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.
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”.