June 9, 2013

Ours has become a neo-pagan culture, and that can be even worse than a simple pagan culture

By Father George Rutler

Last week the Church celebrated the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. In the late nineteenth century, French and English missionaries were welcomed by King Mutesa I of Buganda in the southern part of modern Uganda. His successor, Mwanga II, however, was a youth who became a persecutor of Christians and all foreigners. He especially opposed Christian morality, as it contradicted his affinity for unnatural vice which was abhorred by the local Buganda culture, but which he is said to have learned from Arab tradesmen.

The young male pages of Mwanga’s court were Christian converts and refused the king’s attempts at seduction. This disobedience to the king was considered treasonous, and Mwanga exercised what he considered his right to destroy any life at will, according to the saying, Namunswa alya kunswaze — meaning “the queen ant feeds on her subjects.” Mwanga soon decreed the execution of converts Yusufu Rugarama, Makko Kakumba and Nuwa Sserwanga on January 31, 1885. A senior advisor to the king, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, was beheaded on November 15, 1885, and there were many martyrdoms in the following year, climaxing on June 3, 1886, with the torture and burning alive of twenty-six at Namugongo, including their leader, Charles Lwanga, a recent convert himself and majordomo of the royal household. Pope Paul VI canonized them in 1964. An icon of St. Charles Lwanga is in our sanctuary.

When Pope Paul went to Uganda as the first pope to make an apostolic journey to sub-Saharan Africa, he said, “The infamous crime by which these young men were put to death was so unspeakable and so expressive of the times. It shows us clearly that a new people needs a moral foundation, needs new spiritual customs firmly planted, to be handed down to posterity. Symbolically, this crime also reveals that a simple and rough way of life — enriched by many fine human qualities yet enslaved by its own weakness and corruption — must give way to a more civilized life wherein the higher expressions of the mind and better social conditions prevail.”

Alas, the infamous crime of which the Holy Father spoke is now paraded as a civil right in our decaying culture, and some states are making it quasi-sacramental. Our current president promotes it, along with his defense of infanticide, which even King Mwanga II would have found degrading. Pope Francis recently said that one cannot be a Christian if one is not willing to be a martyr. In New York today, Catholics may not face beheading or burning, but their political incorrectness could subject them to the subtle ignominy of social scorn and discrimination. Ours has become a neo-pagan culture, and that can be even worse than a simple pagan culture. Pagans did not know about Christ, while neo-pagans do know about him and reject him, so their defense is the malice of a cynic.

 Father Rutler is Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in New York City.


  1. Another subtle,wonderful post by Fr. Rutler, a follower of Ven. Fulton Sheen, I believe. Yes, we do fall much lower when we as a culture refuse our common heritage, being Judeo-Christian of a Protestant hue. And we could fall even further down if we ratchet down to the extent of what was experienced in ancient Rome when it was run by Julian the Apostate. The very thought that this could happen is chilling. Holy Mother of Jesus, Mary Most Pure, please pray for us! GOD BLESS ALL, MARKRITE

  2. I have a devotion to Blessed Charles Lwanga and his companions. They were very brave.

    I meditate on them during the Eucharistic prayer at Mass -- I think of them praying the prayer with me as they go to their death.

  3. Thank you Fr. Rutler. I always learn from your sermons. (I was thinking that the unspeakable crime the Pope spoke of was, what I had read some time ago, that they had tires filled with gasoline put around their necks and lit; as well as the sodomy.)

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  5. "Pagans did not know about Christ, while neo-pagans do know about him and reject him."

    It would be more accurate to state that pagans did not know about Christ and accepted Him when they were taught; whereas neo-pagans think that they know about Him but do not and will not allow themselves to be taught. The fundamental difference between the classical brand of paganism and its modern form is that the former was enlightened enough to recognize that there must be a God or gods and so disposed to accept greater revelation about the deity, but the latter has become sufficiently darkened to convince itself that God need not exist and so not disposed to learn about Him. Their defense, then, is not so much one of malice (except in the case of the knowing minority) as it is one of self-deception to satisfy their own lower inclinations (see 2 Tim 4:3-4).