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; Catholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini, and, most recently, John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae: The Gift of Catholic Universities to the World.

  • Michael Dowd

    Very good Father Bramwell. All of what you say should be said from the pulpit on Sunday but seldom is. The worship of false gods can in part be attributed by this silence over many years. Most Catholics, I believe, wouldn’t have much of a moral problem with many of the behaviors you mention. I think the Catholic Church has bigger problems on it;s hands than “climate change” and scandal causing considerations such as allowing Communion for folks in adulterous relationships.

    Of course, by doing the job that Christ wishes it to do the world would not be pleased. But as Jesus said: ” If you find that the world hates you, know it has hated me before you”.

    Let us pray that the Church gets back to doing it’s assigned job.

    • kathy

      Thank God that He has entrusted the world to a Mother’s heart. The Immaculate Heart of Mary. She is the new Ark and will carry the remnant Church over the flood into the New Era where finally Jesus ‘prayer in the Our Father will be realized. “Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

  • monica

    Where are the Catholics? We have yoga centers and Buddhist meditation classes, but I don’t see anything Catholic. We could have Catholic meditation taught, couldn’t we? How about Rosary centers?

    • Paul K. Sulkowski

      Centers which teach Liturgy of the Hours, praying the Rosary (and other authorized chaplets), Lectio Divina, would be cool. There is a lot to work with.

  • Good article. Contrary to the confidence of today’s nonreligious, the pagan gods and demons are alive and well in our society. Sin has taken a very strong hold on the individuals and, sadly, the majority of people in the West. The only remedy is frequent confession and distancing oneself from the world.

    The Catholic Church needs to provide the alternative way of life that has the true God and the true man. No man simply falls away from belief completely; he merely switches belief from one divinity to another. I marvel sometimes at how idealistic and delusional nonbelievers can be despite their claim to the contrary. They need a way out of this, and charity should prompt us to help them.

  • Peschken

    Excellent reflections from Fr. Bramwill…Thank you! I personally believe, because God is the creator of everything, and His love holds everything together, that in the end everyone will have a chance to ‘know’ and then either accept or reject the true God (our creator). The road to God can be through pagan God’s, false religions in general, TV, internet, the wrong path (sin) anything. .. As a convert to the Catholic Faith I do not dare to say that it was my doing. I found the truth by God’s grace!

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      “ in the end everyone will have a chance to ‘know’”

      What the spiritual person knows in the Holy Spirit, in Christ and the Church, will come with power and glory for all men to behold at the end of the ages.

      The final coming of Christ will be the judgment of all men. His very presence will be the judgment. For those who love the Lord, His Presence will be infinite joy, paradise and eternal life. For those who hate the Lord, the same Presence will be infinite torture, hell and eternal death.

      The Holy Fathers teach that the “fire” that will consume sinners at the coming of the Kingdom of God is the same “fire” that will shine with splendour in the saints. It is the “fire” of God’s love; the “fire” of God Himself who is Love. “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) who “dwells in unapproachable light.” (I Timothy 6:16) For those who love God and who love all creation in Him, the “consuming fire” of God will be radiant bliss and unspeakable delight. For those who do not love God, and who do not love at all, this same consuming fire” will be the cause of their “weeping” and their “gnashing of teeth.”

  • angusspirit76

    This is amazing. Father Bramwell implies that faithful Catholics who criticize statements of Pope Francis are idol worshippers! That’s a nice way of ignoring the valid concerns of many Catholics who find many of Pope Francis’ statements concerning. Why concerning? Because every catholic can be afraid for the salvation of souls that is at risk when offhand comments mislead persons about the very real punishment for sin. Nice way to invalid the concerns of many-ignore the concerns and make a general statement about the role of Peter. St. Athanasius please pray for us and for Pope Francis.

    • Peter O’Reilly

      I did not feel Fr. Bramwell was blanket-critical of everyone who is critical of our Pope. I am not a big fan of many things our Pope has done in his short time in office, especially how the synod of bishops was handled last year. I think Pope Francis needs feedback about how he says things and how he handles things. It is an obligation of my baptism. When our Pope is teaching, I am listening, but he is not always teaching frankly. Sometimes he is giving out a very fallible opinion and not teaching. It is confusing for many of us.
      I agree with Fr Bramwell that we have seen and are seeing the return of the worship of pagan gods in full force. It is very popular to worship them in every corner of our modern world.
      Thanks, Peter O’Reilly

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    But there is a difference with the worship of Priapus and today’s worship of the pelvis — the worship of Priapus was for the sake of fertility. Not so today. Today, we have morphed into the Cult of the Sterile Pelvic god. The little blue pill ads that promise so much are based on the premise that the woman with whom the man consorts after he has consumed said pill is on another type of pill that renders her sterile. Or that he’s going to cover his member with a membrane that will render him sterile. Or perhaps that one or both have been rendered sterile surgically. Whatever the case may be, the worship today is not for the sake of fertility but merely for the sake of pleasure.

    • Charles Ryder


      The “little blue pill” helps men who suffer from erectile dysfunction engage in the marital embrace thus strengthening and sometimes saving a marriage. Proscribed by a doctor and used with good intent, “the little blue pill” is not a paean to the god of pleasure. I witnessed the horror of my parents’ marriage because my father suffered from ED. Have some compassion.

      • Arden Abeille

        Father Bramwell’s original point–
        “But a whole industry of medications is devoted to the worship of Priapus
        by men who do not have a medical condition requiring medication.”
        –had to do with the millions taking these medications who do NOT have any such dysfunction. The enormity of the industry in no way reflects actual numbers of men with erectile dysfunction. In addition, ED can be addressed for the health of a marriage in many other ways than these kinds of medications, which can have serious and even deadly side effects. Finally, simply being able to “get it up”–or not–is not, by itself, any kind of indication of the health of a marriage. With due compassion for your particular situation and the great pain no doubt suffered by all family members, I still must wonder whether, if a marriage is a “horror,” it seems likely that more was dysfunctional than one physiological response of one person within it?

        • Charles Ryder

          Certainly “more was dysfunctional” but the impotence card was unfortunately played. I agree that the ability to “get it up” isn’t the end all or be all of marriage. But even the Church does not consider marriage valid if it isn’t consummated. Many married heterosexual men suffer from ED and if a medication that increases blood flow to remote vessels helps, let’s not be quick to condemn it. Just like with many cases of depression, talking therapy doesn’t solve the problem – medication is needed. And I’m not talking about ED brought about by smoking, drinking, over-eating, etc. where a reversal in lifestyle will reverse the condition. Sexual performance problems are not solved by having a zeal for orthodoxy. Alas, just as with other medical conditions, they are not always solved by prayer. Sometimes, the Lord works through medicine.

          • Arden Abeille

            “The Church does not consider marriage valid if it isn’t consummated”–but that doesn’t mean it has to be constantly “consummated;” consummation is consummation. And again, the original point of the piece was that men who do NOT have ED are fueling a giant market. Neither myself, nor Father Bramwell, was “condemning” the use of MEDICINE for a legitimate medical issue; if anything is being “condemned” it is the worldview that says “love equals sex,” or worse “sex equals love,” or even “sex, sex, and more sex, who cares about love?”, and the worldview that says “more is always better.” The few people you are talking about are NOT the same people that Father Bramwell was talking about. Different issue altogether.

          • Charles Ryder

            Please don’t use CAPS. I know what the word “not” means and what the word “medicine” means.

            In my original posting I was specifically and pointedly replying to Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz’s post not to Father Bramwell’s article. Different issue altogether as you say.

      • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

        I have no problem with a properly prescribed medication for a true medical condition, Charles. Please notice my phrasing — the issue I raised is that we are worshiping in the Cult of the STERILE Pelvic god. Hence my concentration on the fact that what good the little blue pill is supposed to bring is frustrated by the deliberate sterility either of the woman or the man.

        Additionally, there is the fact that many men who use it don’t need it — and even some women use it to “enhance” their sexual experience. And there are some who have become so obsessed with porn that they have lost their ability to get an erection in the presence of a real woman and are thus turning to this pill for aid in what their minds have screwed up.

        Thus, I had no need to exercise compassion, as you said, as I was critiquing the ads and the general culture, not specific issues such as your parents’ situation.

      • sabinemc

        Am I the only one who finds it creepy that your parents shared their “erectile dysfunction” problems with you? At any rate, I see no reason for a marriage to be a “horror” because of ED. There are many loving couples who, because of some disability of either spouse, cannot engage in the marital act. “In sickness and in health…”

        • Charles Ryder

          Your comment is creepy.

          • sabinemc

            My comment is right on. A medical condition is no excuse for a marriage to become “horror”.

          • Charles Ryder

            No, your comment and your persistence in commenting here is absolutely pointless. I didn’t say it before out of charity, but your comments are what are truly creepy. You demonstrate no understanding of sin, of brokenness, of the fact that some people respond badly to our fallen condition. Some people are unable to refuse to pick up their crosses and follow the Lord. No one is making excuses about anything. What do think your defending? The Gospel? Natural Law? The love of Christ? What exactly is your point?

          • Robert Royal

            I’m closing comments on this column, which are now descending into futility. Please don’t submit any more. They will not be posted.

        • haloween

          Well said, I have a friend who uses the “blue pill” not because he has a problem but because he said it helps with more and longer sex, I don’t know how truth that is but that is what he told me, I do know he has a lot of women.

  • Tanya hei

    heresies and paganism are going to be the downfall of this civilization.It has begun, Catholics need to be a light of truth for the world. Thank you Father for correlating the different idols to our modern age.

  • Deagin

    The title of the article made me think of what just happened in Ireland. It has been developing since the beginning of the 20th century with the Irish Literary Revival. The poets and writers and intellectuals such as Yeats, Lady Gregorary, J.M. Synge, A.E. and others “discovered” the ancient Pagan Ireland. They wanted to be free of the sexual and moral restraints of Christianity. Divorce and birth control were the first to go. Now they got approval of sodomy, next they want abortion to be legal. The snakes are back in Ireland.

  • Maria

    Thank God that the Holy Father has announced the upcoming ‘ Year of Mercy ‘ , starting with the Feast of The Immaculate Conception , that , in a very subtle manner , takes us to the very beginnings ,as In The Garden , where in the entry of the enemy and its lies have brought us , the torrent of waters that are still trying to sweep away The Woman , The Church , yet , for all that , we are just a grain of sand and the Power of The Blood , of The Infinite God – Man , there to soak up all that and more , bring deliverance from enemy holds and its effects , to bring us His life and love , as the Precious Blood !
    ‘ Bring them to Me ‘ – our King and Shepherd exhorts and invites us ..
    .those descendants of the dispersed tribes of Israelites may be , world over, who have fallen into all sorts of idolatry and related myths and gods , that persist and seem to be getting more powerful too , possibly because of the sins and lukewarmness of those who been entrusted the mission , but have faltered as mentioned in the article ..
    The increasing interaction with persons in such cultures of idol worship , how that affect those who have become sort of dead in the faith , may be we and our children need to learn to look at history, with eyes and hearts , similar to in Old Testament , so that the zeal of the early Church can be rekindled , with the trust of effects of ‘ bringing ‘ / asking for mercy and deliverance ;
    walking through a Walmart, , with products from the dragon worshiiping , belief in Hindu related Buddhist myths about reincarnation – we bring all to Him , so that the deaf ears and blinded eyes , like of the viper , get opened , to the true Image of a God of holiness and love !
    There are amidst us , more Hindu temples and devotees from places such as that of the center for pilgrimage to god ‘Ayyappa ‘ , one who is promoted as a progeny of the carnal union of two male gods, one taking on a female form !
    Those Gandhi statues and MLK connection – former , a devotee of Rama , with issues of abandoning his pregnant wife etc and Gandhi too , died from gunshot wound ( calling name of Rama ) ; even though he supposedly studied the bible, could not grasp the role of idolatry and our Lord’s mission to free us from its lies and effects , to help bring more light about the true God :
    that role of idolatry , to this day, can be major factor , in matters such as the dirty environements , seeming confusions and inability to deal with such matters more effectively , the greed that keeps many in poverty, the on going conflicts with neighbor countries that causes millions in arms spending and so on !
    Thank God that there are many amidst us who are , in prayer , bringing our brethren and all of us sinners , to Him, His Passion and power of deliverance – all who are cause of sins of flesh, unto His Passion and scourging , to be delivered of the entwining serpentine bonds ..all into witchcraft of stubbornness and pride , into The Crowning with thorns …and to be thus baptized unto His death, to be set free , to receive His Precious Blood and life , free of all bestial traits ..the new life of ‘reincarnation’ on an ongoing basis , as His gift , from faith in Him, and far better than the enemy counterfeit lie !
    And those wounds that are received , such as by our Holy Father on down, by calumny and illwill, to be transformed into the ‘ gift of wounded love ‘ , from The Father , whose wound we might forget at times and may be rightly so, since , in comparison to the Love from The Infinite Son, in The Spirit , the wound possibly one of light and fire !
    To be with The Father, in The Son, by His Spirit , we Christians have the ongoing glorious missions and roles ; thank God , Our Mother is there to cover us all with the mantle of love , to protect us , that we and all who are entrusted for our/Her mission and prayers are in Her Immaculate Heart !
    ‘ Behold your Mother ‘ – what a glorious Mother – may Her anointed voice bring us all, the joy
    and presence of The Spirit and deliverance from all that is of the enemy !

  • Ramm397

    wish we had a “true pope” a Catholic Hero and Leader.“And it comes to my mind to say something that may be foolish, or perhaps a heresy, I don’t know.” and the people he surrounds himself with……Kasper also defended the vote of the Irish in favor of
    homosexual ‘marriages,’ saying: ‘A democratic state has the duty to
    respect the will of the people; and it seems clear that, if the majority
    of the people wants such homosexual unions, the state has a duty to
    recognize such rights…’”nothing “Catholic” going on here..

  • Yankeegator

    Truth is, I use to say that they are taking him out of context, until I watched and listened to some of his sermons in Italian on YouTube, and it is blatantly Indifferentism… Lord Protect Your Bride!!!

  • Yankeegator

    All those old pagan gods, were none other than demons…

  • Ron

    I beg to differ, Peter was not what Christ was referring to, but what Peter said: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” Matt 16:16. How can Peter prevail against the gates of hell?

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl

    Does believing “Helios” drives the visible shining sun around the Heavens amount to Paganism in your book?

    I mean, St Thomas Aquinas certainly thought sth like that, so did Riccioli, and Stephen Tempier did not condemn that. And Book of Henoch among Ethiopians suggest that this was a belief among Jewry prior to Jesus too. If indeed you consider it non-canonical and if indeed Jewry be a good name for a people who as yet had a nation state and had not rejected Christ.

    And of course I do NOT think the angel guiding the sun:

    * owned oxen he got mad about Ulysses’ men eating
    * or was father of Aetes or grandfather of Medea
    * or son of a damned Titan
    * or first cousin of the most high
    * or first cousin of Atlas …

    * or likes sunworship or sunworshippers in particular

    * as shown when he shown into the eyes of the Aztec army facing Pizarro …

  • Guest

    Did the antipopes of the past have defenders? Did the common people who followed an antipope know that he wasn’t a true successor? The only way that seems possible to know if a man is an antipope is if: 1) he is a formal heretic; 2) he is hailed as a pope. Rather than criticising those who criticises the man and his words and deeds, criticise the cardinals for not arranging a heresy trial to settle the matter. It’s a salvation issue and the ones who need to speak up and have the power to do anything are silent.

    Absolutely nothing I said here is “uncharitable”. It’s prudent at this point to know this. Will it be deleted?

    • Tweck

      Ahem. The Pope has done nothing heretical. People who argue that he has are folks who likely do not fully understand Church teaching or put their political ideologies above the Church. Almost every single person I’ve run into that believes this heresy nonsense idolizes their political ideologies.

      The only reason that the Pope is being called an antipope by people (which I think is calumny) is because they’re not used to having to accept very direct challenges to their far-right political agenda, AND can’t accept that previous popes have been saying the EXACT SAME THINGS that Pope Francis is saying, simply in different words.