Chesterton makes a big distinction between the morality of a civilization and their development. One of the interesting contrasts he points out is a civilization that was highly advanced but yet carried within it a demonic urge that began in another society, that of the Canaanites. His chapter, “The war of the Gods and Demons,” covers the ideological difference between two great enemies, Rome and Carthage. Rome’s early gods were more of the domestic kind. Carthage’s god was a different kind all together.
Chesterton writes of the Canaanite religion with its idea of child sacrifice to Molech and how that demonic name can be traced moving via Canaan to Sidon and Tyre and finally Carthage. He contrasts the demons of Carthage with the domestic gods of Rome and suggests that we as a western civilization have much too thank the Romans for as they defeated Carthage. He writes of the god that was called Moloch:
The Romans did not at first quite know what to make of him; they had to go back to the grossest myth of Greek or Roman origins and compare him to Saturn devouring his children. But the worshippers of Moloch were not gross or primitive, they were members of a mature and polished civilization, abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably more civilized than the Romans. … These highly civilized people really met together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. (149)Chesterton goes on to the Greek gods and their mythologies. Greek vices, which may have developed from their gods or perhaps their gods developed from their vices, left the very early Romans appalled. Chesterton writes of the Greek vices, “Just as they became unnatural by worshiping nature, so they became unmanly by worshiping man.” He elaborates:
If Greece led her conqueror, she might have misled her conqueror; but these were things he did originally wish to conquer—even in himself. It is true that in one sense there was less inhumanity even in Sodom and Gomorrah than in Tyre and Sidon. When we consider the war of the demons on the children, we cannot compare even Greek decadence to Punic devil worship. But it is not true that the sincere revulsion from either be merely pharisaical. It is not true to human nature or common sense. (159)But the Roman virtue came to an end with the dying of their mythologies. Chesterton wrote about the mythological boredom that led to atheism, drug taking and “startling obscenities.” That is where his famous quote, about teasing the cat pops up:
I do not believe that mythology must begin with eroticism. But I do believe that mythology must end in it. I am quite certain that mythology did end in it. Moreover, not only did the poetry grow more immoral, but the morality grew more indefensible. Greek vices, oriental vices, hints of the old horrors of the Semitic demons [the Canaanites] began to fill the fancies of decaying Rome, swarming like flies on a dung heap. The psychology of it is really human enough, to anyone who will try that experiment of seeing history from the inside. There comes an hour in the afternoon when the child is tired of ‘pretending’; when he is weary of being a robber or a Red Indian. It is then that he torments the cat. (164)In the end, Rome was conquered by both demons and strange evolving gods. Even Nero participated in same gender weddings at one time calling himself a bride. The western world, and the United States in particular may be weary of the God who toppled Rome’s demons but he nonetheless stands over all our holy houses pleading with his people.
All the doors are opening to the demonic in the Western World. We have a holocaust of dead babies. Sexual sins of many kinds are finding blessings in many denominations and religious communities. Although I haven’t touched on it there is greed seeping through all of this. And yes, arrogance, because civilizations breed an awful false pride in humanity; we build our towers while leaving God’s word on the ground—perhaps as a footstool.
There is an answer. Chesterton wrote of those first believers who would not offer incense to Caesar. “We see a new scene, in which the world has drawn its skirts away from these men and women and they stand in the center of a great space like lepers.” He writes of the witnesses that form about and above them. He writes of the hatred that forms toward them. But he also writes of the light that shone in a dark night, “a white fire clinging to that group like unearthly phosphorescence, blazing its track through the twilights of history and confounding every effort to confound it with the mists of mythology and theory…”
Faithfulness in the midst of it all is what God calls us to. Jesus is faithful to his promises and we belong after all to that “begotten God” who is in the bosom of his Father. (John 1:18)