Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Old Gods

Here is an interesting article at The American Thinker, by Timothy Birdnow, establishing a clear link between ancient paganism and the modern Environmentalism movement. While I think he goes a little too far in marking out the "sins" of the Christian Evangelical environmentalist movement (e.g., just being in the same movement as a pagan idolater does not make one an idolater as well), he does make some very interesting points. What piqued my interest most, however, was his take on the "old gods" of nature and how they are (metaphorically, I presume, as well as literally) resurgent in the false idols of Spiritism, Wicca, new-age Druidism, Secular Humanism, Materialism, Modernism, etc. He also interestingly ties this into the casting out of Legion by Jesus Christ, as though "Legion" either stood for, or quite literally was the collective essence of all these old gods.

Of course, being a big sci-fi/fantasy nerd myself, this immediately grabbed my attention as a very interesting prospect within the modern fantasy genre: what if the "old gods" were indeed real entities, only lying dormant due to lack of belief or the conquering power of Christ, but newly resurgent with the rise of secularism and the "return" to ancient pseudo-religions? The concept of a return of existence of old gods is hardly original; Neil Gaiman's American Gods was an excellent, entertaining yarn about that very concept (with a twist, in which "gods" were simply the "magical" product of collective faith, rather than pre-existent beings); similarly, Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale followed the same tack with respect to the "faerie folk" and its assorted pantheon. But what about attacking the subject matter from a Christian perspective? I think there is considerable potential on which to draw here. Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness and its sequel come close, wherein there is a very real, constant spiritual battle going on invisibly all around us, in which angels and demons quite literally war over our souls, wreaking real-world consequences which only seem natural in interpretation; however, in his books there is a distinct and impenetrable barrier between the spiritual world and the physical world.

There is certainly a Biblical basis for the assumption that the "old gods" did indeed correspond to real beings: 1 Corinthians 10 talks about food sacrificed to idols, and Paul makes this point in verse 20: "No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons." If you believe on faith that demons truly do exist (and I do, because my Bible says so, and gives me no indication that "demon" is always a metaphor for something else), then this verse indicates that, indeed, the false idols worshipped (at least in the first century AD, by the pagan Greeks in Corinth) do indeed have underlying them a demonic influence.

But back to the idea of a story: suppose these ancient spiritual entities were resurgent in their power. If they truly did have power over the earth (and we have every reason to believe this scripturally -- repeatedly the "ruler of this world" is mentioned in a supernatural context, as in John 12:21, as is, for example, in Ephesians 2:2, the "prince of the power of the air"), and this power could be used to the detriment of believers or of virtuous pagans who have never heard the Word of God, then what recourse could/would God take to empower His followers to combat this?

I don't have a fully-formed vision of that scenario, but it's definitely thought-provoking to me.

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Anonymous Marty said...

Ben, you're gonna make me go home and read some Genesis and Job. My recollection is that there are some pretty unmistakable hints at the existence of "old gods" who were real. I'm not just talking about the idols that other neighboring religious held dear, and whom Jeremiah and the other prophets mocked as nothing but pieces of clay. I'm talking about actual beings.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Certainly in Genesis you have the Nephilim, from whom Goliath was reputed to have descended -- a race of giants that, I believe, were supposed to be the offspring of supernatural beings and humans. As for Job, I'm not so sure -- there are certainly fantastical creatures mentioned therein: Behemoth and Leviathan, which any simple reading clearly indicates are NOT a hippopotamus and a crocodile, despite what textual notes say, unless we think the writer of Job was taken to gross exaggeration.

The apocryphal Book of Enoch (which was actually quoted in the New Testament!) also has some fascinating discourses on various demons and other supernatural beings as well.

1:29 PM  

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