October 06, 2009

Odin or Jesus?

Is the ?spiritual catastrophe? to which Mark Hackard recently referred really a result of the West?s ?abandonment of belief in Christ,? or abandonment of belief in itself? After all, contemporary Christianity is proving to be anything but a bastion of Western defense. These days one is likely to encounter Catholic charities promoting mass immigration, suburban mega-churches giving a special Martin Luther King Day sermon, or evangelicals pushing for the destruction of Israel?s enemies (with our soldiers, of course). How often do we hear of Christian pastors speaking of the need for cultural integrity and the vigorous defense of our home, history, and heroes?

Moreover, the equation of the West with Christianity is problematic as a matter of historical fact. Healthy men and women of the West are far more likely to find their reflection in pagan Greece and Rome?and even in the ?barbarian? Gallo-Germanic North?than in modern ?Christian? Latin America or Ethiopia.

To be fair, the demise of Christian identity is a sign of the larger loss of a cohesive Western identity that?s underway. And I, too, am tempted to identify with the faith when I gaze upon the magnificence of Chartres Cathedral or Charles Martel?s mighty axe raised below a stone crucifix, fending off the assailants of ?Christendom.? Christianity provided Europe a unifying force for over a millennium, and in the words of Jack Nicholson?s Irish mobster in The Departed, having the church was ?only a way of saying we had each other.?

However, as James C. Russell lays out convincingly in The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity, the manly version of the faith that prevailed until the modern era was a historical accident. Europe did not convert to Christianity so much as Christianity converted to Europe. In the words of Russell,

If a universal salvation religion is to succeed in making inroads in a folk-religious society which does not desire salvation, it must temporarily accommodate the predominately world-accepting ethos and world-view of that society.

The faith that rejected the world and all its struggles, worshipped a pauper, and preached salvation through death found fertile ground in the decaying ?anomic urban centers? of the Roman Empire, but could scarcely be sold to the vigorous pagans outside of the city walls who revered nature and their people. Hence the Heliand, chivalry, ?Christmas? (actually Yule with a messianic gloss), the attribution of military virtues to saints, and a host of other attempts to make Christianity more familiar and palatable to the proud Indo-Europeans.

These manifestations of a life-loving faith are completely divorced from the ascetic slave morality that characterized Christianity?s origins. Indeed, given the presence of such passages as ?the meek shall inherit the earth? (Psalms 37:7), it is a wonder that such a spirited and life-affirming form of Christianity survived in Europe as long as it did. Today, a belief system emphasizing escape to an afterlife, universal charity, and turning the other cheek seems the last thing that a people obsessed with self-loathing needs.

Subscribe to Taki’s Magazine for an ad-free experience and help us stand against political correctness.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!


Daily updates with TM’s latest