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Ireland and the Pagan Resurgence

What we see in Ireland and throughout the West is Belloc’s pagan life “without Christian revelation” and Ratzinger’s “Church of pagans who call themselves Christian”.

"Yes" supporters at Dublin Castle after the Referendum results were declared. (Wikipedia | Katenolan1979)

Christendom began when the Roman emperor Constantine in AD 321 declared Sunday a day of rest in honor of Christ.

Christendom may have ended with the Irish May 25 referendum removing legal protections to the unborn. The amendment received two-thirds approval when enacted in 1983. Thirty-five years later the results are the exact reverse.

What happened?

The New Pagans happened. A phrase that’s been used within and without the Church for at least a couple generations, the new are not like the old pagans but they are still pagans and they reached a sixty-six percent critical mass.

The vote had nothing to do with a new or inordinate hostility to the Catholic Church.

For all their piety and reverence, the Irish have always had an intellectual edge implying Catholicism is all bonkers anyway and daffy priests are part of the package. So it wasn’t the priest sex scandals, as lurid and unsettling as they are, nor the orphanage tragedies and careless graves.

These things may have been in the minds of some voters, but that doesn’t explain why the Republic of Ireland decided to toss the baby out with the bathwater. “Get even with the Church: abort babies” wasn’t a campaign slogan.

Nor do I agree with faulting secularism. Secularism comes with consequences, of course, from lifting Sunday beer sale bans to explicitly excluding Christian-related nonprofits from state grant program for playground improvements, grants that were permitted only to nonprofits without religious affiliation.

Secularism means, mostly, that Christian churches can no longer reliably count on friendly or even neutral State policies, yet that’s still not a worry either. Christianity has existed and still exists under all manner of church-state arrangements. Besides, for the first three centuries of her life, the Church endured unrelieved state hostility and generally thrived.

So while these may be contributing factors they were not determining factors in the Irish outcome.

No, I think it is worse. The Western world has defaulted to its old time religion: paganism.

Oh, I do not expect to see temples erected to Juno and the moon goddess. By “pagan” I mean the European pre-Christian habits of social thought and behavior, and the coarse encounters within a superstitiously credulous but de-spiritualized culture that marked day-to-day paganism in the ancient world.

Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), in a 1958 lecture titled “The New Pagans and the Church”, stated the Church “is no longer, as she once was, a Church composed of pagans who have become Christians, but a Church of pagans, who still call themselves Christians, but actually have become pagans.”

Ratzinger’s lecture directly remarked on the French cardinals concession, in 1951, that non-practicing (avoiding the word “apostate”) Christians could nonetheless seek the baptism of their children, if they wanted, thereby displaying at least some residual interest in the sacrament.

Ratzinger was likely drawing upon Hillaire Belloc (d. 1951), who called paganism “an absence of the Christian revelation.” The New Paganism, Belloc wrote, in Essays of a Catholics (1931), “will be at issue more and more with human dignity.”

What does a culture without revelation look like? Probably very much like the Irish referendum results, like the paganism of antiquity without the various godlets and gods.

Default paganism is the habits of thought and living that commonly governed life for ordinary Romans. There were three widespread practices in antiquity that marked pagan life, each casually embraced: elimination of unwanted children, exploited sexuality, and leisured divorce.

The first century analog to abortion was exposure of unwanted infants, typically girls. Exposure of unwanted infants was common enough that early Christian apologists repeatedly explained their opposition to dumping babies at a crossroads, leaving them to hypothermia or starvation. A first-century letter home from a husband gave instruction to his expectant wife: “In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it” (Life in Egypt Under Roman Rule, 1985).

The practice of male-to-male sex was tolerated. There is little in the record about female-to-female relations. In either case the one in a superior social class held the upper hand. Sex was extorted, a patron’s demand to a supplicant.

The sexual dichotomy wasn’t male/female. It was male/dominant and female/submissive—who was penetrating whom. Relative status determined the male or female role. Same-sex relations in Greek culture amounted to pederasty, a pubescent or adolescent boy paired to an older male, a mentor with benefits. As in most of the ancient cultures, gender and desire had little to do with sexual expression. Gay or straight wasn’t who you were; sex is what you did and if you were vulnerable, it was done to you.

Finally, all the law required to dissolve a marriage was a declaration by the couple, following a family consultation. Divorce moved among the upper classes and filtered down. While perhaps a subject of gossip, divorce became “no-fault” and no longer a matter of shame.

Christians came by their social opposition to paganism through the Jews. The prohibitions around sexual behaviors in Leviticus, chapter 18, is where we find the now infamous “man shall not lie with a man as with a woman.” (Chapter 18 is the command; the penalty phase is chapter 20; penalties may change, I point out, but the prohibition remains.)

But this actually is a protective shelter against male sexual predation of women and men, relatives (male and female) and by extension, female slaves. Further, Leviticus 18 denounced the sacrifice of children to the god Moloch (one of the Baals). Moloch in today’s world might be rebranded “personal convenience.” The inclusion of children sacrificed to Moloch, connected to sexual exploitation, indicates something very serious is going on in our expressions of sexuality and abortion.

The rejection of amendment eight by the Irish is part of Christendom’s continuing collapse in the West, and a startling one, done by free democratic vote of the people. But this is Belloc’s pagan life “without Christian revelation” and Ratzinger’s “Church of pagans who call themselves Christian”.

About Russell E. Saltzman 4 Articles
Russell E. Saltzman is a former Lutheran pastor who has written for First Things (where for a brief stint he was associate editor), Aleteia, and others. He was the long time editor of Forum Letter, an independent Lutheran publication previously edited by Richard John Neuhaus.

25 Comments

  1. Christians were meeting on Sunday before Constantine….and Christendom, while radically changed and changing, still exists.

    • Sure. Christians did, it was the Day of the Resurrection, the first day of the week. But Constantine made it a weekly recurring day of rest throughout his empire. Romans had no notion of a sanctified day (apart from their knowledge of the Jews) before the emperor make it so. Christians snagged their worship time amid a secular week prior to that; Constantine ignored the Saturday sabbath and captured Sunday for the Christians and made Christendom.

  2. “ Personal inconvenience ” though is a diagnosis that pictures all such voters as uniformly lazy. The Church writers need to address the other voters who voted in fear that they could be one day…hard cases….not one night stand motivated cases…or lazy marrieds cases. Here is the NY Times on the hard cases angle:
    “ “Yes” campaigners focused heavily on so-called hard cases faced by women, such as rape or fetal abnormalities. The referendum result showed that many Irish voters agreed that women in those circumstances should be allowed a choice.
    That shift in attitude was driven in part by prominent cases, such as the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, who had asked for a termination of her pregnancy but later died of complications from a septic miscarriage. Ms. Halappanavar’s face was printed on placards supporting abortion, and on Saturday morning people placed flowers in front of a mural of her face in Dublin.“
    Catholic Theologians need to counter in newspapers with moral theology the hard cases category some of which resemble the permitted therapeutic abortion.
    We tend to simplify things into heroes and villains after such a vote but where was Ratzinger from 1979 to his retirement on establishing severe penalties for pro choice Catholic pols….like Cuomo and Ferraro? There is no universal penalty and that group in Congress is now over a 100 in number.
    Infant exposure? St. Jerome praised Seneca on sexual issues ( Against Jovinianus/Bk.I/sect.49) and called him “our Seneca” and yet Seneca was pro infanticide. Jerome denounced abortion but should have been more capable of denouncing the bad side of Seneca.
    Indeed a first century Stoic, Musonius Rufus, distorted some early Fathers on sexuality ( St. Clement, Lactantius, and St. Epiphanius) as being only…only for procreation:
    “ Men who are not wantons or immoral are bound to consider
    sexual intercourse justified only when it occurs in marriage and is
    indulged in for the purpose of begetting children, since that is
    lawful, but unjust and unlawful when it is mere pleasure-seeking, even
    in marriage.”
    ‘Musonius Rufus “The Roman Socrates”‘ by Cora Lutz
    Discourse XII: “On Sexual Indulgence” 1st century

    Augustine corrected that somewhat and acceptance of the natural rythmn methods explicitly by Rome from 1850 on stopped it…but Rufus can be heard as late as Jerome…” Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children “ ( Against Jovinianus ).
    So we were once too near the pagans to denounce them…and pagans like the Stoics can be very intelligent. It will take moral theologians addressing the hard cases in the newspapers not in books to correct the new pagans.

    • “fetal abnormalities.”

      Because of course babies, and people, who are less than perfect don’t deserve to live. Just as Iceland has “eliminated” Down Syndrome by eliminating babies who have it.

      • I, not the nytimes, was struck more by the miscarriage/death of mother case and wonder whether some Catholic moral theologians might have done well to thoroughly explicate that one in detail in their main newspaper….or whether early delivery with icu attention was feasible morally and physically.

  3. Jesus used the name Gehenna as the name of Hell.

    It is a real place, the desert plain where in ancient days, re-paganized Jews would murder and burn their unwanted children in human sacrifice to Moloch.

    Jesus defined Hell as killing unwanted children.

    We are living in hell, and many of our well-fed establishmentarians in the Church and Jesuit and other post-catholic “universities” are delighted with serving the cause of “reproductive rights.”

    Hell on earth.

    Deliver us, oh Lord, from evil men, preserve us from violent men, from those who devise evil in their hearts, and stir up war every day.

  4. “The sexual dichotomy wasn’t male/female. It was male/dominant and female/submissive—who was penetrating whom.” That is one of the best descriptions of the Catholic Church throughout the millennia. When we last visited Ireland we saw atheists, agnostics, but no Pagans. This article would make one believe that the Irish Administration is replete with Pagans. Hold out your olive branch, but there is no “half way” on Amendment 8.

  5. We tend to believe we have the single answer to complexities and experience says the answers are complex. Former Lutheran Saltzman gives a learned take on the thesis of Ireland’s return to paganism based on a paganism than never really died but remained beneath the surface. I suppose we can say the same for Italians who rub the little bronze lizard for good fortune on the facade of a Pisan church and who rush to kneel before statues while Mass is in progress during the consecration. I’ve read the same thesis elsewhere on Irish paganism my own theory is that there is some truth in it though the matter is more complex. Virtually all of us seems to be cryptic pagans suffering our little obsessions of wearing the right colored socks before an interview. Too many great Irish missionaries in Africa Borneo Timbuktu and NYC have brought the faith to the planet for me to be convinced they were underneath it all pagans. My Irish friends in Brooklyn quaffed beer chased pretty girls with the of us among our semi pagan activities yet they were extremely attached to their Catholicism. Secularism is defined by Saltzman as an exterior political phenomenon belying the secular values replacing nominal faith. I rely on sense perception as my first principle of knowledge that convinces me both in Brooklyn and visiting Ireland years past that the Irish were Catholic to the core. Why is it I ask Saltzman that Ireland is among the very last Catholic Christian nations to say Yes to abortion when Catholics in Am long past have said yes by practice and vote France 1975 Italy 1978 Spain 2014 on request Portugal 2007 Belgium 1990 preceded Ireland? The idea that the Irish were never really Catholic is a bit of a stretch since secularism is perceived more a worldwide degeneration of the faith.

    • That was great thinking/writing. Ireland has a .64 per 100,000 murder rate which is almost ideal…France is 1.58..over twice Ireland’s…Brazil is 26 per 100,000…awful. I’m Irish, Scot, French, Swede, and Austrian….so I’m not “talking my own book” as they say on Wall St. I grew up with Irish/ Italian street violence in the neighborhood but that was the poor Irish and Italians who left their homelands for the dog eat dog urban northeast usa….where parents never knew where their youngsters really were given subways that could take them into anonymity in minutes….unlike small towns where the town watched out for your teens to some degree. Raising Asian children in the affluent suburbs?…a dream….they are always behind a book…always.

  6. A READING FROM ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO TIMOTHY (very relevant!)

    “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

    (2 Timothy 3:1-17)

  7. But then to add to my previous thoughts if what Saltzman says is interpreted as “Ratzinger was likely drawing upon Hillaire Belloc (d. 1951), who called paganism ‘an absence of the Christian revelation.’ The New Paganism, Belloc wrote, in Essays of a Catholics (1931), “will be at issue more and more with human dignity’” then his idea of a resurgence of paganism makes sense.

  8. At the heart of the demise of Christianity in the West is the Church’s rendering unto Caesar authority over innocent human life that belongs to God alone.

    Just as Christianity would have died in its infancy if it had rendered unto Caesar worship that belonged to God alone, it is now dying from its complacency regarding the state claiming for itself the authority to “legalize” the murder of innocent humanity as a matter of social policy. That complacency is burning incense to Caesar. It loudly shouts “Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!” And Christ in the least of His brethren is unjustly put to death again and again and again.

    God help us.

  9. It doesn’t take long to destroy 15 centuries of culture. Just one or two negligent generations, and it’s all up in smoke. While I don’t disagree with the new paganism idea, the Church’s loss of its moral authority because of the sex and other scandals, and the wretched state of modern liturgy and catechesis, were instrumental to this ever being possible in the first place.

  10. Even Jesus had to watch many walk away who heard Him speak as no-one before had spoken. Yet the few who were convinced were the core around which His church flourished until now It’s number is counted in billions, reaching into every corner of the world; this despite a never-ending climate of opposition. We believers must raise our children to love and serve God to continue to expand the core of the Catholic family worldwide. Fidelity to Christ’s promises will keep the Faith alive and growing through any period of adversity. It is easy to think we are a mere minority on the periphery when in fact we constitute the firm backbone of the most wondrous culture God has ever allowed to flourish. Never give up Hope. Peter Denton

  11. Please define your use of the word Christendom in your introductory sentence of this article. Thank you. What happened to Pentecost?? How is it that you give Constantine this credit?
    And, there is no mention of the possibility that Ireland took example from other countries, including the United States, where abortion is ashamedly, legal. God bless, C-Marie

  12. In the referenced 1958 talk, “The New Pagans and the Church,” Fr. Ratzinger says that most Europeans are pagans and “everyone knows it”. If everyone knew that in 1958, why were we told that we needed an Ecumenical Council in order to throw the Church’s windows open to the world and let in the fresh air, when the air was known to be pagan? And no one ever told us what was so great about the modern world or even what was meant by the term, even though it is part of the title of the Pastoral Constitution, “The Church in the Modern World.” Why shouldn’t I conclude that the whole Council was a fraud, hijacked in the first week by those who wanted the Church to be more comfortable in the modern, pagan world? They have achieved their goal by smothering catchesis and obfuscating the Faith, all while the new paganism leads us down that broad easy way to perdition.

    When the Pope passes up one opportunity after another to teach the Faith, particularly the Discipline of the Sacraments, and instead gives us the poisons of false mercy and the autonomy of conscience and praises the likes of abortionist Emma Bonino, then we know that the pagans are at the very top of the Church. We must keep the Faith without the help of much of the hierarchy, indeed in opposition to many of them. We have the tools to do this. Let us pray for the courage and wisdom to do it well.

  13. While I’m sure that a lot of the voters in the abortion referendum have very little concerns beyond the material, take solace in the fact that unlike your Christian predecessors, us pagans will not put you to the sword for non-compliance. We are simply rejecting an alien desert religion which has no more place in Northern Europe than Ebola, we will promote love of family and the land that holds us. You built your churches atop our sacred groves and temples, but you could not sever the connection with the old gods within us, it’s simply impossible.

    • Well, congratulations! I’ve read a lot of egregiously imbecilic comments, but yours leaves them all in the dust.

      “us [sic] paganss will not put you to the sword for non-compliance…”
      a)yeah, right, because pre-Christian Ireland was just sooooo sweetness and light, happy happy accepting of everything and everybody, huh? and
      b)you certainly seem happy enough to have the opportunity to put innocent babies to the sword, or any other abortion tools

      “old gods within us” – oh, good grief. If that weren’t so sad, it would be

  14. the catholic church is just upset they cant force girls to give birth to babies the church then cant sell those babies to wealthy couples.
    then force the girls to work for free until they die
    the catholic church is just upset they are loosing the strangle hold they had on people and people are thinking for themselves

    • Do you ever actually listen to yourself? What s vicious, spiteful, ignorant, and stupid diatribe. (Not to mention poorly punctuated and semi-coherent).

      Your version of “thinking for themselves” seems to be “I think women should be able to murder their innocent babies because I hate the Church.” How very evil.

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