The bumper sticker is meant to be antagonistic, but it tells an unintended truth. “Born Again Pagan” is a statement of faith in non-faith, an affirmation of freedom from religious influence, and a bold confrontation with all things Christian. It’s a declaration of freedom from Christianity that strikes at the heart of Christian experience. If you are a born again pagan, then, by definition, you were at one time a person of faith. One is left to wonder what it was that didn’t work, that disappointed, that left the pagan so disillusioned that they not only left the faith but decided to make fun of faith on the way out the door.
Honestly, I don’t think bumper stickers like this are that thought out. I don’t think people actually leave the faith and then intentionally declare themselves to be born again pagans. I just don’t think it’s that intentional. I think born again pagans are people who don’t want any part of the Christian faith based on a bad personal experience, a rumor, or any list of other reasons or perspectives both real and unreal. Pagan, beyond its technical meaning (those outside a certain faith system), is more loosely recognized in modern America as the power to make independent moral choices outside of religious (especially Christian) influence. Paganism is a way of life more influenced by the pursuit of personal pleasure than religious devotion, civic duty, or the common good. If not mere pleasure then one would characterize themselves as a born again humanist or atheist or philanthropist or something like that. Paganism is more closely related to moral than ideological behavior. “Pagan” is supposed to be a sophisticated independent way of life that gives a person the ability to enjoy the pursuit of personal pleasure without accountability to anything supernatural, spiritual, or Christian. Paganism then allows for guilt free personal expression, sexual experimentation, speech, and pleasure seeking through almost any means (art, money, things, people, hobbies, sex, politics, practices, health, drugs, etc.).
A born again Christian, unlike the pagan, is one who has surrendered the core of his/her life to a greater cause than personal freedom. A born again Christian is one who has given up the pursuit of momentary pleasure for a full and abundant life. They have placed their faith in a God and a book that tells the story of that God, a risen Savior, and the people who claim to know and follow that risen Savior, a savior who promised grace, rest, and peace to all who would surrender, a Savior who asks us to be born again so we can leave our ways behind and adopt His ways into our daily lives, a Savior who is sacrificial, generous, and has our best interests in mind.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.” These are the words of a famous hymn and the personal story of millions of people who would call themselves born again Christians. I can see how one outside the faith might be offended by the lyrics. The lyrics may lead an outsider to think, “Hey wait, I’m not a wretch. I’m not lost or blind. I am an independent, capable adult who can make my own choices and am actually a really good person.”
When Christians say that they are born again, that they were a wretch, lost, and blind, they are telling a personal story. They (at least not the vast majority) are not pointing a finger at others but at themselves. They are telling their own story and expressing thankfulness for God’s sweet, amazing grace. They once made sophisticated, independent, adult choices, free from outside accountability and religious influence, but now they have surrendered to a sweet, amazing influence beyond their own ability to navigate the demands of life. They have surrendered to the grace of God found in the One who sacrificed for them. They are born again. Their life is not their own. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound: not accusing, not beating down but freeing us to live outside ourselves so we can find the best of ourselves along the way . . . freeing us to live a life closer to the ideal life planned by the One who created life it in the first place.
It’s a free county. The constitution, and I believe the God who created us, gives us the right to be a pagan if we want to. But being born again away from paganism into the sweet life Jesus has in mind is an even better pursuit than mere personal freedom.