During the Renaissance, the attempt was made in Western Europe to recover the art, philosophy, political doctrine, and military techniques of antiquity. There is one aspect of antiquity, however, that the Renaissance did not recover: Paganism. The Gods and rituals of the Ancient Greeks and Romans were not only ignored but also criticized and ridiculed.
Culture is a package deal. A civilization does not get to pick up one set of values from the past while ignoring other values. When a civilization accepts the art, philosophy, political doctrine, and military techniques of antiquity, then it has to accept antiquity’s religion too. The union between the beauty and the beast is unbreakable—wherever the beauty goes, the beast follows.
Thomas Aquinas, and the scholastics who followed him, tried to obviate the need for pagan religion by attempting to reconcile Christianity with the ideas of antiquity, especially the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition. Their project did not succeed because Christianity is a theological and monotheistic religion—its tenets cannot be reconciled with the philosophical, political, and militaristic ideas developed in the polytheistic world of antiquity.
In the Age of Imperialism, which followed the Renaissance, there was a rupture between the Papal establishment and the imperialist powers, who were motivated by the Greek and Roman tradition of warfare, genocide, brutality, plunder, and the mass enslavement of vanquished people.
The preachers who went to the Americas were appalled by the savagery with which the European imperialists were dealing with the indigenous population and the African slaves. Bishops and monks wrote letters and books in which they condemned the atrocities that were being committed in the Americas. Some of these religious chroniclers warned the Europeans that divinity would not forgive them for the crimes that they were committing in the Americas.
In the eighteenth century, Ancient Greek and Roman thought had become very influential in Western Europe—the time was ripe for a complete rejection of spirituality. During the so-called Age of Enlightenment, several influential philosophers preached materialism and utopianism. The Jacobins led by Robespierre tried to put the Enlightenment ideas in practice during the French Revolution, which can be seen as Europe’s first attempt to build a utopia.
The utopian empire of the French Revolution was short-lived. It was wiped out during Napoleon’s counterrevolution. In the nineteenth century, several new political movements, inspired by utopian ideologies, emerged in different parts of Europe. In the twentieth century, the West became a battleground of utopian ideologies. The clash between the utopian ideologies led to the First and the Second World wars, and a series of other wars, which sapped the West of its strength.
In the twenty-first century, the West has lost its political, economic, and military power. The most critical thing that the West has lost is prestige and self-confidence. The West has not fallen yet, but it is moving on the trajectory of decline at a brisk pace.
Between 2035 and 2050, the Western politics and culture might see intense dilution. The Western civilization might get swamped by a medley of non-Western civilizations. The old Gods and rituals often make a comeback when a civilization is declining. Paganism might return to the West. I don’t think paganism can save the West from falling—paganism could not save Ancient Greece from the Macedonian barbarian, Alexander the Great.