“Put Christ back in Xmas” was the slogan of a popular campaign to cloak America’s prime commercial holiday with Christian decency. Its promoters meant well, of course, even though the offending “X” was nothing other than the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Christos, and a common symbol both for Christ and the cross.
Considering the condition of our seminaries, Christian ministers can scarcely be blamed for their ignorance of Greek and theology, but some pastors might do well to focus a little less on politics and social issues and a little more on putting the “X” back into the lives of their flocks. We heard a great deal in 1999 about the looming menace of Y2K and Bill Clinton’s planned declaration of martial law. Right-wing groups were hawking generators, water purifiers, and emergency bags of gold coins.
It is not that some concern over tire collapse of the world’s information system is not justified or that there is anything wrong in making a buck off human gullibility—that is the American way since Simon Suggs turned from poker to religion and repented well enough to make off with the camp meeting’s receipts. Suggs was walking in the footsteps of his namesake Simon Magus, who, after teaming up with a prostitute, went into the miracles trade. Magus’s act was called “the Power of God Called Great” and his “First Holy Idea.” He feigned baptism and tried to bribe the apostles into teaching him the gig of the Holy Ghost, until the other Simon showed him up for a fraud.
It seems to be our fete to pay attention to the wrong Simons. A hundred years after Simon Magus, one Peregrinus, a known patricide and seducer, turned Christian. As a secular convert with an intellectual pedigree, he was immediately welcomed by the faithful, and, by courting persecution, he quickly rose to die top until he was caught, apparently, eating food offered to idols. He went on to win time as an itinerant Cynic whose final con was to have himself burnt alive as a sign of his divinity.
Lucian, skeptic and mocker that he was, felt pity for the poor Christians who had been so easily taken in by this transparent humbug. Eighteen centuries of frauds and impostors have made us scarcely more cautious. Today, it is not the quiet parish priest or Calvinist good shepherd who wins respect by preaching the Gospel and ministering to broken hearts, but the empire builders in flash suits, who preach the joy of doom from behind drum sets or in front of TV screens where the altar of God used to be, the priests who lead their flock to Medjugorje to be fleeced, and the well-fed hierarchy of mainline churches, who claim to be Christian while denying the Incarnation and encouraging women to murder their unborn babies.
Conservative Christians do a better job of clinging to the essentials of the faith, but as Y2K approaches, the hysteria over power supplies and mass looting drowns out any quiet voice talking about what the year 2001 represents, which is the symbolic anniversary of 20 centuries of Christ and the Christian faith on earth. Yes, of course, the date is probably off by several years, but Christian holidays are not scientifically determined dates: They are occasions for worship, reverence, and reflection. Instead of reflecting on 2,000 years of Christ among us, we are sucked into the familiar Gnostic fantasies which Eusebius traced all the way back to the Magus: an obsession with the end of the world, a desire for power and success, a willful refusal to see in man and nature a reflection of the Creator’s intentions, a preference for vulgar exhibitionism over the dignity of liturgical traditions that go back to the earliest days of the Church.
How did we get snookered into playing this anti-Christian game? Conspiracy theories are not necessary when so many Christians and most conservatives are playing for the other side most of the time, concentrating their efforts on putting prayer back in schools instead of on dismantling the public school system; or on cracking down on pornographic television instead of turning their families and friends away from movies and television and toward the cultural inheritance that is awaiting them if they ever learn to read and think.
I am telling Christians something that many of them know already somewhere in their hearts, that American culture has replaced Christ and St. Nicholas with the cargo cult of Santa Claus who drops relief packages down chimneys and has reduced weddings to the level of Las Vegas productions—part high-school prom and part Dating Game episode—complete with theme decorations, smutty anecdotes, and program listings that tell you who the contestants are.
Some Christians seem to realize that Marxism and feminism, environmentalism and Scientology’ have functioned as surrogates for the religion that has been displaced by consumerism, but no one seems to have noticed the proliferation of anti-Christian sects that are sucking in disgruntled Americans, left and right.
Consider the growing cult of UFOs and extraterrestrials, made popular by anti-Christian films like Steven Spielberg’s ET and Close Encounters and by anti-Christian pseudoscientists like Carl Sagan. Sagan regarded Christianity as an absurd superstition. God and his angels cannot exist, said the great scientist whose contributions to astronomy were nil, but somewhere out there is a race of beings infinitely wise, infinitely good, and infinitely long-lived—no, not “gods” but spacemen. If it sounds like science, then it cannot be a religion, and Sagan gulled who knows how many people into contributing to his project for establishing communication with ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence).
The June issue of Discovery magazine reports on the scheme of Jean-Marc Philippe, a Paris “artist,” who is filling a satellite with letters from second millennium earthlings. The letters are addressed both to future generations of humans and to ETIs. Among the messages reciting the usual school lessons on violence and pollution, one young woman expressed her desire “to kiss your intelligence with mine,” while another girl waxed even more mystical: “O, extraterrestrial, I know you, it is you who are in the silence between the notes of my music.”
Those who cannot reach for the stars or project into the future may content themselves with powerful creatures of the distant past who bring joy into our boring world. I mean, of course, dinosaurs. The Christian Beowulf died fighting a dragon, “the enemy of mankind,” which joylessly hoarded the wealth that gladdened the hearts of Germanic warriors. Today, our children are taught to worship monsters of far less human interest. When I was young, my cousin made me memorize the names and attributes of all the major dinosaurs. It was only much later when, in a class on Greek sculpture, I had to learn the names and attributes of gods and heroes (a club and lionskin meant Hercules) that I realized my cousin had inducted me into a cult.
Dinosaurs are not kindly gods or even mischievous elves; they are more like Lovecraft’s “Old Ones.” And the Rex of this antediluvian pantheon was the most terrible of the terror lizards. What a moral lesson is being taught by the public schools and museums that devote billions of dollars to bringing back the Old Ones of the Jurassic age! Movies do a good job of spreading the cult of anarchic violence to a public impatient with scientific nomenclature. Again, Spielberg is the reliable anti-Christian who made Jurassic Park into a cult movie.
Film and TV are a key to understanding popular religion. While Christian clergymen are portrayed as either con artists or buffoons. Eastern holy men are wise beyond our poor Western understanding; so are children and animals. Disney’s Tarzan is only the latest Disney film to encourage animal worship.
Edward Rothstein let the cat out of Mickey’s bag this summer when he pointed out in the New York Times (July 15) that Disney heroes were almost always “outsiders” and minority figures who challenge the assumptions of mainstream culture. While older Disney films focused on opening up America to outsiders, the concept of an American mainstream has disappeared in the age of Eisner, and along with it the distinctions between Western and non-Western, human and subhuman.
Disney is also frequently cited for blurring the distinction between straight and gay, and one of the established religions of the new United States is the worship of AIDS. Hindus in India have already set up a temple to the AIDS goddess, and American filmmakers are not far behind, celebrating the AIDS patient as a suffering servant touched by a power beyond human understanding. People with cancer simply the a painful and often disgusting death. Death from AIDS is a martyrdom experienced by those courageous few who have broken through the barriers of nature and sanity. In Hollywood, the AIDS patient is Oscar Wilde and Charley Parker and William Burroughs all rolled into one self-destroying hipster who is not, in fact, man enough to take life straight, without needles or necrophilia.
The right-wing response to Disney and Spielberg is either to celebrate their business acumen (hoping wistfully that they would act more responsibly) or to blame the Jews who control Hollywood. Many years ago, I was told that if I wished to write for conservatives, I would have to push one of two buttons: greed or bigotry. I disagreed, confident that there was a serious tradition of conservative thought that had appeal for hundreds of thousands of educated Americans. Perhaps I was naive.
On the point of spilling over into the next millennium, the American right has split into two channels, die one calling for tax breaks for the wealthy, world markets, and world government; the other, ringing die changes on white identity, Jew-baiting, and apartheid. Back in the early Reagan years, a racialist of my acquaintance used to bore Hie guests at Washington cocktail parties with his usual obsession. On one occasion, someone tried to bring the conversation to a close, asking: “So for you, it comes down to Cod, country, and race—is that about it?”
“Blank the Lord,” came the racialist’s answer. “Race is the whole ball of wax.”
In his own way, the scientific racist was right: A man cannot be a patriot, much less a Christian, if he sees die whole world reflected in the fun-house mirror of racial theory. The racialist’s problem is not that he acknowledges racial differences. It is scarcely a crime to argue that the sun rises in the East or that the Nordic nations of Europe were incapable of inventing a humane civilization, which in any case they gave up at die same time as they were giving up Christianity. Race may partly explain the barbarism of Scandinavia (as compared with, say, Greece and Sicily), but for the racialist, however moderate and sensible he may be in the beginning, race always becomes “the whole ball of wax,” and he will ride to the moon and back on his little hobby horse, only to stumble and fall as soon as he dismounts on the level ground of everyday life.
Racialists may speak the language of nationalism, but, for the most part, they hate this mongrel nation. It is not simply that they wish to preserve the historic America, as Jean Raspail wants to preserve France, and extend the same courtesy to Mexicans, Cambodians, and Muslims from the Middle East. No, without knowing any more of Mexico than can be gleaned from the menu in Chi Chi’s, they despise Mexicans, whom they lump together with Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Brazilians into the general category of “wetbacks.”
these bourgeois obsessions, by themselves, do not especially trouble me. I was brought up to believe that it is ungentlemanly, if not unmanly, to pry into other people’s motives. But I prefer to sec racialism for what it is: A search for a tribal cult to displace the religion of two millennia that has contaminated Europe, so they insist, by its semiticism.
It is tempting to describe the race cult as neopagan, but that would be an insult to Alain de Benoist, a humane intellectual engaged in the painful pursuit of truth. In the most recent issue of éléments, he and his collaborators address the question “Avec ou suns Dieu,” complaining that many people have confused his “pagan” inquest into European origins with mere atheism or materialism. But the basis of American racialism is nothing but “matérialisme de fond”; it shows no inclination toward what éléments calls “an archeological passion for the origins and popular traditions of European civilization, an aesthetic taste for the beauty of the world or the harmony of nature, a philosophical reflection on Being and the diversity of its manifestations.” Scientific racism is, in terms of both civilization and humanity, a dead end, like positivism or socialism or “the social gospel,” and Christians and Jews who attach themselves to such a creed are as gullible as the followers of Simon Magus and as doomed as the Gnostics he inspired.
Racism is, in other words, just another cult to distract us from the faith. In the same special number of éléments, Massimo Introvigne, a Catholic expert on cults, points out that deracinated people—immigrants in particular—are prone to fall for New Age cults. Those who are not rooted in a real and lived tradition—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, even secular, says Introvigne—”run a great risk of straying into the spiritual paths artificially constructed by the modern world.”
America is the one country that has made a virtue of deracination, with disastrous results. Introvigne was thinking primarily of Polish immigrants in France who join Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he could be describing the Ellis Island Americans who fall for Scientology or the equalK’ deracinated Plymouth Rockers who are running into the arms of racial scientology. I can imagine the response which the Christian Simon or one of the prophets would make to the advocates of a white American renaissance.
“White folks of America, know this: Your world is gone, because you and your parents and probably your grandparents eared only for money and comfort. You flooded your country with cheap alien labor, and your government schools kept the immigrants’ children ignorant and coarse. Your political leaders pandered to the lowest level of Irish bootleggers and turned one of them into the American King Arthur. You watered, sugared, and adulterated the rich wine of your religion until it was indistinguishable from the Coke and Kool-Aid of the Boy Scout Oath and the Four-Way Test. You contented yourself with cheap books, cheap music, and cheap booze, and your American civilization, just as it was rising to the level of an English market town, collapsed 100 years ago, driving its brightest spirits into exile. Now you want to whine and blame the Jews, blame the coloreds, blame the Mexicans. Grow up and blame yourselves. Perhaps then you just might begin the slow and painful process of rerooting yourself in the real traditions of the West.”