Newman notes that whereas in some respects Rome has fallen, in other respects Rome has not fallen. Rome is not simply the old Empire. Rome is, perhaps the rule of law, European civilization, etc. These are still with us. So long as we do not seriously embrace the denial of the Principle of Non-contradiction. So long as we still retain key fragments of the natural law. But these things are crashing down around us.
Imperial Rome then becomes interpreted as the best of pagan philosophy and statesmanship, the legacy of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Caesar. When the Christian religion loses its influence, the world begins to fall back upon the best of paganism, or Classicism. But when the Classical world begins to lose its luster, the world will begin (it is also claimed) to fall back into the darkness of pre-classical paganism, the darkness of polytheism, the worship of demons, outright idolatry, and various vicious rites.
Christendom rose in the world like a high tide, and just as it seemed like it would flood the earth in its entirety, it began to recede, leaving the landscape reshaped but with some old landmarks still intact. It is reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson’s nostalgic reflection on the failure of the sexual revolution of the ’60s: “With the right kind of eyes you can almost see the High Water Mark, that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
The reversal of Christian influence does not and probably can not directly mirror the rise of that influence. As the cultural West especially sheds its Christian past piece by piece, it does not exactly take up the pre-Christian world as it was. The Renaissance was pitched as a return to the “Golden Age of Greece and Rome,” but it was that only superficially. The bulk of political movements in recent centuries have occurred rather under the banner of Progress, and any political returns to paganism have been largely unintentional. People wish to be thought of as forward-thinking rather than championing any past golden age.
The rise of Neo-Paganism in America and Europe also bears little resemblance to the pagan religions as they existed before Christian conversion. The creation of temples to Odin and Thor come with the disclaimer that these gods are only archetypes of the collective human subconscious. Similarly, practicing Satanists disclaim any belief in the Devil as a real person or entity, preferring to describe him as as symbol of mankind’s darker urges. These polytheists and demon worshippers are still too cowardly to sacrifice oxen and doves to their gods.
But the state of Roman pagan religion was much the same just before the influence of the Church took hold. The Stoics held sway with the intelligentsia, and they argued that the Olympian gods were only real in the sense that they embodied aspects of the singular, unknowable deity. They were practical deists while allowing polytheism for the masses, just as the American Founding Fathers were deists masquerading as Protestant Christians. The Neo-Pagans of today are atheists using polytheism as a masque for the Collective Subconscious.
Will the widespread revival of unfeigned Odin-worship, Jupiter-worship, and Satan-worship ever occur? There are pockets of sincere polytheism here and there, but masqueraded atheism still holds sway for the majority of so-called pagans and witches (as it does for many so-called Christians). My suspicion is that sincere paganism will in fact rise as people go through the mere motions of idolatrous religion, but begin to see actual results. The devils who posed as gods in ages past will be allowed to work wonders for their new worshippers, and the revival of paganism will open the pits of true demonic darkness.
When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, “Would that she were.” For I do not think it at all likely that we shall ever see Parliament opened by the slaughtering of a garlanded white bull in the House of Lords or Cabinet Ministers leaving sandwiches in Hyde Park as an offering for the Dryads. If such a state of affairs came about, then the Christian apologist would have something to work on. For a Pagan, as history shows, is a man eminently convertible to Christianity. He is essentially the pre-Christian, or sub-Christian, religious man. The post-Christian man of our day differs from him as much as a divorcée differs from a virgin. (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock)
|Laocoön and his sons being slain by the gods for prophesying truth.|