Alan Edwards on how to cope with the new paganism

After years of church leaders agreeing with the British Humanist Association that Britain has become a secular society, some have recently broken ranks and pointed to the obvious fact that the British remain a deeply religious people. The dominant religion, however, is paganism, not Christianity.

Every teddy-bear-guarded accident shrine would make any reincarnated ancestor from pre-Christian times feel at home – and reincarnation is a growing belief. Thanks, Dr Who.

The sedate women’s magazines of a generation ago all had their Padre’s Page – Roger Royle then being the doyen of clerics bringing little rays of sunshine to the little woman. Nowadays the Padres have been given the push, replaced by astrologers and psychics, the successors to the `wise women and cunning men’ of the pagan past.

The green goddess

You could say that the shrines and the psychics are but a cult amongst the chavocracy, but green Guardian readers, together with government ministers, seek to placate the anger of Gaia, the Earth Mother Goddess, by reducing carbon footprints and erecting offerings in the form of windmills.

When Augustine of Canterbury asked Pope Gregory how to deal with the paganism that he found in seventh-century England, the Pontiff advised that, if it was possible to find any point of contact, to use it.

What the seekers after psychic

guidance, the hunters for ghosts and the success of the Harry Potter books reveal is that modern folk have a deep sense of the supernatural. So too should we. As one example, and as urged by Frs Heans and Tomlinson, we need to take exorcism seriously and not sideline it because of The Exorcist and the excesses of ‘deliverance ministry’.

While Bishop Broadhurst saw the Devil’s permanent address as Church House, let’s not forget that ‘our adversary walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.’ ‘May he rot in Hell’ is the cry that goes up as a vicious killer is sentenced, but how much teaching about Hell does the modern church give to the pagans raising this cry?

T.S. Eliot claimed that ‘Webster was much possessed by death’ and, as modern funeral-fests show, from Lady Di to Jade Goody, modern Britons are Websterians. Let’s leave aside the belief that we’re all going to heaven, or the bizarre notion that departed Granny has gone into orbit as a star in the sky, and take one aspect, the Eulogy.

Cut the eulogy

There’s a time for recalling the deeds of the departed, but as the BCP service shows, the burial service is to commend the departed soul, not to compile his CV. If there is to be a reminder, it is addressed to the mourners, still ‘in the body pent’.

Pastoral sensitivity is needed, but there’s a case for meeting the latter-day pagans in their firm belief that there is a life after death, and to show how that life begins this side of the grave. Also to gently steer them away from Eulogy to Miserere.

Let’s also meet the Gaia worshippers and their talk of sinning against the earth (compare modern liturgies talking of ‘sinning against our neighbour’) and tell them that ‘the Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’ and that to despoil the earth is to sin against God.

If the days of Noah (climate change) are to return, then it will be neglect of God that ushers them in.