transcendent causation, not to a fortuitous encounter of circumstances,rnone circumstance being “popular imagination.”rnThe latter plays, of course, an important role; but worshipers alsornrefer to divine presence and intervention, without in eachrncase tracing the why and the how. At any rate, the thesis thatrnan arbitrary “nature” is the being behind the beings, the ultimaternreference, is not tenable; it falls by its own weight. It is absurd,rnbecause it reduces the sacred to a folkloristic event. Onrnthe contrary, monotheists are convinced that the sacred is performedrnby a supernatural agent: it is a willed act, sustained byrnother willed acts. In this light, the accusation against monotheism,rnthat God gathers up all the sacred, leaving “nothing” tornhuman believers or to nature, turns out to be nonsensical: Whornelse but a supreme intelligence would order his creation andrnthe sacred manifestations in it? Popular imagination does thernrest when it surrounds the place (for example, Golgotha) withrnlegends and people’s own handiwork (the mosque where Mohammedrnascended to heaven, or Sinai where Yahwe handedrnMoses the Decalogue), preserving the event in consciousnessrnand aesthetic sensibility.rnThe sacred exists in all civilizations, but monotheism alonernproduces reasoned arguments for it, in addition to thernmythic, poetic, and emotional elements that reason does notrnblock in the least. “Reason” does not mean here a mere tool ofrnrational analysis, but a quasi-metaphysical penetration to a secret,rnmysterious area. In its manifestation, the sacred meansrnnothing unless it is the awe-filled recognition of, and surrenderrnto, a superior presence, which is not of the same substance asrnthe sacrificer, the ritual act itself, or the impact which remainsrnafterward among the congregation (for example, the sacred actrnof Abraham commanded to sacrifice his son on Mt. Moriah).rnThis shows up with its unlimited wealth in all our feast days,rnpersonal and public sacrifices, which are not merely acts of gratitudernor atonement, but also humble celebrations for our integrationrnin a wide order: family, nation, church. The higher thernorderâ€”and pagans also focus their worship on the highestrngodâ€”the more meaningful the sacrifice, the more numinousrnthe Presence.rnThe presence is that of the absolute Otherworldly withrnwhich we feel integrated. If there is no extraworldly agent, thenrnwhat or who sacralizes the cosmos, our deeds, inner life, sensernof justice? Why would certain parts of these, but not others, bernsacralized and celebrated? Paganism follows its own logic whenrnit regards the entire universe as sacred; monotheism does notrndo that, first because it views the universe as contingent (itrncould be quite different, or not be at all), and secondly becausernGod reserves the choice of lifting some (persons, places, events,rnetc.) and making others feel the weight of His anger. Note thatrnthe sophisticated pagans, the Greeks, were aware that their godsrnwere only natural forces; they did not place them much higherrnthan human beings. The gods’ only “divine” attributes werernfittingly what humans longed for: happiness, that is isolationrnfrom ordinary upsets, and immortality. The Greeks’ sacred wasrnmostly a matter of communal tradition and social mores (seernAlcibiades’ incident with the hermae statues). In fact, Greekrnphilosophy was a vast operation of epistemological desacralization.rnChristianity came to satisfy this epistemological needrnwith its concepts of creation and incarnation.rnWe have mentioned the most impressive neopagan argumentrnagainst the metaphysical and moral overlordship of thernChristian God: that because power is widely distributed amongrngods and men in paganism, there is no monopoly of positivernacts, no all-powerful God versus puny humans. Yet, paganismrnis not so innocent when it comes to transcendent ukases. It neglectsrnto admit that the cyclical changes and their rhythm,rnwhich determine mankind’s fate, are just as arbitrary as therncommandments of Yahwe; moreover, the former take place independentlyrnof human merits, and all are struck down (punished?)rnwhen the hour of the Great Year strikes. All that Spenglerrncould do with the notion of rise and fall was to show itsrnsimultaneity across various civilizations. We mention thisrntheme for the sake of a more precise and just view. Granted,rnthe monotheistic worshiper may be ill-equipped facing God’srnomnipotenceâ€”although Job’s story displays the more nuancedrnside of this arrangementâ€”^but what are the alternatives in thernpagan/Christian dispute? As Paul Ricoeur observes, in the paganrnworldview no individual or communal act carries weight,rnfor moral issues are hashed out among the gods, whose interdivinernconfrontations decide humanity’s rewards and punishments.rnThe “sacred,” in this case, consists of the human individual’srnsupplication and sacrifice to his tutelary deity for beingrnprotected. If his god loses the battle of willsâ€”for example,rnPoseidon to Athenaâ€”the former protege becomes the victim,rnindependent of his own acts. Odysseus was lucky for being onrnAthena’s side. In contrast, the monotheist burdens man withrnthe weight of his own acts, he is good or evil, and is dealt withrnaccordingly. Thus God, supposedly the jealous possessor of allrnthe sacred, all the good, all virtue, grants much more freedomrn(including worship and its refusal) to man than the pagan god,rna determined (unfree) and determining agent. For thernmonotheistic God contains, as it were, the summum bonumrnand does not have to confront other, equal-ranking gods whilerncarrying unfree humans in his baggage. His regime acceptsrnthe consequences of man’s (limited) freedom and responsibility:rna higher, but of course not divine, status for the humanrnbeing.rnIn the two outstanding areas where man meets God, the areasrnof the good and the beautiful, the sacred is the privilegedrnmediating agency through which higher things are perceivedrnand approached. This perception and approach provide usrnwith all the richness of religion and cultural life, since we modelrnall our work on the sacred, no matter how distantly andrnimperfectly. When we travel abroad, we can tell when wernface a different sacred from ours, therefore a different style,rndifferent values, a different appreciation of acts. (The presentrnterrifying uniformity is a sign that the sacred is everywhere inrneclipse.)rnThe pagan artist is neither better nor worse than hisrnmonotheistic confrere. The sacred is the object of their laborâ€”rnof their painting, sculpting, building, composing, and dancingrnâ€”since the sacred is most expressive of their civilization, ofrnthe circumscription of their educated sensibility. How doesrnone decide about the superiority of the “Smiling Christ” ofrnMoissac, in France, or the smiling granite face of the pharaoh atrnKarnak? Between Greek liturgical music and the Gregorian orrnBach’s? True, in the Greek epic poems and tragedies responsibilityrnis borne by gods and goddesses for any significant humanrnaction, but by the fifth century, Antigone assumes a free moralrnconscience: her sacred is internalized, and it challenges thatrnof the community; she appeals to what transcends. The separation,rndeplored by neopagans, of the world and God thusrnmade an eariy appearance, a leap from pagan to Christianrnmorality.
January 1975April 21, 2022By The Archive