Paganism is on the rise in England and also in Europe. This neo-paganism is not simply a rejection of Christian faith, but a distinct and professed religion, a religion generally involving the worship of nature and its elements: trees, rocks, rainbows, fire, water, crystals, and associated magical practices. It is estimated that in this country there are currently some one and a half million practitioners of paganism. A number of English universities now offer courses in pagan religion and spirituality, and several have pagan chaplains on their staff.
Neo-pagans say that the Christian religion has little or nothing to offer. They see it as a man-made system perpetuating its own invented traditions, obsessed with petty little rules, preventing even its own members from finding a more liberating spiritual path. By contrast, paganism (they say) offers greater advantages: it is closely linked to the natural environment; it is non-institutional and non-hierarchical; it is accessible to all, and it allows its followers considerable moral and ethical creativity.
Comparing the teaching of Christ with pagan beliefs throws into relief the originality and beauty of the Saviour’s revelation. Our Lord reveals a personal God whom we are bidden to address as ‘Father’. We approach our heavenly Father with reverence and confidence. We ask Him for our daily sustenance, all that we need, trusting that He will give us only what is good. Jesus of Nazareth teaches the world about the personal love of a personal God for all His children. The Christian revelation is one of redemption, love, mercy, holiness, salvation, and eternal life. Paganism is about acquiring personal power here and now; trying to harness natural and occult forces and manipulating them for personal advantage, here and now.
Christ teaches us that in our preparation for eternal life in heaven it is indispensable to keep the two great commandments; to love God with all our being, and our neighbour as ourselves. As part of our duty to God and our neighbour there is an element which we have perhaps sometimes forgotten, or understated: the worship of our Creator must include our acceptance that He has made us stewards of His creation. He has given us that role. We are responsible.
The Church takes seriously the growing scientific and public awareness of how irresponsible humanity’s exploitation of nature has been hitherto. As stewards of this world we have a spiritual and moral obligation to use the resources of the earth wisely and justly, for the common good of all. This is certainly one element of our religion. One element.