|Viking Religion Wasn't One of Peace|
A Catholic, on the other hand, proves to be much more "open-minded" about the pagan "gods." We need not be dogmatic about them at all. I can see the pagan and agree with him that Thor or Odin or Ganesha or whomever exists as a real spiritual being. I can take paganism much more seriously than he can. I certainly would disagree with the pagan as to whether Thor deserves worship and whether or not he is benign or malign, but at least I can (although I am not forced to) agree that the pagan isn't speaking to no one. Believing Odin is a demon is, it must be admitted, a lot closer to agreeing with the pagan than saying Odin doesn't exist at all.
But, as a Catholic, I can go further still. Not only can I agree with the existence of spiritual beings that may or may not have been worshipped in various times and in various places (including in twenty-first century Iceland), I can also affirm the good of such religions. Of course, not everything in them is good (in fact, most things in paganism isn't good), but all religions (or at least most) have at least some small ray of Truth and that Truth is nothing less than a ray of light shinning directly from He who is the Light of the world (which even paganism cannot extinguish). The "pointing toward" aspect of even paganism is recognized by the Church,
those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God....Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved...Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.2Of course this isn't an unqualified "hip-hip-huzzah" for demon worship as the Church realizes that,
often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator....Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature", the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.3But we can, unlike our atheists brothers, recognize a positive function of paganism in its orientation toward correct worship. The atheist can only conclude the pagan is yet more simple minded and confused than the monotheist, believing in not just one "imaginary friend" but in a host of them. And, worse still, without any of the many, many (unrefuted) arguments that prove monotheism (but disprove paganism, thus Socrates, for example, was executed for what was then termed "atheism" - not believing in the "gods" of the State even though believed in the One True God.)
And we can go yet further still. We can even recognize the right of people to act in accordance with their religious beliefs even when those beliefs are disordered and misshapen, even when those people are precisely those "deceived by the Evil One." The same Council that so ardently called for the missions to be fostered, also recognized this declaring,
that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.4These due limits, of course, include all the traditional teaching of the Church on the duty of men to seek and even privilege the One True Faith, as the Councils explicitly points out that this teaching,
leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.5But nonetheless our position is indeed much more "liberal" than the atheistic position which can amount to no more liberality toward many "gods" than it can to one.
1. Unfortunately, Thorfelsson was forced to allow private pagan worship and infanticide to continue even after the conversion of the island nation to the Faith. Once the Church was fully established these evil practices were entirely banned.
2. Lumen Gentium, 16 emphasis added
3. Ibid. emphasis added
4. Dignitatis Humanae, 2 emphasis added
5. Ibid., 1