Post-Christian Paganism and Christian Opportunity
October 27, 2016
by Andrè Van Mol, MD
A 50-foot reproduction of the entry arch to the Temple of Baal went up in London this year and is soon to be in New York City. Yes, that Baal, the Canaanite “Lord” of fertility, rain and agriculture, thus wealth. Baal worship involved ritual sexual activity, sacred prostitutes of both sexes and infant sacrifice (see Jeremiah 19:5; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:9-10; and 2 Kings 23:7). The high places of Baal could also house the worship of the fire god Molech, a go-to deity for child sacrifices (see Jeremiah 32:35; Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; and 2 Kings 23:10). The thing is, neither Baal nor Molech could deliver. In the end, sacrificing a child for fertility or wealth really only led to one less child. That same Temple of Baal would become a Byzantine church before being taken over for other uses, per the New York Times. So hope even in darkness.
The increasingly post-Christian Western world returns to its pagan roots and fails to see it. Sacrificing children to gods of wealth and sex is neither new nor vanquished. The French Reign of Terror and the rule of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot and other atheist totalitarians were as barbaric as they were because to lay aside godly observance is to remove godly restraint. Behold what lifting restraint looks like.
Women are told that abortion provides them a net financial gain and utilitarian increased happiness by the self-evident means of making one less mouth to feed. And yet, and yet. The numbers aborted are staggering. The details are worse, when examining statistics for African American abortion rates, those for babies with defects (i.e. Down syndrome), and the global gendercide and infanticide of babies for not being male. And who is really served and made “happier” overall, save for reckless men? Roe vs. Wadewas decided by an entirely male U.S. Supreme Court. Are men now more or less likely to commit to the women they impregnate and support the children they sire? Or is the all-too-usual response, “You had birth control and you can abort; it’s the baby or me,” however subtly that is communicated.
The fable of consequence-free sex was a goal of the sexual revolution. Today, advocating as a civic virtue that sexual gratification should be delayed to invest in later faithful, monogamous marriage between husband and wife toward the goal of siring and raising children is fast becoming viewed as an unacceptable heretical violation of the secular civic religion of unencumbered sexual activity.
And we erect reproductions of the arch to the Temple of Baal. The provocation was its destruction in Syria by ISIS, but the symbolism cries out more. It wasn’t just the Canaanites. Ancient Greece and Rome also espoused remarkably low value on human life and were fine with exposing, drowning and other practices of infanticide and abortion.
Historian Tom Holland abandoned the Christian faith of his upbringing (though he would later return to it), favoring instead the study of Greek and Roman gods, whose vanity, selfishness and cruelty “only served to endow them with the allure of rock stars.” Further reflection upon “The values of [Sparta’s] Leonidas’…murderous form of eugenics ” and the typical Roman slaughter of 1 million Gauls and enslavement of a further million gave him pause. “It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value,” he wrote. He became particularly taken with St. Paul’s claim to the Corinthian church that, “…we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23, NKJV). Holland appreciated the stark contrast of the suffering Christ with the ancient world’s gods that ruled by inflicting suffering, not taking it. He credits Christian heritage as the reason why even post-Christian societies “still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value.”
In sharp contrast to the Roman and pagan attitudes toward the sick and dying—prompt rejection and contempt—Christians brought care and compassion, first treating the sick in homes (persecution prevented formal facilities for such) and then hospitals, filling the “pagan void.” Medical historian H.E. Sigerist wrote, “Christianity came into the world as the religion of healing….” The absence of social services in Roman Empire and the scriptural mandate to care for the poor and oppressed prompted Christians to act, caring for widows and creating mercy ministries such as orphanages, hospices, hospitals and more. University of Wisconsin professor David Lindberg remarked that Christians provided “…a Byzantine contribution that has benefitted humankind ever since: hospitals as institutions offering medical care and the possibility of a cure, rather than merely a place to die…as early as the fourth century.”
I find it ironic the principal of human rights is presented to validate abortion or otherwise terminating innocent human life. Tim Keller wrote that French philosopher and secular humanist Luc Ferry asserted that every human being’s human rights and dignity come from the concept of being made in the image of God, and that “Ferry says that without Christianity’s teaching that the Logos is a person, ‘The philosophy of human rights to which we subscribe today would never have established itself.’” Jurgen Habermas, Europe’s most influential philosopher, stated, “Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity…human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love…To this day, there is no alternative to it…Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.”
Theologian C.C. Pecknold observed, “America is post-Christian as Millennials living in parents’ basement are independent. Ungrateful but still dependent.” The symbolism of arches to the Temple of Baal. The abandonment of godly observance and the consequent loss of godly restrain. Aborting children for the false promises of financial gain and happiness. As with Rome, the church turned it around, even on its head. It’s occurred since. Our call is to be salt and light in the power of the Holy Spirit, and do it yet again. We are to be optimistic. Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). The best is yet to come.