The Difference between Evangelizing Pagans and Neo-Pagans

In a recent edition of First Things, J. Budziszewski argues that a sea change is about to happen in western culture. The first time the Gospel arrived the in the west, pagans were converted to Christ. Now, as the culture is dominated by a neo-paganism, Budziszewski believes a re-evangelization is about to take place. However, as the title of the article indicates, this time will not be the same. He discusses seven differences between the original pagans and today’s neo-pagans:

First, the early pagan made excuses for transgressing the moral law; today’s neo-pagan denies that morality exists.

Second, the early pagan wanted forgiveness, but didn’t know how to find absolution; today’s neo-pagan refuses to admit he needs forgiveness. Budziszewski explains:

“[T]he Neo-Pagan certainly feels the weight of his sins. But he thinks the way to have peace is not to have the weight lifted but to learn not to take it seriously. Hearing Christ’s promise of forgiveness, he thinks, ‘All those guilty Christians!’ Having chosen to view the freest people as the most burdened, he naturally views the most burdened as the freest.”

Third, the early pagan usually was either exposed to the Gospel all at once or not exposed at all; today’s neo-pagan has been “exposed to just enough spores to develop an allergic reaction.”

Fourth, the early pagan knew he was an idolater. Today’s neo-pagan denies he is even religious, much less an idolater. The pagan’s idols were tangible and visible. The neo-pagan’s gods are intangible and invisible.

Fifth, the early pagan was unfamiliar with Christian ideas. Today’s neo-pagan is “brimming with them.” The neo-pagan has appropriated them after having “emptied them of Christian meaning.”

Sixth, the pagan knew he had no one else to blame for the faults of his country and culture. Today’s neo-pagan places all the blame on his nation’s Christian heritage.

Finally, the early pagan knew he was not a Christian. But there is a certain type of neo-pagan who thinks he is one.

In the end, Budziszewski concludes on an optimistic note. Neo-pagans still have the same needs of the heart as the rest of humanity. The Gospel is still powerful. But this time will not be the same.

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