, say your Hail Mary's and Our Father's and your done until next week.  There's no worry about appeasing this deity or that spirit because you forgot to leave out an offering, or going to see the local shaman for an answer as to why something is happening in your life and then following through on it to make changes.

Pagan religions by and large require daily praxis whereas Christianity really requires only weekly praxis.  Oh, sure there're are Bible study groups, prayer groups, fellowship and all that but none of it is required.  The only expected practice is to go to church on Sunday.  Granted, from what little I understand of Islam, more is required of the practioner, daily prayers and the like.

Two, there is a psychological component at play when ones people are conquered by a stronger force.  From the viewpoint of the tribesman his gods just got trounced by a more powerful magic.  Arthur C. Clarke once wrote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  Seeing the technology of these conquerers and the manners in which they employ it to force the world around them to submit why wouldn't he be willing to align himself with these new gods especially in light of point one, above?

To me this is also the attraction that has brought about the resurgence of pagan paths.  Paganism appears to require a more mindful state.  There are daily practices to follow through on and while some traditions may have a hierarchical structure there is more focus on connectivity with each other than on simply assuring one's place in the afterlife.

I'm not sure that all this is coming out quite right.  I'm not completely satisfied with my wording but I can't seem to get it to fit any better than I have.  Your question, Altair, requires a complex answer.  Here's hoping my memory and musings here have helped some.
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« Reply #14: March 27, 2008, 09:44:28 am »

II think that what happened is that the *story* stopped working for some reason.  There were a multitude of stories about what was going on, some worked better than others, but it was confusing.  Christianity offered simplicity.  That simplicity had a lot of appeal to it.

I would agree with this.  It is like in science; the simplest theory that fully explains the situation is typically the preferred one.  Monotheism offers an elegant solution.  Further, because God is everywhere, the religion became simpler on a practical level as well.  While there might be holy sites, it isn't an integral part of worship to bring offerings to a particular spring or mountain. 

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