The New Paganism and the Culture of Death: "False gods always demand innocent blood"
by ROBERT P. GEORGE
August 8, 2007
Let no one imagine that the temptation to idolatry and paganism is a matter of the distant past when primitive peoples offered sacrifice to the sun or prayed to stone outcroppings and golden calves. Remember: false gods always demand innocent blood. The evidence that a culture is descending into paganism is always manifest in the body count. This was true in ancient Babylon and it is true in modern America. Who can deny that everywhere today the false gods of liberal secularism are exacting their toll of carnage?
The great Milton Himmelfarb has summarized the matter in a single sentence: "Judaism is against paganism."
Jews honor, as do Christians, a transcendent God who governs the universe and providentially superintends the affairs of men. While no one can fully comprehend God's purposes, we know that God's acts are not without purpose. And so faithful Jews, as well as Christians who understand the continuity of their own faith with the religion of Israel, have always asked: What is God's purpose in His election of the Jewish people?
The greatest rabbis and theologians have wrestled with the nuances of this question. Yet the Almighty has chosen to reveal even to the simplest of the faithful the essence of what he wishes us to know on the subject of this wonderful mystery. Kitvei ha-Qodesh, in the books of prophetic witness, teaches us that God elected Israel as his covenanted community (keneset yisrael) to be "a light unto the nations." And this, I submit to you, remains the mission of faithful Jews - a mission shared by Christians who would join with their Jewish elder brothers in fidelity to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.
And so I again recall Milton Himmelfarb's great summation: Judaism - and let us say also Christianity - are against paganism.
And I say that the God of Israel whom we Jews and Christians worship is the Lord of Life. He is the author of the comprehensive and absolute commandment: "Thou shalt not kill the innocent and just." He is the God who says to Israel: "Today I have set before you life and death, choose life!" (Deut. 30:15, 19).
And the God of Israel, the Lord of Life, is a God of love. He lovingly fashions each and every human being in His very image and likeness (tselem elohim). He graciously vests us - mere creatures - with the truly God-like powers of reason and freedom. He endows every human being - however humble, however poor, however afflicted - with a sublime dignity. And it is for this reason that the life of every innocent person is strictly and equally inviolable under the moral law.
My friends, we rejoice that our fundamental rights as human beings, including the precious right to life, come not from princes, not from legislatures, not from deals ("mutual non-aggression pacts") we cut with our fellow citizens; our rights come as gifts of God Himself - and they are therefore in no way revocable by any merely human authority. The duty of those who wield authority on earth, rather, is to respect and protect the God-given moral order in which fundamental human rights - above all the right to life - have pride of place.
This great truth - this great Biblical truth - was at the heart of the American founding. Our nation's founders spoke a most profoundly Biblical and unpagan truth when they declared: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Indeed, we can truly say that America, too, in her founding principles and guiding ideals, is against paganism.
Ladies and gentlemen, the essence of paganism is idolatry - the self-aggrandizing worship of false gods in place of the God of love who is Creator of the universe and Lord of Life. No one in this room needs reminding that idolatry is strictly forbidden by the very first of the great Commandments. It is idolatry that Judaism and Christianity, in their very essence, oppose. It is idolatry that America, in her founding principles, rejects.
Let no one imagine that the temptation to idolatry and paganism is a matter of the distant past when primitive peoples offered sacrifice to the sun or prayed to stone outcroppings and golden calves. Paganism is a permanent threat. The worship of false gods, a constant temptation.
How, then, can we know that it is an idol, a false god, and not the true God, that is being worshipped? I submit to you that there is a foolproof test: False gods always demand the blood of innocents. A pagan culture is always, in the end, a culture of death. Where the innocent and just are slain, there the god being worshipped is not the God of Israel, the Lord of Life, but rather Moloch in one or another of his protean disguises.
From the beginning, it has been the mission of the covenanted community of Israel, the chosen people of God, to bear witness to the Lord of Life in defiance of the pagan powers. Whenever Israel would falter in her mission, whenever her people would bow before the golden calf, the prophets of God would recall them to Biblical faith. They would remind Israel that, for all its seductions, the pagan way - the way of death - is the wrong way; that Judaism is against paganism; that the fruit of fidelity to the Torah is the toppling of those bloodthirsty idols and the conversion of people's hearts to the commandments of the Lord of Life, the God of Love.
And the prophetic message applies with equal force to the Christian community. When Christians, to their shame, embraced evil, unjust, anti-life practices - from the burning of heretics to the persecution of Jews - they insulted the Lord in whose name they purported to act. It was not the God of the Bible whom they served, but a false god. Their sin, as Pope John Paul II has beautifully taught by both precept and example, requires from the Christian faithful atonement, repentance, and reform - a "turning back" to the God of Love, the Lord of Life.
Thus it is that both Jewish and Christian messianism look forward to the day when the God of Israel will truly "become king over all the earth" (Zechariah 14:9). Then "the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the water fills the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). Then God "will turn to the peoples with a clear message (sefah berurah), summoning all of them in the name of the Lord to serve Him with one accord" (Zephaniah 3:9).
Now, Rabbi Lapin has lamented the fact that many Jews in America have abandoned the Torah and substituted for Jewish faith a different religion, that of liberal secularism. This religion, the Rabbi observes, has its own doctrines, its own rituals, its own codes of behavior. It is a religion of neo-paganism. What Rabbi Lapin says of many Jews is equally true of many American Christians. Secularized liberal Christians will, to be sure, dress up their neo-pagan ideology in the language of virtue - speaking, for example, of "compassion," of "tolerance," of "inclusion," and the like - but the secularist liberal creed is, at its core, most emphatically un-Christian; un-Jewish; un-American. Indeed, the liberal secularism that dominates the academy, the media, and other opinion-shaping institutions of our culture is nothing but a neo-pagan creed. And to see that this is true, we need only apply the test.
Remember: false gods always demand innocent blood. The evidence that a culture is descending into paganism is always manifest in the body count. A pagan culture is always, in the end, a culture of death. This was true in ancient Babylon and it is true in modern America.
Who can deny that everywhere today the false gods of liberal secularism are exacting their toll of carnage? People may call them by different names, but the idols of secularism, whatever people name them, turn out to be the same Baal and Moloch, the same old bloodthirsty tyrants. As always, it is the blood of the weakest, the most vulnerable, that they crave. Today the unborn, the partially born, and the handicapped newly born are daily sacrificed to the false gods of "choice," "autonomy," and "liberation," on stainless steel altars, by priests robed in surgical whites, in store front temples, run by the likes of Planned Parenthood.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention that within both the Christian and Jewish communities there are those who would deconstruct Biblical and natural law morality in order to rationalize even the atrocity of partial-birth abortion. Some try to transform the Talmudic teaching of the priority of the life of the mother, in extraordinarily rare cases in which pregnancy actually poses a mortal threat, into a general right to abortion, including the killing of children as they emerge from the womb. But the great contemporary scholar of Jewish law David Novak has exposed this distortion. Where there is no mortal threat, "abortion is judged [by Jewish law] to be the unwarranted taking of a 'life within a life,' and it is the same prohibition for gentiles as it is for Jews." And Rabbi Novak does not hesitate to call to mind the Shoah in his discussion of the protection owed to unborn human life: "Because of our recent experience of being the prime victims of a world view that excluded many lives from the sanctity of human personhood, thus rationalizing murder, we Jews should realize that our strictness on the question of abortion is for the sake of greater not less inclusiveness in the human community."
Now I must raise a subject that is sensitive, to be sure, but simply cannot be avoided. A particular threat to the integrity of Jewish teaching on the sanctity of life is posed by Senator Lieberman's support for the legality of partial birth abortion. His nomination for the vice-presidency is an event in which Americans of all religious persuasions can take great pride. And all can applaud his personal piety and willingness to speak openly of his faith. But his support for partial birth abortion undermines the Jewish witness to the sanctity of human life, just as Mario Cuomo's support undermines the Catholic witness and Al Gore's support undermines the Protestant witness. It does no good - indeed, it does grave harm - for those who proclaim themselves men of faith to permit their positions on issues of fundamental morality to be dictated by the political and intellectual fashions dominant among an elite whose members long ago traded in Biblical morality for liberal secularism.
My friends, abortion is not alone among the manifestations of the neo-pagan culture of death. The forces of assisted suicide and euthanasia are abroad in our land offering death as the remedy of life's hardships and tragedies. And it is not only the frail elderly and terminally ill who are to be afforded their ghoulish "compassion." Those who offend our sensibilities, who place demands upon our care and resources - the seriously handicapped, the mentally retarded - are now to be defined out of the category of human "persons" whose right to life is to be respected and protected by law. Notable academics now openly embrace the cause of infanticide of handicapped newborns. They would revise our fundamental law to have us treat these precious children as inferior beings, human nonpersons. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been down this road before. The Nazi killing began with the eugenic murder of the handicapped. The way was paved by "sophisticated," "progressive" doctors and lawyers, such as Binding and Hoche - not themselves Nazis - who, having abandoned the sanctity of life principles of Jewish and Christian faith, devised the neo-pagan doctrine of leben unswert leben. To those who would today revive this vile notion in the name of a false compassion, let us say with all our hearts, "Never again"! "Never again"!
Joshua of old gathered the leaders of the tribes of Israel together to confront the choice before them. "Whom will you serve?" he demanded to know. "The gods beyond the River?" "The gods of the Amorites?" "As for me and my house," Joshua declared, "we will serve the Lord." And the leaders of the tribes of Israel responded: "Far be it from us to forsake the Lord God of Israel to worship other gods. It was the Lord who led us out of the land of Egypt. He it was who led us from slavery to freedom. We, too, will serve the Lord."
Jews and Christians alike, at this hour, in this nation, face Joshua's choice. Whom will we serve? The false gods of liberal secularism? Or the Lord God of Israel? Let us declare that we, in this House, in this Nation, will serve the Lord. Let us remember that Judaism is against paganism. Let us not forget that the God of Israel, the Lord of Life, is the enemy of the culture of death. Let us not shrink from the task of defending the lives of the innocent. Let us work tirelessly to build the culture of life. Let us not be intimidated by the prestige or influence of those who pervert the honorable concepts of liberty and equality to enlist them in the cause of killing. Let us confront those politicians, those pundits, those professors who seek to impose on this nation a pagan ideology that mocks America's founding principles.
Some will step forward to remind us, and they are not wrong to do so, that although our nation was founded on the great principles of divinely grounded equality and natural rights, it was stained in its very founding by the sin of slavery. But let us also recall that great men like Adams and Lincoln rose up to oppose that monstrous pagan practice, and to this end they exhorted the nation to be true to the Biblical principles of the founding. Even if slavery's abolition would require that "every drop of blood drawn by the lash be repaid by one drawn by the sword," still, Lincoln declared, "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Lincoln knew, and we must not forget, that America, too, is against paganism.
George, Robert P. "The New Paganism and the Culture of Death." Toward Tradition Convention (Washington D.C., September 10, 2000).
Reprinted with permission of Toward Tradition
---Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is the author of Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality (1993) and In Defense of Natural Law (1999), and editor of Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays (1992), The Autonomy of Law: Essays on Legal Positivism (1996), and Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality (1996), all published by Oxford University Press. He is also editor of Great Cases in Constitutional Law (2000) and co-editor of Constitutional Politics: Essays on Constitution Making, Maintenance, and Change (2001), from Princeton University Press. His most recent book is The Clash of Orthodoxies (2002). Robert George is a member of the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
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