John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright
johncwright

Dialog with a Pagan

Talking to pagans, real pagans (I mean, not neopagans) is a relief after talking to a hedonist, because at least the pagan and the Christian have some common ground: we both know life is magic. Pagans do not usually go around telling people that Darwinian proves scientifically that women are meat-bags meant for nothing better in life than to be abused by male sexual predation.
From time to time one finds an inauthentic pagan hiding in their ranks: a person who follows, not the real rites and values of paganism, but who, out of distaste for Christianity, follows the values that Christian propaganda wrongfully and falsely attributed to their pagan rivals. Such a person is not really a pagan: he is merely an anti-Christian. He wants to be lax; he wants to live according to a low and base moral standard; he sees in their (false) stories that Christians told each other the pagans were lax; so he decides to be a pagan. This would be like someone escaping Communist Russia, and, desiring to become an American Capitalist, decided to copy the lifestyle and values of Ebenezer Scrooge and dress like Rich Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly game. The evil American Capitalist of socialist propaganda is a fiction as much as the Hugh Hefner Pagan, dressed in a toga and skipping off to an orgy at Nero's. Real pagans killed Vestal Virgins who broke their vow of virginity by burying them alive. Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon with in axe in the bathtub because he dallied with his slavegirl Cassandra. An authentic pagan would recognize the respect and awe with which pagans surrounded chastity, virginity, marriage, and fertility.
Our friendly neighborhood pagan answers thus:

"Pagan is an annoyingly general term, I'm afraid. Clytemnestra (who is probably a mythical figure anyway) was Greek and followed the Dodekatheon, the Greek patheon of gods. Vestal virgins were a roman invention, same patheon. I follow the Trutha De Dannen, the Ancient British gods. Totally different attitude to sex. For the Celtic peoples of early Britain, sex was a thing to enjoy, not resrict. Anyway, Clytemnestra's murder had more to do with Agamemnon sacrificing their daughter than poor Casssandra. I could also point out that in the same patheon there are a number of gods (most notably Zeus and Aphrodite) who were big with the extra-marital sex.) However I should also point out I'm not talking about adultery when I say that any consensual sex is OK. That was, admittedly, a mistake on my part. Adultery is a betrayal of your wife/husband and unless the marriage is coming apart anyway, I would not approve. As to getting pregnant, only a fool would have sex without a condom in this day and age. You say sex without love is degrading. If you'd said sex without affection, I might agree. But love is a big word, not to be used lightly. There is nothing wrong with two people who like each other both enjoying sex together. A simple rubber johnny can remove almost all risk of pregnancy or infection, both parties are enjoying themselves, why not? If someone just wants to "get their end away," thats degrading. Marriage is a mere social construct, sex is real. Finally, I completely disagree that a low self-image goes with casual sex. To me it seems you must have great confidence and intellegence to be able to separate sex from commitment and to recognise whether your partner feels the same."


Let me deal with these comments seriatim:

"Clytemnestra's murder had more to do with Agamemnon sacrificing their daughter…"

This is true but irrelevant. One could also call the murder political, because she wished to consolidate power over Mycenae with her lover Aegisthus (who was the true heir). But, nonetheless, my point still stands. The pagans did not scratch their heads in confusion when, in the play, Clytemnestra listed, as one of her offenses with her husband, that he had betrayed their marriage bed. The concept of marriage being sacred was known and common to the classical Greek.

If she is a mythic figure, my argument is stronger, not weaker. Mythic figures represent the paramount values and virtues and show how society regards them. If Clytemnestra were merely a real Queen, her personal hate for Agamemnon represents nothing but her personal motives. If she is a myth, her hate is the hate of all betrayed women, and represents the Greek spirit taken as a whole.

 "I could also point out that in the same patheon there are a number of gods who were big with the extra-marital sex."

You could, but you are wiser not to. The offense of Juno with Jove is too well known, as is the tale of Vulcan trapping his wayward wife in a net with her lover, Mars. The men who told these tales clearly regarded the gods who dallied as committing an offense. These tales, not one of them, were used to excuse sexual liberation. These were tales told of the scandals of the gods, not of their sacred acts: they were warning tales, telling of things the audience ought not do, not edifying tales, telling of things the audience should admire and emulate. We gossip similar tales of Slick Willie Clinton, because the scandals of powerful world-leaders are more interesting than the scandals of the dog-catcher.

"I follow the Trutha De Dannen, the Ancient British gods. Totally different attitude to sex. For the Celtic peoples of early Britain, sex was a thing to enjoy, not restrict"

Um … what? The Tuatha de Danu have no myths nor rites celebrated or supporting sexual liberation. Even the Mayday rites of Imbolc were fertility rites, mean to increase the yield of crops and the numbers of babies and livestock, not to restrict it: and even then the rite was hedged about with ceremonial and sacred protections. It was more akin to the Jewish custom of having a brother sleep with your widow so that your line would not fail, than to any modern notion of sexual permissiveness. You are reading modern post-Hugh-Hefner notions of philosophy back into strict tribal law if you think those ancient peoples did not have marriage rites, and take them seriously.

There were several degrees of marriage among the Celts, depending on the property provisions involved, but unfaithfulness was one of several grounds for divorce. There is no evidence that the Celts condoned seduction or fornication.

The Celts had a type of marriage custom that allowed the husband of a sterile woman to take a concubine to father a child upon: if this reminds you of the handmaiden of Abraham, it should come as no surprise. Sex out of wedlock, as far as modern scholarship can tell, was considered rape or seduction, and was cause for a clan-war.

Handfasting was not marriage: it was betrothal, which was also sacred to them. If betrothed couple "consummated" then they were married in the full sense.  

Other differences between these legal forms of marriage and later, Christian, forms, was that (1) Christians insisted the consent of the woman be forthcoming (Lanamnas eicne no sleithe – allowed by the Celts, a union or mating by forcible rape or stealth, was not permitted by the Christians) (2) Christians insisted on no divorce, and (3) insisted on one mate for life. If anything, the Christians had a more spiritual and individualistic view of marriage, which did not always have property arrangements in view, as opposed to the Celts, which did. 

There was a different form for a landless man marrying a cattle-owning woman than for a landless woman marrying a cattle-owning man, for example. The Christians treated rich and poor alike, and even a Baron could not divorce a Baroness any more than a farmer could divorce a farmwife. Baron and serf alike, patrician and plebian, were bound by the same law: this is a Christian innovation.

Indeed, I am tempted to say all the Christians did was Romanize the institution, that is, bring a measure of consistency and law to the matter, clarifying, simplifying, and making explicit what was otherwise implicit.

Now, are the Christian notions of chastity and marriage more strict and absolute than the pagan notions? Certainly. Without doubt. Romans allowed for divorce--- for that matter, so did Jewish law-- and the Christian Gospel simply does not. Does that mean the Romans were carefree Hefnerian playboys? No more than are the Jews, or, for that matter, the Anglicans, who also allow for divorce. What about Celts and Norsemen, devotees of Odin and Ogma? We know something of their laws and customs, some of their myths and rites survive: the sex act was surrounded by gaes and tabu, laws and rites, prohibitions and duties, just as those of civilized men, and if anything these duties were even more complex and strict. Civilized written law goes a long way to simplifying custom and tabu, after all, once the pen of the legislator harmonizes and simplifies the inherited body of civic practices.

"However I should also point out I'm not talking about adultery when I say that any consensual sex is OK"

Fair enough, but fornication is not different from adultery except in the contractual sense. An adulterer offends against the sacred character of marriage AND he breaks his marriage vow. The fornicator offends against the sacred character of marriage BUT he has no marriage vow to break.

 "You say sex without love is degrading. If you'd said sex without affection, I might agree."

No, here I must politely but in the strongest terms disagree. If you have sex with someone to whom your emotion is merely lukewarm, a friendship or a temporary passion, then you have degraded sex from being a sacred thing to being a mere entertainment.

Affection is not true love. Affection is not a lifelong vow of fidelity. Affection is not the cornerstone of the hearth of the house, the foundation of the city, the stairway to higher and better life. Love is.

No matter whether you think sex should be degraded is another issue: if you think perhaps we Christians have made it more sacred than it deserves, you and I can debate. But you cannot debate that we, who reserve sex only between a couple that has vowed a sacred and mystical vow, blessed by beautiful God Almighty, and only when we vow absolute love without any spot of compromise, for better or worse, treat sex as much higher a grade of thing than anyone who says sex is mere for the pleasure of a summer fling, or a weekend fling, or an hour's diversion.

Love is sacred. Our god is Love. You degrade love even by daring to speak so about this topic: you treat it like a casual thing, a thing too weak to be worth living and dying for, a thing too weak to ruin lives.

Casual sex can ruin lives. Look around you.   

"Marriage is a mere social construct."

This is rank modernist piffle. Marriage constructed society; society did not construct marriage.

Marriage is part of the inescapable logic of having a species of two sexes whose offspring are unfit at birth to care for themselves: the human heart was created (or evolved, take your pick) to prefer permanent love to casual mutual exploitation.

There are, I grant you, polygamous societies where women are exploited rather than cherished as they ought: but I will laugh in scorn if you tell me that the sacred respect and reverence we owe to women is a social construct, rather than an innate aspect of true femininity. Societies that abolished concubinage and harem made a discovery, not an invention.

If the respect we owe women is granted by society, then society, without any wrongdoing, can take that grant away. Are you willing to say that?

"There is nothing wrong with two people who like each other both enjoying sex together."

I would say imprudence, improvidence, the lack of self-control, the degradation of womanhood, the erosion of marriage, the coarsening of the sentiments, the abolition of romance, are all wrongs done when sex is shared by lukewarm lovers.

I would say that casual sex it degrades and demeans the sex act, rendering the couple unable to enjoy real love, should real love ever come. It makes the sex act selfish, and the people selfish. Selfish people break other social bonds as well, and damage society. Look around you are the society in which we live. How many people do you know who come from broken homes? Most social pathologies can be traced back to broken homes and absent fathers, everything from bad grades in school to high juvenile crime to teen drug abuse and teen pregnancy. Most evils can be traced back to a lack of love.

Casual sex and true love are mutually exclusive. You can have one or the other: not both. The reason for this is that the human mind, when sane, is organic, and forms a complete and harmonious whole; and when that organism is broken, when the whole of your mind becomes compartmentalized and scattered parts, you have become, if not insane, then at least a person lacking integrity. Love cannot have, at the same time and the same sense, a paramount value in your life, and also be the matter of an nonchalant summer fling.

"Finally, I completely disagree that a low self-image goes with casual sex."

I mean no disrespect, but you talk like someone who does not know any human beings, or has only read about them in books. Some writers have a vested interest in portraying human nature as something without a moral nature, you know, and so not all books can be trusted.

Tell me how fine and self-assured are all these women who, once they have been used and abused and left alone, waiting for their lover's phone call that never comes, looking in an empty mailbox for a love letter than never arrives, can esteem themselves to be a greater value than a woman who waited for a prince, and man who every day of his life rejoices in the bonds that tie them together as one flesh, a bond that nothing on earth can sever? Tell me how that is possible? What is more likely is that the woman grows cynical and callous, and tells herself that she does not need a man. She tells herself she does not want or need to love or to be loved.

The bridegroom forswears all other women when he weds: in effect, he pays her bride price. He gives up all the world, for her. He vows to love, honor and cherish. He pays her bride price. He gives up every part of his soul  and possessions to her. With all his worldly goods he her endows, and he worships her with his body.

The casual lover gives up, what, again, exactly? Some of his spare time? Some of his spare change? Faugh! A girl who rates her price at a cut-rate bargain-basement cost cannot in any sense of the word be said to rate herself at the same price as a woman who asks for, demands, and gets, her bridegroom's whole world. She esteems herself at a lower rate than her sister who demanded a higher price.

My wife is my life. I live for her and would die for her. What casual lover, even one who retains some friendliness for his demimonde after his ardor cools, would dare say the same? He cannot love two women with one undivided loyalty, can he? We each of us have only one life to devote to his beloved, but I have vowed it, and he has not. It is a vow I cannot break or take back.

I treat my wife like a goddess, not like a fast-food store erected for my convenience. I only wish I could love her more, so that I would not disappoint her in little things.

"To me it seems you must have great confidence and intellegence [sic] to be able to separate sex from commitment and to recognise whether your partner feels the same."

Forgive me, but this is naive. I will explain to you the facts of life: Human beings, when they sin, make up dumb excuses to justify themselves, the foremost one of which is, to call themselves more intelligent than people who shun sin. They have no evidence of any increase of intelligence over the rest of us: in fact, the studied inability to see the long-term consequences of their actions would seem to betray a certain challenge to their intellectual abilities, a thickwittedness.

Another aspect of human nature is that we humans prefer for others to like and love us, rather than treat us like convenient meat bags to squirt semen into. Men, women, and children, all like the various forms of love and family and friendship that makes human bonds. We do not like to be alone. We do not like when casual lovers use us and lose us: we deserve better.

You call yourself a pagan, but there is more magic, more ancient strength in the great god Hymen, than in all your little modernized version of the great and ancient Danu gods. If you were a real pagan you would quail for the Great Mother and ask her forgiveness for offending her sacred rite: did the Sky-father and the Earth-Mother merely agree on a casual fling? Is all the life-wealth and fertility of the springtide really worth nothing?

Are Dagda Ollathir the All-Father and the Morrigan the Great Queen really married, or not?

Is Brigid a virgin? Is virginity sacred to the Bride of Candlemas?

Let us look at the parallel myths among the Welsh. Is it perfectly acceptable, an act without consequence, for Gilvaethwy to seduce the virgin who must hold the king's feet in times of peace? Is there nothing ritualistic, nothing sacred, nothing magical in her virginity? I seem to recall the myths held the seduction of Goewin to involve as much strife as the seduction of Helen.

Is life sacred to you, pagan? Is human life sacred? Is the generation of life sacred? Is the act that generates life sacred? Do you have a ceremony, a rite, a sacrament, a vow that protects the generation of human life? Is sex sacred?

If you say the mysteries of life are not sacred in your religion, I say your religion is hollow: something you have invented for your own convenience, not something that reached down from the World Beyond this World and claimed your soul with an undeniable claim!

If you are really a pagan, tell me: why do you not practice the spiritual purity of your forefathers, including the rites of marriage?

If you are the pagan, why am I the one defending the sacredness of fertility and sacredness of the creation of life to you, instead of the other way around?

You cannot wear a condom and worship a fertility goddess!

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