488. Following (V)
If you follow any Christian writer—even tame Christians, such as Rod Dreher or Ross Douthat—you will see, sooner or later, a reference to modern “paganism”. The idea is that we have reverted to a new paganism, a second Rome, and that sooner or later “Rome” will be Christianised again. The message is often delivered with a certain smugness and superiority, for the writer has decided that his side will inevitably win—just like last time—and so it will all turn out for the best in the end; even though, of course, the Christian position seems to grow more dismal each year. Indeed, this whole approach is not new: GK Chesterton, back in the 19th century, said much the same thing.
Chesterton’s take was that the neo-pagans (teetotallers, vegetarians, feminists, rationalists, free-thinkers, and socialists in his day) were not so jolly as their pagan forebears—they did not know the joy found in Bacchus, true revelry. On the other hand, Chesterton would add, nor did they know the true joy that the old pagans knew when they came to Christ. Chesterton’s line was basically: only Christians know how to have a really good time—your hedonism is shallow, just a wild dance before the final darkness of the grave; no resurrection, no joy.
By the 1980s, you could see Christian writers express similar sentiments as regards the sexual revolution: only married couples know true sexual passion, people who sleep with dozens upon dozens of people never know real passion—since this passion requires some deeper, sustained connection. “Your sex life is shallow, the Christian sex life is deep,” said these Christian columnists and popular non-fiction writers. They just repeated Chesterton’s views about food and drink in a new form, a sexual form—“Pfff, who wants these uptight joyless feminists who have sex with as many men as possible to prove they can act like men? You want the real passion of a Christian marriage. That’s hot!” <palpable cringe>.
Similar views to the above surface on contemporary social media as well, encouraged by the world’s Douthats and Drehers. The problem is that what Christians face is in no way paganism: it is actually post-Christian, and that is a very different thing. Indeed, those miserable vegetarians and teetotallers and feminists—so moral and serious—were, as Chesterton rightly noted, nothing like the jolly old pagan with his winepress and dancing girls. What were they really like? Christians—they were just, as Nietzsche noted, Christians without Christ; in a sense, the Christian ethic taken to its logical conclusion—the Christian ethic realised on earth.
So the Christian idea—Chesterton’s idea—that all will be well because contemporary celebrity worship and hedonism just represent “paganism”, a paganism easily dispatched by Christianity the first time round, really is a mistake. The old pagans would not recognise a contemporary progressive, a pure hedonist with no tie to their ancestors as a “pagan”—perhaps they do not even put up a gravestone when their relatives die. A post-Christian is not the same as some Roman matron who never heard about “the latest lark out of Palestine” before (dig that groovy cult, baby); the modern person has usually been impressed by the essential Christian message, albeit in a very faded form—almost as a vaccine against the older version.
Progressives will even say that they are better Christians than contemporary Christians: “We want to admit the world to America and build the welfare state; the Christians want to keep people out and let them depend on unreliable charity—who would Jesus prefer, the “communist” Bernie Sanders or some hateful Evangelical preacher!?” This is not very sincere, but it is a little sincere; progressive views are related to secularised Christianity—Christianity but “rational”—and so progressives out-Christian the Christians, only rarely do they out-pagan pagans; even so-called pagans today, such as the Wiccans, are more Christian in essence than pagan. In short, Chesterton was engaged in “cope”—a post-Christian is not a pagan.