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FIRST-PERSON: Complete idiots indeed

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–I came across “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism” in the library the other day and gave it a look. Old fashioned paganism is on the rise once again, and I wanted to see what they had to say about Wicca.

Those guides for “idiots” and “dummies” are often quite insightful, providing accessible summaries for a range of phenomena and schools of thought. But this time the “idiot” in the title seemed especially appropriate.

Carl McColman, the author, is described on the back cover as “a practitioner of nature spirituality,” “co-founder and former leader of a druid grove,” and “co-leader of an interfaith pagan meditation circle.”

Busy boy, that Carl.

The passage that particularly prompted my wonder was one that justified “polyamory” as:

“the belief that it’s okay to love more than one person at a time, as long as the love is expressed ethically and honestly to all persons involved. Such love can be expressed sexually or not. It might involve people who live together in a group marriage, or it might involve people who love several different partners who live in different places.”

He then offers the strangest justification for such behavior:

“Like many elements of paganism, polyamory has its connection to nature. The bonobo, a species of chimpanzee whose genetic makeup is extremely similar to humans, is remarkable for living in peaceful societies where there’s lots of monkey business going on — literally. Most bonobos are bisexual and, to put it delicately, very active. … Polyamourous pagans cite the bonobos as evidence that sexual freedom occurs in nature and therefore is a valid lifestyle option.”

That’s an interesting way to validate behavior: Find some animal which does it, preferably a primate, and then claim that when you follow suit, you are natural and thus moral. I would suggest that Pagan Carl think twice about that approach to virtue. Otherwise, he could find himself defending a parent who ate his young because baboons sometimes do so. And is he suggesting it’s okay to walk around naked and relieve yourself in public? Chimps do it. I could multiply examples, but you get the point.

He’s misunderstood the true meaning of “natural,” as captured in the natural law approach to ethics. This perspective sees God-given design and purpose in creatures, and finds moral direction in encouraging the fulfillment of such purpose. It is not enough to find some instance or even a preponderance of something in the world. The pattern in question must lead to the flowering of the subject before it counts as good.

Let’s take an acorn for example. Most acorns die before taking root. Some decay on the sidewalk. Squirrels eat some. Cars run over others. I’m pretty sure that less than one percent of acorns ever make an oak. But we don’t say that the acorn which does its natural thing dies without germination. We reserve our admiration for the little fella who becomes a towering tree. Now THAT’S an acorn!

So the person who comes on the late night talk show and touts his immoral lifestyle, saying, “Hey, it’s a new millennium, and everyone’s doing it,” is as bright as a squashed acorn bragging that most acorns are squashed. And even if everyone is doing, it matters not. They can all be fools. The question is what the mature and fruitful people would be doing, if there were any.

That which makes for mature chimphood does not necessarily make for mature, human adulthood. God has created each kind with its own wiring and for its own purposes. And while polyamory might do for the bonodos, it most certainly will not do for the Bonos, or Smiths, or Clarks. To take our behavioral cues from the menagerie in opposition to the behavior cues of Scripture is the height of folly.

So let the pagans emulate the primates if they will, but stop them if they start to eat their kids, even if they object that it’s only natural.
Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and distinguished professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Reprinted from the Illinois Baptist newsjournal.

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  • Mark Coppenger