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The Pagan Slur: Do We Hurt the Environmental Movement by Association?

By John Halstead

“Environmentalism is a form of pagan fundamentalism. These green wackos are fanatics like al-Quaida. Just like them.” – G. Gordon Liddy

What’s in a name?
This past weekend, my father asked me why Christians don’t like Pagans. I think this may have been the first time he has ever asked my anything about Paganism, so it was significant for me. I explained that there is a fundamental difference of worldview between the transcendental monotheisms and religions of immanence like contemporary Paganism, and that Christians tend to see the Pagan reverence for the earth as idolatry.

But I also told him that I suspected that, when Christians talked about “pagans” (small-p), most of the time they probably were not referring to Contemporary “Pagans” (captial-P), at all, but a kind of straw man or boogeyman. “Pagan” is just one of those words that many people don’t really know what it means, but think of as “bad” in a vague sort of way — kind of like the word “cult”. . . .

“Pagan” is another word like that. In common parlance, it can mean anything from atheism to polytheism, from impiety to idolatry. But unlike the “cult” label, we Pagans have consciously embraced this term of opprobrium. We seek to reclaim it, to reinvest it with positive meaning. Some of us do this to honor the pagan gods and revive their worship. Others, like me, choose this name because it challenges many people’s deep-seated assumptions about the world — like the assumption that assumption that religion has to be about rejecting the physical world and fecund nature, our fleshy bodies and sexuality, and our place in the natural cycle of life and death.

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