I have started reading Priestess of the Forest by Ellen Evert Hopman. I am less than halfway through it, and will probably write additional posts inspired by it in the future, but here's the idea that is striking me about it now. In the story, Roman Christians are offering wealth to Celtic people if they will reject the traditional Celtic religion. The Druids fear that catastrophes (such as bad harvests) will come if the Celtic people turn their back on the traditional religion.
I emerged from the book to find myself living in the city, living where I hear harsh voices arguing, and sirens. And I thought, indeed, we have lost our religion and we are declining.
But I don't believe that it is the loss of pre-Christian religions that is at the root of our problems. When Jesus came and said don't worship things, but instead, serve only love, treat all with love, including those you have previously rejected due to their sex lives or their ethnicities, that was a good thing.
Problems aren't caused by one religion displacing another. Paganism, Christianity, atheism, or Islam -- any religion can be used for good or it can be used for evil.
In the book, the religion of the Druids taught mindfulness of the seasons and respect for nature. It taught that as we must harvest plants and animals in order to sustain our lives, we must do it in a way that allows plants and animals to continue to thrive, that they may continue to sustain us in time to come.
It doesn't matter by what name we call our religion or our gods. What matters is that we must remember to be grateful for all that we have, that we must care for other people and for the earth. In order to thrive as a species, we need to work together in cooperation rather than to kill each other, and we need to care for the earth if we are to continue to find resources for food and shelter. We have religion in its many forms because it helps us to remember to do these things. But sometimes we forget the necessity of caring for each other and the earth. Sometimes the forgetting takes place in the context of religion, as we re-interpret our religion and use it to justify selfish ends. Or sometimes it takes place when people turn their backs on all religion.
It does not matter what label of religion or lack of religion people apply to themselves. What matters is that they care for each other and for the earth. When that caring starts to slip, we are diminished.