Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hope for Heaven II

The merest savage dancing madly about the entrails of a disemboweled turkey in obscene search of God is surely a more sympathetic figure than some fussy-minded, post-Christian shopper, looking for turkey drumsticks under a cellophane wrapper amid the plastic perfections of a suburban supermarket. At least the savage is in search of authentic liberation from sin and death . . .

It is this terrible craving of the pagan soul for reassurance about its own essential immortality - the possibility of real purification from sin and iniquity; the aboriginal, consuming hunger for wholeness, for atonement with itself and God, the world, and others - that fundamentally describes the persisting, immemorial conditions for the very existence of religion itself.

It is a word, incidentally, which comes from the Latin, meaning to bind oneself back, or to be bound to some source or origin in being . . . religare, a word which necessarily implies some recognition of contingency, of dependency upon grace, upon God.

And so, there is something profoundly healthy about paganism: it is, for all its grotesquerie, at least a human thing, i.e., an expression quintessentially human and honest because it begins with belief. Man is a being born to believe and no pagan soul can abide the absence of God's presence from the world. The pagan is driven thus to hollow the whole universe to ensure that the sacred not disappear; that all the significant moments of a man's life - birth, marriage, coming of age, death - be invested with numinous importance. Paganism is a natural and good and eminently human impulse, which for all its distortions and abuse is worth defending because here, at least, is something to which human hope might anchor its energy and idealism, riveted upon some future state of real and lasting happiness. In short, because it is healthy and human enough to hope for Heaven, paganism is something we can build upon, a thing God's grace may perfect, even unto glory. - Dr. Regis Martin

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