There was a time when the tirelessly debated question was whether we had ceased to believe, whether God had deserted our consciences and our societies. We were then talking about dechristianization, secularization, the abandonment of Christian values… Believing belonged to another era, more marked by obedience, or more inclined to hope.
This time and these questions seem outdated. Secularization, dechristianization, secularization…: the question has shifted. It is perhaps more a question these days of asking ourselves if we are still monotheists. The hypothesis of a contemporary paganism is not to be put forward solely because the guardian institution of belief, the Church, has lost not only its authority but also its legitimacy, having discredited itself through sexual crimes and , more generally, violence linked to abuse of power. This is the observation that imposes itself in the face of the multiplication of polytheistic phenomena and beliefs, from animism to divination, from sorcerers to oracles, the first manifestation of which was, in France, the craze for the feast of Halloween, which has largely replaced All Saints Day for our fellow citizens.
A protective God
It is not only because the Church has diluted the irreducible singularity of the Gospel that she has monetized it into a rather abstract appeal to the common good or to an indeterminate humanism. It is not simply because the Church no longer allows Christianity to make history, to nourish a culture, to change consciences. All this is true, and must be deplored. But the reason is also that we ended up believing only in a protective God.
An evolutionary view would have Christianity put an end to superstitious beliefs and practices. This is not the case: it is on the contrary because we have imperceptibly substituted the god of salvation, and therefore of fault and redemption, a protective God, that we have come today to dream of a world reinvested by the gods. For the God of monotheism fulfills this protective function less well than a plurality of divinities.
A religion of protection
I had read, in passing, this comment from Ricoeur on Freud: “Religion for Freud (…) is a compensation for the hardness of life (…) ; its task is to protect man (…). The new face that religion turns towards the individual is no longer that of prohibition, but that of protection. » Double clairvoyance: first of Freud, then of Ricœur. In order not to have to face the possibility that reality is not interested in us and that it has nothing to say to us, we have found comfort in God, not a reason for living, but a way of giving colors to life.
The area of competence of religion is therefore no longer life after life, but life itself. Hence the continuation of Ricœur’s analysis: “At the same time, (religion) addresses less fear than desire. » It is no longer associated with the imperative to save what must be saved, but it is there to respond to our desire for consolation and protection. A kind of insurance on life: everything will be fine, God is there to guarantee it.
Paganism, more effective
But in this case, paganism is more effective than monotheism. For the Christian God does not deliver the most magical of protections: he does not intend to transform the world into paradise, life into a party. The Christian is not in this world like a fish in water, but he assumes the role of witness: witness of a truth which this world does not want, and which does not find in this world either its origin, nor its end, nor its justification. The God of Jesus Christ does not protect against reality: he asks us to face it. He does not transmute lead into gold, adversity into opportunity to advance. That would be going too fast from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. If it protects against evil – if it promises us not to let it triumph over good – it does not protect against reality. However, it is this protection that we seek.
We need mythologies, divinities who would come to populate the world, to deliver it from its silence. Our desire is thus more a desire for the sacred than for transcendence: we want to feel the thrill of a vibrant and animated nature. One could thus almost speak of a cult of trees, plants, plants, living beings without hierarchy or distinction. Because the divine in which we burn to believe must be very close, but also quite different – sacred. The transcendent God is, on the contrary, both distant – he is everything that I am not: infinite, eternity, love and omnipotence – and resembling, to the point of marrying our human condition.
Nature deity, Animal deity
Its transcendence is too enigmatic. Speaking in parables, she tests more than she consoles. Yet we have a demand for immediate, available and unequivocal meaning. Not a prophetic meaning, against the current and to be deciphered, but a reserve of clear, operational meanings, and clearly polarized: failure, success, negative, positive, evil, resilience. But the Christian God never ceases to say through paradoxes and ambiguities: the first will be the last, it is by losing one’s life that one saves it, blessed are the unfortunate… What we want is to do intimately part of the world, even dissolving into it, to dilute our aggressive humanity, our consciousness with separatist tendencies (the human is not the animal, the subject is not an object, the spirit is not flesh). We would have to free ourselves from these distinctions to embrace a single living reality, and thus feel surrounded, embraced – and therefore protected, consoled. Nature deity, Tree deity, Animal deity are more likely to re-enchant this world that we have mechanized, ransacked, and that Christianity asked us not to consider as our kingdom, our only place of residence.
And then, the Christian religion is not tragic. If she knows tragedies, they are temporary, transitional – weddings follow scarcity, what was lost is found. But we live in a time when it is difficult to imagine a day after tragedy. It would be wrong to continue to explain it by the simple fact that we no longer believe in progress. It is, more fundamentally, because we no longer believe in a single God, who has for us a plan, a will and a salvation. In short, we no longer believe in a God who believes in man.
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“For our contemporaries, paganism is more effective than monotheism”
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