66. Neo-paganism or cultural reawakening?
66. Neo-paganism or cultural reawakening?

66. Neo-paganism or cultural reawakening?

Last week, I discussed religion-induced identity crisis and said that “there is the conscious ditching of Christianity in favour of traditional religion and a conscious and arbitrary attempt at religious syncretism, that is, blending Christianity with traditional religion”. One quick consequence of this identity crisis is how to describe this trend. In western media and academia, they describe it as ‘neo-paganism’.

Sadly, many Africans also adopt the term. For instance, Peter Okafor in his article “The Church and the challenge of neo-paganism in South-eastern Nigeria”, says: “By neo-paganism here, we mean paganism with a new face and a new style. It is a modernization of the pagan cult and practices to render them attractive to modern people particularly the youths”[1].

Oxford Advanced Dictionary describes the term ‘pagan’

  1. a person who holds religious beliefs that are not part of any of the world’s main religions  
  2. (often disapproving) used in the past by Christians to describe a person who did not believe in Christianity 

In Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘pagan’ means

  1. old fashioned + often offensive : a person who is not religious or whose religion is not Judaism, Islam, or especially Christianity
  2. history : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome or Greece)

Merriam Webster also defines a neo-pagan as “a person who practices a contemporary form of paganism (such as Wicca)”

From the above, one sees that the term ‘pagan’ is derogatory. Do we consider our culture inferior or our traditional religion evil? Religion is an aspect of culture and religion and culture are mutually reinforcing. How?

In the development of culture and religion, the people come first and they have norms and conventions, which guide their temporal activities. Next, in the awe of nature, uncertainty, scarcity, insecurity, and inability to understand certain realities, the people build a relationship with the divine. They incorporate this relationship with the divine into their norms and conventions. Hence, religious leaders play an important role in the secular affairs of a people. This happens in all cultures. We watched the religious dimension and role of religious leaders at the burial of Queen Elizabeth.

Since our traditional religion is part of our culture, describing it as pagan is an effect of an identity crisis.

Yes, we are Christians, and I am a proud Catholic priest. Yet, it does not mean that all about our culture was and is evil. By accepting our traditional culture as pagan, we simply say that western culture is superior to ours. This is an inferiority complex – an effect of the education system that prevents us from thinking outside of the box. An education system that makes us believe that it is only when the white man says something is good that it is good.

I was baptised with ‘Chidiebere’ and took up ‘Gregory’ as my confirmation name since I was born on the feast day of St Gregory the Great. Although I have been influenced by the life of St Gregory, particularly by his reforms, the name ‘Chidiebere’ makes more meaning to me than the name ‘Gregory’, which means “watchful”. Depending on the emphasis, Chị dị ebere means “God is merciful” or “the merciful God” and I have continued to theologise on that attribute of God. Sadly, we have forcefully prevented families from using native and deeply theological names at baptism.

All cultures are unique and ABSOLUTELY EVERY culture has had and will continue to have unpleasant and uninteresting aspects. Culture is dynamic and continues to evolve as societies and cultures interact with each other and, as events, discoveries, and innovations reshape our worldview. Halloween celebrations continue today in the West and is now a multi-billion-dollar business. Many other pre-Christian and post-Christian cultural activities are still celebrated today in Europe.

 In sum, what is happening today is not neo-paganism but a cultural reawakening. The danger of insisting that it is neo-paganism is that we further deepen our identity crisis. Second, we develop a perspective that those involved in this trend are evil; a perception that shuts the door for evangelisation.

This trend is urgently calling us to do something to officially inculturate Christianity. The longer we wait, the more we lose our members and see more arbitrary liturgical innovations as priests try to adjust to the trend.    

Ka Chineke mezie okwu🙏🏾


[1] Peter Okafor, “Editorial: The Church and the challenge of neo-paganism in south-eastern Nigeria”, in Ministerium: A Journal of Contextual Theology, VI (2020), ii, available at URL:< https://ezenwaohaetorc.org/journals/index.php/Ministerium/article/view/1650/1691>

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