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Micah Schwartzman
If you read yesterday, you might be wondering: Did I miss a Wiccan invasion? What's with all the talk about pagans and paganism? Thought I might give some background, but this is going to be long ... /1
Maybe there actually is a genuinely post-Christian future for America.
The New York Times The New York Times @nytimes
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @Douthat
profiles a recent book by Steven D. Smith, "Pagans and Christians in the City." Smith's project is to recover T.S. Eliot's "idea of a Christian society" from the late-1930s. Eliot thought that western societies were marked by a conflict between Christians and pagans. /2
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
For Eliot, Christians believe in orthodox, traditional religion. Everyone who doesn't share that belief is either a pagan or on the road to paganism. You can read about it here: /3
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
Smith takes Eliot's basic idea and updates it. Our society is divided between "Christians," who believe in a transcendent source of value (aka God) and who, to make a long story short, are social conservatives (no abortion or gay marriage), and /4
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
pagans, who believe in "immanent" values and who are social liberals. Smith says Ronald Dworkin, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Sam Harris are pagans. But roughly: pagans are secular liberals. You know the type. /5
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
So to recap, and stick with me here, "Christians" are traditional religious conservatives. Orthodox Jews are "Christians"; same with conservative Muslims. A pagan is anyone who isn't "Christian." All liberals are really pagans, even if they're Episcopalian, Jewish, Hindu, etc. /6
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @Douthat
This is how the world looks to Smith and : there's "Christians," and there's pagans (liberals). And just like Christians, liberals have a religion. Their religion is paganism. So that's why we're talking about paganism. It's really all about liberalism. /7
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
If you're a religious liberal, you might be wondering: where do I fit into this picture? I believe in a transcendent God, but I'm not a social conservative. Am I a "Christian" or a "pagan"? The answer is: You're a pagan. You just don't know it yet. /8
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
And what if you're Jewish -- are you really a "Christian"? For Smith, you can be a Christian. It might sound a little funny, but you'll get used to the idea. /9
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
Before you do, though, you might want to know that Smith is more forgiving and ecumenical than Eliot. Remember that Smith is reviving Eliot's "idea of a Christian society." But Eliot was an anti-semite, and he didn't think Jews have a place in a Christian society. /10
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
In his 1933 Page-Barbour lectures at UVa, Eliot wrote, "What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable." /11
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
For Eliot, "free-thinking Jews" are quintessential pagans, rootless cosmopolitans, and purveyors of liberalism. (Orthodox Jews were less of a threat, as long as they stayed in the ghetto.) /12
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
(Non-Jews could be free-thinking, but for Eliot, Jews were worse: "The Jew who is separated from his religious faith is much more deracinated thereby than the descendent of Christians, and it is this deracination that I think dangerous and tending to irresponsibility.") /13
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
Jews are a problem for a Christian society. Eliot thought you would have to marginalize them. Otherwise, they would undermine the cultural and political dominance of Christianity. /14
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @DouthatNYT
Smith (and ) don't share Eliot's anti-semitism. I want to be clear about that. But Jews are a problem for anyone who divides the world into two categories of "Christians" and "pagans." /15
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
There are going to be "bad" Jews: liberal pagans like Ronald Dworkin and Anthony Kronman. And there are "good" Jews: Orthodox conservatives who can be assimilated into "Christianity." /16
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
At this point, you might be wondering: why are we stuck with these categories of "Christian" and "pagan"? They don't seem that helpful. Maybe we need (at least) a third category: people who believe in some transcendent source of meaning, but who are also liberal. /17
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @DouthatNYT
So taking a page from and Smith, and adding a little chutzpah, maybe we can add one more category. If Christians are religious conservatives, and pagans are secular liberals, we need a label for people who are religious liberals. /18
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @mjschwartzman
Call them: "Jews". In a recent paper, "Jews, not Pagans," Rich Schragger and I talk about American Jews as a historical counterexample to Smith's categories. Most (but not all) American Jews believe in a transcendent God, and most are liberals. We are not pagans. /19
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Micah Schwartzman Dec 13
Replying to @DouthatNYT
The same is true for other religious believers, whether Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and so many others. Their religion isn't liberalism, secularism, or paganism. , like Smith and Eliot, can't recognize these people for who they are. /20
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