Those blissfully ignorant of right-wing soap opera will have never noticed the Antichrist Right, a loose coalition of writers who regard the Church as the worst thing that ever happened to Western civilization. If I understand correctly, the Antichrist Right would describe Christianity much as Christianity defines evil: a shadowy, parasitic negation that possesses no substance of its own and prevents its mesmerized victims from attaining their true destiny.
One proposed remedy for the Christian plague is a revival of paganism.
I honestly don’t know how seriously to take the Antichrist Right’s neopagan aspect, but I do know that in opposing it Christians should take care not to belittle actual pagans, whether ancient Stoic or modern Shinto. As C.S. Lewis observes, “If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through . . . you are free to think all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.”
More authoritatively, St. Justin Martyr referred to nobler pagans as having received “seeds of the Logos,” while Saint Ambrose employed Homeric imagery to illuminate the human condition. And as Josef Pieper writes in his Guide to St. Thomas Aquinas,
Plato undoubtedly understood the sacred tradition of the myths [of Homer and Hesiod] as lore descended from a divine source, and he believed this lore (“You think it a story, I think it truth”). From which it follows that the effort undertaken in the Platonic dialogues to extract the true meaning from the symbolic language of the myths is theology in the strict sense of the word.
Now the truly exciting thing is that St. Thomas, too, would term this Platonic interpretation of the myths theology in the strict sense. For he, along with most theologians of the Christian West, was ready to allow that revelation, the veritable speech of God, had been vouchsafed to men outside Holy Scripture. Multis gentilium facta fuit revelatio; “revelation has been made to many pagans”—this was an opinion that Thomas pronounced many times. In line with this he saw no difficulty in assuming that the Sibyls, say, had spoken under an inspiratio divina.
Though Theogony is not Scripture any more than Plato is a Church Father, per Pieper we are nonetheless obliged to recognize that pagan poets and philosophers convey clues about deeper realities via “‘God’s speech’ sounding and resounding throughout the mythical traditions of many nations.”
Those who complain of America’s descent into paganism are being unfair—to pagans, that is. After all, polytheistic cultures typically recognized that vocation is not an entitlement: A Vestal Virgin who felt she had an inalienable right to get married was simply out of luck, as was any male who resented the aforementioned office’s sex restrictions. Pagan culture often surpassed modern-day America by Americans’ own standards. Our “egalitarian” society treats political elites’ lives as infinitely more dear than those of military recruits drawn from flyover country and the ’hood. At least Agamemnon was no chickenhawk.
More importantly, though, Agamemnon acknowledged a coherent communal order handed down unbrokenly from one generation to another. He differs greatly from the neopagan, whose alleged ancestral reverence is decidedly selective. Why should the unknowable names and faces of distant Germanic ancestors count for more than a great-grandfather who frowned fiercely upon heathenry? Because the latter is not exotic or cool enough? Neopaganism advises us to serve Kith and Kin and Tradition at the expense of identifiable kith, kin, and local traditions, much as liberalism advises us to serve grandiose global causes at the expense of our God-given duty to our neighbor. I am not suggesting one should parrot the convictions of parents or grandparents at the expense of truth; rather, I highlight the absurdity of invoking filial piety in scorning many generations’ worth of Christendom. As a “tradition,” neopaganism has hardly been passed down unbrokenly, and is at best analogous to gnosticism—or better still, to the impiously engineered dinosaur clones of Jurassic Park. It is paganesque, not pagan.
Ásátru practitioner Stephen McNallen contrasts “indigenous religions,” which “are innately tied to a specific people and cannot be transferred to another group without losing their truth, power, and integrity,” with religions like Christianity, “which claim the allegiance of all the human race.” Exposing the Church’s dirty little secret that “‘catholic’ means ‘universal,’” McNallen mercilessly rubs our noses in the fact that a full-fledged Christian can be “Chinese or Nigerian or anything under the sun.”
All true. And?
At times I worry that anti-universalist hysteria has attained the same grip with the “paleo” and “post-paleo” right as antiracist hysteria has attained with the left. Race is significant; so is the fact that we live in a universe. In condemning “the attack upon universals,” Richard Weaver rightly observed that “the issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of man.” Fear of catching cooties via communion with Nigerians and Chinamen leads the neopagan toward relativists, subjectivists, emotivists, postmodernists, and other metaphysical anarchists who regard truth, essences, and objective value in much the same way as vampires regard sunlight.
For the Universal position on race, consult Pius XI’s Mit brennender Sorge:
Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community—however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things—whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.
Minimize neither the “necessary and honorable” nor the warning against idolatry. The real divide is between those who believe we live in an ordered κόσμος subject to a transcendent authority, and those who do not. The former recognize that folk religion cannot replace God religion for the same reason one cannot replace a window with a mirror. If we cherish our individual selves, kin, and homeland, then we are bound to honor their Maker that much more, as loyal Anglo-Saxon thanes honored generous gift-giving lords.
Yes, ethnic identity is important, but not because there is no universal human nature; on the contrary, ethnicity is important precisely because there is a universal human nature, and part of that nature is to have ethnicity. True, I could never experience The Odyssey in quite the same way as someone born and reared on the isle of Ithaca. Nevertheless, it insults Homer to suggest his epic offers little to humanity in general, which is what is implied by the doctrine that race is the highest level of communion. Furthermore, in denying universals and worshiping creature instead of Creator, the Cult of Germanic Humanity differs from the Cult of Generic Humanity only in exclusivity of kind: The neopagan is closer to the liberation theologian than either would like to admit.
Not all Antichrist Rightists are practicing neopagans, but the sentiment is usually about the same. In “The Hero As Victim,” Dr. Steve Burton laments that “heroes of suffering”—such as those singled out for favoritism under affirmative action—have replaced bygone “heroes of achievement.” He then slyly brings up his theory of leftist victimology:
Would it be mischievous for me to suggest that this interesting phenomenon represents the ultimate triumph of the Christian aspect of our Western cultural inheritance over both the Greco-Roman and the Germanic aspects? So far as I can determine, neither the Greeks, nor the Romans, nor the Germanic tribes ever regarded the victims of history with anything but contempt. They were champions of achievement—especially military achievement. If any of them ever lost any sleep over the sufferings of the losers, I have yet to hear about it. But the deification of the victim—God on the Cross—lies at the very heart of Christianity.
Count on the West’s “defenders” to concede the left’s central slander: European civilization boils down to ruthless (albeit colorful and creative) SOBs carelessly trampling on the weak and the poor. In truth, no Westerner worthy of the name would consider shrugging off the Trail of Tears, pogroms, or lynchings; what he objects to is the bad-faithed, oversimplified, one-dimensional exploitation of such events by those with no authentic desire to make peace. In other cases, he rejects leftist martyrology because he doesn’t believe that those in question are victims—e.g., traditional “gender” roles are not inherently victimizing.
Of course, one may find it hard to believe—especially the miraculous parts—but, as a story, the Passion is about a perfect Man unjustly condemned: “but this man has done no wrong.” Hence, it’s far closer to Socrates—“one should avoid doing wrong with more care than being wronged”—than to conniving sophists, ancient or modern. It is also about a Man sacrificing His life to save others, thereby having more in common with a soldier throwing himself on an enemy grenade to save friends—or a mother dying in childbirth, or a black-lunged father descending into a coal mine to support his family—than with the Gramscian cuckoo Burton reinforces. Was Aristotle too cryptic when he explained that “people are sometimes actually praised, whenever they endure something shameful or painful as the price of great and fine results”? Identifying Christian self-sacrifice with leftist victimology demands total disregard of teleology on the part of cultural Marxist and Antichrist Rightist alike. There are many purposes—some good, some bad—which might inspire patient endurance of outrageous fortune’s slings and arrows (to cite one suffering-sympathetic mediocrity). It is the understatement of the century to say that man’s reconciliation with his Creator and the eradication of Western Man are not the same purpose.
And do modern Westerners really need more appetite for “achievement,” anyhow? If so, why are so many parents experimenting on their kids with electronic learning “toys”? Why so many deified, steroid-saturated athletes? If leftists dismiss achievement, why do they fervently insist that women have contributed to art, science, and culture every bit as much as men, and that Muslim Spain was a cosmopolitan utopia? Some cynical wags even mischievously suggest that what “heroes of achievement” have accomplished with such inventions as radio, TV, and the internet has been the transformation of Americans’ brains into something not unlike tapioca pudding. Meanwhile, unpatriotic conservatives still claim our glorious military achievements in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t so triumphantly shiny as we thought.
Perhaps Austrian Jew Erwin Chargaff was a hero of achievement. A Habsburg subject in boyhood, Chargaff later mastered a dozen languages so as to read Pascal, Dante, and Meister Eckhart in the original, chaired Columbia University’s Department of Biochemistry, won the National Medal of Science, and discovered the base-pairing principle used by Watson and Crick to analyze DNA. Alas, our magnificent achievements at Hiroshima and Nagasaki prompted this last of the natural philosophers to lose sleep over the sufferings of the losers, and he mused uneasily,
My life has been marked by two immense and fateful scientific discoveries: the splitting of the atom, the recognition of the chemistry of heredity and its subsequent manipulation. It is the mistreatment of a nucleus that, in both instances, lies at the basis: the nucleus of the atom, and the nucleus of the cell. In both instances do I have the feeling that science has transgressed a barrier that should have remained inviolate.
Even as he championed a “science with a human face” that would be “disengage[d] from technology and the pursuit of power,” Chargaff worried about the weak-mindedly ambitious, who like the poor are always with us: “Today the cure of genetic diseases, tomorrow the experimental improvement of the human character. Erimus sicut dei, as someone promised to my ancestress. The poor fool bought death instead.” In a letter to Science he warned that the Baconian project had turned into “a destructive colonial warfare against nature,” predicting grimly, “The future will curse us for it.”
Chargaff leads us back to those allegedly Nietzschean Greeks: “there is a measure to everything which must not be exceeded. Nobody knew this better than the Greeks with their famous μηδὲν ἄγαν—of nothing too much . . . Man is only strong when he is conscious of his own weakness.”
How does Social Darwinism explain Odysseus pitifully weeping like a war-victimized widow keening over her husband’s corpse? Why does Sophocles’ Neoptolemus show such compassion for the stinking abandoned cripple Philoktetes; why is Antigone named for a self-sacrificing girl who gets buried alive; why does the long-suffering, excruciatingly shamed Oedipus turn out to be a holy man? (Need we bring up hemlock-chugging Socrates again?) As to the Greeks’ inheritors, why does Vergil treat Dido sympathetically and describe “losers” founding Rome, and why does Plutarch commend a failed republican politician whose head and hands got nailed to a lectern?
I know even less of Germanic tribes than of Greeks and Romans, so all I may say of them is that, if they never “regarded the victims of history with anything other than contempt,” then so much the worse for Germanic tribesmen. It will be a cold day in Hell before I blush before some “champion of achievement” for having lost sleep over the “losers” depicted in The Gulag Archipelago. The author of that left-wing-pinko victimological tract knew there is no conflict between love for homeland and Christianity, for “nations are the wealth of mankind, its generalized personalities; the least among them has its own unique coloration and harbors within itself a unique facet of God’s design.” Yet he likewise contended that “the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but . . . in the development of the soul.” As for Bolshevik followers of Thrasymachus—“The result is what counts! It is important to forge a fighting Party! And to seize power! And to hold on to power! And to remove all enemies! And to conquer in pig iron and steel! And to launch rockets!”—he perceived, “They are turning into swine, they are departing downward from humanity.”
This brings up, finally, the bottom of the barrel of the Antichrist Right, the lobotomized cybertrolls who fantasize about bioengineered Übermenschen, post images of women dancing in front of Stonehenge as if auditioning for a Spinal Tap video, eagerly anticipate the coming of The Mighty Thor™, and excel at nothing except for willfully stupid malevolence. “This scum, which exists in every society, rises to the surface in any transitional time,” wrote Solzhenitsyn’s countryman Dostoyevsky in Demons. “And yet this scum, without knowing it, almost always falls under the command of that small group of the ‘vanguard’ which acts with a definite goal, and which directs all this rabble wherever it pleases, provided it does not consist of perfect idiots itself—which, incidentally, also happens.”
Indeed, it does.
This article first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.
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