The term 'pagan' historically refers to the polytheistic religious landscape of the Greco-Roman world. The Roman world around the time of the New Testament had become a melting pot of spiritual & mystical beliefs. Over time, devotion to one particular religious expression was replaced by an amalgam of beliefs, many times without regard to the mutually exclusive claims of those beliefs.
In fact, the term pagan literally means "country dweller". Whereas Christianity gained a growing following in urban areas, the spread of the Gospel occurred much more slowly in the rural countryside. Rural people groups of the time were poorly educated and therefore much more likely to hold contradictory beliefs in tension. It reminds me of a pastor friend who shared a conversation he had with a young woman who described herself as "a Christian and an atheist". Despite an hour of conversation he was unable to convince her of the logical contradiction of that statement. Such is the logic of paganism.
A recent news article by Fox News highlights that the United State is returning to Greco-Roman paganism at an alarming rate. Some studies suggest as many as 20% of Americans identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious". A 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources reveals 72 percent of millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) reporting to be "more spiritual than religious." Shunning denominations and religious systems of thought, these individuals approach spirituality as if it were a buffet where one can fill the plate with a little of everything.
Tossing logic and reason to the side, pop-culture America is becoming increasingly pagan. Yet education alone with not fix the problem. Certainly I agree that American public schools are failing our children (at one point in our nation's history every junior high student would have taken courses in Logic. Now few university graduates even receive this training). Yet while lack of education may produce pagans, the presence of education alone never produces Christians. The root cause of paganism goes far deeper than education. At its core it is rebellion against the truth (just an ignorant form of that rebellion).
The Fox News article contains this striking story:
Nazli Ekim, who works in public relations in New York City, says calling herself spiritual instead of religious is her way of taking responsibility for herself.
Ekim was born in a Muslim family and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. She prayed to Allah every night, until she was 13 and had to take religion classes in high school.Then one day, she says she had to take charge of her own beliefs.
"I had this revelation that I bow to no one, and I've been spiritually a much happier person," says Ekim, who describers herself now as a Taoist, a religious practice from ancient China that emphasizes the unity of humanity and the universe.
"I make my own mistakes and take responsibility for them. I've lied, cheated, hurt people -- sometimes on purpose. Did I ever think I will burn in hell for all eternity? I didn't. Did I feel bad and made up for my mistakes? I certainly did, but not out of fear of God."
Both the irrational pagan and the intellectualistic atheist share a common value: both refuse to bow to God. One searches for meaning, the other search for truth--both refuse to find it in the only place it can be found. Like the fish who is constantly searching for the Ocean, they never stop to see they have been swimming in it all along.