The Spread of Paganism
perhaps the desperate struggle of the christian sects against one another was not the sole cause of why the arabs remained pagan. varieties of paganism were still adhered to even by the people who had converted to christianity. egyptian and greek paganism was quite apparent in the ideologies and practices of many christian sects. indeed, they were apparent in some of the views of orthodox christianity itself. the school of alexandria and its philosophy still enjoyed a measure of influence, though it was naturally reduced from that which it enjoyed during the time of the ptolemies, at the beginning of the christian era. at any rate, this influence was deeply imbedded in the consciousness of the people, and its brilliant logic, though sophistic in nature, still exercised appeal for a polytheistic paganism of human deities so close and lovable to man. it seems to me that polytheism has been the strongest appeal of paganism to weak souls in all times and places. the weak soul is by nature incapable of rising high enough to establish a contact with total being and, in a supreme moment of consciousness, to grasp the unity of total being represented in that which is greater than all that exists, in god, the lord of majesty. the weak soul therefore stops at one of the differentiated phenomena of total being, like the sun or the moon or the fire, and awkwardly withdraws from rising beyond it to the unity of being itself.
what poverty of spirit characterizes those souls who, arrested by their grasp of a confused, insignificant little meaning of total being in an idol, commune with that object and wrap it with a halo of sanctity! we still witness this phenomenon in many countries of the world despite all the claims this modern world makes for its advances in science and civilization. such is what the visitors see at st. peter's cathedral in rome where the foot of a statue of a certain saint is physically worn out by the kisses which the saint's worshipers proffer to it, so that the church has to change it for a new foot every now and then. if we could keep this in mind, we would excuse those arabs whom god had not yet guided to the true faith. we would be less quick to condemn them for their continued idolatry and following in the footsteps of their ancestors when we remember that they were the witnesses of a desperate struggle of christian neighbors against one another who had not yet liberated themselves completely from paganism. how can we not excuse them when pagan conditions are still with us and seem to be inextricably rooted in the world? how can we not excuse the pre-islamic arabs when paganism is still evident in the idolatrous practices of so many muslims of the present world despite the fact that islam, the one unflinching enemy of paganism that had once succeeded in sweeping away every other worship besides that of god, the lord of majesty, is their professed religion?