Does “Constantinius” rhyme with “Obama”?

Caveat: I’m not sure this is even half-baked yet.

Rod Dreher invoked in a Polish context and I’m extending to our American context a possibly instructive historic type, involving the epochal replacement of one dominant religion by another:

Constantine died in 337, and civil conflict followed. Roman leaders faced pressure from more radical Christians to step up the de-paganization, and tried to walk a balance between their demands and not upsetting the still large pagan population. In 356, Constantius stepped up the anti-pagan laws.

Interestingly, the pagan elites didn’t take all this too seriously …

Towards the end of his reign, Constantius’s anti-pagan laws grew even stronger, but paganism was still such a vivid and powerful presence in daily life that the pagan elites felt confident that the danger would pass when the emperor did …

Constantius was succeeded in the 360s by Julian the Apostate, so called because he had been raised a Christian, but left the faith and sought to re-establish paganism. He rolled back some of his predecessor’s pro-Christian laws, and most controversially, promulgated a law that would have prevented Christians from teaching in schools. Watts points out that these laws were strange, in part because Julian involved the state in regulating pagan belief in ways that it had not been before, even when the Empire was pagan. The laws didn’t survive Julian. According to Watts, the reality of the Empire, at least among the elites of that time, was such that pagans and Christians were already knitted together in a social fabric that could not effectively be sundered by imperial decree. That is, pagans didn’t want to see Christians thrown out of their jobs, or punished.

One of the young conservative Catholics I met in Warsaw expressed his deep anxiety over what he sees as essentially a “Julian the Apostate” move by the current populist conservative government (for which he voted!) to reinstate the Catholic faith as the source of political and social norms. This man told me that he agrees with those norms, but what older Catholic conservatives don’t understand is how thin those norms, and the faith on which they are based, are within his generation. This was the guy who told me that he believes that Catholic Poland will go the way of Catholic Ireland within a decade or two.

Rod Dreher (emphasis added)

Now imagine orthodox Christians as the passing pagan order, Progressives as the ascendant faith (and remember: history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes):

  • Was Obama our (effectively pagan) Constantinius, conducting the funeral of orthodox Christendom on behalf of Progressivism in its liberal Christian manifestation?
  • Is Trump making a Julian the Apostate move, trying to suppress Progressivism and to revive Christendom as imagined by his Evangelical base and “historian” David Barton)?

The rhyme is imperfect, of course. For instance, some people on the Left do want to see Christians thrown out of their jobs, or punished, merely for refusing to offer their pinch of incense (e.g., bake the custom cake). That complicates things.

And there’s a third America for whom the new religion combines NASCAR and NFL (Ivan Illich wrote of such things), with overlap between them and the other two constellations of rites. There dwell some people — some very prominent people — who want heretics (those who won’t stand when the standard hymn is sung at the preliminary patriotic orgy) cast our of their jobs.

But I think I’m onto something even if counter-narratives can be spun and even if our left coasts and our flyover land in this grand empire have competing religions.

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One thought on “Does “Constantinius” rhyme with “Obama”?

  1. I’m afraid that likening Trump to Julian the Apostate gives him too much credit. That would assume that there is method to the madness. There is no method; only madness.

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