Ravi Zacharias Interview: Engaging the happy pagan
Do you know people who are very content with life without bothering about the question of God? Ravi Zacharias sat down with Danielle DuRant to discuss the idea of the “happy thinking pagan.” To hear the interview, go to Just Thinking Broadcast Archive.
Danielle DuRant: You’ve spoken about the “happy thinking pagan.” What do you mean by this phrase?
Ravi Zacharias :I think the first time I heard that term was about three decades ago. It was from Os Guinness and he talked about the fact that this was the emerging new way of thinking. That is, “I don’t believe anything but I’m very happy. What does it matter?” And of course, it was also along the time of slogans such as “If it feels good, do it” and “Don’t worry, be happy.” Then the whole question came up about what does the so-called happy pagan actually believe, and it was borderline radical scepticism: not really taking any view of the transcendent seriously but just the pursuit of happiness, raw and unbridled. This sometimes moved into radical hedonism, other times just to contentment. So I mean people who are very content with life without bothering about the question of God.
DD: Philosopher Peter Kreeft argues that “the most serious challenge for Christianity today isn’t one of the other great religions of the world, such as Islam or Buddhism.” Rather, it is paganism, which he defines as “the religion of man as the new God.” Would you agree with him?
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RZ: Partly. I don’t think I’d agree with him completely though Kreeft is a much wiser man and a better informed man than I am. I suppose I would wonder what he means by that in the pervasive sense of a belief system. Yes, paganism can be especially daunting with the revival of certain types of Gnosticism and mysticism. Yes, the numbers in the West are growing, but in terms of a threat to stability and freedom, I don’t think that’s the greatest threat we face. I think the whole Islamic worldview has a real challenge and I’ll tell you why. It has a challenge because it is comprehensive. It is political. It has a moral theory. It has a cultural theory. It has a financial theory. So I think in its core the Islamic worldview would pose a greater challenge to the life and the lifestyle of the Western worldview because in the Western worldview you are given the freedom to believe and disbelieve. It’s not always true in Islamic nations. So I would say in terms of the freedom of these things, the greater challenge to the world right now is coming from that worldview, but in terms of the pervasiveness of belief systems, paganism is certainly a daunting one. I don’t think it’s as fearsome but it is real.
DD: You’ve said that the problem of pleasure rather than the problem of pain more often drives us to think of spiritual things. So how would you account for the happy pagan?
RZ: Good question. I think the reason it can be accounted for is the same way materialism succeeds. There is always the sense that one more digit in my pay cheque will make a difference. One added home. One added car. One added excursion. One other vacation. We think by the simple act of change we will alter everything on the inside. So it has that lure to it. But at the same time pleasure, when it has delivered what it can, definitely does leave you empty. Nothing is more obvious than this in the Hollywood world: the breakup of relationships, the breakup of homes, the breakup of commitments. Who knows all the heartaches with which many of them go to bed…
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