Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Pagan Urge

While on a trip to Ghana with the Gospel Choir, Professor Jelks said something which was memorable to me. He said to some of us in the group (and I paraphrase to you), 'I woke up this morning and stepped outside my room and saw the sun and I felt like worshipping it. Then I thought to myself, "Hey, I'm a Christian, I don't worship the sun!"'.

In spite of my stodgy Christian self, which tenses whenever it senses anything theologically liberal, I sympathized with him. The sun really is something wonderful, when you think of it. This was especially clear in Ghana, where it shines through the harmattan haze gloriously onto forests, fields and jungles, and rises and sets each day at nearly the same time year-round. I totally agreed and still do agree, that the sun does and should inspire worship. After hearing that observation from a regular person, I started to understand why so many pagan religions worship the sun - and so many other parts of nature, for that matter. I "feel them", in the current idiomatic sense of the phrase. It's not just about the practical benefits the sun brings, or its apparent power, but about an ineffable feeling it and other parts of nature inspire.

It did not take much thought for me to realize that this feeling did not threaten, but rather vindicated Christianity; because Christianity vindicated the feeling. If, in response to these urges, we worship the sun; if we dance it front of it and pray to it and make offerings to it, we express our feelings. But our feelings are absurd when we take into account the fact that the sun is a perpetually exploding ball of gas which is not aware of anything, including our love and adoration for it. Pagan worship makes sense inasmuch as it is a natural response to our feelings. It does not make sense inasmuch as it is an attempt to communicate appreciation to something that does not perceive appreciation. My Christian theism had this problem solved even before I posed it. It only took a moment to realize that I can act out these feelings for the sun by worshipping the God that created it. The same goes for the moon, rivers, trees and every other thing I happen to like. Indeed, I can express this feeling for anything and everything at once by worshipping the creator. God, by definition, desires and appreciates worship. If we sing praises to God, he hears. If we exalt him, he's glad of it. The urge to worship is not only genuine, it's functional. Also, it's efficient. There aren't enough days in the year to have a festival for every aspect of nature that awes us. There aren't enough people to maintain a priesthood for each cult we might create. The Ephesians worshipped Artemis because they only had time and energy for Artemis. Take away their local patriotism and they still would have neglected Zeus and Aphrodite and Ares out of practical necessity. In this respect, a monotheist can accomplish what a polytheist cannot even attempt.

2 comments:

highlandhistory said...

Bloody brilliant. As brillian, one might say, as the sun!

At least Jelks did not play the old Cumings' card of a lousy pun: "Hey, I dont worship the sun. I worship the Son. ha ha ha."

Just out of curiosity, what's to say that the big, perpetually exploding ball of gas has no feelings? Isnt that being a little bit constrictive and closed-minded? You probably hate puppies and eat children for breakfast, too!

mackwai said...

My feelings toward puppies are irrelevant!