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The Return of the (Pagan) Gods

A modern historian would have to labor to get a grip on the soup of religious ideas and practices that existed in the first century at the very dawn of Christianity. Yet the modern world is reviving precisely that as it progressively detaches itself from Christianity. Those ideas and practices are inspired by evil spirits now, even as they were then. In the West today, many behaviors might not be called religious, but by their power over individuals and their fixed routines, and their centrality in the life of many individuals, that’s what in reality they are.

One obvious modern worship is the adoration of Priapus. That “god’s” attributes do not need to be detailed here. But a whole industry of medications is devoted to the worship of Priapus by men who do not have a medical condition requiring medication. You can’t escape it: Ads are plastered all over TV. The context is always “being ready,” as if sexual intercourse is merely recreational and not also spiritual.

Then there is the worship of Hecate, a goddess who confers blessings and prosperity via what may be broadly – but fairly – called witchcraft. Ever notice some people with their cell-phones? They escape social situations by going into a trance before the screen, apparently blessed by what they find there rather than by participating in the interpersonal relations that have their roots in the relations among the divine Persons of the Trinity.

Many of our possessions have this odd effect. They possess us.

Or how about the Harpies? Dante had them as the spirits populating a forest in Hell, where they make people suffer. They are vicious vindictive creatures and are equipped with razor sharp talons. Today’s harpy culture revels in calumny and detraction.

No? Look at the sharp attacks on Archbishop Cordileone or Cardinal Pell. But there are many more examples. You constantly see people viciously attacking each other verbally and saying the wildest things on TV. It gets audience share, to be sure. But calumny is still a sin, the sin of saying things that are false. And detraction is still saying things that might be true, but that should not casually be put into words.

Or how about this, which you can find even on Wikipedia: “In the Hebrew Bible, the site [Gehenna near Jerusalem] was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba’als and other Canaanite gods, including Moloch (or Molech), sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6).” Appropriately and prophetically, Gehenna came to be a name for Hell. Those ancient practices have been recovered in the modern sacrifice of kids to satisfy the needs of adults.

"Ulysses and the Sirens [Harpies]" by J.W. Waterhouse, 1891 [National Gallery of Victoria]
“Ulysses and the Sirens [Harpies]” by J.W. Waterhouse, 1891 [National Gallery of Victoria]
Abortions run at 3,500 a day in America. Abortions, we’re often told spare people “unwanted” children. And yet the United States also has the highest per capita rate of child abuse in the industrialized world; millions of incidents are reported annually. There are probably many more that go unreported. And sexual abuse accounts for one fifth of the reported cases.

Eris is the Greek goddess of strife and discord. Her worship is alive and well, even in the Church. I have gotten countless questions about Pope Francis that aren’t questions at all. People seem exceedingly fond of scoring points of the I-am-right-and-the-Pope-is-not variety. Who now recalls “For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church.”(Vatican II)

What is really tragic is that so many people take as Gospel what they read in newspapers, most of which have no love for the Church, the pope, God himself. Seriously, when do they get anything about the Church right? Yet, ostensibly faithful Catholics instantly drop the pope instead of first charitably and justly finding out WHAT he said and in what CONTEXT.

If division at the very top seems too far distant from your daily life, how about the Catholic teachers recently suspended from Catholic schools for teaching Catholic teaching. It would be easy to go on. The Church is supposed to be an example of unity to the world, but in many ways worships Eris.

There are more gods abroad – Morpheus, for instance, with his many devotees who live for narcotics of various sorts. This may seem a trivial case, but something deeper is at stake, as are all departures from the good and the true.

False religions draw people away from the religion of the true God. When we paid more attention to what the Bible actually says rather than what we want it to say, we read: “all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.”(Psalm 96:5-6)

Idols even distort the appearance of the true religion. They soak up time, energy, and moral commitment, leaving much less for the real thing. It is as if the denial of the true God redounds upon its idolaters in real time.

And there are even worse consequences: “reason itself is slow and hesitant in determining the course of action to be followed; it loses its sensitivity for what is truly human good and compromises with material interests. The will becomes pathologically self-seeking, absorbed in asserting the individual’s own rights and blind to the rights of others. Man’s sensual powers which should cooperate with and make more profoundly human the decisions of the virtuous man initiate a separatist movement and seek for autonomous satisfaction.” (Colman O’Neill O.P.)

We know the result: People know not that they do not know. Great conditions for manufacturing even more false gods.

Let’s drop the many false religious behaviors that even Catholics now fool themselves are compatible with Catholicism. We have the true God before us.

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI, PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are: Laity: Beautiful, Good and True; The World of the Sacraments; and, most recently, Catholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini.