Newt Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history from Tulane, but is as terrible a historian as he is skilled at politics. Paganism has lots of divine personalities like Zeus, Hera, and Apollo from the religion of classic Greece and the religious practice of paganism involves sacrificing animals (and the occasional human) to those divinities. Paganism also associates divinity with natural phenomena like thunder and specific places like groves and river. And sacrifices animals to them as well. If I remember right, Achilles was almost killed by a river god in the Iliad. But what anchored paganism was ancestor worship where the primary religious practice was within families and revolved around songs, prayers, and other forms of worshipping deceased male heads of household. Ancestor worship involves constant animal sacrifice.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee urged Christians to get involved in politics to preserve the presence of religion in American life.
"I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history," Gingrich said. "We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism."
In other words, paganism is a bloody mess. Even the few people I know who would claim themselves as pagans (including one of my wife's cousins) are too genteel to practice any form of animal sacrifice.
Likewise, most people who think of themselves as pagans are thumbing their noses at their families. As a result, the last thing they would undertake is ancestor worship.
So, rest easy Newt.
You're not surrounded by pagans.
But I can see where Newt Gingrich and other paragons of the right could see themselves as surrounded by people who reject the agenda of religious conservatism. At least two thirds of American rejects Protestant fundamentalism, Catholic traditionalism, conventional Mormonism, and Orthodox Judaism. About 15% of the American population is now either atheistic, agnostic, or vaguely spiritual as well. Perhaps what Gingrich means by "paganism" is the rejection of religious conservatism and he's certainly right that most Americans reject religious conservatism. Religious conservatism isn't even all that popular in Bible Belt areas like Eastern Kentucky.
But why is that the case?
Here I think Newt Gingrich should look in the mirror. Now that Newt is one of the premier voices for the conservative effort to claim the U. S. as a Christian nation, he's also become a powerful force for the rejection of religious conservatism. Newt's Gingrich is legendary for his relentless self-centereded, sanctimoniousness, hypocrysy, and inhumanity toward his fellow human beings. How could he not be. Gingrich is a prominent public figure who is extremely aggressive about all his bad character traits. Everything that anybody needs to know about Newt Gingrich can be summed up by the fact that he informed his first wife that he was divorcing her while she was in the hospital for cancer treatment.
As a spokesperson for the Republican Party, Gingrich drives people away from the Republican Party. Now that Gingrich is a spokesperson for religious conservatism, he's driving people away from religious conservatism. As some evangelicals like Michael Spencer are beginning to realise, the association of Protestant evangelicism and Christianity with political conservatism and the religious right is undermining Christianity. Now that moderates and liberals are starting to identify Christianity with people like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and the guy who murdered George Tiller, they're also starting to reject Christianity.
If Newt Gingrich lives to be 100, we might be going back to ancestor worship and animal sacrifice after all.