Side-Swipe Secularism: How Secularists Poison Minds Who Don’t Know They’re Being Poisoned
Call it side-swipe secularism. It could also be called throwing an elbow secularism, but that doesn’t sound as good.
I mean the way secular writers criticize Christianity while doing something else. They hit it on the way by. The writer’s subject is X, but while talking about X he finds a chance to talk smack about Christianity.
It’s never a big deal, but that’s why it works. A side-swipe here, a side-swipe there, eventually the reader gets the idea without knowing it. It’s like the poisoner in an old mystery story. He gives the victim a little bit each day and even the victim doesn’t notice he’s being poisoned — until he’s dead.
Pagans Eat Horses
Take this, for example. The example comes from a story in the entertaining website Atlas Obscura, in an article on who eats horses and why. I started reading it because my daughters love horses, and found this:
Within Christianity, horse-eating became taboo with a papal decree in 732, when Pope Gregory III deemed the consumption of horse meat to be a pagan practice (possibly in an effort to preserve horses for more practical purposes, such as war).
The writer suggests the pope might not have really meant what he said, but he only says that in passing. He says it in an “oh, by the way” parentheses. Not the point of his sentence. A side-swipe.
What is he saying in this side-swipe? He’s saying that the pope said he was fighting paganism, but really, he might have been using religion as an excuse for more worldly gains.
Is this true? Does the writer have good reason to suggest it? No, not really. This will need some time to explain, but that’s part of how side-swipe secularism works. It makes a charge in a few words that takes a lot of words to refute.
All we know is that Gregory said this in a letter to St. Boniface (letter 16). Boniface was a missionary to the Germans. The pope described them as “people who live in the shadow of death, steeped in error.” All he says is:
You say, among other things, that some eat wild horses and many eat tame horses. By no means allow this to happen in future, but suppress it in every possible way with the help of Christ and impose a suitable penance upon offenders. It is a filthy and abominable custom.
Pagans Eat Horses Because They’re Pagans
These Germans were what we’d called serious pagans. Gregory’s telling Boniface what to do to bring the Christian life to converts who don’t seem to have been completely converted. Gregory notes that “some of the faithful sell their slaves to be sacrificed by the heathen.” Some of the faithful. Boniface had his work cut out for him.
Even a secular site tells the story that way. “The Pagans drew strength from Odin, the chief god of their belief system, through ceremonies that involved eating horsemeat.”*
Remember that Gregory is giving Boniface instructions about how to guide new Christians who were, as we’d say, unclear on the concept. Eating horses had been part of their former religion. They still lived in a pagan world among pagans. Eating horses was a cultural marker, one of those signs that sets off one people from others. It said: “Pagan.”
We can guess that Gregory thought that converted pagans shouldn’t do something so much a part of their former pagan life. Pastors tell new Christians this all the time. Cut the rope tying you to the sins of your past. Take down the Playboy calendar. Don’t dress like a druggie when you give up drugs. Burn your Yankees cap when you move to Boston.
Gregory may have been right or wrong to tell the German Christians to stop eating horses, but he seems to have meant what he said. He wasn’t plotting to increase the army’s horse supply. He was trying to help a distant part of his flock find their way to Heaven.
The Atlas Obscura writer wants you to think different. He uses that great trick, side-swipe secularism. A few words, stuck in a parentheses. It doesn’t seem a big deal. But it is. The reader takes away the idea that Christians can’t be trusted and that religion covers up for self-interest.
He may not even notice what the writer’s doing. But over time, swipe by swipe, he learns what the writer wants him to learn. It’s like poison.
For David’s description of a different kind of secular trickery, see his On Doves, Serpents and Pro-Choice Magic from the Human Life Review.
* This scholarly source does make the claim, but without actual evidence. The writer’s only argument is that Pope Gregory saw how important horses were in the Battle of Tours in the same year he wrote Boniface. Which doesn’t prove anything. In fact, he doesn’t even know whether Gregory wrote the letter after the battle, which was fought on October 10. He’s just making it up.