Bazsó-Dombi Attila

The God Pan Has Returned. Rites, Morality, and Doctrine of the New Religion of Nature

That the Catholic Church is putting up with or even backing the advent of a new religion of nature, with the god Pan as its symbol, is not a bizarre theory. This is the thesis, supported with convincing arguments, of the French philosopher Chantal Delsol in her latest essay, for a few days now in Italian bookstores as well, from the presses of Cantagalli: “The end of Christianity and the return of paganism.”
Delsol, a Catholic who teaches political philosophy and defines herself as a liberal-conservative, founded the Hannah Arendt Institute in 1993 and is a member of the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques of the Institut de France. She decisively rejects the idea that the collapse of the Christian faith leaves the field open to an “atheistic” West. No, modernity does not wipe the slate clean of Christianity. Faith in transcendence collapses, but the building does not disappear, its bricks are reused in a new way. Just as the first Christians moved into pagan temples, whose meanings they transformed, so also religion changes by way of overlaid and different writings, as on a palimpsest.
Delsol is not afraid of an Islamization of Europe. European Muslims are also overrun by the cultural change underway. “Certainly,” she wrote in ‘Le Figaro,’ for which she is a columnist, “the foundations of Judeo-Christianity have collapsed. The first is faith in the existence of truth, which comes to us from the Greeks. Then there is the idea of linear time, which historically gave us the idea of progress, so that there is a return to cyclical time with the proclamation of apocalyptic catastrophes. Finally, it is faith in the substantial dignity of the human being that is erased to make room for a dignity conferred from without, social and not substantial, as was the case before Christianity.”
The advancing religion is a new form of paganism, with nature at its center, sacralized. In the short excerpt from her book that is reproduced below Delsol explains this mutation, which no longer has the Church but the state as its officiant. To safeguard what remains of the true Christian faith there can be none but minorities, hopefully creative, made up of witnesses, “secret agents” of God.
Delsol’s is not the only voice being raised in France to analyze the cultural mutation that today is plowing into and overwhelming Christianity. Surprisingly, in a country where the baptized are already less than half and Catholic practice has plummeted, there is an extraordinary interest in these issues on the part of intellectuals and writers, including nonbelievers.
It was at the end of October that a wide-ranging dialogue was organized by “Le Figaro” in Paris between the Catholic philosopher Pierre Manent and the writer Alain Finkielkraut, member of the Académie Française, reprinted in its entirety also in Italy by “Il Foglio” of November 2 with the title: “Is your God dead, Europe? A civil religion has supplanted the God of Pascal.” In it the two scholars agree with Delsol in depicting today’s mutation of Christianity into a simply natural, humanitarian religion, abetted by the surrender of the Church.
Not only philosophy but also fiction in France is strongly marked by these same capital questions. Two names above all. The first is Emmanuel Carrère, whose novel “The Kingdom” Roberto Righetto presented in the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference, “Avvenire,” as follows: “One of the most important ‘Christian’ books of recent times, even if written by a nonbeliever: an inquiry into the Gospel of Luke conducted by mixing historical investigation and autobiographical account, which becomes a stringent investigation into the substance of the Christian proclamation, a true mano a mano in the reading of which believers are also driven to examine themselves with the same seriousness.”
And then Michel Houellebecq, another writer as prized as he is controversial, for whom it is by no means a given that the current de-Christianization is definitive and permanent, because it too could instead face a rupture, a “metaphysical mutation” like that which marked the sudden end of previous stages of civilization. And it is for this that one must be ready, “keeping the Christian heritage intact in order to be able to re-propose it in a changed world.”
What is striking about the lively interest in such questions in France is that it is not being promoted or guided by Church hierarchs, but is being brought to life in complete autonomy by men of culture, not only Christians.

Exactly as happened in previous eras of Church history, in particular in the three religious revivals of the last half millennium, all three with France as their epicenter: that of the seventeenth century with Pascal and Port Royal, the Romantic one of the early nineteenth century with Chateaubriand and “Le génie du Christianisme,” and that of the early twentieth century with the “Renouveau catholique” and the great converts, from Péguy to Maritain, from Claudel to Bernanos.

Delsol’s turn.



by Chantal Delsol

In this beginning of the 21st century, the most established and attractive philosophical current is a form of cosmotheism linked to the defense of nature. Our Western contemporaries no longer believe in an afterlife or a transcendence. The meaning of life is to be found in this life itself and not above it, where there is nothing. The sacred is found here: in landscapes, in the life of the earth, and in human beings themselves. What has been produced is a “monist anthropology” that comes close to ancient animism. For today’s ecologism there is no longer any essential separation between man and other living beings, nor between man and all of nature, which he simply inhabits, without dominating it with any sort of superiority.
For the monotheist, man feels himself a stranger in this immanent world and aspires to the other world, and it is precisely on account of this that Nietzsche, for example, reproached Christians. For the cosmotheist, instead, the world is a dwelling all his own, in the full sense of the term. He wants to inhabit this world as a full-fledged citizen, and no longer as a passing foreigner, that Christian described by the anonymous author of the Letter to Diognetus. He wants to live in a self-sufficient world that has its own meaning in it, in other words: an enchanted world, whose enchantment lies within it and not in a distressing and hypothetical afterlife.
Postmodern man wants to abolish distinctions, his preferred adjective is “inclusive.” And cosmotheism suits him because it erases the old dualism typical of Judeo-Christianity. He feels the need to escape the contradictions between the false and the true, between God and the world, between faith and reason. Instead of exiling God from the world, he calls him back here and reclaims the sacred. For Odo Marquard, a contemporary German philosopher, monotheism’s shortness of breath offers polytheism a chance to return to center stage, through the return of plural myths. He describes the return to polytheism as an emancipation from exclusive truth, a complete freedom given to the realm of narratives and the end of the eschatology of salvation.
Ecology today is a religion, a creed. Not because the current ecological problem should not be considered as scientifically demonstrated; but because these scientific certainties about climate and ecology produce irrational beliefs and certainties that are in reality religious beliefs, endowed with all the manifestations of religion.
Today ecology has become a liturgy: it is impossible to omit its celebration, in one way or another, in any discourse or fragment of discourse. It is a catechism: it is taught to children starting from kindergarten and in a repetitive way, to help them acquire good habits of thought and action. It is a consensual dogma: whoever poses questions about it, or raises the slightest doubt, is considered a madman or a wrongdoer. But above all – and this is the clear sign of a creed and certainly not of rational science – the passion for nature leads to the acceptance of everything that was rejected by all-powerful individualism: personal responsibility, the debt laid down toward descendants, duties toward the community. It is therefore in the name of this immanent and pagan religion that we are reintegrating all the indispensable dimensions of existence that before were taken on and cultivated by Christianity.
Beyond the necessary protection of the environment, neglected for too long by the industrial era, ecological thinking develops a real and proper philosophy of life. It does not remain at the level of the defense of the environment. There is a very specific reason for this fact. We have a whole Christian tradition of defense of nature, from St. Francis or St. Hildegard of Bingen up to, in our own day, the “philosopher farmer” Gustave Thibon. In this tradition, nature is considered a divine creature and protected as such; the defense of nature finds a place inside faith in transcendence and a humanism that places man at the center. But when Christianity vanishes, and with it transcendence, it is inevitable that the sacred will reappear in one form or another. The moment the defense of the environment is affirmed as an urgent and evident duty, nature then sees itself sacralized, that is, put in a preserve, set above, made inviolable.
The new ecological religion is a form of postmodern pantheism. Nature becomes the object of more or less evident worship. Mother earth becomes a kind of pagan goddess, and not only among Bolivian natives, but also among Europeans. So much so that Pope Francis speaks today of “our mother earth,” obviously in the Christian sense, but leaving open the ambiguity that allows the link with contemporary beliefs. Our contemporaries defend in all its forms the nature that has been denaturalized by man, just as they do not hesitate to hug trees. We are in a phase in which, in the vast field opened by the elimination of Christianity, new beliefs are appearing: and above all the pantheism that translates the defense of the environment into religion.
Christians today, upset by the decline of their influence, tend to maintain that all morality will disappear with the elimination of monotheism. But that means disregarding history. Morals and religions do not arise together, and it is not religions that generate morals, until the advent of Judeo-Christianity. In the ancient polytheistic worlds, morality comes from society and has a wholly human origin: derived from customs, from traditions. Religion is of another order. The gods demand sacrifices and generate rituals. Moral norms require obedience. Among polytheistic peoples, it is the state that is the guardian of morality. Incredible and new is the spectacle of Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets of the law: here indeed for the first time morality comes from God.
But at the beginning of the 21st century the Church is abandoning its role as guardian of moral norms and this latter is once again passing back to the state. The multiplicity of moral and religious beliefs that inhabit our countries – clearly visible through the diversity represented in the ethics committees – necessarily leads to an amplification of the role of political power. The latter, represented by elites as aware as they are active, is going back to being the guardian of morality as it was before the long period of Christianity.
Today Westerners no longer want this safeguarding to be ensured by religions, by clerics. They prefer that neutral authority which is the state, which are the elites, institutional or of influence. This is why today the official “mainstream” is taking up the right to protect morality and to prevent its deviations, as well as to ostracize deviants. The talk shows hosts are the sentinels and sometimes the Cerberuses of common morality. Not necessarily the producers, because morality comes from many sources, but the sentinels, those who watch over its execution. They have taken on the role that the bishops still played half a century ago.

The God Pan Has Returned. Rites, Morality, and Doctrine of the New Religion of Nature