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Dyspeptic right-wing alarmists like Rod Dreher notwithstanding, Christianity isn't really dying in the West.

Changing, yes. Losing market share, yes.

Dying, no.

But, to a not-unsympathetic outside observer such as myself, the slow ebb of its unquestioned spiritual monopoly here in the West offers an opportunity to understand an outstanding problem of human religious history: how did the old paganisms of Europe manage to die off so quickly?

Again and again, in region after region, the pattern emerges: within a few generations of conversion, cultic paganism has all but disappeared, leaving behind it little but a tide-wrack of half-remembered lore and behaviors. Where once religion was, only folklore remains.

Nor was this pattern unique to the West. The last bastion of Indo-European-speaking paganism was in the Hindu Kush mountains, the northeastern region of Afghanistan then called Kafiristan, “land of unbelievers.” Here the ancient ways persisted into the 1890s.

The emir of Kabul's jihad against the infidels changed all that. A decade of fire and sword, genocide and forced conversion, later, the land of unbelievers came to be known (as it is today) as Nuristan, “land of light.” 100 years on, sociologists have found that contemporary Nuristanis remember virtually nothing about the old ways of their great-grandparents: a few old god-names, perhaps, but little more.

All too often, historians have viewed this pattern, in effect, through spiritual Darwinist spectacles: as the product of some inherent qualitative superiority of the new ways over the old. That this is simply not so is proven by the emergence of the same pattern, but reversed, in our own day.

(Fueled by the inherent spiritual defficiencies of Abrahamic worldviews, the same reemergence of the Old Ways that here in the West we call “paganism” is simultaneously taking place among peoples all over the world.)

From our own experience, we can easily see how, and how quickly, such culture-loss can happen. Despite the cultural omnipresence of the various Christianities in contemporary America, the children of pagans, or of the non-religious, grow up knowing very little about Jesus, the Bible, or the Church. Once the chain is broken, the Forgetting sets in quickly. One generation is all it takes.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Fifteen Theses: 1. “Naturalism”

Humans are, by Nature, creatures of spirit. Our archaeological record, particularly at Göbekli Tepe, suggests that before even we grew crops to feed ourselves or built permanent dwellings and settlements, Nature called us to worship together; civilization did not predate worship, but our commitment to communal worship may have brought us civilization. Whatever other faculties humankind possesses and has honed over time, one of the primary and defining ones has always been our innate spirituality.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
The Arc of a Story of Spirit

In the nineteenth century, the nascent field of evolutionary biology produced recapitulation theory: “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” The idea was, in a manner of speaking, that the developmental story of an individual embryo replays the evolutionary history of the embryo’s species. So an embryonic mammal, for example, was thought to take the guise of a fish, an amphibian, a reptile, and a bird before beginning to look like a mammal.

This notion has since been discredited as a scientific explanation for the origin of species. But it remains powerful for me as myth because it resonates with certain of my experiences: like all myth in a Universe pervaded by uncanny and delightful resemblances of which we Pagans like to recite, “as above, so below; as within, so without; as the Universe, so the soul,” recapitulation theory can sometimes prove useful in understanding and retelling our lives’ stories.

Personally, I find that recapitulation theory helps me—in a roundabout sort of way—trace the arc of the story of my spiritual development.

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