Tuesday, January 4, 2022


One indication of an idea having entered the cultural mainstream is when it appears in The NY Times. In a "Guest Essay" (what used to be called an "Op-Ed") in The NY Times online on December 29 (and then in the January 3 print edition), contributing opinion writer Christopher Caldwell in "Is the West Becoming Pagan Again?" examined the contention of French Catholic philosopher and author Chantel Delsol, in her 2021 book La Fin de la Chrétienté, that the current cultural transition represents what she calls a "normative inversion," reversing the fourth-century "normative inversion" from Roman paganism to Christianity. I have not read Delsol's book, but I did find a recent English-language article by her online, entitled "The End of Christianity," which seems to summarize her argument. 

[Her article can be accessed at: https://www.hungarianconservative.com/articles/culture-society/the-end-of-christianity/]

As I understand it, Delsol does not contend that Christianity, per se, as a religious faith, is ending but what we commonly call "Christendom," what Caldwell calls "Christian civilization." That reality emerged from Christianity's replacement of Roman paganism in the fourth century and has been fighting for its survival since the 18th century. According to Delsol, the Dutch, British, and American revolutions "installed stable regimes and created societies where politics and religion supported each other." The French Revolution, however, "led to a perpetual war between church and state," leading to "sinister excesses" on the state side, while on the other side, "reduced to the status of a public enemy and perpetually in revolt against the new laws and customs," the church has been "slowly withering away."  

There is obviously hardly anything new in this analysis. What is interesting is her view that the 21st century is no less religious for no longer being Christian. "Other religions have taken over the scene." Indeed, she insists that "as long as humanity is imperfect and mortal (thus until the end of time, no doubt despite the fabrications of post-humanism), it will give itself religions, wisdom, and morals. Only the extreme and fleeting rationalization of the Enlightenment, detached from reality, could believe in the future of atheism." Moreover, "as soon as Christianity fell, all kinds of other gods took its place." 

This too is not necessarily a novel notion. One is reminded of Chesterton's comment: “When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in everything.”

What is happening now, she suggests, is a paradigm shift analogous to what happened in the fourth century, when Christianity replaced Roman paganism, a complete reversal that was both philosophical and moral. Since the 18th century, the dominant paradigm is shifting again. "The present tense tells the story of the return of the great Pan - we have come full circle." As an example she uses the practice of divorce, "quick and easy" in pagan Rome until banned by Christian emperors. The Revolution legalized divorce in France in 1792. The Restoration revoked that in 1816, but divorce was reestablished in 1884. Vichy restricted divorce in 1941, but in post-war France the divorce laws became progressively more lax until resembling the mutual consent divorce regime of pre-Christian pagan Rome. "Christendom defends itself, and mobilizes all its ardour to maintain the legislative and penal power of its mores. Yet whatever happens and despite some episodic successes, the tide has been rising for two centuries, always in the same direction, and never stopping."

Meanwhile, "the currents that defend ancient morals, although supported by many voters, have difficulty finding representatives or rather find only extremist representatives, such as Donald Trump. The fate of a current condemned by history is to become more and more extremist, to lose its most competent defenders, and finally, by a sort of disastrous process, to end up resembling the description of tis adversaries."

That last observation, obviously so relevant to the religious situation in the United States, highlights the danger to Christian religion itself whenever religion aspires to advance its imagined interests by alliance with secular political power. 

Against that, Delsol suggests a Christianity that abandons "the reign of force" inventing "another mode of being than that of hegemony," in which mission is no longer "synonymous with conquest."

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