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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

"Neo" means "new." So when someone chooses to use the word as a prefix to an established religious tradition, you can bet there are changes in store. The idea behind the use of the word is that traditions can easily get cemented in old-fashioned language and cultural habits. Things that made sense hundreds of years ago may sound, to twenty-first-century ears, quaint rather than intrinsically important.

Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656), for instance, thought the world was created over the course of one week in October in the year 4004 BCE (see Creationism). That was the orthodox view of his day, the early 1600s. Today there are people who disagree with his date, but not necessarily with his ideas about a higher power behind the creation of the universe. So they want to maintain certain Christian principles while updating their interpretation. In other words, they seek a "new" orthodoxy for today that unites eternal scriptural principles with modern scientific discoveries.

In the same way, orthodox pagans of ancient Europe probably personified deities of mountain and forest. Neo-pagans today are more apt to think in terms of nonpersonal forces at work in the cosmos. These powers are as real as gravity and electricity, but, unlike the ancient deities, they don't have faces and don't speak in an audible voice.

So whenever "neo" precedes a term describing a belief system, it reflects an attempt to maintain that belief system's underlying philosophical structure, perhaps even its practical application, while rethinking its language and cultural images.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
COFFIN'S PREACHING STYLE contains a mix of rigorous intellectual pursuit, passionate liberalism, neo-orthodox theology, and pithy, quotable sayings.
Updike got through it by clinging to the Christ-centred, neo-orthodox theology of Karl Barth.
His latest book, available through the Book Room, is The Neo-Orthodox Theology of W.
John Vissers is principal of Presbyterian College, formerly senior minister at Knox Spadina, Toronto and author of The Neo-Orthodox Theology of W.W.