Academic journal article CLIO

Marx, Moses, and the Pagans in the Secular City

Academic journal article CLIO

Marx, Moses, and the Pagans in the Secular City

Article excerpt

With the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity, the period of pagan Europe began to approach its end. During the next millennium the entire European continent came under the sway of the Gospel - sometimes by peaceful persuasion, frequently by forceful conversion. Those who were yesterday the persecuted of the ancient Rome became, in turn, the persecutors of the Christian Rome. Those who were previously bemoaning their fate at the hands of Nero, Diocletian, or Caligula did not hesitate to apply "creative" violence against infidel pagans. Although violence was nominally prohibited by the Christian texts, it was fully used against those who did not fit into the category of God's "chosen children." During the reign of Constantine, the persecution against the pagans took the proportions "in a fashion analogous to that whereby the old faiths had formerly persecuted the new, but in an even fiercer spirit." By the edict of A.D. 346, followed ten years later by the edict of Milan, pagan temples and the worship of pagan deities came to be stigmatized as magnum crimen. The death penalty was inflicted upon all those found guilty of participating in ancient sacrifices or worshipping pagan idols. "With Theodosius, the administration embarked upon a systematic effort to abolish the various surviving forms of paganism through the disestablishment, disendowment, and proscription of surviving cults."(1) The period of the dark ages began.

Christian and inter-Christian violence, ad majorem dei gloriam, did not let up until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Along with Gothic spires of breathtaking beauty, the Christian authorities built pyres that swallowed nameless thousands. Seen in hindsight, Christian intolerance against heretics, Jews, and pagans may be compared to the twentieth-century Bolshevik intolerance against class opponents in Russia and Eastern Europe - with one exception: it lasted longer. During the twilight of imperial Rome, Christian fanaticism prompted the pagan philosopher Celsus to write: "They [Christians] will not argue about what they believe - they always bring in their, 'Do not examine, but believe'. . ." Obedience, prayer, and the avoidance of critical thinking were held by Christians as the most expedient tools to eternal bliss. Celsus described Christians as individuals prone to factionalism and a primitive way of thinking, who, in addition, demonstrate a remarkable disdain for life.(2) A similar tone against Christians was used in the nineteenth century by Friedrich Nietzsche who, in his virulent style, depicted Christians as individuals capable of displaying both self-hatred and hatred towards others, i.e., "hatred against those who think differently, and the will to persecute."(3) Undoubtedly, early Christians must have genuinely believed that the end of history loomed large on the horizon and, with their historical optimism, as well as their violence against the "infidels," they probably deserved the name of the Bolsheviks of antiquity.

As suggested by many authors, the break-up of the Roman Empire did not result only from the onslaught of barbarians, but because Rome was already "ruined from within by Christian sects, conscientious objectors, enemies of the official cult, the persecuted, persecutors, criminal elements of all sons, and total chaos." Paradoxically, even the Jewish God Yahveh was to experience a sinister fate: "he would be converted, he would become Roman, cosmopolitan, ecumenical, gentile, goyim, globalist - and finally anti-Semite."(!)(4) It is no wonder that, in the following centuries, Christian churches in Europe had difficulties in trying to reconcile their universalist vocation with the rise of nationalist extremism.

Pagan Residues in the Secular City

Although Christianity gradually removed the last vestiges of Roman polytheism, it also substituted itself as the legitimate heir of Rome. Indeed, Christianity did not cancel out paganism in its entirety; it inherited from Rome many features that it had previously scorned as anti-Christian. …

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