So-called ‘Liberals’ have a philosophical problem in this country. On the one hand they heartily indulge and enjoy the sexual anarchy granted by the regimes since the 1960’s; on the other hand they tend to deplore the lawlessness of American foreign policy / imperialism / warmaking. They do not see that in paganism these things are one, that they belong inextricably to the same nihilism and will-to-power where human beings are understood to be mere meat, to be used and discarded. And that in the end a nihilist State alone becomes ultimate, without traditional moral principles, consisting of elite rulers and slaves.
“….she licensed every form of lust with laws to cleanse the stain of scandal she has spread;”—Dante, The Inferno, canto V, 57
“…promising men liberty, while they themselves are the servants of corruption” (2 Pet. 2:19)
It was a sorry day when Julius Caesar proved victorius at the battle of Munda, near the city of Osuna, Spain, which took place on March 17, 45 BC. For Caesar was from then on—after his death—considered invincible by the plebs(1) of Rome. In fact it was shortly thereafter decreed that at all public games an ivory statue of Caesar inscribed “to the invincible god” should be carried with all religious idols.
He would appoint Senators and governors who would serve and, above all, fear him. He and his successors would henceforth declare what was the good and what was evil, what was right and what was wrong, what would win the plebs, the citizens of Rome, honors— or a hideous death.
This was something new. Prior to all this, at the founding of Rome, the gods were considered formless numina or divine manifestations which inhabited nature which were expressed primarily through nature and which the Romans sought to interpret. Anthropomorphic conceptions of the divine (or gods imagined in the forms of men and women) came later. With the divinization of Caesar —and thus of the state which he embodied— total godlike power was invested in a man. In his will or whim lay law, life, death, and the measure of everything in between. The other gods were merely his peers, if that. As one scholar wrote, this was “a hitherto unseen event in all of Roman history. The only human the Romans worshipped as a god was Romulus, and that by identification with Quirinus, not as a separate divinity”. Caesar was now a separate divinity. Henceforth the Roman emperors demanded worship as divinities. And divinities and cults demand sacrifice.
The “Games” and the Need to Control
But even for a Roman dictator god it was no easy thing to control the plebs who without constant reminders and proddings, whether gentle or vicious, could easily collapse into a mob which threatened the tranquillity of the State and its objectives in both war and peace. It is well known that one of the many ways by which the all-powerful Roman State kept the plebs in line was by allowing them all, rich or poor, the privilege of state entertainment at the “games”. The games were held in magnificent structures. The first one constructed (the Circus Maximus) was based on the Greek hippodrome. children of Dionysus Dionysius of Halicarnassus, described it around 7 BC as “one of the most beautiful and admirable structures in Rome.” It was approximately 2,035 feet in length, 460 feet in width and could seat 150,000. Outside, he said, “there are entrances and ascents for the spectators at every shop, so that the countless thousands of people may enter and depart without inconvenience.” It was inhabited by cooks, astrologers, prostitutes and many others.
There, and in subsequent others like them over the centuries, Roman citizens were treated to chariot racing, wrestling, gladiator combats, the execution of any deemed criminals by the State. It is said that at the Colosseum’s opening ceremonies in A.D. 80, spectacles were held for 100 days in which hundreds of animals and 2,000 (!) gladiators were slaughtered. Men were meat in the eyes of the almighty State. The Emperor Caligula is said to have fed his wild animals with criminals because butcher’s meat had become too expensive.
It is not an exaggeration to say that many Romans lived for the Bread and Circus “entertainment”. And it was such frivolity, lust, and its eventual twin bloodlust, that served the emperors well. It instilled both fear and devotion in the plebs. It was where the great and the small almost rubbed shoulders.
By the time Christians came on the scene, however, the entertainment was seen with opened eyes. In De Spectaculis, Tertullian writes (c. AD 200) spoke of the entertainment as madness .
“Seeing then that madness is forbidden us, we keep ourselves from every public spectacle–including the circus, where madness of its own right rules. Look at the populace coming to the show–mad already! disorderly, blind, excited already about its bets!….Next taunts or mutual abuse without any warrant of hate, and applause, unsupported by affection….they are plunged in grief by another’s bad luck, high in delight at another’s success. What they long to see, what they dread to see,–neither has anything to do with them; their love is without reason, their hatred without justice.”
Later, Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, Senator( 490 – 585 AD) who was at various times a statesman and monk, in his Variae, is just as vehement:
“However, this I declare to be altogether remarkable: the fact that here, more than at other shows, dignity is forgotten, and men’s minds are carried away in frenzy. The Green chariot wins: a section of the people laments; the Blue leads, and, in their place, a part of the city is struck with grief. They hurl frantic insults, and achieve nothing; they suffer nothing, but are gravely wounded; and they engage in vain quarrels as if the state of their endangered country were in question. It is right to think that all this was dedicated to a mass superstition, when there is so clear a departure from decent behaviour.”
Which brings us to today. The Law of God Expelled
In an Associated Press, ABC News Report we read:
Roy Moore, who was ousted as Alabama’s chief justice for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, asked the state Supreme Court on Thursday to return him to office. Moore argued in legal briefs that his expulsion sets a “dangerous precedent” and requires judges to deny their oath of office and religious faith. He said he lost his post because he failed a “religious test” that forced him to choose between his job and his allegiance to God…The former chief justice was appealing the Nov. 13 decision of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary to oust him for refusing a federal court order to move the 5,300-pound monument from the Alabama Judicial Building’s rotunda. (Ousted Ala. Justice Seeks Reinstatement AP, Jan 8, 2004 )
￼Moore —whatever his other beliefs or concerns— believes that the State is not ultimate. Thus his case, considering history, is no small parochial matter. He believes, as most American’s did, that law, if it does not have a transcendental / ontological foundation is little more, in the end, than whim. In effect the State becomes god, alone deciding what is good and what is evil, who is to live and who is to die.
Respecting all historical differences, we can say with confidence that the parallel with Ancient Rome in this —or Nazi Germany, its imitator in the last century— is striking and ominous. When nine judges in black robes can presume to assert that a black man is not a human being (Dredd Scott) or that infants in the womb are not human (Roe v. Wade), then we are treading again familiar historical territory. When the State alone determines what is good and evil we are in it deep. When law itself is reduced to the mere legal then watch out, we are all potentially non-persons: babies, the sick, the poor, the elderly, those who acknowledge creation and the Natural and Moral laws as being higher than the state, those who acknowledge that there are objective wrongs and evils which threaten the common good which should be configured morally to the Natural Law.
And we must never forget the saying, “War is the health of the state”. Empire / imperialism ever amounts to an unnatural ravenous hunger to expand and exploit. The poor are its first victims.
Television and the Roman Circus
Television and the Roman Circus. There is more than a little analogy here. With corporations –—that is, the wealthy and powerful who have a symbiotic relationship with the State— buying up more and more of the mass communications media and concentrating such in the hands of the very few, ordinary citizens are raw bait for unmitigated and incessant propaganda. It is a sad fact today that both Democrats and Republicans in this country disagree on fewer and fewer things. Both increasingly share the view that there will be no moral consensus in our time beyond the legal (recall that everything Hitler did was “legal” in Germany) and that there ought not to be. As a consequence television has been allowed(2), with little protest, to serve as the political propaganda medium for the amorality of the increasingly libertine State which does not see fit to acknowledge the Law of God but which allows the most provocative nihilism—-an amorality which violates the consensus of almost all the great religions of the world—- entrance into the “homeland’s” living rooms and families in the name of endless “entertainment,” to serve as the wedge through which family members are pit against one another as they react differently to this propaganda. As family members divide into individualistic, separate, value systems — each to his or her own “values” — the State presumes to become (the only real) Parent and guardian to all.
And all of this despite the facts which have followed such cultural shifts as certainly as night must follow day: AIDS (between 40 and 60 million dead to date), perversions of the ends of human sexuality increasing daily nonetheless; drug and other addictions to cover despair, stress or bewilderment as values keep changing at breakneck speed. Today the Holy Father is not so much trying to keep the old moral values together so much as to rebuild those values altogether which have already collapsed, from the ashes of postmodern efficacy.
Moral and Artistic Chaos
Thus, as prayer is declared more or less “illegal” in schools, Andres Serrano was inclined to place a crucifix in a bowl of urine and call it “art” all in the name of the State’s moral fiats. When Robert Mapplethorpe in one of his government sponsored exhibits showed homosexuals in sundry obscene sexual encounters, one is seriously expected to infer that he is in the presence of the numina —the new inexpressible gods— by which the “artist” allegedly transcends himself (especially through multifaceted, scarcely hidden forms of lust) and the ghost of the old culture.
It remains to be seen what our children will make of religious symbols now, after 50 years of propaganda. If the crucifix is fast becoming a strange and alien symbol in our culture of fornications and relativism—-and other religious symbols are banned or transvalued in meaning, it is because we have become desensitized to evil through propaganda which the state promotes—-by doing nothing to stop it. Thus the transvaluation of all values that Nietzche called for would seem to be all but complete.
When the meanings of religious symbols are changed, emptied, transformed, mutated, by so-called “art,” so that they become the very opposite of what they actually mean, a revolution in values has occurred. And it is a revolution much more profound and dangerous than any mere political revolution. It is the complete upheaval of the mind, of the ability to recognize concepts for what they are.
The visual is often much more potent than the word in the short run, and, in our culture, the visual is fast replacing the word. The word is increasingly only facilitating the visual; and music, lyric, and visual combine to assault the mind with the ideological message, and in such a way as to blur or obliterate the distinction between reality and fantasy. Increasingly, reality is being bent, stretched, forced to conform to fantasy. All of it fueled by an astonishing communications technology which expands exponentially from month to month and year to year.
The Natural Law / Creation
In the January 4th edition of the Washington Post we read:
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out when girls who are now seniors in high school were in third grade. Girls have grown up with shows like NBC’s “Will & Grace” and recently saw Karen, the show’s bisexual socialite secretary, plant a 14-second kiss on the straight Grace.
“Kissing Jessica Stein,” a 2001 “romantic comedy” about two young women falling in “love,” became a cult movie. One evening last month, three shows with lesbian themes aired on UPN.
More and more schools march in this parade as well shepherding students into gymnasiums for assemblies on tolerance posting rainbow stickers on classroom doors and allowing teachers to come out to their students.
Many young people, in particular young women, are making their own push for more sexual latitude and more understanding.
The number of student-organized, gay-straight clubs, formed to promote “understanding” of sexual orientation issues, jumped from 1,200 in 2002 to 1,970 in 2003, according to reports filed with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national organization that works with schools on behalf of gay youth. In poll after poll, proportionately more young people than old people (and more girls than guys) say they accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, whenever it occurs. For Some Teen Girls, Sexual Preference Is A Shifting Concept, Laura Sessions Stepp
Densitization to violations of the Natural Law (the male / female natural complementarity of the created order) is almost inevitable. The younger the objects of the transvaluation of values are, the better for the State. But the jungle ends in blood.
It was not long ago that these were the presuppositions of the west and, indeed, the rest of the human race. But the Empire is expanding and shrinking the world. It is provoking armed resistance all over the globe. It doesn’t take many —only the chosen elites— to convert the masses of people via our pornosophic, visual-media culture, when those few are allowed the power and permission of the State, which alone determines good and evil. And the entertainment value is known from ancient times, as we have seen, to serve the political purposes which are antithetical to the purposes of Christ, His Kingdom and reign, and the Church.
The Staggering Collapse
The staggering collapse of values and faith which the last century witnessed, especially in its second half, shows no early signs of abating; rather, there is every indication it will continue to increase in ferocity well into the future. Like a malignant cancer it must grow and devour the hapless “healthy” moral tissue, if it is not rooted out. Meanwhile, those who are not aiding and abetting this implosion of sanity are often struck dumb by its whirlwind-like momentum.
Like an incorrigible drunkard who must hit bottom before he can ever come to his senses, so it is with western civilization today. Having set out on the path of its own tragic self-hatred – – -a suicidal self-hatred born of the need to unload its Matricidal guilt – – – western civilization would appear to be too arrogant, too “intoxicated with the wines of [the world’s] fornications”, to willingly sober up on its own. It may be too far gone to expect redemption soon to come from the blurred lights of a reason which was once her birthright.
Meanwhile, increasingly, only madness is left as each person is encouraged to do what is right in his own eyes, the madness of the Circus, of the false gods of State born of hubris and unnatural acts directed against the Creator, creation and Heaven itself (Rom 1: 14-32). Madness and raging insatiability are what fills the vacuity of a lost identity, of a lost soul, like the madness of Caligula which is increasingly our own.
Madness is what rules when no center holds, whether in a State or person, what spews in every direction when reason itself is compromised or bartered and the Creator abandoned. Madness goes hand in hand with insatiability, for earthly things can never satisfy as ultimate and our hearts are so restless, St. Augustine said, until they find their true and only rest in our Maker who made heaven and earth (Mt 11:28-30).
If we do not listen to the Word and wake up to the need for prophetic criticism and non-violent resistance, tragic experience will have to teach us. Until then, many will be easily controlled —–by Divis Iuliis, the Almighty State.
(1) Plebs: (plbz) or plebeians (plb´nz) [Lat. plebs=people], general body of Roman citizens, as distinct from the patrician class.
(2) What the government allows it promotes, it should go without saying.
— From the author’s book Apocalypse Nights: Catholic Hope in the Nihil. Stephen Hand