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Roots of Paganism?

Since my childhood I have heard it said that when Christendom pervaded Europe, it did not eradicate the pagan roots, so paganism keeps coming back.
I have heard it said that for example Christmas trees were a compromise with paganism (trees were burned at the pagan midwinder festival, and the church simply gave the trees new symbolism).
I have heard it said that it is because Christendom did not totally eradicate the roots of paganism, paganism keeps coming back and undermining Christianity.
It is the reason, they say, that Europe and now America turned away from Christianity.
Therefore, they say, we need to completely obliterate every cultural trace of pagamism, just as the people of Israel were commanded to do in the time of Joshua.

This has always been a plausible thesis to me and I have tended to succumb to it all these years (nay, decades!) without question. But just tonight, I wondered: Is it actually true?

It occurred to me that it was not the cultural non-eradication of pagan roots that is the problem, but the human heart, which is "deceitful above all things" [Jeremiah 17].

Certainly, Europe has turned away from Christianity, sometimes violently. But should we have expected or hoped otherwise? Certainly, a culture informed by genuine Christianity is a blessing to all those within it and also to the world, but should we expect and hope that it would last forever?

Has not the history of the people of Israel from Moses to Malachi taught us that even with all the advantages and blessings of a relationship with the Living God, people will still turn away to "worthless idols"? Has not the history of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders over the past 2400 years taught us that in trying to guard against apparent worldliness, religously sincere people turn to legalism? Was it not the legalism of the leaders of his time that Jesus most castigated?

Is not the human heart wicked beyond all things, going either to idolatry or legalism, trying to work out its own path instead of walking with God on the path God is treading in the world? Do not most who are called to represent God either refuse the call or become riddled with spiritual pride? And it is not spiritual pride that turns, in reaction, those who abandon Christianity?

It seems to me it is nothing to do with paganism. So we do not have to boycott Christmas trees on those grounds.

What we have to do is to watch and be aware of the times, find out where God is working in the world, go and join him there, and properly represent Christ in whatever situations we find ourselves.

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