There’s a scary paganism to the unbridled blood lust that appears wherever Judeo-Christian ethical monotheism is in retreat.
Ethical monotheism underpins Western civilization. It’s a gift from the Jews, transmitted to large parts of the world through Christians. It is the idea that there is a single God.
Unlike pagan gods, this God is not a larger than life human (complete with human foibles) nor is He an animist spirit endowed with the attributes of whatever earthly thing (whether animal, vegetable, or mineral) He happens to represent. In addition to being the creator of all things (see Genesis) and a covenanter with the Jewish people (something that has been a mixed blessing for them), He is also the absolute and only fount of the core moral values that have governed the Western world for two millennia.
The Judeo-Christian concept of absolute moral values flowing from a creator in whose image we are created, means that there is no moral relativism. There are nuances, as for example in the distinction between murder and self-defense, but the dictates of the Ten Commandments make it perfectly clear what is and is not core ethical behavior. Murder — the cold-blooded killing of another without extenuating circumstances — is wrong. Stealing, whether stealing someone’s life, liberty, or property, is wrong. Coveting, not in a way that makes one try harder to achieve some through ones own efforts, but in a way that makes one greedy, resentful, and dishonest, is not only wrong, it is soul-destroying.
The God of the Jews can be a harsh task master, obsessed as He is with justice and moral virtue. Christ tempered that harshness with a concept I’ve always called, for want of a better word, grace. The combination of the two — moral justice and grace — led the way to the end of slavery, a condition existing since time immemorial; the end of child labor, a condition existing since time immemorial; the elevation of women to shared status with men, something that got a huge boost through the cult of Mary worship; and, most importantly, to the amazingly important idea of individual worth.
To the extent that we are all children of the Judeo-Christian God, shaped in His image, we have an unparalleled value. We are not merely cosmic dust. We are not the products of some Greek god’s ego. We are not meaningless animals. We are something exceptional and precious. Moreover, history has shown that, when we are given liberty, coupled with that ethical monotheism, we will thrive, creating societies that are safer, happier, and more prosperous than most in history.
Having said all that, I know that, more often than not, we humans, being fallible, have fallen far short of the purest Judeo-Christian dictates. Whether as nations or as individuals, we have enslaved, killed, robbed, cheated, and done all the things the Ten Commandments tell us not to do. But would we have been better had there been no Ten Commandments at all? Would the human condition have improved if we weren’t constantly, one generation after another, trying to learn and figure out how to optimize the rules of ethical monotheism? And most importantly, would the world be a better place if we hadn’t slowly, slowly, crept towards an understanding of individual worth? I think not.
All of the above is a predicate to a couple of news stories, a short history lesson, and a long-ago comment from my friend Danny Lemieux.
Brazil has beat its own macabre record for homicides: 63,880 people were murdered across the country in 2017, up 3 percent from the year before, according to a new study.
That’s 175 deaths per day.
Data from the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, a research organization, shows the murder rate in the country was 30.8 per 100,000 people, up from 29.9 in 2016. For the sake of comparison, the United States had five homicides per 100,000 people in 2015 — the most recent year for which data are available — down from eight per 100,000 in 1996. Even Mexico, which is also suffering from a soaring murder rate, had less homicides per capita with 25 per 100,000 last year.
According to the New York Times article from which I quoted, the problem is organized crime, mostly tied to drugs.
One could say the same about Chicago, although it seems to be disorganized crime, mostly tied to drugs and gang warfare:
At least 33 people were wounded this weekend in gun violence throughout Chicago.
The toll of gun violence was considerably lower than the previous weekend, when 71 people were shot and 12 died from their wounds.
According to HeyJackass, which tracks Chicago crime, as of the date of this post, 360 Chicagoans have been killed in 2018, with another 1,585 wounded. The dead, incidentally, do not live in nice white areas. They live in poor, Democrat-controlled black areas.
Despite the fact that both Brazil and Chicago have stringent gun control, most of the deaths and injuries in both places have been gun deaths. In other words, gun control has not stemmed the blood flow. Guns are tools. The problem is the culture that creates men (almost always men) who use these tools to destroy each other.
Another similarity between Brazil and Chicago is the rise of secularism. In 1970, 90% of Brazilians self-identified as Catholic. In 2010, 65% did, with most of them choosing atheism over faith. I suspect the percentage has dropped even more in the ensuing eight years. I’m also willing to bet that the number of faithful is lower in high crime areas, but that’s mere suspicion on my part. In Chicago, the most recent Pew polling data says that 74% of Chicagoans are either Jewish or Christian, although it doesn’t say how many identify casually or are active practitioners of their faith. I’m again willing to bet that those engaging in feral murder are not among that 74%.
The mass slaughter in both Chicago and Brazil bespeaks a complete disdain for the value of human life. And that gets me to the brief history lesson I promised. I’ve harked back before to a post I did in 2009 on the occasion of an exhibit that the British Museum had assembled about the Aztecs:
The Aztecs had a civilization of extraordinary sophistication, one that, in many ways, far surpassed the Europeans. Its cities were bigger, they had glorious architecture, and, unlike European cities, they were immaculate and well run. There was enormous wealth there. The social structure was sophisticated.
Why, then, were the Spaniards unimpressed? Two reasons. One was undoubtedly the inherent racism of the time. The other, though, was the large scale human sacrifice and cannibalism the Aztecs practiced. The Spaniards may have been warlike and had their Inquisition, but even the Spanish were disgusted by a religious structure that demanded the sacrifice of up to 80,000 people in connection with a single king’s coronation. This made it easy to conclude that the Aztecs were inferior, incapable of salvation, and worthy of conquest.
Not surprisingly, surrounding Indian tribes, whose citizens, captured in war, made up the bulk of the sacrifices, were also less than thrilled by the visual beauties of the Aztec kingdom. That’s why Cortez didn’t just act with his 167 Spaniards and a few horses. Instead, Cortez was swiftly able to gather many allies anxious to hasten the end of a violent, blood-soaked, totalitarian regime. That small pox jumped into the fray was an unexpected benefit from the Spanish point of view, and simply proved who had the “right” god.
The Aztec faith did not value the worth of the individual nor did it have ethical monotheism.
The same holds true for other governments that have advanced mass murder, most notably socialist governments in the last 100 years: Nazis, Soviets, Maoists, Castroites, North Koreans, Khmer Rouge, half the governments in Africa and Latin America . . . the list goes on and on. All of these governments aggressively sided with a belief system that disdains the individual in favor of the mass and that sneers at the Ten Commandments as a primitive system of rules intended to be an “opiate of the people,” preventing them from achieving their true glory as a lumpen mass under the control of an “enlightened,” all-powerful socialist government. Between them, those neo-pagan governments have killed over 100 million people.
Which gets me to what Danny Lemieux said years ago. Sadly, I can’t find his original comment, but I’ll riff off of my memory, with apologies for anything I got wrong.
Danny’s comments arose in the context of a post I’d written complaining that my kids’ public school education relentlessly pushed the idea that Native Americans were all peace-loving Gaia-ists who wouldn’t hurt a fly and practiced environmentalism in the most approved Progressive way. I resented how banal this approach made history and how non-historical it was.
Some Native American tribes were indeed peace-loving gatherers, as is the case with the Coastal Miwoks in my neck of the woods. Others, though, were like the Aztecs, although without the wealth and polish. They killed relentlessly and cruelly. Moreover, the only reason they were “green” was because they lacked the ability to be otherwise. The main goal was to eat and they’d do what it took to survive. I believe it was the Apache or the Comanche who hunted buffalo by driving them over cliffs. A whole herd would die, but the Native Americans, with their limited technological resources, would be able to eat only a few. The rest would rot.
Anyway, it was in the context of such a post that Danny pointed out that, just as the tribes surrounding the Aztecs embraced the Spaniards as their saviors from the Aztecs’ cruelty, many Native Americans embraced the Christian missionaries who poured into the New World. It’s definitely true that the soldiers, merchants, and politicians saw the Native Americans either as barriers to wealth that needed to be destroyed or as slaves. However, even while most priests probably didn’t see the Native Americans as the equals of Caucasians, they still saw them as human souls that needed saving.
These priests approached the Native Americans with respect and the Native Americans greeted them with relief. You see, many Native Americans, in common with pagans across Europe in the early Christian era, were grateful for a religion that said that Christ had been the ultimate human sacrifice, making all other human sacrifice redundant and, therefore, unnecessary. How nice to know that you weren’t going to be the enemy tribe’s next meal or totem. They might also have grasped that there is a virtue in individual worth, although I don’t know how sophisticated either the priests or the Native Americans were in this regard.
I’m sort of wandering around here, but I can’t help but think that, in certain parts of the world, as ethical Judeo-Christian monotheism retreats, paganism returns, with all the horrors inherent in paganism. Humans are highly imperfect, but Judeo-Christian ethical monotheism provides a path to a more peaceful world, one that values the individual and promotes individual liberty. And that’s something that paganism, whether in its ancient form, its Marxist form, or its current anarchic form, has never done and will never do.
P.S. I know NeoWayland is thinking something along the lines of “I’m a highly moral person, even though I’m not religious.” If you are thinking that, NeoWayland, I have no doubt but that you are correct. I would suggest, however, that even though you may not look to God for your morality, your morality is nevertheless informed by the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Ten Commandments. I spent years being a non-religious Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments type myself. However, while individuals can maintain morality through reason and education, culture as a whole seems to fall back if there’s not a critical mass of people who view God as the central pillar of morality. It’s kind of like vaccinations and herd immunity.
P.P.S. I’m also not saying that the Judeo-Christian approach is the only way to achieve a civil society. Japan is a highly civil society, for example, although it was contact with the Judeo-Christian West that caused its technological and economic explosion (for better or worse). Other cultures and religions have their own rules and mores, although as a Westerner I bridle at the lack of respect for the individual. India’s mass murder of girl babies is a problem that should not exist in a culture that places primacy on the individual.
In that regard, the rise of abortion in the West is, to my mind, a return to a form of paganism that believes in human sacrifice for the betterment of society. Indeed, Chelsea Clinton just made that very clear:
“Whether you kind of fundamentally care about reproductive rights and access, right, because again these are not the same thing — if you care about social justice or economic justice, agency — you have to care about this,” she said, according to a clip published by the Media Research Center. “It is not a disconnected fact … that American women entering the labor force from 1970 to 2009 added three and a half trillion dollars to our economy, right?
“The net, new entrance of women — that is not disconnected from the fact that Roe became the law of the land in January of 1973,” she said. “So, I think, whatever it is that people say they care about, I think that you can connect to this issue. Of course, I would hope that they would care about our equal rights and dignity to make our own choices, but if that is not sufficiently persuasive, hopefully some of these other arguments that you’re hearing expressed so beautifully will be.”
She’s basically arguing for the modern version of Aztec sacrifice, isn’t she? If that isn’t raw paganism, I don’t know what is.