Late last year, on what I hope I may be excused for calling an inauspicious day, someone known to me only by an Internet screen name, somewhere else in these United States, was persecuted for being a gamer. It had somehow come to someone's attention that this man who worked as a computer coder organizing systems for a local charitable service also played role playing games. It set loose a wave of local protest. Because the center where he worked relied on charitable funding, he lost his job so they could avoid the controversy. Someone in the community vandalized his car. He received threats of physical harm. It was suddenly open season on him because he was a gamer.
The irony of it is that the man happens to be a pagan, and an ordained minister of a pagan faith. He is, in that sense, much that the critics accuse all gamers of being. I can tell you that being a gamer does not make you a pagan or a witch or a Satanist; but in his case, quite apart from being a gamer, he was one of those. If such people deserve such treatment for being who they are, then I can raise no defense.
What I don't understand is that premise: do such people deserve such treatment? Why?
I'm not asking you to believe for an instant that the Reverend (for so he is titled) is not going to hell. I'm sure he is aware that those of us who worship one God think that about him; some have said it to his face very bluntly. I'm asking whether his being a pagan, even a leader among pagans, somehow makes him worse than all of the other people who are also going to hell. The respected Rabbi who is involved in charitable works in the community although he reminds us that Jesus was, in his mind, a misunderstood teacher; the agnostic high school football coach everyone loves for his ability to lead the boys to a winning season; the atheist whose wisdom and skill have gotten him appointed to serve as the local judge--these are all just as certainly condemned, as far as we understand, as this pagan. Why is it that we can accept and admire so many whose beliefs are antithetical to ours, but as soon as we raise the possibility that someone might be a pagan they become vermin, unfit to live in our world?
I find this particularly irksome in the light of the words of the twentieth century's undisputed greatest apologist. C. S. Lewis wrote (in Is Theism Important, reprinted in God in the Dock),
When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, "Would that she were." For I do not think it at all likely that we shall ever see Parliament opened by the slaughtering of a garlanded white bull in the House of Lords or Cabinet Ministers leaving sandwiches in Hyde Park as an offering for the Dryads. If such a state of affairs came about, then the Christian apologist would have something to work on. For a Pagan, as history shows, is a man eminently convertible to Christianity. He is essentially the pre-Christian, or sub-Christian, religious man. The post-Christian man of our day differs from him as much as a divorcee differs from a virgin. The Christian and the Pagan have much more in common with one another than either has with the writers of the New Statesman; and those writers would of course agree with me.
Paganism represents, more than anything, a rise in interest in true spiritual issues and a rejection of the materialism and naturalism which has dominated two centuries of thought. Those who move from modern agnosticism or atheism, from the uncommitted notion that all religions are equal because none are true, to embracing Pagan beliefs have made a step in the right direction. They have moved closer to the truth, closer to understanding God, closer to discovering salvation in Jesus Christ. No, they aren't there; no, they aren't looking in the right place. But they are looking, they are starting to ask the right questions, and they are recognizing that the answers are not material but spiritual.
I think the fear Christians have--this sort of reaction always suggests fear--is that those who turn to Pagan religions not only are lost themselves, but also are drawing others away from the light of Christ into their darkness. But this idea doesn't withstand scrutiny. About whom are we worried?
Are we worried that atheists and agnostics will suddenly recognize that they need spiritual answers, and will look for them in places other than the church? These people will only look for spiritual answers if spiritual people upset the reality they know; whether those spiritual people are Pagans or Christians only makes a difference in where they start looking. The answer isn't to condemn Pagans; it's to be better Christians.
Are we afraid that good, solid Christians are going to be drawn away from Christ into these other beliefs? God has promised that He will not let that happen; our faith should be big enough to trust Him at least for this. He who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Christ Jesus. But if we are worried about this, our response should be to build stronger Christians, to provide the foundations of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, and to build on that with gold, silver, and precious stones, so that we have a church filled with people secure against all assaults of the enemy.
Are we worried about our children, that they might be led into such a belief? Perhaps this cuts the closest to our hearts, as try as we may none of us are perfect parents, none can be certain we have properly trained up our own. But we must trust God to work in their lives. If they reject Him, we can only pray for them. But is it significantly different if they turn away to follow false gods, rather than turn away to deny that there are any spiritual realities whatsoever?
Or are we concerned for our own salvation, that somehow we ourselves might be led astray into such error? That very fear may protect us; if we know that there is danger in losing sight of Christ, we may be driven to keep our eyes on Him. Study to show yourself approved, keep pressing toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, and don't focus on what might go wrong.
Pagans are lost, and leading others astray; but they are a lot less lost (if such things can be relative) than atheists, agnostics, deists, and others who preach that there are no spiritual answers. From the way we treat them, you would think that professing Paganism was positive proof of the presence of the Antichrist, or the corporeal manifestation of the devil. It is not more serious than a mistake, a serious mistake akin to that made by every other mistaken non-Christian in the world.
Our response to such people is supposed to be one of love. The way this man was treated, it's no wonder people are turning away from the religion that could be so cruel and looking at the one that bears so much. We're supposed to be the ones marked by love, patience, forgiveness.
I think when someone accused this man of being a gamer, it should have been Christians who rallied to his support, who declared that God loves him, and that whatever his mistakes he deserves to be treated with the respect due all of God's creatures and all of humanity. It was not. It is our loss.
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