For those who missed it, the end of the world already happened and is happening. No, not Armageddon but the end of all natural good. The law of entropy applies not only to the physical but to everything. This is the curse that was given at the Fall, that everything dies. Death is not just simply non-existence, but eternal lethargy. All the good in the world: the fighting against injustice and evil (the demons), the virtue of nature, everything of the ‘paragon’ of creation has, did, and will ever slide into the slough of despondency. Man is not just an animal, but he has made himself one.
Overview of Chapter:
Even after winning the war against the demons man lost the battle he could never win: the battle against his fallen nature. What was won in the overt was lost in the covert. Man’s civilization is fallen and lost. The world would have ended millennia ago if it was not for some assistance from beyond the natural world.
Outline of Chapter:
In the tracing of history, there is a point where nothing of merit happened – no clear fight against an oppressive evil, no monuments built to worship the virtuous, there was nothing beyond the mere worship of man. The old maxim is true “what one worships, one becomes”. Once man began to worship himself he became the object of his worship and just like Narcissus it lead to his death.
“It is the whole point, even of this final chapter upon the final decay of paganism, to insist once more that the worst sort of paganism had already been defeated by the best sort. It was the best sort of paganism that conquered the gold of Carthage. It was the best sort of paganism that wore the laurels of Rome. It was the best thing the world had yet seen, all things considered and on any large scale, that ruled from the wall of the Grampians to the garden of the Euphrates. It was the best that conquered; it was the best that ruled; and it was the best that began to decay. […] I am not presenting these pagans as paladins of chivalry, with a sentiment about nationalism never known until Christian times. But I am presenting them as men with the feelings of men; and those feelings were not a pretense. The truth is that one of the weaknesses in nature-worship and mere mythology had already produced a perversion among the Greeks due to the worst sophistry; the sophistry of simplicity. Just as they became unnatural by worshiping nature, so they actually became unmanly by worshiping man.”
As only the natural (nature and man) were worshiped, the divine was left out of the minds of men. The pagans of old, those referenced who worshiped ‘an unknown yet powerful Numinous‘ had abandoned that search for truth for a counterfeit. They left the divine for the pleasurable and comfortable.
“There had appeared in more and more flagrant fashion that flower of evil that is really implicit in the very seed of nature-worship, however natural it may seem. I have said that I do not believe that natural worship necessarily begins with this particular passion; I am not of the De Rougemont school of scientific folk-lore. I do not believe that mythology must begin with eroticism. But I do believe that mythology must end in it. I am quite certain that mythology did end in it. Moreover, not only did the poetry grow more immoral, but the immorality grew more indefensible.”
Mankind had grown up. Just as a child, without proper guidance, loses his or her natural wonder in the world and becomes jaded, cruel, and selfish mankind lost its wonder in creation. It needed more and more ‘stimulants’ just to keep pinching themselves to wake up.
“There comes an hour in the afternoon when the child is tired of ‘pretending’; when he is weary of being a robber or a Red Indian. It is then that he torments the cat. There comes a time in the routine of an ordered civilization when the man is tired at playing at mythology and pretending that a tree is a maiden or that the moon made love to a man. The effect of this staleness is the same everywhere; it is seen in all drug-taking and dram-drinking and every form of the tendency to increase the dose. Men seek stranger sins or more startling obscenities as stimulants to their jaded sense. They seek after mad oriental religions for the same reason. They try to stab their nerves to life, if it were with the knives of the priests of Baal. They are walking in their sleep and try to wake themselves up with nightmares.”
It was in this, the death of the myths, that man realized too late that the myths were not real. They might have reflected something real, but one can never worship mere reflections.
“It is said truly in a sense that Pan died because Christ was born. It is almost as true in another sense that men knew that Christ was born because Pan was already dead. A void was made by the vanishing of the whole mythology of mankind, which would have asphyxiated like a vacuum if it had not been filled with theology. But the point for the moment is that the mythology could not have lasted like a theology in any case. Theology is thought, whether we agree with it or not. Mythology was never thought, and nobody could really agree with it or disagree with it. It was a mere mood of glamor and when the mood went it could not be recovered. Men not only ceased to believe in the gods, but they realized that they had never believed in them. They had sung their praises; they had danced round their altars. They had played the flute; they had played the fool.”
Despite this human nature began to deceive itself – people craved distractions, bread and circuses. They began to grow content with the void, and actually enjoy the circular nature of non-seeking. They saw the world around them fall into decadence, despair, and disrepair and thought that if that is the way things are then that is the way things ought to be.
“All round the circle of the Mediterranean cities the people mourned for the loss of gods and were consoled with gladiators. And meanwhile something similar was happening to that intellectual aristocracy of antiquity that had been walking about and talking at large ever since Socrates and Pythagoras. They began to betray to the world the fact that they were walking in a circle and saying the same thing over and over again. Philosophy began to be a joke; it also began to be a bore. That unnatural simplification of everything into one system or another, which we have noted as the fault of the philosopher, revealed at once its finality and its futility. Everything was virtue or everything was happiness or everything was fate or everything was good or everything was bad; anyhow, everything was everything and there was no more to be said; so they said it. Everywhere the sages had degenerated into sophists; that is, into hired rhetoricians or askers of riddles. It is one of the symptoms of this that the sage begins to turn not only into a sophist but into a magician. A touch of oriental occultism is very much appreciated in the best houses. As the philosopher is already a society entertainer, he may as well also be a conjurer. […] Atheism became really possible in that abnormal time; for atheism is abnormality. It is not merely the denial of a dogma. It is the reversal of a subconscious assumption in the soul; the sense that there is a meaning and a direction in the world it sees. Lucretius, the first evolutionist who endeavored to substitute Evolution for God, had already dangled before men’s eyes his dance of glittering atoms, by which he conceived cosmos as created by chaos. But it was not his strong poetry or his sad philosophy, as I fancy, that made it possible for men to entertain such a vision. It was something in the sense of impotence and despair with which men shook their fists vainly at the stars, as they saw all the best work of humanity sinking slowly and helplessly into a swamp. They could easily believe that even creation itself was not a creation but a perpetual fall, when they saw that the weightiest and worthiest of all human creations was falling by its own weight. They could fancy that all the stars were falling stars; and that the very pillars of their own solemn porticos were bowed under a sort of gradual deluge. To men in that mood there was a reason for atheism that is in some sense reasonable. Mythology might fade and philosophy might stiffen; but if behind these things there was a reality, surely that reality might have sustained things as they sank. There was no God; if there had been a God, surely this was the very moment when He would have moved and saved the world.”
The doors opened up to man ‘doing what was right in his own eyes’, and that lead to dreariness. Much like Hell in C.S. Lewis novel ‘The Great Divorce’ people did whatever they wanted to do and were miserable. By, (as Nietzsche would call it), “killing God” we became less than man – we became animals. For if we lose the creator then we lose the reason for creation. We lose the reason for creation we lose our purpose, our fight against evil, and our challenges. Life becomes boring especially if it is life in a circle.
“The life of the great civilization went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end. A convenient compromise had been made between all the multitudinous myths and religions of the Empire; that each group should worship freely and merely live a sort of official flourish of thanks to the tolerant Emperor, by tossing a little incense to him under his official title of Divus. Naturally there was no difficulty about that; or rather it was a long time before the world realized that there ever had been even a trivial difficulty anywhere.”
T. S. Elliot, the great poet was right in his classic poem, the Hollow Men: the world did end in a whimper. The death was not sudden but was a slow walking away from the Truth. The glorious thing is that we did not find the ‘light’, it found us.
It is hard to leave here on this note without giving clues on what will happen next. Like a great story, it is always darkest before dawn. Death comes before life. Man is not just an animal but turned into one – it will take someone who is more than just a man to raise humanity back to becoming men.