Friday, 12 November 2010

Is Paganism a dangerous cult? The Daily Mail investigates...

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Paganism: an artist's impression
You may remember that the other week, in a bout of Biblical correctness gone mad, the Christian Legal Centre complained about the BBC's coverage of pagan Halloween celebrations, branding it unhealthy to present them as "mainstream" (I'm sure you won't miss the irony of those words coming from an organisation that is hardly "mainstream" itself).

Luckily for us all, the Daily Mail's "Femail", Britain's least women-friendly women's supplement, is on the case, and looking to inject some sense into the issue by posing the question "Pagans are on the march - but are they harmless eccentrics or a dangerous cult?" Of course, at that point most of us would simply answer "the former" and move on, but that's why we're not editing tabloid newspapers. Instead we get an almost-2,000 word article, which begins with a photo of a near-naked woman (for the mouthpiece of Britain's conservative moral conscience, the Mail is rather partial to photos of scantily-clad women) kneeling on a pentacle in front of some fire, with Mike Judge of the Christian Institute telling us that acceptance of Paganism is "political correctness gone mad". "What have pagans ever done?" he asks. "Historically, they produce unstable, violent societies – is that what we want?" Ah yes, because there's the crux of the issue – there's never been any violence in Christian societies, but if we become too accepting of pagans in Britain they'll take over like the Vikings tried to and organise our society around hitting each other with axes or something..

What follows is mostly lots of evidence for pagans being, yes, harmless eccentrics, but the occasional line seems designed to wake the discerning Mail reader from their slumber. Should we worry that "a young girl clutching a teddy" was seen at the Weymouth Samhain (Halloween) celebrations, we're asked, before a historian tells us we shouldn't. But then, things get truly scary:
"Astonishingly, around 100 members of the Armed Forces now classify themselves as pagans, and a further 30 as witches."
That's right – 0.0337% of Britain's armed forces (0.0006685% if we only count regulars) are pagans or witches. Astonishing. With paganism spreading at those incredible rates, there must be someone to blame?
"So why are Britons reaching out to ancient divinities? Is paganism filling a spiritual void left by the marginalisation of Christianity?"
Yes, you guessed it. Secularism is to blame. Do you see what happens when you marginalise Christianity? 33 out of every 100,000 of your soldiers end up being a pagan. But we still haven't got our heads around the issue – the historian tells us they're harmless, a Church of England spokesperson refuses to comment, and someone from the Cult Information Centre suggests some pagans are brainwashing people. How can we possibly make a clear judgement amidst such conflicting opinions? As the Daily Mail writer knows, there's only place we can turn to:
"Keen to find out more about the pagans in our midst, I post messages on several pagan social networking sites on the internet."
Good old Facebook to the rescue. But the people on there seem to think pagans are fairly harmless. So who to give the last word to in all this? Probably best to find a proper, sinister-sounding witch:
"I belong to a coven in Cornwall. We do hold moots in graveyards. Paganism demands that we find the bones of our ancestors in order to commune with their spirits. We drink the ancient honey beer mead, and carry out midnight vigils, dancing round the graves. Sometimes we’ll have the Stag Lord there, with his antlers, representing the Celtic divinity. Believe me, paganism is going from strength to strength in Britain. It will take over as newer religions like Christianity die out."
So a dangerous cult, then. Glad we got to the bottom of that. Now if only I could find out if paganism causes cancer...
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