Archives For The Roman Empire

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

spirits

 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Christianity

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 18, 2008 — 12 Comments

George Barna, head of the conservative Christian polling organization The Barna Group, has co-authored a new book that takes a deeper look at traditional Christian practices. The result, “Pagan Christianity”, seems almost like a fun-house mirror reflection of the rhetoric you can hear from many modern Pagans.

“Pagan Christianity makes an unsettling proposal: Most of what present-day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Authors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence and extensive footnotes that document the origins of our modern Christian church practices.”

Barna, a Catholic turned conservative evangelical, and advocate for the “house church” movement, sees paganism everywhere in the modern Christian church structure.

“Pagan Christianity? also addresses a myriad of other practices, including tax-exempt status for churches, pews, stained glass windows, altar calls, the pastoral prayer, church bulletins, bishops, clergy attire, choirs, tithing, the collection plate, seminary training, infant baptism, the “sinner’s prayer,” and funeral processions, among others.”

Barna’s attitude isn’t all that unique. Many critics of Catholicism and other Christian denominations that cling to “high church” trappings (“smells and bells”) often invoke the spectre of “paganism” to discredit their idealogical opponents and label them “unchristian” (to differing degrees). While Barna claims he only wants to promote “significant reflection”, his insights aren’t that much removed from the obsessed fringe.

Did Christian leaders borrow/steal/sanctify elements from ancient pagan culture, philosophy, and religion? Of course they did. Few argue otherwise. Christianity leapt into the cultural and religious vacuum created within the Roman Empire when Constantine, and subsequent emperors, gradually removed the traditional/pagan faiths from power. It is only natural that the assumption of that much power and prestige would alter a previously persecuted minority faith in an overwhelmingly pagan world.

The question now is if these “acquired” practices are still “pagan” centuries later. Barna, like many disaffected believers, longs to re-create a more “biblical” Christianity. An urge that has fueled radical reformations, and created several different ideas of what “biblical validity” means. In the end, I think the “Pagan Christianity” label says far more about Barna’s hopes and aspirations than it does about content of “high church” Christianity.

Why The Empire Fell

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 15, 2006 — 1 Comment

Comic Book Resources features a short excerpt from a longer editorial by writer Alan Moore (writer of Promethea, V for Vendetta, and worshiper of a possible hand-puppet) concerning pornography for the magazine Arthur. In the article Moore details the history of imagery and stories meant to titillate, and their importance to civilization.

“In bygone Greece we see a culture plainly unperturbed by its erotic inclinations, largely saturated by both sexual imagery and sexual narratives. We also see a culture where these attitudes would seem to have worked out quite well, both for the ancient Greeks and for humanity at large. They may well have been hollow-eyed and hairy-palmed erotomaniacs, but on the plus side they invented science, literature, philosophy and, well, civilization, as it turns out.”

So where did it all go wrong? Well, in the opinion of Moore, Christianity and the shaming of sex influenced by such thinkers as the Apostle Paul.

“Sexual openness and cultural progress would seem pretty much to have walked hand in hand throughout the opening chapters of the human story in the West, and it wasn’t until the advent of Christianity, or more specifically of the apostle Paul, that anybody realized we should all be thoroughly ashamed of both our bodies and those processes relating to them. Not until the Emperor Constantine had cut and pasted modern Christianity together from loose scraps of Mithraism and the solar cult of Sol Invictus, adopting the resultant theological collage as the religion of the Roman Empire, did we get to witness the effect of its ideas and doctrines when enacted on a whole society.”

This massive social experiment, in Moore’s opinion, eventually brought about the fall of the Roman Empire.

“If we take a traditional (and predominantly Christian) view of the collapse of Rome, then conventional wisdom tells us that Rome was destroyed by decadence, sunken beneath the rising scum-line of its orgies, of its own sexual permissiveness. The merest skim through Gibbon, on the other hand, will demonstrate that Rome had been a heaving, decadent and orgiastic fleshpot more or less since its inception. It had fornicated its way quite successfully through several centuries without showing any serious signs of harm as a result. Once Constantine had introduced compulsory Christianity to the Empire, though, it barely lasted for another hundred years.”

In his view, this compulsory conversion experience destroyed the syncretic and (mostly) religiously tolerant (for its time) society of Rome. Specifically, it hurt the recruitment of foreign military who didn’t wish to toe the new religious line making Rome weak to invasions by barbarians. Moore’s conclusion?

“…sexually open and progressive cultures such as ancient Greece have given the West almost all of its civilizing aspects, whereas sexually repressive cultures like late Rome have given us the Dark Ages.”

It should be interesting it read the entire article to hear Moore’s views on the tension between libertine excesses and repressive shame in our modern era. It seems that no happy balance has yet to be struck. With one side often losing its own compass with issues regarding the degradation of women, and the other so worried about homosexual sex that it sees such impulses as demonic possession and pure evil.