The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, August 27, 2010

This and That

It has been longer than I wished since my last post. Between the August heat, a spell of illness that hit me earlier this week, and simply having other things to do, I have not spent much time in front of my computer since last weekend. My next essay (on immigration) is more or less complete in outline. I may not have the time to write it out before the middle of next week, however.

The August issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture includes an essay by Jerry Salyer entitled Where The Demons Dwell: The Antichrist Right. Several decades ago, there was an attempt on the Left to revive "paganism" as an alternative to Christianity. The religion that these leftists founded, bore little to no resemblance to the actual paganism that had existed in Europe prior to the spread of the Gospel and the rise of the Church. No genuine pagan religion, for example, had a goddess at the head of its pantheon. The new paganism reflected, not the faith of the ancient Greeks and Romans, Germans, or Celts, but the ideals of 20th Century leftist movements like feminism and the sexual revolution.

Mr. Salyer's article is written in response to a similar endeavor on the part of some on the Right. The idea of an "Antichrist Right" seems strange. After all, is not the purpose of the Right, in part, to stand up for the Church and other institutions of traditional Western society against the onslaught of rationalist secularism? In fact the basic concept of the "Antichrist Right" goes back to Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th Century. Christianity, according to these right-wing critics from Nietzsche to Spengler to those of the present day, by preaching a message of redemption that is universally available and a morality which stresses compassion for the poor, weak and downtrodden, gave birth to the liberalism that is killing the West.

Mr. Salyer answers the charges against Christianity while demonstrating that the neopaganism of the Right is no more a legitimate continuation of pre-Christian European paganism than that of the Left. I will not summarize his arguments here, but instead refer you to his excellent essay.

I spent much of last weekend at the beach reading the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem about a Geat warrior who as a young man defeats the monster Grendel and his mother, in the service of a Danish king, then as an elderly man, battles a dragon in his own kingdom in which battle he is fatally wounded. Beowulf, like the Scylding king Hrothgar whom he serves, is a pre-Christian pagan, and this poem celebrates everything that the "Antichrist Right" admires about pagan culture. It honors Germanic warrior culture for its virtues - strong ties of kinship and loyalty, courage in battle, etc. A bard in the poem sings about Sigurd/Siegfried (the hero of the Norse Völsungsaga and the German Nibelungenlied, and of course Wagner's operatic Ring cycle based on those poems - he is to Norse/Germanic mythology what Achilles was to Greek and Roman mythology).

Yet this poem was clearly written by a Christian. We do not know who the author was, or even when it was written (just that it was towards the end of the 1st Christian millenium). However, he refers to the Christian God throughout the poem, decries pagan idolatry, and makes Grendel and his mother to be descendants of Cain. Clearly the author of Beowulf saw no conflict between Christianity and the virtues of a strong community, built on ties of blood and loyalty, that honors and celebrates martial virtue. The universal and the particular are not mutually exclusive, but the necessary complements of each other.

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