When Western Civilization encountered Christianity, it did to it the same thing it did to gunpowder and pyjama pants, namely making it more powerful through study and the injection of the “Western spirit” into its use.
In other words, they saw a better method than the paganism that was indigenous to the many tribes of Europe. Christianity spelled out the law in letters that anyone could see, made the amorphous monism of the Greco-Roman-Nordic pagans into a tangible dualism, and provided a simple set of rules that enforced sexual morality and obedience.
This seemed to work better, although the questions for any “successful” plan involve how long it will actually work, whether it fixes the problem or simply defers it, what side-effects it generates, and what hidden costs exist.
Every plan that humans invent occurs over an arc from when it is proposed and implemented to when the answers to these questions are known. Rent control at one year seems like an innovative genius solution; at ten years, it appears as a laughable, navel-gazing dream that ended in horror.
Or we might talk about welfare. In year one, welfare was great; on paper fewer people were “in poverty” because now they had more money. Twenty years later, there are more poor than ever before and other crimes have increased. Anti-poverty programs allow criminals to have free housing, which lets them pursue even more low-yield crimes, so now your hubcaps are gone every time you park south of midtown.
In other words, Christianity seemed like it fit our needs once; then we ran into the usual disruptions and disadvantages that occur with any plan. First there were the religious wars within Christianity; next, the challenge to the aristocracy; finally, the unresolved issue over whether or not the Sermon on the Mount made Western Civilization into a “47-year-old virgin sittin’ around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake singing ‘I’m an Oscar-Meyer Wiener’.”*
In my mind, an even bigger question lurks behind the adoption of Christianity. Among the educated WASPs of the last century, it was understand that Christianity should be interpreted in the context of the Greco-Roman-Nordic pagan works like Beowulf, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Kalevala, and The Iliad. To be considered “educated,” one was expected to be familiar with these books and more; most people had a copy of The Upanishads or some basic Buddhist, Jewish, or Islamic texts as well. This group understood that Christianity like all religions was a metaphor and not to be taken literally, so we read it in the context of Western Civilization and its history, adapting Christianity to our needs instead of pursuing it as an absolute on its own. This enabled us to get over its major hurdle: it was, and remains, foreign.
This is not to say that Christianity is an invention of the Jews; it is a retelling by the whip-smart Jewish writers who had a flair for the dramatic and the simplified, above all else. Pagan tales thrived on complex metaphor, layers of symbolism and numerology, and character drama; Christianity took the Jewish genius for symbolism and translated complex metaphysical philosophy into didactic good-versus-evil tales that a wide audience could appreciate. If the Nordic or Greek tales were Beethoven, Christianity was The Beatles. Most of Christianity came to us from the Greeks, especially Plato, with some evident borrowings from Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, the many faiths of the Tigress-Euphrates region, and relatively little from Judaism. The Jewish influence consisted of how the story was told, in part because the Jews themselves were trying to save their society from collapse after it lost internal unity and consequently was conquered by the Romans. They came up with the idea of a religion who told you how to think, instead of showed you different options and how they played out in a gentle gradient corresponding to different qualities of mind among individuals, and then demonstrated that moral righteousness in tales which were purely symbolic: the good did good, and won when God stepped in to fix things, and the bad did bad, and were smote by the judgment of God.
If we are to keep Christianity in the West, we will have to reckon with the foreign-ness it brings with it, not only in its binary symbolic method that encourages conformity and punishes ideological dissent, but in its origins in Israel and incorporation of Asiatic beliefs among the Indo-European-inspired ideas.
Not that we have long to worry; statistics show us declining religiosity in the West, roughly paralleling the liberalization of the church and its correspondent outreach to people who are not of Western European heritage. Not surprisingly, the church has tried to make itself hip and cool other ways as well. If we wanted to go to a rock concert among the LGBT and “immigrants welcome” flags, where people preached Leftist propaganda at us, we would probably just go to any of the mainstream rock shows which bleat out the socially-acceptable message that everyone is equally worthwhile and important. After all, this follows the Asiatic model which our society has adopted over the last millennium, where many equal people are mobilized in masses to equally achieve what some central authority demands. Unlike the gentle hierarchies, complex principles, and time-honored methods of the aristocratic past, the centralized model demands that there be one universal and binary truth that everyone must obey equally in order to be equal. It is a philosophy of the hive, even if claims to be scientific, religiously, or morally absolute and universal.
I began this life utterly loathing Christianity but loving churches. I adored the old wood, the ancient scenes, the tradition, the music, the ritual, and most of all, the idea that we were here to focus on more than our equal jobs, hobbies, and personal comfort. Society as we knew it in the 1980s had become entirely materialistic because — thanks to first ethnic (Irish, Italian, Polish) and later racial (African, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, Arab) immigration — we no longer had a culture in common. All we possessed was a global shopping mall, a belief in our legal/economic/political system, and a common interest in earning money, selling stuff, and getting our pile of wealth so we could retire early to Florida. At the moment it was beating back the Communist East, the West had destroyed its own soul, such that after victory came massive defeat, although like all things utilitarian it was slow and pervasive instead of sudden and recognizable. Humans, being fearful little mice, recoil from anything sudden and decisive, and prefer slow death instead.
In that environment, the church provided one vital function: the notion that something more than the material world mattered. However, as for everything its strength is its weakness, this also provided a fatal defect in the church, which was the tendency toward “dualism” or believing in two worlds, this fallen world and another pure world which suspiciously resembled human desires and intentions. Does anyone believe the idea of eternal life among the fluffy clouds, eating endless donuts? Or that divine judgment occurs on the bad, and that a benevolent God shapes life among us for the best? Our experience tells us that humans are the ones in control, and if we make bad decisions, we die out or face other horrible consequences. Whatever God/gods are there have left us to our own faculty of choice and thus made us both the deciders and inheritors of our fate.
Christianity as practiced by the masses drove many of us away because it took its symbols as literal truth instead of metaphor. To us, it was clear that God/gods operated like nature, setting up an environment and then seeing what survived. We did not believe that the army bearing the Spear of Longinus or Ark of the Covenant would automatically triumph as a result of having the right symbols; we knew that whatever army demonstrated mastery and the highest numbers would win. The bad guys often win here on planet Earth, and humans often cling toward bad thoughts and illusions, perpetuating them for centuries. Religion, in this view, was an addictive mental potion that turned off our focus on reality and distracted us with symbolic visions of a perfect world to be had after death. This served a negative role, encouraging people to give up on this world, become fatalistic, and try to die as soon as possible.
Paganism avoided this flirtation with dualism by eschewing binary morality and instead describing acts and their consequences. The stories of the Greek, Roman, and Nordic gods were not there as morality tales, which are akin to propaganda or advertising, but as literature, in which we see different characters choose different ideas and then apply them in reality, with each ending up in a different situation as a result. These can be bad situations, and there can be bad characters, but their badness is a personality trait and the results they obtain are consequences of reality, not a symbolic judgment where the Righteous (who obey the metaphysical dogma) win simply because of that Righteousness over the unbelievers or false believers.
The Western world remains stuck on this point and has for centuries, as William Wordsworth illustrated:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
Paganism, with its emphasis on a living world in which the divine manifests, saves us from a world of symbols like money, power, and prestige and has us instead focus on the experience of being alive. In this sense, Christianity, technology, and utilitarian philosophies merge as one: with their emphasis on the equal individual and the need for mass mobilization, they form a symbolic centralization which all must obey, much like the Asiatic regimes of the past including those of Genghis Khan and his offspring.
On the other hand, paganism proved difficult to scale. It requires a certain number of enlightened Druids or Shamans to interpret, and in large areas like cities, the sense of community that enables people to recognize, pursue, and listen to such people vanishes. Its guidance does not extend to the lower nine-tenths of society who have no hope of understanding it, and therefore it depends on a hierarchy of local leaders to give simple commands to those who need them. Paganism does not work for mass society, urbanized society, or empire. Christianity allows centralization of symbol and the giving of clear instructions, especially about sexual morality, to hopefully rein in the lower impulses of the herd.
With this in mind, we can see why Christianity also is passing into history. It unified masses, but when those masses find easier alternates, they switch as easily as they transitioned to Christianity in the first place. This dismays me because a great deal of our history involves partially Christian inspirations, and the best of our religious thinkers translated Christianity into a transcendental and idealistic (monist belief that the world is comprised of thought-like patterns as cause, in the vein of Plato, and thus that the world is as sacred as the divine, because it is part of the divine and plays by the same basic principles and rules) belief system.
For this reason, my approach has been, to borrow a phrase from the late Roky Erickson, “All That May Do My Rhyme,” which is a simple restatement of Perennialism, or the notion that all religions tap into some description of the world as we know it and express truths about it, but those are phrased in metaphor and dialect that seems incompatible. Perennialism is the opposite of unitarianism — “all faiths are the same underneath” — and more of an idea that all faiths are different, but the world is the same, so we can look for the areas where they agree to see a generalized faith. For this reason, I welcome pagans, atheists, agnostics, Christians, and anyone else who can see the wisdom of this ideal, and suggest that all not only be tolerated but incorporated. Having pagans screaming at Christians and vice-versa over who has the “true faith” is simply self-destruction by missing the bigger point.
In my view, our future lies in this generalized faith. It will have no holy books, only the basic knowledge that our world and the divine exist in parallel, that our future is in our hands, and that some omnipotent Will animates the universe and cares for us even after death. However, we are responsible for meeting its order in the organization of our minds, and understanding its patterns, and this determines outcomes, including after death. Those who connect to nothing probably do face the opposite of the infinite, namely non-existence; those who come into life and come to understand it and their inner souls in parallel have more relevance to the universe around them, and therefore carry on in some form, probably — like most things beyond our material world — inscrutable to us for Dunning-Kruger reasons, appearing like formless chaos and terror despite having an inner benevolence.
Such a generalized Indo-European faith will adopt all of its prophets as textbooks more than holy books, uniting Homer and The Bible on the same shelf with Beowulf, and will be less of an instruction manual than a guide to technique. It will orient our people toward their traditional path of transcendental wisdom leading to metaphysical belief, and while it cannot save everyone, it will allow the best to rise while the rest stagnate, as is the order of life.
Tags: christianity, religion, western civilization