6/12/2010 | Share this article:By Carl S --
Since the major religions have supplanted the pagan ones, we might question if they are better.
Image by peadar via FlickrIs the Islamic, Christian, Israelite god any less bloodthirsty, mean, or invisible, for instance? Not really. In fact, there was tolerance for other belief systems in pagan Rome, before the intolerant Christians started their destructions of lives and properties, even each others’.
One notes how the Roman Catholic Church became the closest thing to paganism in transforming the gods into saints. (A god, ergo, a saint, for every eventuality: lost causes, finding lost objects, for music, sailors, etc.) The church also stole, for its own purposes, ceremonies, incense, incantations, rituals, and Dec. 25th. Paganism lives on in the RCC.
Is paganism, outside of its obvious practitioners, still alive? Well, consider the Apollo spacecraft, astrology, names of the planets, the names of NASA projects, Nike shoes, Mercury autos, American Idol, etc.
Look at the bigger pagan picture including mythology and fantasy. Reason, evidence, and logic are emphasized in atheist/agnostic writings. While these cannot be emphasized enough, in dealing with religions we also need to take on fantasy and its appeal, and the fact that one has the same options and methods in using fantasy for moral examples as did Aesop and the other fairy tale writers. Religion has lots of competition to offer.
Fantasy sells. Consider Harry Potter, the Left Behind books, Playboy, romance novels, porn, superheroes, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Islamic folk heroes, heaven, Nirvana, Sci-Fi.
One of the overlooked innovators in fantasy is a man who once upon a time changed the world with a great imagination and big plans. He created characters never seen before, with personalities to compete with the gods. He animated fairy tales themselves, shaping them to his own visions of them, his own interpretations. He created a sort of secular religion, intentionally or not. In place of “holy’ pictures, statues of saints and shrines to them, he brought animated films, statues of Mickey, Donald Duck, a pantheon of other characters, and nature documentaries verging on pantheism. (I have a statue of one of the Seven Dwarfs, Grumpy, nearby.) His fantasy industry included watches, comic books, stuffed characters children carry around and to bed with them. And perhaps most notably, Disneyland and Disney World, which are in competition with the Vatican for fantasies.
Eventually, theatrical film reached the point of combining live actors with animation — a mixture any priest or rabbi would envy.
Notice some of the symbols which are recognized worldwide today: the cross, the Star of David, the crescent of Islam, the mouse ears.
Disney’s contemporaries were inspired and created Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd - the whole Warner Brothers gang of imaginative characters. Later, Charles Schulz and “Peanuts” came along and Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and the others became “real,” with marketing spin-offs of their own: statues (again), TV specials, mass merchandising products. And was there ever a mixture of fantasies to compare with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, with fabricated characters dramatizing a traditionally fabricated religion-story? Even Charles Dickens, with his pagan Christmas interpretation, didn’t do that.
Think about this: The Moslems are missing out on a huge source of marketing revenue because they don’t allow pictures or statues of Mohammed. They should learn from the RCC, Disney, and all those televangelists selling their holy junk.
When it came to fantasy, it was Bill Watterson who out-Disneyed Disney. The creator of Calvin and Hobbes refused to market the tiger, Hobbes, stating that the tiger’s “reality” was all in the imagination of Calvin and should stay there. (You might make a case for this, that the believer’s personal god is akin to Calvin’s “Hobbes”.)
With special effects, video games, animation, and other forms of secular fantasy-making, we have a competition with traditional religious fantasies. And the religions steal the same methods and technology for their purposes, just as they stole from the pagans. Oh, and they try mightily to be entertaining, like the secular successes they compete with.
Well, what shall it be, St. Paul, the sexually conflicted, or Wile E. Coyote, the frustrated, never-quitting? Church or “Cheers,” Moses or Bugs Bunny? Will you have the wonders of nature documentaries and scientific discoveries, which go beyond not just fantasy and imagination, but into what we couldn’t possibly imagine, or the screwy search for Noah’s ark or Cinderella’s glass slipper?
There’s the difference. We know cartoons and fables are fantasies which make us think about serious things without requiring us to relinquish our minds, our reason, or our morals. In contrast, religions demand obedience to them while refusing to admit they are fantasies. Our fantasies do not impel us to hurt or kill and no one is harmed. Clearly, Christianity is no improvement over paganism. In fact, practically speaking, Christianity today is merely paganism in fancier clothes.