The pagan temptation,” as the philosopher Thomas Molnar once described it, is hardly new—the Church has been fighting paganism since the time of Christ. What is new, however, is its aggressive resurgence, its seduction of so many Christians, and the warnings Pope Francis has issued against it.
The Pope’s scorching words against paganism have not been well-received by many, but Francis has gone right on assailing it, particularly in areas that pagans care about most: the environment and sex.
Francis has been a bold and eloquent defender of the environment, and understands that protecting the environment is not a recent fad, but a long-standing Catholic principle, highlighted by many of Francis’s predecessors.
Catholic teaching on this subject is profoundly different from pagan-inspired environmentalism. Catholic environmentalism is Christ-centered, not earth-centered; the Church teaches that Christians are called to protect the environment because caring for creation is part of God’s plan for salvation. The pagan, in contrast, disregards Christian theology, and sees environmentalism as a way to exalt Mother Nature over everything else. And since pagans view children as mortal threats to the environment, they have tried to suppress their numbers through aggressive population control and abortion: Humanity must be sacrificed to pay heed to the pagan gods.
This is a complete distortion of what Francis and his predecessors have taught. As Cardinal Peter Turkson emphasized, previewing the Pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment,
Clearly, this is not some narrow agenda for the greening [of] the Church or the world. It is a vision of care and protection that embraces the human person and the human environment on all possible dimensions.
Pope Francis himself has said:
When we hear that people have meetings about how to preserve creation, we can say: ‘No they are the greens!’ No! They are not the greens! This is ‘our response to the first creation’ of God—and our responsibility. A Christian who does not protect Creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God.
The Pope’s message is clear: Christians are the ones who should be taking the lead in environmental concerns; otherwise, the movement will be dominated by wayward “green” secularists. The Pope has made a similar point against Marxists, in their efforts to hijack and distort Christianity’s teachings about the poor.
Francis has repeatedly lashed out at paganism’s immoral efforts to thwart the will of God by pushing contraception, abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia and gender theory—comparing the latter to nuclear war, and even to Nazi efforts to corrupt the young through the Hitler Youth movement. The poor and young suffer, says Francis, when these policies are exported around the world. How many self-described environmentalists, now invoking the Pope as a great moral authority, also support Francis’s teachings on these fundamental issues? Or would they prefer to edit them out of their mindset?
There are already alarming signs that certain environmentalists are out to exploit the Pope’s good will, for their own selective agendas. Two notorious advocates for abortion and population control were prominent speakers at the Vatican’s recent conference on climate change (dodging questions about those grave issues), and the New York Times top environmentalist writer, covering the conference, appeared to be sympathetic to the Pope’s efforts, until he made this statement:
Many liberals and some conservatives I know will be frustrated by the lack of acknowledgement that population matters—and particularly that boosting access to family planning is an important way to cut social vulnerability to climate (and other) hazards in the world’s poorest regions.
Not to be outdone, a Times reader published a more contentious letter the following day:
If Francis really wants to be credible—not just within the religious community, but outside it—he must confront his Church’s own responsibility for degrading the environment by encouraging unmitigated population growth. If Francis were to recognize that ‘artificial’ means of birth control are now in keeping with the imperatives of nature, he would do more for the welfare of this planet than any of his predecessors. . . . He must now think through the ultimate consequences of where any such symposium must inevitably lead.
The danger of modern paganism is not an overblown fear by faithful Christians—historically, when it has been ignored, it has led to ruin and disaster. As Karla Poewe shows in her brilliant work, New Religions and the Nazis, it was precisely this evil conception of man which corrupted so many Christians into embracing the anti-Semitic Nazi creed, even as it had no connection to the Bible:
By blaming anti-Semitism on Christianity, scholars have badly misled their readers. In nineteenth and early twentieth century Germany it was not Christianity that was, nor Christians who were by virtue of their faith, anti-Semitic. Rather it was neo-pagans both within and without the Church, who had an intense dislike of Christianity precisely because it was Semitic.
Today, the menace of paganism is not as overt and extreme, but it is every bit as deadly to souls, in its subtle effort to appropriate and destroy Christian faith under the guise of helping the poor, the earth, or promoting sexual responsibility. Christians who want to preserve God’s true plan for humanity should expose and resist it at every turn.
William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine, among many other publications, and writes often about religion, history and politics. He contributed an extensive bibliography of works on Pius XII to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII. His previous articles can be found here.