Part 2 of 2
Translated by Greg Johnson
How can Celsus, who published polemical writings against the Christians around 178, be used as a guide for the 21st century?
Celsus was a neoplatonic philosopher, the author of an anti-Christian book the True Discourse, the text of which is known to us today only through the attempts to refute it by the Fathers of the Church (this is also the case with the treatises of Julian, Porphyry, etc.). I can’t really see how one could make it a “guide for the 21st century.” Reading his book—the text of which has been reconstructed by specialists—does, however, help us to better understand the ancient pagan polemics against Christianity.
Does Christianity constitute a viable vehicle for the perpetuation of the European people and their culture, or does it lead to a non-European future because of disappearance of the “Germanic” element that had transformed it in the Middle Ages, as James C. Russell shows so well in his book The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)? Do you think that there is a reason to preserve Christianity? Can it play a positive role in European culture?
All told, I do not think that one should be pleased by the appearance of Christianity and its development. The pre-Christian ages of Europe were not spiritually deficient in any way. What is good in Christianity isn’t new, and what is new in it isn’t good. But as I have just said, Christianity is not a unitary block. St. Francis of Assisi and Torquemada gave the same Church quite different faces! There is nothing wrong with preferring the former. I have written a book entitled On Being a Pagan, but that has never prevented me from appreciating Catholic authors like Léon Bloy, Charles Péguy, Georges Bernanos, and Gustave Thibon, or from feeling agreement with certain aspects of the social teachings of the Church.
To answer your question more precisely, I do not think that Christianity is a “viable vehicle for safeguarding the European people and their culture.” But above all, I believe that it should be well understood that we already no longer live in a Christian society. The dominant public discourse certainly remains impregnated with themes of Christian or biblical origin, but behaviors have changed. There as elsewhere, individualism has taken the lead.
The Churches, just like the parties and the trade unions of the traditional type, are passing through a deep crisis. In France, less than 8% of the population goes to mass or Sunday worship, the number of ordained priests continues to drop year after year, and nobody obeys the pope any longer regarding sexual morals or manners.
It is different in the United States, where religious belief and practices remain incredibly more widespread than elsewhere. In continental Europe, there is no equivalent of the “creationists” and “born-again Christians,” the “moral Majority,” or the ridiculous American “televangelists”! Even in the United States, however, it is no longer possible to speak about “Christian society.” And that is what constitutes the postmodern version of secularization.
Individuals or groups of individuals can of course continue to find reasons in the Christian faith to live and to die, but it has lost the decisive role that it played in the past. It no longer constitutes the total frame of reference and the principal normative criterion of social existence. That means that religious membership today merely has the status of one opinion among many, on the general foundation of indifferentism and practical materialism. It is a radical change in the very definition of religion.
Under these conditions, the question is no longer whether Christianity should or should not be “preserved.” The Churches try to survive, clinging nostalgically to a past that no longer corresponds to anything, while seeking on the contrary to adapt to the current world, by reaffirming their universalist vocation, trying to pose as “moral authorities,” etc. That is their business. The real issues of the future lie elsewhere.
Why doesn’t the New Right refer to Christianity when it preaches a return to the roots of Europe? Paul Piccone and Gary Ulmen, in their introduction to Michael Torigian’s, “The Philosophical Foundations of the French New Right” (Telos, no. 17, Autumn 1999, pp. 4–5), wonder if two thousand years of Christianity is not sufficient to make this religion an indigenous tradition, even if certain parts of Europe (like Scandinavia and the Baltic States) were Christianized only much later. Are there many political movements eager to return to roots that preach a return to paganism?
The New Right has never preached a “return” to paganism or a “return” to roots, or a return to anything for that matter. Instead, we wish to go beyond current society, but we wish to envision the future though the lens of a clear consciousness of the past. These two approaches are quite different: recurrence is not synonymous with return! Let us say simply that one can “futurize” the present only by “historicizing” the past.
The problem is that the majority of our contemporaries live in a perpetual present, i.e., a point of view where only the present moment counts and one is no longer capable of awaiting the future or drawing lessons from the past. The past is not limited to the point of origin, which is an always conventional limit anyway, but takes into account all accomplished history. To make any sense of history, we must look at the longest possible term.
Christianity obviously forms part of European history, but Europe was not born with it. When Christianity appeared, Europe already had five or six millennia of culture and civilization behind it. To speak about the “Christian roots” of Europe amounts to denying that the Latin, Greek, Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic cultures of Antiquity ever existed, which is obviously indefensible.
You have sometimes described Christianity as the “Bolshevism of Antiquity.” Does the New Right regard Christianity as the ancestor and principal carrier of totalitarianism?
When Christianity was spread in Europe, it necessarily had to destroy the old order. That entailed the struggle against paganism. We have innumerable testimonies on the ways in which the early Christians profaned the old places of worship, destroyed the temples and the statues of the gods, tore down the altars, toppled the colonnades, burned the philosophical and literary works that displeased them, etc. It was indeed a question of “making the past a clean slate.” The polemical phrase you quote is alluding to this.
On the other hand, to say that Christianity is the direct origin of totalitarianism is excessive. It nevertheless contributed to it by introducing into the Western realm a type of intolerance—religious intolerance—that was previously unknown. Paganism quite naturally recognized the legitimacy of the various beliefs professed by the various peoples. With Christianity the concepts of absolute good and evil appear, a single God, orthodoxy, dogma, heresies, inquisitions, wars of religion, etc.
The Christians intended both to convert all humanity and to fight against what they regarded as “idolatry.” Their religion being above all a moral religion, they tend to see in their enemies, not just as the adversaries of the moment but as figures of Evil. To eradicate Evil, those who claim to incarnate the Good are quickly led, in all clear conscience, to employ any means.
In modern times, the totalitarian regimes acted no differently: they claimed to carry out “just” wars, declared their adversaries criminals, and were inevitably led to place them outside humanity. One consequence of this way of thinking is the elimination of the third: “He who is not with me is against me,” said Jesus—a saying recently repeated by president George W. Bush.