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Oracular Politics Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 20 April 2013

One of the finest things about ancient Roman public life, Cicero tells us at the outset of De Domo Sua, is that Religion and the State are controlled by the same persons. The Roman Senate is a one-stop shop. So when he wants something – in this case, to get his property back, after the government took it, and had it consecrated to a god – he knows where to go.

The same authority can have it de-consecrated, as well as materially restored to its former owner. They can also have the statue of Liberty removed from the location where Ciceros house had stood. Yesterday it was holy, but today it might be just an inconvenient pile of stone.

Now, in the political conflict between Cicero and Clodius, I will take no part. Clodius was a rogue, but perhaps Cicero had it coming. The circumstances in which he lost his house have not been an issue for me since I was a schoolboy. Nor, after 2,070-something years, do I think it really matters.

What interests me, today, is the basic structure of pagan Roman politics. In my childhood, it was remote: something to be studied in a “purely academic” way. For that matter, the pagan gods did not impact my life, except as literary allusions. But my disinterest, or non-interest, has become rather dated.

Ancient Rome has become very relevant to our times and to our foreseeable future. For once again we are living in a pagan society; in a society we could not conceive of when I was a child only half a century ago. It is a society in which government has absolute power, as much in the spiritual as in the material realm. And as we know from history, thats “bad news for Jews,” – as well as for Christians.

That the Roman Empire, which succeeded the Republic, collapsed, and Christendom was built over its ruined foundations, we all know too well. Such is the reach of anachronism that we find great difficulty in understanding ancient history – not only because of attitudes that seem unlike ours, but because were over-informed about where it all led, and how it all ended.

To read Cicero, and other Roman greats, we must suppress this knowledge. We must try to imagine Rome in all her power. At the time of which I'm speaking, she has centuries ahead of her. She has also a teeming population who take all kinds of things for granted, as we have taken (for instance) American power for granted.

The question for the government of this august power is not what can they do, but what do they want to do. The world will accommodate them when they make up their mind; as the world has, until quite recently, been accommodating American power. (Of course, America was a “hyperpower” only briefly; Rome was a hyperpower for a long time.)


          Marcus Tullius Cicero

Within that Roman State and its metropolis, the people may be an occasional problem. But they are a manageable problem. Bread and circuses will buy them off.  Pompey’s management of the corn supply comes into the background of my present reading, along with the use of free corn, like food stamps, to keep a potentially rebellious population obedient and following orders.

All this actually tells us much about same-sex marriage. The battle against it was lost within a decade of the whole idea being raised, up here in Canada. From Canadian experience, I can often know what is going to happen in the United States. Since 2005 Ive known attempts to resist the redefinition of marriage in the USA were hopeless. Polls, including referenda in several dozen states, had nothing to do with it. Once the political class has decided what it wants, the bread and circuses can be provided.

The old definition of marriage – perfectly understood even by the people who did not perfectly practice it – was a product of the Christian civilization that America took in, along with her settlers from old Europe. Its precepts were usually unspoken, because it was seldom necessary to speak them. Until quite recently, the idea of consecrating a “marriage” between two men, or two women, was unthinkable.

But the State, which never established a Church, became one. By slow increments over time, accelerating to quick ones over the last generation, Christianity was marginalized. It is now a “private religion” on a par with Islam, Buddhism, Astrology, and Wicca. It is tolerated, as the Romans tolerated all marginal religious cults – up to the point where the followers refuse to honor the State's gods.

The official religion of the government of the United States – which goes generally under the name “secular humanism” – is replete with idols. They are not rendered in statuary in the Roman style, but mostly in words, for abstract conceptions. Each enunciated “human right” is, for all practical purposes, an Official State God, requiring formal acknowledgement and worship by all, including those with “private religions.”

To refuse this worship is to challenge the authority and serenity of the State. To withhold worship of a god, on the grounds that it was not worshipped yesterday, is no defense. As Cicero noted, that State has the ability to create new gods at will, to consecrate and de-consecrate at its pleasure.

And the people are happy with this. Apart from a small, and shrinking body of practicing Christians, and practitioners of other “private religions” – rednecks of various kinds, if you will – the people have always gone along, once clearly instructed. God knows (and I mean that literally) that when Christianity prevailed, many people simply went along. We cannot see into people's hearts, but we can see the outward signs of social conformity.

The State is in the process of decreeing that homosexual alliances may be consecrated. For a god has ruled that this must be so, and the State is the interpreter of the oracles.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.
 

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Comments (20)Add Comment
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written by Mack Hall, HSG, April 20, 2013
Well and truly said. Thank you!
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written by Manfred, April 20, 2013
"God knows (and I mean that literally) that when Christianity prevailed, many people simply went along." Mr. Warren, I want to thank you for a truly excellent article. In my opinion, you have captured the very essence of the recent history of the U.S. Mainstream Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism have collapsed, leaving only a "fringe" as you describe it. The good news from history is that Catholicism was persecuted for only two hundred and fifty years by the Roman Empire before it, the Empire, collpased. Your experiences as a Canadian who has witnessed to this change has allowed you to be a very informed messenger to us Americans. Thank you.
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written by maineman, April 20, 2013
All too true, but the comparison with Rome goes only so far, I think. The secular-humanists that have seized control of key elements of the power structure in America are a frail, feminized class of intellectuals, nothing like the Roman legions, and the populous here is nothing like the Roman citizenry.

In vast areas of this country, common men and common sense still prevail, and there are neither the power, the will to impose it, nor the requisite subservience to permit this stroll into la la land to prevail entirely. Yes, in areas rendered deep blue by lack of cerebral blood flow, the bi-coastal extremities, these delusions will persist for a time, and we will see our health, fiscal and mental, decline accordingly.

But the country will fracture before such nonsense can be imposed on it in its entirety. Fearless leader's foolish proclamations notwithstanding, this remains a Christian nation, increasingly Catholic but also blessed with a strong evangelical strain that is a major reason that we have not become a hollowed out shell like Europe, where this abomination arose.

Until the collapse of the ruling class, what remains for the rest of us is to refrain from speaking or living the lie which, as Mr. Warren's piece implies, will likely be increasingly difficult in the near term.
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written by thereserita, April 20, 2013
What maineman said.
I know nothing about Canada but I do know that the majority of citizens of the USA are descended from people who self-selected to come to this country. The author may be correct in assuming that the USA will go down the drain the same way Rome did but, if he assumes it will be without a whimper, he's wrong.
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written by Howard, April 20, 2013
No, many of the idols are in fact people -- mostly dead people. Thou shalt not blaspheme Martin Luther King, or John Kennedy, or FDR, for example. Especially MLK. It is fine to mock Jesus, or to suggest that His birthday should not be a national holiday, but just try to do that with MLK!
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written by Jeff, April 20, 2013
The trend to secularize may have begun when school prayer was struck down by the courts. Around 1960. Public schools had used Protestant Bibles in areas where Catholic immigrants lived, decades earlier (causing a Catholic school system to begin). The school prayer issue caused conservative Protestants to spin off and follow what Catholics had done. So, we have multiple school systems including home schoolers now. This diversity shields all kinds of believers from the State Religion, and from having to practice false idol worship wherever possible. Therefore, when the false prophesy of the state comes to pass, the believers should already be organized and ready to pick up the pieces. Hopefully not in a violent way like the Arab Spring nations led to Muslim advancement over other faiths over there.
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written by Phil, April 20, 2013
"Rednecks"??? Please tell me you're not referring to people who are opposed to the useless gun control laws that are being proposed by liberals...

You know there are Catholics who enjoy firearm use for hunting and recreation, and even some who use them for justified self defense!
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written by Andrew, April 20, 2013
The righteousness of this nation is by faith, not by what we see. Romans 4:17-18 says that Abraham ". . .called those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might be a father of many nations . . ." We too believe that the words spoken and written 237 years ago concerning our nation are still alive in the hearts of a remnant even though many do not understand. We should not compare ourselves with others as a nation but instead what has God called us to be.
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written by Howard, April 20, 2013
"The author may be correct in assuming that the USA will go down the drain the same way Rome did but, if he assumes it will be without a whimper, he's wrong." Correct. This country will go down the drain with broad popular support.

It's like the fear in some circles that the government wants to implant chips in us. The day may well come when most people have these chips, but it won't be because the government mandates them. If the chips include a feature to create a direct interface between the brain and the Internet, people will *demand* to have them.
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written by Mark, April 20, 2013
Even with gay marriage, the State isn't claiming to "consecrate" anything.
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written by FMShyanguya, April 20, 2013
And this god is:

Cf. Pope Francis the Cardinal Bergoglio:

"...This is not simply a political struggle, but an attempt to destroy God's plan. It is not just a bill but a move of the Father of Lies, who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God."
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written by mike, April 20, 2013
Excellent and accurate article. This year the "Supreme Court" will be deciding issues on homosexual "marriage". When I hear folks acting like the outcome is questionable, I smile sadly. I tell them the decision from the robed 9 gods is predetermined, they will magically find a constitutional guarantee for this abomination.
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written by Billy Bean, April 20, 2013
What I find most telling is your throw-away line, "Of course, America was a 'hyperpower' only briefly. . . ." Past tense. Not a whimper of protest or attempt at refutation by any American yet. Speaks volumes.
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written by TeaPot562, April 20, 2013
Very few of us, even daily communicants, want to be martyred, or to have our bank accounts levied by the IRS for "fines" imposed by judges for failing to worship the State-anointed deities.
Ask some of the Christians living in Egypt what it's like to live in a land where YOUR religion is mildly persecuted by the state IF you try to practice it publicly.
TeaPot562
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written by Daniel, April 20, 2013
Homosexuality is defined by sex. It cannot be defined by marriage. It cannot be defined by love. It cannot be defined by children. And it cannot be defined by the government. It is defined by a perverted sexual act. If sex were not involved, the relationship COULD NOT be homo-sexual. Homosexuality is defined by sex. Heterosexuality is defined by God.
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written by Order, April 21, 2013
You're making the mistake all too many well-intentioned but misinformed people make these days ; you are suggesting the government make moral laws. You are greatly misinformed. The government is not in place to define or enforce morality; if it were, it would outlaw divorce, infidelity, and a surfeit of other transgressions. The government is--and has always been--a utilitarian government whose essential criteria for legislation is merely utility, aka "the greatest good for the greatest number." You may disagree, but you will still be wrong.
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written by MT, April 21, 2013
The philosopher Eric Vogelin spent much of his career examining political religions. Once God is murdered the religious impulse does not die with Him. No, that impulse gets redirected into something equally powerful and authoritative. The replacement for religion becomes an individual's politics, and the replacement for God becomes the State. Chesterton summed it up by saying "Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God." In a purely secular government framed by a deliberately Godless constitution, one that accepts no authority higher than the fraud of "we the people," there are only two entities that can fill the void once filled by the power and authority of God -- the power and authority of the State, and the power and authority of the Individual. Ironically, it is Individualism that begets Statism, and both are products of the sin of Liberalism). Such a government with such a constitution must ultimately default to two things: falsely 'free' the people by granting license to their unprincipled passions in the name of "liberty," and unjustly control the people by granting them fairness and equality in the name of "justice." America's veritable social atheism will never be free from religion -- no culture can be. It will always find its new gods. But they will be false and sterile gods, and we will know them by their rejection of truth and their hatred of the culture of life.
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written by Drudge Slave, April 21, 2013
"...America was a “hyperpower” only briefly..." Well Said!
To those who disagree, I enter into evidence, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"...the people have always gone along, once clearly instructed." Gee, this ties in well with Msgr. Pope's blog on the people being called
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written by CP, April 21, 2013
The culture is not quite convinced. I offer the following story. We recently had breakfast in a neighborhood well populated by those of alternative lifestyles of all kinds. The breakfast place doesn't necessary cater to any clientele and all peoples go there. However, we went as a group of four - one heterosexual couple and two very close friends of the same gender. By the way we were sitting and interacting the two friends could have been confused for one of the few same sex couples at other tables. However, when the waitress approached she had no problem pointing out the couple from the friends. If even those most inundated by same sex examples still hold onto an unconscious heteronormativity tells me the trend to equalize all relationships can only seep so deep. Remove the media brainwashing or public financing or coerced affirmation or bullying of government threat and their regime collapses.
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written by richard, April 23, 2013
I beleave we have more to say in this matter than just "it comming, or its here. The simple solution I beleave is to stop listening, in other words shut off the media. there lies the sorce of there power funded by advertisement. When the Church "people of God" drop T.V. in all its forms the message will change simply because of the money involved. Frankly the media not the church has our attention, forms opinions and sadly raises many of our children.

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