I was thinking about Vettius Agorius Praetextatus Sunday night; I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Finished writing an entry on Rome for tomorrow’s work blog, and was closing the browser tabs for various Wikipedia pages. Saw one name - the aforementioned Vettius - and noted he was described as one of the last great defenders of the religious traditions of Roman antiquity. Christianity was on the rise; the pagan traditions were slipping out of favor, and he was the stalwart defender of the old gods and the old ways. A conservative, in other words.
It took time to transition between the innumerable old beliefs and the new creed, which was contrary to what I learned as a kid. I seem to remember it went like this: Romans were pagans, which meant they believed in a few gods with goat-feet and Jupiter, who looked like God inasmuch as he was huge and had a beard, but he lived on top of a mountain. I mean, c’mon. That’s easily disproven, no? The Romans persecuted the Christians for being Christians, and fed them to lions, until (insert forgotten historical moment HERE) a switch flipped, and hey presto the Empire was Christian now, huzzah, and everybody was a Christian, too.
Omits a lot of back-and-forth.
Now Christianity in Rome is older than paganism reigned in old Rome. Our conception of a proper old European church is a building designed entirely in the Roman model - an architectural vocabulary first applied to the pagan gods. It’s like some new religion took hold in America in the next hundred years - say, a religion devoted to Plethora the many-form Bird God of Andromeda - and all the churches in the year 3500 AD look like suburban modernist churches. Someone from 1955 would look at the structures and say “hold on. The melody’s right but the words are wrong.”
The last few weeks I’ve been plowing through Reddit, looking for stuff for the work blog, and was reminded why I stopped going to Reddit in the first place. For a few funny meme pix, okay. For a few posts where people discuss their professions, sure. But my GOD the atheism. I don’t care if someone’s an atheist, but I have to admit a personal preference for the mature type that doesn’t think “hey, I’ve found a contradiction and this totally makes religion teh stupid. I’ll put it in a pie chart and think about it to myself when Aunt Mimi does the blessing for Thanksgiving, because she’s all ‘Thank you Jeezuz for this food’ like he invented turkey or care about millions of starving Africans who would be fed if the church melted down their candlesticks.” That kind.
It also seems to be the default position for young internet users who self-identify as “progressive.” Part of the package of being a Thinking Person in this era.
There are liberal non-believers and conservative non-believers. I have some suspicions about which side is more likely to treat believers with respect, but maybe I just hang out in self-reinforcing circles. Aside from Reddit and Fark and the other places where the upstanding citizens, snarkmasters and online sociopaths romp together, that is.
I can’t imagine having my identity rooted in not believing what other people believe in, but of course there's more to it than that; there's the desire to live unopppressed by those beliefs, which are constantly keeping people from doing what they want to do without anyone else disapproving.
Which reminds me: via instapundit, something Ross Douthat wrote in the Times.
It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.
It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade.
If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.
There, didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.
On an unrelated note, also from Insty: what the hell is the matter with these people?
CLACKAMAS, Ore. - A fight over the American flag is brewing at the Clackamas Town Center.
The manager of the children's train at the mall says he's being forced to remove flags that he uses to decorate the train ride.
Why? The mall told him the flags are against policy.
Thomas Phelps said he was floored when he got a letter from mall management telling him that the flags he put on the train a few weeks ago were "unapproved visuals."
I can’t even begin to think why. I can’t. Oh, I can, I suppose - if you wanted to come up with the stupidest reason, it would be some milquetoasty clay-foot who believes that it sends an exclusionary message, because people from other countries would not feel included. Someone might complain. It’s just hard to think there’s no one higher up in the company who wouldn’t give this person the Perry Stare:
Are you serious? the boss might say. Really? You want to include the flag in the list of unapproved visuals? Do you have any idea how this will play out on Facebook?
Yes, yes, I know: private company, within their rights. Of course. OF COURSE; that goes without saying, and it’s hardly an argument to say “well, don’t you support the right of private companies to do what they wish on their property?” Yes. I’m all in favor of GGP, the parent company, banning flags from stores if they wish. I’m in favor of a mall having the right to ban Chick-fil-A or Ben & Jerry’s for political reasons. I’m in favor of everyone knowing it and acting accordingly. I’m mostly in favor of private firms not doing these things, because they’re idiotic, and diminish the amount of shared public space, pushing everyone into comfy shag-lined bubbles so blindingly bright inside you think you’re seeing the sun and the sky, when you’re just seeing your own reflection. And what a glorious thing you are. Yes you are!
And now, <geek>
Something I have enjoyed the last few nights:
I don’t have much patience for self-described Star Trek fans who didn’t enjoy the last season of Enterprirse.
No, that’s too nerdy and passive-aggressive. THIS IS THE INTERNET and you have to be EXTREME because you’re shouting at the computer and no one is immediately contradicting you, so you must be right.
You can’t be a Star Trek fan and not love the last season of Enterprise. It’s like being a Star Trek fan who really thinks the fifth movie is better than the second, or makes a serious defense of the animated series.
It had a shaky start, and I didn’t care for the Temporal War. I have dim memories of the third season’s Big Thing Out There That Was Going to Destroy Space, although it was enjoyable enough at the time. I think it was a mistake not to do TOS-style planet-of-the-week episodes, bouncing from one Class M to the other, although as Voyager proved, in the hands of the modern producers that meant visiting planets were everyone had a ridge on their nose, or their forehead, was dressed mostly in felt, had recognizable technologies, and were earnest about being Good or earnest about being generally Vile. Not to say “Voyager” didn’t do good work; “Year of Hell” was a very good slab o’ Trek, undercut by the fact that the galaxy’s worst mass-murderer was the dad on “That 70s Show.” Ruined it a little.
But the 4th season of “Enterprise” was backstory galore - the long arc about the Vulcans, the ep where they find the Defiant (which had winked out in Tholian interspace IN THE FUTURE) and especially the two-show story from which I took that screen grab. That’s the magnificent Jeffrey Combs, who was equally fantastic as a character in Deep Space Nine. He’s an Andorian here, obviously. Heading to a peace conference with Tellerites. An echo of “Journey to Babel,” except there’s no sprawling Federation here. This is where the Federation started. How it started. If you grew up hating Andorians because the saboteur in “Journey to Babel” was one (yes, I know. Not. Genetically modified to look like one, probably by Romulans in retrospect) then his performance spun that all the way around. It’s just great Trek.
They ruined it on the way out, but ah well. Ah, well.
Today: matchbooks! On that we can all agree. See you around.