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Note to a Pagan

By Timothy D. Terrell
October 01, 2003

As a result of my frequent writing for various publications, I receive a fair number of emails. Most are innocuous — asking for information or an opinion, or politely showing where I might have been in error. A few are bizarre, and others are openly hostile. Last year I received an email from a white supremacist who venomously objected to some things I had written about the European colonization of Africa. Hatred from people like that is an affirmation of what I do, so I posted the email on my office door for the benefit of my students.

Last week I received this note in my inbox:

Mr. Terrell,
Hi, I am doing a research paper on the applications of Biblical Law in America and its implications for democracy. I was wondering if you could recommend some books, videos, or websites.
I also had one other question, what would be the role of the non-Christian in our Biblical America? I mean what laws would we apply to them? How would we convert them to the True way? What civil rights would these non-believers have, and what would their status be compared to True Believers? I mean America is suffering from these non-believers, so what would we do with them?
Thank you for your time.
God Bless you.
Sincerely, [Name omitted]

This email immediately struck me as being less than genuine. This is a person who has deep misgivings about a Biblical social order, I thought, and is offering this bait in the hope of obtaining a juicy quote that can be waved around to show how awful life would be if True Believers had their way.

To confirm my suspicions, I did a quick search on the Internet using her name and email address. She turned up several times, once on a website dedicated to debate on evolution and creation. There, my correspondent had referred to "crazy christian groups" in an attack on creationism. Then I found her name all over a site for "pagan activists." On the site were several messages she had written to the pagan activist email group that pretty clearly revealed her religious persuasions. All of this information was completely "in the open."

I am not sure what this woman expected me to write. Maybe it would be a waste of my time to respond at all, I thought. But I could not resist. So I quickly replied:

Ms. [omitted],
There are tons of books, videos, and websites on the topic you want. One that I would recommend, that I write for occasionally, is chalcedon.edu. The founder of that organization, Rousas J. Rushdoony, who died in 2001, wrote a three-volume work called The Institutes of Biblical Law. That would certainly be a starting point.

One of the points Rushdoony made is that law is not, and cannot be, religiously neutral. There will always be religious presuppositions in law — though the religion may not be tied to what one thinks of as religious ceremony and observance. Attempts at pluralism in law are a result of "religious" assumptions by pluralists — for example, the assumption that no religion has an absolute claim on truth and has no moral authority when it comes to the society outside the walls of the church. As you may note, the pluralists are making an absolute claim that no one can have an absolute claim to truth — a bit contradictory in my view.

Of course, many laws are more or less satisfactory to multiple religious groups. Like the law against murder, for example. But no two religions will agree on every law. And where society becomes more fragmented religiously, it becomes harder to agree on what the laws should be. Because of this, not every religion is going to have equal freedom to put their principles into practice. For example, if I belong to a religion that says I have to engage in ceremonial human sacrifice, I am not going to be free to carry out that part of my religion. At least as long as I live in a nation where murder is viewed as morally evil. So some religion's view of moral evil has squelched my ability to put my religious views into practice. This is inescapable because religions differ in what they see as morally evil, and laws cannot reflect all these views simultaneously. The state cannot be religiously neutral.

For Christians, this does not imply coercive conversions or some sort of top-down jackbooted social restructuring. It means that as more people are converted, the political sphere, as well as the family, business, and overall culture, would begin to reflect Christian principles. Some of these principles would be acceptable to people of most other religions, while others would not. But just as non-Jews lived comfortably under ancient Israel's system of Biblical laws, non-Christians would be able to live in a Christian society, as long as they do not break criminal laws. They would not be compelled to believe or to worship the Christian God. And, most of the time, when they do things that Christians would view as sinful, they would not be considered criminals. Only a few sins are also crimes, so the reach of the state into their lives would be limited.
I don't expect that you or most other people would find these ideas attractive. Most people seem to hold a narrow view of religion, thinking that it is confined to churches, mosques, and synagogues. But atheists and pluralists have a faith as well. They condemn faiths with extensive social implications while failing to recognize that they, too, have a faith; and it, too, has extensive social implications.

If you need clarification, please reply.

And next time, drop the Christian act.

Timothy Terrell

My objective in this response was not to enumerate all the ways in which pagans like this woman might see their religious activities restricted in a society governed under Christian principles. First, I wanted her to see that Christianity is not about gunpoint conversions or genocide. But I wanted her to also see that because the state cannot be religiously neutral, some religion's principles of government will inevitably prevail over others. It is not a question of whether religion, but which religion.

While belief could not be mandatory in a Biblical society, and unbelievers could live and work among the people of God, not all religious practices would be permitted. A Biblical society would have to restrain religions based on murder, aggressive revolution, or other civilization-destroying practices. Exodus 22:18, 20 and Deuteronomy 18:10-12 indicate that the practice of occultist religions or religions involving sacrifice to idols was a capital crime under the civil law given to Moses. I did not mention this fact in my reply because it would invite hysterics over witch trials rather than an understanding of my broader point — that the state, and therefore the idea of "crime," is necessarily religious. My correspondent evidently wants official state toleration for all religions, including outright paganism, Satanism, and witchcraft. I wanted her to see the impossibility of this pluralism.

Pagans and occultists should not be ignored by Christians as fringe groups of little significance. R. J. Rushdoony, in The Institutes of Biblical Law, pointed out the danger posed by such groups in the past:

At the end of the Middle Ages and in the early years of the modern era, a widespread outbreak and revival of pagan and anti-Christian occultism was responsible for a massive assault on Christianity, an attack on tithing, the mainstay of Christian society, a sexual revolution aimed at destroying the family, and a revival of cannibalism, human sacrifice, and related acts.

As I was finishing this article, I received a 1200-word response to my note. It was a flood of questions on Biblical law and Christian Reconstruction. Rather than spend a day or two trying to duplicate the efforts of dozens of authors, I directed her to do a little digging into the existing work. In subsequent correspondence, this woman told me she was a "non-practicing" Christian, while in emails on her pagan website she claimed to be a pagan. In any case, she has a great deal of confusion about what Christianity is. Meanwhile, I have been keeping an eye on the pagan activist website, to see if the correspondence becomes a topic of conversation there. Maybe I should join their email list ….


Topics: Biblical Law, Theology, Christian Reconstruction, Culture

Timothy D. Terrell

Timothy Terrell is associate professor of economics at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is assistant editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and is an Associated Scholar with the Mises Institute.

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