Sunday, May 20, 2007

Decline and Fall

There were at least four major reasons why Christianity superseded paganism towards the end of the Roman Empire (and countless minor reasons, such are the contingencies of fate):

a. Demographic changes within the Roman Empire. It’s well known that Christianity deliberately set out to appeal to Rome’s multi-cultural lumpenproletariat and slave underclasses, groups that were growing all the time, in opposition to the original Roman Citizens who were the culture-bearers of Hellenic civilization. “What made the oracle at Delphi mute was not the eventual discovery of some sort of trick, but the disappearance of the Greeks.” – Jean-Luc Marion.

b. Political expediency. As the office of Emperor was transformed increasingly into a bejewelled despotic Eastern Potentate (think Xerxes in 300), Constantine realized that a formal link to strict, unified monotheism was to the advantage to him and his dynastic successors.

c. Changes within paganism itself. Paganism was moving toward a more explicitly non-dualist philosophy. Belief in the gods of Olympus was evolving into a religion not dissimilar in outlook to today’s dharmic eastern Aryan religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism etc.. This had two direct consequences: it made pagans even more tolerant (contrary to subsequent Christian propaganda about “persecutions”) and also meant that paganism itself became more difficult to grasp for many ordinary folk, compared to the black-and-white certainties presented by Christianity.

d. Christianity also was being modified by exposure to the European mind-set, most dramatically by replacing the strict monotheism of early Jewish Jerusalem-Christianity with such pagan notions as the Trinity (Trimurti in Hinduism/ Odin-Vili-Ve in Germanic mythology), saints and holidays. Erich Fromm has described the conversion of Europe to Christianity as “largely a sham”, a view shared by Oswald Spengler amongst many others. “European peasants could only eventually find communion with Christian theology by transforming Christ into a bearded god who lived and worked like them” – Mircea Eliade.

I strongly disagree that the paganism of the late Empire lacked depth; as I stated above, it’s partly because of its subtle complexity that it went into decline, at least amongst the uneducated classes (although Hindu peasants today seem to have no problem with the implications of advaita).

Any notion of a serious revival of the original Olympian religion today is ridiculous. Modern “Faustean” paganism needs to develop from the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and even such Christian mystics as Meister Eckhart and Paracelsus.

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1 Comments:

Blogger radical pagan philosopher said...

Alisdair:

I have found this to be a very informative article. Reason (a) seems to be Nietzsche’s argument that Christianity appealed to the lower elements of society, this is greatly elucidated in The Genealogy of Morals. Reason (b) is probably the main value of Christianity, a unified and absolutist Church can be the framework for a unified an absolutist government. This is probably the reason that tyrants liked to wed themselves to this religion, the name of Olaf Tryggvason comes to mind. Reason (c) is one that I find very interesting, just as the Neoplatonists, Hermeticists, and others were developing a more sophisticated outlook on the world; I have read this development was also in other areas of Europe. I remembering reading in Hans F.K. Gunther’s book, the Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans that the Christians thought the Norse Pagans to be atheists because when asked what they believed, they responded, Das Gott. This shows a sophistication that was above the Christian outlook. It is sad that Europe was not able to develop along this path, and instead had a religion that at its core is superstitious. As far as reason (d) is concerned it is true that Christianity absorbed some Aryan religious thought, but as time progresses Christianity is having the desire to separate that element.

To tie in the last statement of mine with you last section where you listed some Christian mystics as helpful for a renascent paganism, I would like to add what I think are beneficial theologies. I am very fond of the negative theology of Meister Eckhart, I believe it correlates very well with the Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism. I would also like to add the Platonic Theology of Marsilo Ficino, even though I do believe that both he and the man that inspired him, Gemistos Plethon were both classical pagans. I would also like to add the Martial Theology that we see in the Knight’s Templars, though I want to also recognize the Jomsvikings as having this element from a pagan perspective. The theology that cannot even be accepted in the least is the theology of the cross, if anything the role of Odin serves as a much better example because of the sacrifice for knowledge rather than paying off a debt of sin.

I would like to end by saying that Christianity has no political expediency anymore, and the Protestant Reformation has distanced Christianity more from all theologies except the theology of the cross, so a pagan outlook can manifest these theologies again with a more sophisticated metaphysics.

3:32 AM  

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