by Daniel Bramlett
Listen to this: in 1970 90 percent of Americans identified in the census as Christian. Today that number is more like 60 percent. It’s not so much that Christianity is shrinking. It’s that there is a sharp rise in people who believe in nothing, or people who would rather worship a god and obey rules they invent than they would worship and obey a God who is outside of them.
One of these new groups is actually a very old one: Paganism. It encompasses everything from the 1,000-year-old Viking tradition, to Diana from biblical Ephesus to the witches of Salem, Massachusetts. This group saw a resurgence in the 60’s, but in the 90’s only had around 8,000 adherents. Ten years ago that number jumped to almost 350 thousand and today it is around 1.5 million. Why is this climbing so rapidly? Because people crave a purpose that is bigger than themselves BUT they still want to control it. So, we worship ourselves or things that we create.
People love the idea of being fiercely divided—clannish—and want to do war with any clan that disagrees with their own. Paganism feeds this division. Viking hats (and attitudes) are making a comeback. But more than that, we love the idea that with some mix of incantations and superstition, we can actually influence the world around us. Pagans do not deny the spiritual. They love the idea of a spiritual world, and they have convinced themselves that side of the spirit world will submit to them; they can tell demons what to do. Somehow, we have forgotten, or chosen not to look at, all the other cultures in the world that have failed miserably with this kind of religion. Cultures exist and have existed for generations based on the idea that spiritual darkness is good. The oppression and confusion alone that occur among these groups is enough to act as a deterrent for any inquiring mind. But we love the idea of being in control. We love it enough to ruin our lives in the pursuit of it.
I love our nation and I still love it in the face of a shrinking Christian influence. I don’t hate anyone who identifies as Pagan. My goal isn’t for us to return to the 1950’s. We can’t do that even if it were an option. The world is constantly changing and we have to adjust with it. But we do not—ever—adjust truth. There will always be new religions in the mix (and revivals of old ones). If we love the world like God loves the world, we will always choose to love people different from us. But the point here is not to coexist. Christians have been called to be different as long as we’ve been around. But our difference is not to show off. We aren’t clannish or divisive. We have never been exclusive. But we are people who speak a truth that we did not invent.
Christianity is not the new kid on the block. Our roots go all the way back to creation. The traditions of the evangelical church date to Jesus. While we have some pushy cousins (the Crusaders and Conquistadors) they do not brand the Church as a group. On the whole, we have always been a bunch defined by love and truth. The thing about us is none of our beliefs originated with us. They weren’t put in place by a crackhead with a wild dream or a group of people trying to insulate themselves from the outside world. We aren’t scared of death because our life in eternity is secure. And our history proves that we will gladly put our head on the chopping block if we are given the chance to be a witness.
It’s not about our survival as a people or our stance as a nation, it’s about the Kingdom of Heaven vs every other Kingdom out there. And Jesus’ Kingdom is not in need of defense. He doesn’t require us to be knights in shining armor, riding out to defeat the great dragon. In fact, He has promised that He will fight the dragon and win. Allegiance in this Kingdom does not look like taxes and flags. It is much simpler than boot camp requirements and much deeper than patriotic displays. In the Kingdom where Jesus rules, words like obedience and sacrifice are what matters.
Which Kingdom do you identify with? The one that picks sides, worships itself or one of a thousand other deities and paints life as dark OR one that chooses joy, love and grace?