An Ocasio Cortez Comic? Welcome to Paganism 2.0
I’m losing the soft spot I long had for paganism. I’d always viewed it through the rosy lens of Medieval Europe. I saw little hangovers from pre-Christian beliefs as charming, folksy, and harmless. Little mementos from our tribal ancestors that enlivened national cultures. (Think of leprechauns or fairies.) Or in the case of the Greeks and Romans, exquisite poetic creations that showed an imperfect grasp of God, with His attributes broken and scattered like a mosaic.
That’s how the Catholic Chesterton depicts them in The Everlasting Man. The Protestant C.S. Lewis goes even further. Read the definitive key to Lewis’ fantastic fiction, Planet Narnia. In it, you’ll see that the key to understanding the Narnia books lies in Lewis’ fascination with the Planets. Not the Nine known now to science, but the Seven (including the Moon and Sun) which Dante contemplated. A scholar of Medieval and Renaissance literature, Lewis wrote one of his most difficult but interesting books, The Discarded Image, about the cosmology that prevailed until the age of Galileo and Kepler.
Look at Dante’s Paradiso, or Lewis’s Narnia novels, and you’ll see each of those traditional planets linked with a Greek or Roman god, and also with a set of God-given human tendencies — both strengths and temptations. Even the facets of Aslan, Lewis’s Christ figure, shine differently in each novel, according to which planet’s spirit he was trying to represent.
In the Middle Ages, Christians didn’t look back at Jove as a false, wicked god who raped helpless maidens. They saw him as an emblem of magnanimity and kingship. They imagined planets like Jupiter as maintained by angels, and exerting on earthly humans a certain amount of influence. The Renaissance revival of classical culture wasn’t a radical break with what went before. It was more a shift of emphasis, and a power-grab by a coterie of persuasive intellectuals.
But Christians in the age of Dante, and then of Milton, could afford to be blasé about paganism. It was safely dead. The threats they faced were heresies, or hordes that preached what they claimed to be an even more austere monotheism, Islam.
It’s quite a different thing to live in an age when paganism is the rising creed once again. When the false gods aren’t quaint and discredited, empty forms which we can fill with Christian meaning, as Renaissance painters and Protestant poets did. Instead they’re sleek and lean, hungry for power.
The Old Gods Escape their Jailors
The first, most obvious effort to bring back paganism to replace Christianity came with the Nazis, of course. But their efforts proved half-hearted. (Even Hitler laughed behind his back at ruined altar boy Rudolf Hess and his gestures at reviving Odin and Thor.) More importantly, they were only in power for less than 13 years. Think of Nazi paganism as a first draft, wadded up and tossed in history’s wastebasket.
We look far and wide for new figures to worship. For figures real or imagined to inspire us, whom we can venerate as much or a little as we feel the need. I don’t think it’s an accident that superhero movies and series are the only reliable hits coming out of Hollywood. Our lives made drab by secularism and the dead hand of Darwinist ideology need splashes of color and light.
But the impulses that drove the Nazis to want to restore paganism didn’t go away. Look at the Netherlands today. The country that showed the strongest resistance to murdering the Jews has now enacted Nazi-style euthanasia laws aimed at the handicapped. The same mindless vitalism which wanted to exterminate “lives unworthy of life” now reigns in those nations American soldiers helped liberate in World War II.
Killing Infants, Like Spartans and Romans
Over here in America, our Congress just refused to pass a law protecting children who survive abortions. They may only receive life-saving medical care (or even pain relief) if their mother agrees. Thus we revive another and grimmer pagan practice, infanticide. We may not be overtly sacrificing infants, as the Carthaginians did. But we are aping the Romans, who didn’t grant human status to a child until it was fully born and its father accepted it. If he wouldn’t take it up in his arms and claim it, an infant was taken to the walls of the city and left to die. Like modern Americans, they were just a little too squeamish to outright kill the child. We differ from them only in this: We grant the mother, instead of the father, the power of life and death.
Meanwhile, we look far and wide for new figures to worship. For figures real or imagined to inspire us, whom we can venerate as much or a little as we feel the need. I don’t think it’s an accident that superhero movies and series are the only reliable hits coming out of Hollywood. Our lives made drab by secularism and the dead hand of Darwinist ideology need splashes of color and light.
Meet the New Gods, Same as the Old Gods
In the real world, we see the desperate quest of a creedless populace for some redemptive figure. How else can we explain the bizarre cult of personality that has formed around Ruth Bader Ginsburg? A small, wizened old elitist who spoke with approval of the eugenic motives for Roe v. Wade, she seems a strange choice for a spate of movies and even action figures. But think again: Not all the gods were young and beautiful. Some were gnarled and appalling, and that conveyed part of their power. If you’re looking for a religious figure to sanctify the destruction of little innocents, you could do a lot worse than Ginsburg.
Pagan cults featured suffering gods as well, whose anguish was the crucible in which the world could be reborn. (A weird foreshadowing of Christ there, we might observe.) And today we have sacred victims in the form of victims of hate crimes — real or imagined. And the self-tormented figures of those who have mutilated their bodies, to become the opposite sex. Instead of men castrating themselves for the sake of Cybele, we now see them doing it inspired by Bruce Jenner.
At the other end of the spectrum, we see young, vital creatures whom breathless journalists depict with the pens of love-besotted teenagers. Unremarkable newcomers with no track record, few achievements, and middling intellects, they stride through our magazines and news programs tinged with gold and wearing halos.
Beto O’Rourke, a fake Hispanic who played in punk bands until he married into money. Were it up to major media, he would already be our president. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a clueless former barmaid who nabbed a Congressional seat in a 80% Democratic district. Now there’s a superhero comic about her.
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And of course, Barack Obama, who stepped out of Al Sharpton’s shakedown, mau-mauing world of “community organizing,” to breeze his way into Congress, then run for president and win after two whole years on the job. Remember how white liberals wept at his every speech, as if his election were some cosmic act of redemption? It offered Hope.
We’re terrified of the real God, so we’re scrambling for substitutes. We’ve smashed all the saints on the altars, and now we’re setting back up the idols they’d replaced. We’re looking for figures like the Olympians who aren’t our moral betters. They’ll approve our sacrifice of infants. They’ll offer us cloudy Utopian visions of the future, which will blossom with justice and flowers in the form of a Green New Deal. We’re despondent, distracted, and petulant. And that’s why we whore after strange gods.