You might remember that in C.S.Lewis’ Narnia stories Mr Tumnus the Faun recounts how they used to have jolly times with Bacchus and Silenus. Lewis was criticized for bringing such blatant paganism into his works.
Bacchus? Centaurs? Fauns? Dryads and Naiads?
What was he thinking??!!
In writing to Don Giovanni–a Catholic priest, Lewis commented on the matter and observed that modern man was in such a lamentable state that perhaps it was necessary “first to make people good pagans, and after that to make them Christians”.
What did he mean by “good pagans”? He meant that pagans had certain traits that modern men don’t have. They had a sense of the supernatural welling up within the created order. For the pagans the hills were alive with the sound of centaur’s hooves. The skies were alive with the gods of planets and of stars. The trees danced as dryads and the waters danced as naiads. The pagans were cruel and bloodthirsty, but they were also noble in a Stoical kind of way. They were earthy and lusty and violent, but they were also vibrantly alive.
In contrast consider the puritanical atheist of the modern world. Ensconced in his sterile world of steel and glass, he moves about afraid of germs.
He gazes at his iScreen not at the stars. He is obsessed with cleanliness and order. His puritanism doesn’t even have the hellfire, fear and passion of the real Puritans. He’s not only a hollow man, he’s a sterile hollow man–not even a straw stuffed scarecrow, he is a propaganda programed automaton.
He is not only a Puritanical atheist, but he is a prude. He says he is all for sexual freedom, but because of artificial contraception even his sex is narcissistic and sterile. He does the sexual act and is ashamed, not because he is sinful, but because it is dirty. His children are planned like his whole boring little life, and if he happens to love another man, then they go and get a child through semen in test tubes and eggs surgically removed and fertilized in a laboratory by a white rat in a white coat. The rambunctious, lusty, glorious self giving union that gives life reduced to a grubby masturbation, a sterile lab and a surrogate “host” for the “product of conception.”
I call this modern monstrosity of man puritanical for two reasons–first because he is frighteningly puritanical with his prissy rules of political correctness, his snooty entitlement mindset and his seventh grade girly victim mentality, but he is also puritanical because the roots of his illness are in Protestantism.
It was Protestantism that produce Puritanism. They had to purge Catholicism of all that “worldly stuff” like statues and art, music and architecture, festivals and processions, sacrifice and priests, incense and flowers and settle instead for bare whitewashed preaching barns. No saints. No angels. No festivals or fasts. No confession or priests or Mother of God or miracles or anything that makes religion religion really.
The irony is that Protestantism– so intent on avoiding a religion of good works, soon became the ultimate expression of a religion of good works. The Puritans had to create an Eden on earth, with their utopianism they had to work hard to produce their utopia and force others to help them build it and so produced the ultimate system of good works and legalism.
They replaced real religion by all that was staid and staunch, starched and parched, and once their utopianism ceased to be religious it became even more legalistic, frightened and twisted…and atheistic to boot.
So, as usual, C.S.Lewis was right.
There is little hope for this puritanical atheist.
What is frightening is that the Catholic Church for the last sixty years has been stumbling over itself to replicate the same kind of sterile, dull and dry religion that the Protestants have promoted. We’ve grubbed out the gothic and brought in the brutal. We’ve torn down the Baroque temple and built the sterile auditorium. We’ve stripped the altars and the priests and re-dressed them in polyester and felt banners. We’ve emasculated the mystery and substituted bland, suburban good manners for supernatural, heroic holiness.
Perhaps what is needed is for us to learn how to be good pagans, and Catholics have the best chance at that, for beneath the barren surface we still have the chance for festivals and jollities. Beneath the plastic and polyester we still have a religion of blood and thunder, sacrifice and worship. We have an incarnation and sacramental religion that reminds us that there was much good in paganism, and among the goods was an ability to rejoice.
So we should remember with the bellicose Belloc that “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,There’s always laughter and good red wine.At least I’ve always found it so.
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[…] Longenecker has a great article about some of these ideas too, where he describes how men need first be good pagans before becoming […]