October 07, 2009

Europe Is the Faith

When Mark writes about a tension between paganism and (Judeo-)Christianity, he?s, of course, not simply referencing particular rituals and customs?drinking horns and Yule logs vs. crucifixes and rosary beads?but two incommensurable worldviews that stand in tension, and often times antagonism, within Western culture. And in this way, a thinker like Nietzsche can rightly be thought of as ?pagan,? even if he never made sacrifice to Odin or Thor.

This quintessentially pagan embrace of the fallen world, a love of fate (Nietzsche?s amor fati) derives from indifference, if not hostility, to supernatural truth. Yet we must face what we can apprehend of the beginning and the end of things- granted by divine revelation to the human heart. There is an answer to the question, ?Why?? and Truth is attainable. Asceticism, derided as ?salvation through death?, is actually the highest form of struggle and ascendance to higher existence.

Paganism certainly is indifferent and hostile to ?the truth? as defined by Christianity, since the former is a distinct religious system and one that predates the appearance of Semitic theology in Europe by thousands of years. This does not mean, however, that the Indo-European Pagan worldview is indifferent or hostile towards all things sacred. Paganism abounds with gods and stories of man connecting with the divine. Anyone who?s read the Iliad knows that it?s when one reaches the extremes of the human experience?in love and war?that one truly knows Ares and Aphrodite, becomes them, in a sense. In calling for ?only this world,? Nietzsche was attempting to rediscover an older sense of the sacred, and by no means was counseling that Western man descend into materialism, reductionism, or atomization.

A related charge that?s often leveled against modern ?pagans,? and thinkers like Nietzsche, is that because they?ve rejected Christianity, they (somehow inevitably) seek to construct a ?heaven on earth? and other materialist, utopian, totalitarian social orders. (Don?t Immanentize the Eschaton!? was a phrase once printed on T-shirts worn by particularly geeky members of the conservative movement, so I?ve heard.) But secular utopianism clearly derives from and is informed by the Judeo-Christian message of salvation and eternal bliss (?Heaven,? the milk-and-honey ?Land of Israel? (Exodus 3:8)); ?heaven on earth? is a Judeo-Christian heresy, as Spengler was aware, and one foreign to the worldview of the ancients as well as the pre-Christian Indo-Europeans.

It?s also worth discussing whether Christianity can ever really be thought as, in Mark?s words, the ?providential crowning of [European] peoples? historical development.? In this line, it?s useful to turn to a section in The Anti-Christ in which Nietzsche discusses the god of ancient Israel.

In The Beginning, so to speak, Yahweh stood as a symbol of the Jews? unity and strength as a people. In this original form, Yaweh ?was the expression of a consciousness of power, of joy in oneself, of hope for oneself: through him victory and welfare were expected.? But as the Jews began to experience defeat and subservience?particularly in the period following the destruction of the First Temple in the 6th Century B.C.?Yahweh began to loose his luster. In a striking admonishment, Nietzsche claims, ?they should have let him go.?

Instead, Jewish political life began to be dominated by a priestly class, and Yahweh was completely transformed. If the Jews could not experience power in the real world, then they began to claim that ?the good? was not found there but in a conveniently invented ?higher? realm of morality. The god of the Jews became, in turn, an abstract demand, an ?evil-eye,? a ?morality.? The situation was made worse by the fact that the priestly class transformed the Jewish historical consciousness, empowering itself and devaluing the epoch of heroes that Nietzsche so admired: “[I]n the hands of the Jewish priests, the great age in the history of Israel became an age of decay; the Exile, the long misfortune, was transformed in to an eternal punishment for the great age?an age in which the priest was still a nobody.

As Alain de Benoist remarks in On Being a Pagan, it is certainly possible for there to be a pagan religion that has only one god (this was, indeed, the case with the ancient Jews.) What?s peculiar about Judeo-Christianity?or rather monotheism in general?is that it is inherently universalistic. And it is thus inherently problematic as a religion that defines a particular people and culture. When Hilarie Belloc wrote “Europe is the Faith” he was speaking of something exogenous to Christian monotheism. 

?Christendom? (as a marker of the European continent and peoples) is, in many ways, a fleeting side-show in the world-historical development of the Christian faith. As Philip Jenkins has pointed out in his superbly researched series of books, Christianity?s future lies in the ?global south,? where its message of a ?pauper as Pantokrator? and its veneration of the meek and downtrodden will no doubt be well received.

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