Those who study ancient history might be familiar with “Syncretism,” which the Romans practiced, where foreign gods are linked with the home culture’s gods and viewed as similar expressions of the same deity or various aspects of the many gods and spirits that governed the world.

For the Romans, this was a practical exercise. The key to Rome’s success (to the Romans) was piety and maintaining the Pax Deorum, or “Peace of the Gods.” Having the favor of the gods, along with the ancestors (who gave the Romans the Mos Maiorum, or “way of the ancestors”), gave the armies victory in battle, maintained the continuance of the state, and ensured fertility. Participation in the religion of the state was thus mandatory. The idea of religious freedom was not part of the culture, though each family had its own esoteric religion and maintained its own practices directed towards pleasing the gods.

Religious practices were not viewed as exclusionary. Modern Christian debates over things like communion would be foreign to the ancient Roman, who would view all rites as complementary. Furthermore, in a somewhat puzzling approach to the modern mind, the individual family might not view its god as the same one worshipped within the state. That is, the Jupiter in the center of a home’s foyer might not be the same Jupiter as Jupiter Optimus Maximus, enthroned at his temple in Rome.

The ancient pagan man was able to hold such contradictory viewpoints as Syncretism (all the gods are the same) and household gods (all the gods are different) without much effort because rites were viewed as non-exclusionary. If a rite was performed to Aphrodite, it might also be done to Venus, or to both, or to two aspects of the same god. The point, to the practical Roman, was to cover all the bases. Pleasing as many of the gods as possible was the goal, and so eventually, there emerged directly syncretic gods, like Isis-Venus.

This mentality disappeared with the rise of Christianity and its exclusionary view of rites and worship, as well as its monotheistic view of God. To the Christian, the icon of Christ in the church was the same Christ worshipped in the home. God exists in three persons, but these were inseparable and equal and everywhere the same unto themselves. There was no special god to appease for some aspect of life; God was omnipresent. Worship was directed toward Him as was sacrifice, but it was without blood and not for appeasement or favor in battle, but for the salvation of the soul.

It is in the Modern “Post-Christian” world, which has forgotten the gods, that we see a return of Syncretism, but in the academic sphere, rather than as a matter of the state religion.

This starts from observations of similarity, like noting that one god is similar to another neighboring tribe’s god in anthropological study. Like the Romans, the academic then makes a leap to say that the two similar things are the same, or he conjectures that the two were spread to both tribes in some memetic fashion. Historians do this, too, attributing to various saints the aspects of local deities because some part of folk hagiography has a similarity with a displaced god (or so they say).

This is a profoundly different approach to Syncretism from the Romans primarily because it views all religions as de facto false. “The gods are not real” is a basic unquestioned assumption, and from this assumption flows Richard Dawkins’s idea of the meme, a thing which perpetuates like a gene, but it’s an idea. Religions spread between cultures because the gods are memes that appeal to the people (for undefined reasons), and thus, we end up with the belief in the gods, which is universal through all cultures (pre-modern, at least) throughout time.

Anthropologically, this treats the subject as both infantile and a fetishistic curiosity. It reduces peoples to, at best, misguided children, at worst, idiots, which is not the way to approach human study with any respect or desire to understand a culture.

In the secular society, it creates a farcical net of false relations. Terms like “Judeo-Christian” and “Abrahamic faith” are silly not because those faiths share nothing but because it reduces huge numbers of people into a religious mush that has no reason for conflict and who all worship the same deity. I’ve had friends assert unironically that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all worship the same God but spend time with, say, a Sunni Muslim and a Catholic, and they will certainly not come to such a conclusion. The Muslim will accuse the Christian of being a polytheist since the Muslim rejects the concept of the Trinity; he would certainly not say they worshipped the same God at all.

Even now, writers attempt to flatten all aspects of all religion into a superstitious meme pool, with religions arising via evolutionary means just like species (supposedly) do. Look up Egyptian gods on the internet, and you’ll see attempts to equate Isis with the Virgin Mary, thus both raising Jesus’s mother to the status of deity, a sacrilege, as well as reducing her to some borrowed aspect of Egyptian paganism. All this because Christianity took root in Egypt, and Mary and Isis are both females who gave birth. Such equivalencies are also done with European gods such as Freyja—Christianity is not allowed to have any practice unique to itself.

The point of secular syncretism is now, in my opinion, to destroy Christianity and its influence on the culture. I consider it a kind of performative ritual, like changing “A.D.” into “C.E.” (for the Common Era, which began with… some event), wherein the participant hopes to change the nature of reality by pretending it is different that it is. By pretending two things are the same, the participants hope they will actually become so; that if we just repeat the same thing enough, the people who wouldn’t believe in the lie will internalize it. If two things are the same, and one is false, then so is the other.

I’m sad to say that it has worked, and not just on atheists. Such sentiments have taken deep root in the post-enlightenment area of Christian Protestantism, to the point where it is not uncommon to see protestants wax about the pagan roots of “Mary worship.” Syncretism is hand-maiden to the Great Apostasy, or perhaps it jives well with the intent of “Sola Scriptura” – to leapfrog over the supposed additions to the faith to recover the “faith of the early church.” Thus, syncretism has the ability to portray traditions as not just additive but immoral.

These are things I mention in my new book, Demon Ex Machina, where the narrator and protagonist waxes about the problems of syncretism. Pretending that the religious practices of the Mesoamericans were purely delusional writes out the possibility of evil, and what does one do with faced with the reality of evil in one’s own experience? What of the violent sacrifice of children in Tenochtitlan? Is that insanity, or does it point to the more frightening conclusion that these practices pointed toward something that is both real and evil?

There is a theme in Lovecraft that I use in the new book, which is that the modern atheistic man maintains his sanity by not knowing or believing in the great, oppressive beyond full of evil beings defying human comprehension. The crisis is the acknowledgment of terror that cannot be explained by modern theory or contained by modern science. It’s worth noting that the Catholics in Lovecraft’s stories, no matter how ill-mannered and uneducated, survive because they believe in the evil and do not seek to understand it, whereas the protagonists often die because their logical, modern, scientific minds refuse to accept that what lies before them is real and to abandon the search.

You can get a copy of my new book by joining my mailing list here. Or, you can buy the book from Amazon.

One Comment

  1. I see this article as an awesome follow up to your “American Radical Religion”. There was a great video (greater than it’s corresponding article) about how Corona-Chan was a pagan state religion that demanded everyone performed the rituals to appease the science or else great upheaval would befall society that ties into this.

    Are you aware that you’re kinda creating an American weirdbelief/disbelief/unbelief/cringebelief extended universe?

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