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Ysbyty Cynfyn

Used or Abused? Part of Ysbyty Stone Circle, incorporated in the churchyard wall

“If those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God” [Letter from Pope Gregory to Augustine on conversion of the heathens 601 AD]

This week, fourteen centuries after Pope Gregory wrote those words, the current Pope has taken some less than fraternal swipes at Paganism in his latest encyclical CARITAS IN VERITATE.

This comes as no surprise. Benedict is well known to have a special dislike of “paganism”. In a previous encyclical letter, SPE SALVI, On Christian Hope (1997) he asserts that Catholicism offers more hope for the future than polytheism with its “contradictory myths” –

“Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ they were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Of course he knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were “without God” and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future …”

And back in 2005 in an address to a Jewish audience in Cologne Synagogue he depicted the Nazis as a “Neo-Pagan” invention – “an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism”… but did not discuss the centuries of Christian persecution of Jewry, the fact that the Nazi party seized on elements of both Christianity and romantic pre-Christian belief to create a twisted and perverse hybrid of both, that members of occult orders who didn’t toe the Nazi line were imprisoned just as defiant Christians were and that Hitler believed himself to be a Catholic until the day he died.

In the new encyclical he returns to his criticism of paganism, this time citing its particular reverence for Nature –

“…it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense…”

and …

“There are certain religious cultures in the world today that do not oblige men and women to live in communion but rather cut them off from one other in a search for individual well-being, limited to the gratification of psychological desires. Furthermore, a certain proliferation of different religious “paths”, attracting small groups or even single individuals, together with religious syncretism, can give rise to separation and disengagement. One possible negative effect of the process of globalization is the tendency to favour this kind of syncretism by encouraging forms of “religion” that, instead of bringing people together, alienate them from one another and distance them from reality. At the same time, some religious and cultural traditions persist which ossify society in rigid social groupings, in magical beliefs that fail to respect the dignity of the person, and in attitudes of subjugation to occult powers. In these contexts, love and truth have difficulty asserting themselves, and authentic development is impeded.”

Heritage Action has the same religious affiliation as a jam butty and we certainly aren’t as qualified to pontificate as the Pontiff and we are genuinely in awe of the intellectual level the encyclical displays but on the other hand we do like old stones just like pagans do, so we feel moved to say, begging the Vatican’s pardon, that we have difficulty with the idea that some religions are better than others, that being in communion with Nature is less beneficial than attending communion, that paganism endangers the dignity of the person more or offers less hope for the future or contains a greater degree of magical belief or contradictory myths or indeed myths than Catholicism.

Perhaps a couple of cardinals will come to our next Avebury Megameet on 1st August – there’ll be some pagans there including a few that are our members. They may find they are self-contained, cheerful and a threat to neither themselves nor the world – in fact not at all as they might expect. On the contrary, we’d say in general the one’s we’ve met aren’t treading a dangerous path at all and would probably subscribe to the very words the Pope quotes from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Rom 12:9-10) :

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection.”

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