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Creeping Paganism

11:00 PM, Feb 21, 1999 • By JOHN J. DILULIO JR.
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In light of the conclusion of the Senate trial of the president, the editors of THE WEEKLY STANDARD asked 22 writers, thinkers, and political actors the following questions: "President William Jefferson Clinton has been impeached and acquitted. What have we learned? What should we do now?"

BILL CLINTON FIRST REACTED BRAZENLY when caught red-handed in a series of bald-faced, lip-biting, finger-waving lies. But he rightly intuited that nowadays even unrebuttable evidence of prurient sexuality, perjury, obstruction of justice, and multiple moral offenses against sacred institutions -- marriage, the rule of law, and our democracy's highest elected office -- would excite only enough elite notice and mass displeasure to somewhat disturb his final years of governing and leave his place in history contested.

Contested, that is, by conservatives, but sanitized by legions of liberal historians, the radical-feminist faithful, the nonjudgmental clergy, the Hollywood crowd, and the abortion-on-demand minions. As recently as 1991, they had demanded a Senate inquiry into allegations that a Supreme Court nominee years before had talked dirty to a female attorney. But Clinton knew their hearts. In 1998, they denounced as "McCarthyism" the Senate's consideration of evidence that a sitting president had phone-sex-plus with a female intern not half his age.

The one-third of the general public that favored Clinton's removal from office, meanwhile, was bigger than the plurality of voters that reelected him in 1996. But nose-counting only distracts us from the profound reality reflected in Monicagate -- namely, the creeping paganization of American politics and culture.

I am using "pagan" to describe people who behave as if they believe that individuals own their own bodies outright, that there is no objective moral truth, that no human community need aspire to be more than the sum of its living members' worldly desires, or that it need respect all persons regardless of their physical, financial, and political might. By creeping paganization, I mean the slow but steady increase in the numbers and influence of such people in politics and culture.

The Founders rejected paganism. They asked God's help as they constitutionalized political power so as to transform "the mischiefs of faction" into "the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." By "We the People" they intended a transcendent civic community of "ourselves and our posterity." It was left to Lincoln to wield their worthy Constitution against the ancient pagan practice of domestic slave-holding. This new birth of freedom deepened America's Judeo-Christian political culture, which in this century routed the international pagan movements of fascism and communism.

America's Judeo-Christian polity requires that citizens be socialized -- with or without organized religion -- to harbor an unyielding regard for the well-being of others, from family members to faceless fellow citizens to even foes. Republican representative and religious conservative Steve Largent, who voted to impeach Clinton, told the president at a recent public prayer breakfast, "I love you." I believe he meant it, and I believe the president was moved by the words. But creeping paganism empties all such words and the sacred trusts they entail.

The growing currency of seductive ethical doctrines that consult only our convenience and invite us to abandon or kill the unborn and the infirm elderly; the refusal of many religious leaders to declare absolutely wrong any form of consensual sex between adults (adults only, for now); misogynistic rap lyrics sung with feeling by tattooed and body-pierced kids from all zip codes -- these are but a few signs of paganism on the march. Legalized partial-birth abortions; elected representatives who defer to polls on questions of morality; middle-class neglect of disadvantaged children; a corporate foreign-policy establishment that loves profit more than it hates persecution; a bipartisan eagerness to improvise and reluctance to constitutionalize a historic impeachment proceeding -- these are but a few fingerprints of paganism at the helm.

Citizens who are troubled by our president's wrongdoing are not all right-wing religious prudes. But citizens who are not troubled by it in the least, and who are obvious to the grave challenges facing our economically prosperous but morally at risk republic, are neo-pagans, whether conscious or unwitting. What should we do? In politics and in culture, we should lovingly but steadfastly resist.