October 08, 2009

Pagans and Christians

Although I am fond of Mark Hackard’s pieces on Russia, he seems to cast our pre-Christian ancestors into darker recesses of Hades than did Dante (who found much to value in his pagan predecessors).  Although concepts like amor fati and a fallen world play important roles in understanding pagan religions, their abstract nature obscures the concreteness of the spiritual lives the pagans lived.  Although heroic themes are central to epics, the daily lives of pagans would have been replete with more mundane deities and ancestral obligations.  Their world was animated by a tapestry of spirits interwoven with their own family histories.  For the 19th-century Breton Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, author of Ancient City, the pagan religions were largely ancestral where procreation played a central role in passing along these generational obligations.  In short, familial and ancestral duties were everything – exemplified by Aeneas saving his family and ancestral gods from burning Troy.  In this sense, pagan religion is not only about a set of ideas, but blood.  Their gods were their ancestors, both in the immediate domain of gods like the lares and in the removed sphere of lineages traced back to major gods (e.g. Romans tracing their lines to Aeneas to Venus, or Germans tracing their lineages to the V?lsungs to Odin).  And it is one’s duty not to let the family line, interwoven with the gods, die out.  It’s no coincidence that maritare in Latin means both “to wed” and “to procreate.” Preserving the tribe meant everything.

Regarding this debate at TakiMag, it’s noteworthy that everyone is in agreement about the pitiful state of Christianity today.  The religion that gave us Chartres Cathedral and Bach today produces:  strip-mall Christian bands singing classics like “Jesus Rocks”; a Jacobin pro-life movement denouncing abortion as racist and a violation of universal human rights; religious leaders from all political persuasions arguing that it’s our Christian duty to accept mass immigration from the Third World; and liturgies espousing the universal brotherhood of man.

I suppose the real debate is an academic one:  Has Christianity had these tendencies from the beginning (as argued by Alain de Benoist) or are they perversions of the Enlightenment (as argued by Thomas Fleming in the Morality of Everyday Life)?  I tend to side with the latter, but wonder whether these transformations can be undone.

Regardless, the future appears bleak; Richard is correct that Christianity’s real growth will be in the “global south,” and this future will not be Western in any meaningful sense of the word.  I’m reminded of a recent canonization in Mexico where “dancers dressed in feathered Aztec costumes shook rattles and blew into conch shells” and priests “read from the Bible in Spanish and in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs”; or the recent phenomenon in Brazil of removing European traditions from Christianity and replacing them with African or Amerindian ones.


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