- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

We Should Be More Pagan


So says the Catholic writer Marc Barnes [2], because it would make us better men than we are now. Excerpt:

The pagans, by which I refer to pre-Christian Western man, may have been unwilling to accept that strange doctrine of the Son of Man, but they willingly accepted that they were sons of men. They may not have known how to be Christian, but they knew how to be human. The post-Christian, having left Christ, is in the busy process of altogether leaving Man. With respect to those delivering our daily mail, one might say we are moving increasingly to the Age of the Post-Man.

Think about it: Christianity is still attacked — one would hardly deny the fact — but the Christian today is rarely summoned up to defend the Holy Family. He is instead forever being called to rise to the defense of that Pagan institution, the humanfamily. The fundamentally human idea that a vow is a thing forever kept is an idea weary and battered by divorce. That natural, human understanding that a child is Good is an understanding contracepted from our hearts. That our elders are a hell of a lot more important than ourselves is a thing that must be defended against the cult of progress, the cult of the youth, euthanasia and all the rest. Many fault Christianity for adopting elements of Paganism. I praise it for the same, for that she adopted was well worth keeping.

As Lewis says, “Christians and Pagans had much more in common with each other than either has with a post-Christian. The gap between those who worship different gods is not so wide as that between those who worship and those who do not…” Indeed, and I would sum it so: The Pagans may have had false Gods, but they had real men. The post-Christian attempts to be God, and loses man in the process.

Via FT [3].

83 Comments (Open | Close)

83 Comments To "We Should Be More Pagan"

#1 Comment By str1977 On May 30, 2012 @ 5:08 am

 What are you talking about fall of the Roman Empire?

It fell because, weakened by centuries of invasions, it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks!

#2 Comment By str1977 On May 30, 2012 @ 5:14 am

“Yes, the Church was nasty toward its own heretics,”

Actually, it was the heretics and their sympathizers that were the nasty ones, both towards orthodox (Nicene) Christians and pagans.

#3 Comment By str1977 On May 30, 2012 @ 5:18 am

I don’t know what made America great (and don’t care about it) but it certainly wasn’t the rubbish, GingerMan proposes.

If Americans complain about European moral relativism, they should consider their contribution to it first! America is, over all, a good thing but it is not without that flaw!

#4 Comment By str1977 On May 30, 2012 @ 5:20 am

“taking human life is less accepted in our society”

If only it were true – but as your well-loved society goes post-man, men  (=humans) don’t count any more!

#5 Comment By German_reader On May 30, 2012 @ 8:35 am

 I don’t have the time right now to look for specific cases of violence or the punishments set down in imperial law codes for pagan practices (though I may do so later this week). In any case I’ll admit you’re right that the threat of direct, physical violence wasn’t the main reason for the Christianization of the Roman empire (though there was plenty of that as well; I’d also say that e.g. a band of raving monks tearing down pagan “idols” –  tolerated or even encouraged to do so by church or civil authorities – did so with the not very subtle threat that they’d use violence against anyone opposing them). But the main reason people converted was – as you more or less admitted – the massive favouritism shown by Christian emperors towards their co-religionists. Beginning with Constantine the emperors put Christians in positions of power whenever they could and showered the Church with resources (the Lateran palace in Rome for example was imperial property before Constantine donated it to the Church; among other things the Church was also endowed with land confiscated from the property of pagan temples, so it’s not just a matter of “cutting off support for pagan cults”, but rather an attempt at destroying their material basis). This of course meant in practice (at least in the longer term) the removal of pagans from positions of power and barring people who openly professed pagan sympathies from any advance in status, turning pagans (still the overwhelming majority of inhabitants of the Empire in the early 4th century) into an increasingly marginalised group. Put simply, Christians hijacked the Roman “state” (to use a perhaps somewhat anachronistic term) and used its power to their advantage. The ancient world didn’t become Christian because everyone found the Christian message persuasive but because non-Christians found themselves in an increasingly difficult position, marginalised by official discrimination and the occasional threat of violence. It may of course be argued that this development was inevitable given previous pagan persecutions of Christians (which, at least in the case of Diocleatian’s Great persecution, were quite bloody) but to deny the important role discrimination, coercion and even violence played in Christianization (which can in some way be seen as harmful to Christianity itself) seems to me like a sanitization of history.

#6 Comment By German_reader On May 30, 2012 @ 8:41 am

 “Yes, the Church was nasty toward its own heretics, but the conversion of
pagans appears to have occured peacefully with even less compulsion
than the early Caliphs practiced for Islam in the Islamic Empire.”

I also doubt the validity of the comparison with early Islam. The early Muslims actually had an incentive against trying to convert their newly conquered subjects since only non-Muslims paid the poll tay (jizya); in many ways early Islam was more of an Arab tribal religion than a universal faith. Similar financial reasons against conversion didn’t apply in the late Roman Empire since everyone had to pay taxes.

#7 Comment By Franklin_Evans On May 30, 2012 @ 9:13 am

Hello, Church Lady. It is with some regret that our first interaction on the “new, improved!” TAC website may be contentious.

Modern missionary perspectives do not begin to touch on the relative ease or difficulty in conversions to Christianity. The “literature” abounds on precise methods and tactics for each particular faith group, not ignoring the quasi-Christians like Mormons, and seeing such groups as Jews for Jesus as commando raiders into the (ahem, sorry) sadly misguided predecessors and persecutors of the Messiah.

That said, and feeling less sarcasm than might be gleened from the above, Pagans’ history of interactions with conquerors fits two broad models: They come in with swords and economic power, often prompting the leaders to do their dirty work with sometimes violent conversion of their own people; or a more recent phenomenon that contradicts your assertion about the ease of Pagans converting to Christianity, being the vast majority of modern Pagans being “converts” from Christianity, too often due to abuse at the hands of their families and clerics/pastors/ministers.

Despite the distraction of the New Age crowd, where wearing sheets and dancing around Stonehenge at sunrise is truly a naive perspective, the vast majority of modern Pagans are both fully engaged in their faith and fully rational in their balancing that faith with the realities of the physical world that science describes and explains. I, for one, try to avoid second-guessing conversions (witness the grief Rod has received from his public sharing of his travels for Roman Catholicism to Orthodox). I observe a common thread in those people whom I’ve personally observed: where they are just turned out to be a bad fit for them. If nothing else, I honor and praise their personal efforts in seeking the right fit.

#8 Comment By Tyro On May 30, 2012 @ 9:57 am

I have basically concluded that I simply don’t understand all this “what does it mean to be a man?” hand-wringing and how the tenor of our time means that people “are lost” because they “don’t understand what being a man means.” Seriously, it is like reading a completely foreign language when I see this stuff. I have meaningful work, an intellectual life, satisfying pastimes, and a close-knit community of friends and family. But even when I was a college student, all this “what does it mean to be a man?” stuff never resonated with me. What is everyone so angsty about, here?

#9 Comment By Franklin_Evans On May 30, 2012 @ 10:56 am

You may be interested in the Isaac Bonewits essay about is proposed definitions of prefixed-pagan.


#10 Comment By Franklin_Evans On May 30, 2012 @ 10:58 am

Do you have citations? Have you read about the Albigensians, or the Templar purge? There seem to be an equal number of horrific stories on both sides.

#11 Comment By Tyro On May 30, 2012 @ 11:00 am

Are you one of those people who is constantly inveighing against the barbaric habits of eating ice cream and other foods in public?

#12 Comment By turmarion On May 30, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

Given how it seems to be an impetus to quoting poetry that I like, maybe we need more posts on paganism!  😉

#13 Comment By turmarion On May 30, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

At the risk of being pedantic:  the Visigoths were Arians (followers of the heresy of Arius), not Aryans.  “Aryan” correctly refers to the ancient, undifferentiated Indo-Iranian peoples, and more specifically to the descendants of the Vedic-speaking inhabitants of northern India.  Less correctly, it came to be used to mean white, Indo-European peoples in general, and was specifically (and notoriously) applied to Germanic peoples.  

Thus by that standard, while the  the Visigoths were Arians, they, the Saxons, the Germans, and Charlemagne himself were all Aryans!

#14 Comment By ChurchLady108 On May 30, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

I have no problem with contentiousness, so rest at ease on that count.

Like the author of this piece, I am not referring to modern Pagans like yourself, but to the classical Pagans of ancient Greece and Rome, or ancient and medieval Europe, or even of the Americas, Africa, Asia, etc., who were the targets of Christian conversion. The original converts to Christianity were Jewish, but were soon outnumbered by Pagans. For the first few centuries of Christianity, none of that conversion was accomplished by force, but by positive attraction to the clearly beneficial nature of the Christian religion, in spite of the persecutions which that entailed. Those benefits were many and quite tangible, including a very close communal life of mutual sharing, compassion, and love, and a moral system which many Pagans found superior to their own. 

Later on, as Christianity became the state religion of Rome, and later the binding force that kept Europe “civilized” after the fall of Rome, Christianity did indeed convert many Pagans in Europe by force. But in many cases force was not necessary due to the benefits of Christianity itself. Even if one looks at the conversion of the Americas and other colonized areas of the world, conquest has certainly been a factor, but not the only one. Look at the famous example of Black Elk, the American Indian mystic and visionary who fought against the conquering western, Christian civilization and became something of an icon of the virtues of American Indian Paganism. After some years, he willingly and happily converted to Christianity, and pointed out that his American Indian Pagan religion was actually inferior and led to a brutal, uncompassionate life that he renounced in favor of Christian morality and Christian mysticism. 

Now, why would this happen? I would suggest that there are real and tangible benefits to the religious and human life of Christianity that many traditional Pagans recognized and thus were relatively easily converted to. This is due to some of the problematic features of traditional Paganism, but also to their likenesses, in that traditional Pagans are not terribly different from Christians in several important respects. They both believe in supernatural forces, in God or Gods, in a higher ordering to this life based on these supernatural forces, in an authoritative structure to life based on the will and design of these supernatural forces, and that human life should be similarly structured to reflect this higher pattern. They disagree on the details, but not on the basic pattern. So it is not as great a leap to convert from Paganism to Christianity as it would be to convert from secular, agnostic/atheistic viewpoint that doesn’t believe in any of these things with any great power to either Paganism or Christianity. In fact, it’s quite easy to see that as Pagans converted to Christianity, they brought much of Paganism with them and made the differences even less formidable for conversion. Look at African Christianity today, which includes all kinds of Paganistic beliefs, practices, and theologies which make it easier to get converts from local animistic Paganism. 

THe modern secular world view doesn’t see religion as authoritative, and it isn’t trying to order human life by some DIvine Pattern handed down by visionary mystics through authoritative scripture. It is trying to discern the guiding principles of human life from an empirical study of this world, and of human beings themselves, and that does not make spirituality taboo, but it does give it a very different flavor than we find in classical Paganism or traditional Christianity. And I would gather that most forms of neo-Paganism are as much informed by that modern spirit as it is by classical Paganism, but correct me if I am wrong. 

Point being that once one sees the power and utility of modern thinking and social structuring, it is very hard to convert back to either classical Paganism or traditional Christianty, without vastly changing them in the process. Most traditional Christians may hold to traditional Christian theologies, but they live largely as modern secular humanistic empiricists. They just keep their non-empirical beliefs in a back closet for romantic reasons, which I think is fine. Life requires some romance of us, and traditional Christianity provides that for some. But it is still in decline wherever the modern world and modern thought has established itself in human societies, and it does not seem to be reversing, for many reasons including those stated above. 

#15 Comment By Franklin_Evans On May 30, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

Admitting to some back-patting on behalf of the Pagans I know, you should be reassured that no insult would be taken: We have a much stronger and highly honored tradition of skepticism in our spirituality than the monotheisms could ever begin to claim. We express it two ways: Constant seeking, without expecting there to be a final destination; an abhorrence of proselytizing, something which most atheists find surprising, and become rather good companions after they discover it.

#16 Comment By Franklin_Evans On May 30, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

A fair reply, your points are well taken. I would offer a mild rebuttal — or, perhaps adjustment — to your list of motivations for conversion: ancient peoples were not known for strong, rational reactions to life’s slings and arrows. They strove for stability above all, and a spiritual life that itself (at least) was stable would be very attractive regardless of the details of its tenets.

One counter-example is the Celts. As a culture they demonstrated a keen eye towards the knowledge and customs of the cultures they encountered during their long migration across the continent. They embraced new and different ideas along the way. By the time they had settled in northwestern Europe and the Isles, they had quite a mixture of attributes “borrowed” from neighbors, including their bitter enemies the Romans. Christianity made its way through their ranks like wildfire.

They were exceptional. My “swords and economic power” reference was specific to the Pagan cultures of the early common era. Other than what might just be nitpicking on my part, you and I are in general agreement.

#17 Comment By str1977 On May 30, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

 German reader,

you got many details right but the whole picture wrong.

Punishment for pagan practices – yes, pagan cults were outlawed but that only happened late in the 4th century under Theodosius. Still, that did not mean – as your pointing that out in this context implies – that ANYONE was coerced into Christianity. Pagans were “merely” (not condoning it) forbidden to sacrifice at home and their temples were closed. They were not forbidden to hold pagan views.

And before that decree, antipagan measures were mostly the cutting of finances.

“a band of raving monks
tearing down pagan “idols” –  tolerated or even encouraged to do so by
church or civil authorities”

What to make of a handful of recorded events (at least some of which involved violence on either side) were is a rather tricky matter, but the following is just silly:

“the main
reason people converted was … the massive
favouritism shown by Christian emperors towards their co-religionists.
Beginning with Constantine the emperors put Christians in positions of
power whenever they could and showered the Church with resources”

The early Christian Emperors showered Christians but they also showered pagans, though not as much, which might have something to to with a now finished persecution and the fact that pagan religions were waning anyway. I hope you’re not suggesting that the donation of a palace made the Empire Christian.

Then, there’s the other form of favoritism, which you in extreme hyperbole call ” put Christians in positions of
power whenever they could” – simply not true. Christian Emperors including Theodosius extensively employed pagan ministers, courtiers, officers. In Rome, the aristocracy steadfastly held to paganism. Only in the 5th century did Emperors exclude non-Christians from court and service. But at that time, the Empire had already been widely Christianised. It was not a negative exclusion of pagans but a positive discrimination towards one’s coreligionsits. The only Emperor who vehemently discriminating his entourage on religious grounds was Julian.

It is also wrong to say that “Christians
hijacked the Roman “state””, as even those graces showered by Emperors were not the result of some Christian cabal but of common policies of patronage. 3rd century Emperors did the same with the religions they favoured.

“The ancient world didn’t
become Christian because everyone found the Christian message persuasive”

No, but its persuaviness – and paganism’s lack thereof – had a lot to do with it. Conformity played a role but the fact that the ancient world was not a modern individualistic society where social trends are only propagated by utterly free choice (if that is the case today), does not equal to coercion being the main force. After all, it was not pagan antiquity that distinguished between the religious and the secular sphere – that was only possible – despite all failing of Christians in that regard – due to Christian principles.

#18 Comment By JonF311 On May 30, 2012 @ 7:06 pm

Re:  The post-Christian attempts to be God, and loses man in the process.

On further consideration I have a bone to pick with the above. It was after all the Pagan Greeks and Romans who deified men and women left and right– not just a few great men like Alexander and Julius Caesar, but some real unworthies– including a pirate captain and at least one prostitute.
And we moderns are trying to be God? Hello, those pagans even set up formal cults to their deified humans!

#19 Comment By JonF311 On May 30, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

Charlemagne is outside the frame I specified, being neither Roman nor in the era 300-600, the Christianization of the Empire period.

Also, some context needs to be given for Great Karl’s action– I assume you are talking about tnbe infamous case where he forcibly baptized the Saxon captives before slaughtering them to a man.
Note that there was no “Convert or die” offered: they were dead men regardless. And if you had been one of his subjects you would not have argued about that: those Saxons were not poor out-upon peacible pagans. Rather they had been looting, raping, killing and enslaving the Frabkish subjects for generations. If anyone in Karl’s empire disagreed with their fate it was not out of concern for religious liberty, but because they did not want the Saxons to have even a ghost of an opportunity to end up in Heaven

#20 Comment By JonF311 On May 30, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

As I noted there were restrictions put on pagan worship, so we are not in disagreement.

Something to consider also: ancient laws were very often honored in the breach outside of the area directly under the ruler’s immediate purview. This is why Decius and Diocletian had to send servitors they trusted to carry out their persecutions of the Christians even in major cities like Alexandria, since local officials simply ignored imperial edicts in a good many cases.

#21 Comment By JonF311 On May 30, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

Also, the Manicheans were seen, rightly as wrongly, as Christian heretics (as were the Gnostics and, at least at first, Muslims). Whatever they were they were not pagans in the sense we are talking about here. Their religion appears to have been a mishmash of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Neoplatonism.

#22 Comment By str1977 On May 31, 2012 @ 2:53 am

 Oh my! We were talking about the ancient Roman Empire and you come up with Albigensians and Templars, which are clearly off topic! I was talking about the half a century of Arian dominance in the 4th century.

However, for the record: yes, the Albigensians were exterminated in half a century of wars but lest we forget that it started with Albigensians murdering a papal legate and the Count of Toulouse doing nothing about it. And the whole affair was not merely “the Church being nasty” – other players were involved too.

As for the Templars: a French king persecuting a religious order to get at their wealth is hardly fitting either. 1. It was not “the Church”, 2. It waas not heretics at all!

#23 Comment By German_reader On May 31, 2012 @ 8:45 am

 Well yes, Constantine and his immediate successors tolerated a significant number of pagans in their entourage; they had to since the majority of the Empire’s population (and most crucially the army, the true centre of power in late antiquity) was still pagan at the beginning of the 4th century (about 90% by some estimates). But the trend was already clear under Constantine; if he could he put Christians in positions of power. And that trend became ever more pronounced as ever larger parts of the Roman elite became Christians (though I’ll admit that some Christian emperors like Valentinian and Valens were quite tolerant – they were however Arians which may have influenced their attitude).
And yes, there were emperors before Constantine who favoured specific cults (Aurelian’s worship of the sun god is a notable example). However the crucial difference is that none of those emperors regarded his favoured cult as the only true faith and sought to convert the entire population of the Empire to it, thereby by necessity suppressing all other cults (as clearly was Constantine’s long term goal – he sent some kind of circular letter through the provinces in which he exhorted his subjects to convert to Christianity for the good of the empire). Christianity was really radically different in this regard.
Your point about Christianity making possible the distinction between religious and secular (which didn’t exist in the ancient world) is of course correct. I would however say that this distinction became very much blurred under Constantine and his successors. In some ways Constantine continued the religious policy of the Tetrarchs who had believed it was their duty as emperors to ensure correct cult practice so the gods would stay well-disposed towards the empire (pax deorum; this of course was the reason for Diocletian’s persecution of Christians). Constantine had the same mindset – only that he believed it was his mission to use his power to convert pagans to Christianity and ensure orthodoxy within the Church; otherwise the empire might be in grave peril. I don’t think I need to point out how problematic this mixing of religious and political power can be; and I’d say it’s especially problematic when the religious part consists of a monotheistic faith whose adherents are concerned with dogmatic uniformity and who are unable to integrate or tolerate other cults as the ancient polytheists did. In theory Christianity made it possible to distinguish between a secular and religious sphere; in practice for many centuries after Constantine secular and religious power were closely connected, supported each other and regarded it as their mission to ensure religious uniformity in order not to lose God’s favour.
Anyway, I’ve now got work to do. If I have time, I’ll come back to this in the next days.

#24 Comment By German_reader On May 31, 2012 @ 8:55 am

 “Pagans were “merely” (not condoning it) forbidden to sacrifice at home
and their temples were closed. They were not forbidden to hold pagan

Since there wasn’t a coherent body of thought behind paganism (which was very much manifested in rituals, sacrifices etc.), it was de facto a prohibition of paganism per se when pagan temples were closed and sacrifices prohibited. I’ll admit however that of course the downfall of paganism can’t be attributed only to repression (which I still maintain played an important role). Pagan religions mostly were inferior to Christianity in structure (no sacred texts, no supra-regional organisation), practice (no developed systems of charity and alms-giving) and content (no promise of individual salvation etc.).

#25 Comment By German_reader On May 31, 2012 @ 9:00 am

” I assume you are talking about tnbe infamous case where he forcibly
baptized the Saxon captives before slaughtering them to a man.”

I’ve never heard of that story and the “baptism before death” part seems unlikely to me, but I may of course be mistaken.
You’re right however that Charlemagne’s campaigns against the Saxons at least initially were a reaction to Saxon raids into Frankish territory (and the pagan Saxons probably were quite unpleasant fellows who may even have practiced human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism). Any religious motives only came later after several years of bitter fighting.

#26 Comment By German_reader On May 31, 2012 @ 9:01 am

 I don’t think that by Charlemagne’s time there were any Arians left in Western Europe; the Visigoths at least had already been converted to Catholicism in the late 6th century.

#27 Comment By Marcus Lindroos On May 31, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

Re. C.S. Lewis (in 1953):
> What you say about the present state of mankind is true:
> indeed it is even worse than you say.
> For they neglect not only the Law of Christ,
> but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans.
> For now they do not  blush at adultery, treachery perjury, theft
> and other crimes, which I will not say Christian doctors,
> but the Pagans and Barbarians have  themselves denounced.

Lewis’ statement is absurd, although I agree that rising divorce rates (indirectly related to “adultery”) are a problem.

I am quite familiar with Scandinavia, so what has resulted “from the great apostasy of the great part of Europe from the Christian faith”? Lewis specifically mentions treachery, perjury, theft. Are these really more common in social democratic societies such as the Scandinavian nations (and modern Germany, the Netherlands, Britain) compared to one hundred years ago?

I think the answer to my question is obvious. There is less crime, corruption and violence in our part of the world compared to (say) deeply religious Third World nations.


#28 Comment By SiarlysJenkins On May 31, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

 Try a bit of Mad Lib on that sentence:

Christians were “merely” (not condoning it) forbidden to take communion at home
and their churches were closed. They were not forbidden to hold Christian

#29 Comment By SiarlysJenkins On May 31, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

 You may be right. Was it Clovis or Pippin who butchered the Arian Visigoths? Charlemagne merely butchered German pagans.

A pox on all their houses, of whatever century. And no, I don’t want to be like them.

#30 Comment By SiarlysJenkins On May 31, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

 As a montheist, I lay claim to a healthy dose of skepticism as to how much we humans really know.

#31 Comment By Marcus Lindroos On May 31, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

(Good post deleted for brevity)
> I would suggest that there are real and tangible benefits
> to the religious and human life of Christianity that many
> traditional Pagans recognized and thus were relatively
> easily converted to.

I agree with you that there were good “anthropological” reasons for the peoples of the Roman world to convert to Christianity.

It’s also worth noting there was quite a lot of “angst” in the late 4th and 5th century as the rise of Christianity coincided with the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The pagan critics argued that removing the Altar of Victory, closing down ancient temples, rituals and institutions that had survived for centuries etc. would destroy the “sacred bonds” tying communities together under a common supernatural jurisdiction. It would also of course anger the deities which had guided ancient Greece and Rome since the dawn of time.  St.Augustine wrote “the City of God” in response to such accusations.

Overall, I’d say Christianity has served the West well but its traditional form is now threatened by social and economic changes which it cannot deal with — much as traditional Roman religion was increasingly deemed irrelevant by the peoples of late antiquity. The emergence of organized, moralistic religion was apparently a necessary prerequisite for civilization itself. E.g. the Roman state had no prisons, no police force in the modern sense of the word and even the judicial system was mostly overseeing how private citizens resolved their legal disputes in private. Yet you cannot even run a small city without a certain degree of trust, altruism and cooperation between unrelated people. Instead, freeloaders and cheaters were scared by the thought of divine punishment or some powerful all-knowing interventionist god watching them.

Organized religion was the social glue. However, I think today’s Christian traditionalists make a mistake when they believe you cannot have strong communities or maintain law and order without belief in a supreme being of some kind. In John Locke’s words, “Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God. Promises, Covenants, and Oaths, which are the Bonds of Humane Society, can have no hold upon an Atheist.” I would argue that modern secular institutions (police, courts, various mechanisms for enforcing contracts between strangers) have reduced the need for organized religion in this regard. E.g. Scandinavia is certainly more cooperative and peaceful today than it was when Locke wrote his words back in 1689.MARCU$ 


#32 Comment By German_reader On June 1, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

 Ok, I’ve now looked through a standard hand book on late antiquity. I haven’t found many individual examples of pagans executed for their paganism (though if I made the effort to look into more specialised literature I’m sure I could find more even though the numbers will probably still be comparatively small; but then it has to be remembered that there are no acts of pagan “martyrs” and many incidents may now be unknown to us) but there’s enough in it about anti-pagan legislation and anti-pagan measures in general:
– My statement that it wasn’t just a matter of cutting off imperial support for pagan temples and cults is correct; confiscations of temple land and demolition of temples (whose columns were often used for Christian churches) already began under Constantine or at the very latest under his sons.
– Prohibitions against pagan practices were already enacted under Constantine’s son Constantius (under threat of the death penalty); churchmen under imperial protection destroyed temples and pagan statues.
– As another commenter has already pointed out Theodosius prohibited pagan practices under threat of the most severe penalties; worshipping the pagan gods from now on was to be regarded as a crimen maiestatis and high treason.
– Theodosius’ son Arcadius continued the anti-pagan policy of his father; in 396 he set down the death penalty as punishment for Roman officials who didn’t act upon the anti-pagan legislation. In 402 he sent troops to Gaza (upon request of its bishop Porphyrios) to destroy the pagan temples there and crush pagan opposition; pagans are excluded from positions as imperial officials.
– Emperor Leo in 472 declares any contravention of the anti-pagan laws to be a crimen maiestatis; those guilty of it are to be tortured and sent to the mines for the rest of their lives.
– Justinian has several high-ranking pagans/crypto-pagans executed or forces them into suicide.
– Measures against pagans include prohibition of cults and sacrifices, closing/destruction of temples, confiscation of their property; pagans lose the capacity to issue wills (so their property falls to the imperial fisc upon their death), they are removed from positions as officials and threatened with the death penalty for pagan practices.
– Oh, and John Chrysostomos – apart from agitating against pagans which is to be exspected – also was very much an enemy of Jews, popularizing the view of Jews of God-killers. He may have done a lot of good (though I’m not sure about that) but there certainly is a darker side as well.

All in all it is beyond my understanding how anyone could claim there wasn’t significant repression, even persecution of pagans under the Christian emperors. You and the other commenter who criticized my post seem quite intelligent so the only explanation I can think of is that your Christian belief makes you unwilling to face the uglier side of Christianization in late antiquity.

#33 Comment By Franklin_Evans On June 1, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

Hm. Do you mean like Jim Jones, or David Koresh, or any one of the top-tier televangelists? I think the horse has left that barn.

Seriously, though, there is solid evidence that Romans at the time did not enjoy an easy consensus for deification. As I recall (grain of salt time), Marcus Tulius Cicero had some choice, critical commentary for it.

Jon, I don’t expect blind trust from you on this, but I can offer reassurance that the vast majority of modern Pagans find personal deification at least as distasteful as you do. Don’t get caught up in Barnes’ rhetoric. The accurate description, playing on the quote, would be “…attempts to be closer to God…”