Actually I am a Christian,” Tolkien wrote of himself, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory”
What is Tradition?
The word “tradition” simply refers to what has been “handed down”. Thus when the New Testament speak of Christ being “handed over” to the authorities, it is the same word as “tradition”.
How it is here where the modern pagans have a point. No matter how LARPy they may be, they are right that Christianity is as much forced into the Western Christians at the point of a sword as it was unto the Latin Americans. It was not something which was “continuously handed over” from their ancestors, it was imposed upon them by alien or foreign invaders by force. (I am unfamiliar with how Eastern Orthodox spread throughout the slavic regions but I think that it is relatively peaceful compared to the conversions of the Western Europeans.)
The Paradox of the Traditional Western Christian Narrative
It is here where we see a sort of paradox or self-contradiction of the tradtionalist Christian attempt to merge the narrative of preservation of tradition with the preservation of Western Christendom. The only reason why the Western Christian “tradition”, as such, exists is only because they managed to defeat the prevailing pagan forces back then with their superior material and political might, not because it was something which was handed down from their ancestors from the beginning. Thus they cannot appeal to the sheer fact of tradition to defend Western Christianity. There is nothing traditional about it, it was imposed upon their ancestors, who were all pagans, by an alien material force, forcing a rupture in their tradition. It was not something which “organically” arose from within the culture or tradition itself. As this interview with a church historian puts it with regards the conversion of the pagans to Christianity:
When did Christians first begin to use force to convert people?
Soon after the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine, though the first use of force was not designed to convert pagans but to correct dissident Christians. Augustine, the great bishop of Hippo in North Africa in the late fourth and early fifth century, was faced with a dissident sect, the Donatists. Augustine wanted to bring them back in the orthodox fold, and he agonized about whether it was permissible to use coercion to do so.
Eventually he decided it was, and one biblical text that persuaded him was the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:16-24). A rich man gives a feast, and when no one he invites shows up, he tells his servants to go out and “Compel people to come in.”
It isn’t until the Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne in the eighth century that we see force used to coerce conversions, specifically in the campaign against the Saxons.
In the end, medieval pagans seemed more willing to submit to forced conversions than Christians under similar circumstances. Why is that?
Another reason was that pagans were impressed with the sheer material power of Christendom. Paganism was a faith that was largely geared to gaining material prosperity. There were gods for the crops because they wanted their crops to grow. They had gods for cattle so that they would produce more milk. When these pagans looked at the wealth and power of Christian Europe, they were impressed: the Christian God was obviously one who could deliver the goods. Christians built bigger buildings, made more beautiful jewelry, possessed better ships, and so on. Many pagans were not adverse to converting to Christianity because they believed it would, in fact, give them more material prosperity than had their gods.
To appreciate this point, note how Christian missionaries fared in sixteenth-century China. Here was a non-Christian culture that was in many ways superior to the West. In that context, Christianity makes practically no headway.
In Europe, we see evidence that this wasn’t a by-product but a deliberate tactic of missionaries. When the bishop of Winchester sent his pupil Boniface to evangelize Germany, he stressed that Boniface should remind the pagans just how rich and powerful the Christians were.
Therefore Tolkien’s remarks about how, as a Roman Catholic, history is one long defeat is a fantasy which only an Anglophone or German Roman Catholic could believe. To be sure they were the defeated minority within Britain or Germany after the Protestant Reformation was complete because they have lost their political monopoly, but for many many centuries the entrenchment of Latin Christianity proceeded from strength to strength along with the growing power of the Roman Church. Even after the Reformation the Roman Catholics still managed to conquer many Latin American nations and the Philippines with their superior military and material might. Whatever that history might be, a long history of defeat it was surely not.
Yet the reactionary posture of the traditional Christian is adopted precisely because they are now disenfranchised and dis-empowered and cornered. They are now the “persecuted/defeated minority” within their own lands. So how could they appeal to their tradition, which was the product of the triumph of superior material forces, to justify preserving a faith or tradition which has precisely lost its material edge?
From the traditional angle at least the pagans could plausibly say that paganism was the faith of their ancestors but there was a disruption in their tradition when it was taken away from them by sheer material forces. But what could the traditional Western Christian say? If he goes by the “might is right” argument that Christianity is superior because they materially whipped the pagan’s asses, then now their asses are being whipped by the secularists and the liberals. But if they go with the tradition argument, then Christianity was in no sense of the word something which was continuously handed down from the beginning, they were pagans from the beginning and only became Christians because of sheer material forces.
The Lack of Will to Return
This is not to say that Western pagans are not without their own contradictions in their narrative, particularly the odd “macho-powerful-masculine” narrative combined with paganism whose macho-ness wasn’t powerful enough to save them from Christians invasion. However traditional Christians do have some explaining to do if they are to make sense of their narrative.
It would be instructive to compare the traditional Christian with Islam. Islamic spread was certainly the product of macho-physical force conquest. Now that Islam has declined politically, they have an internal theological crisis. If the political victories of Islam is the will of Allah, why have they lost it to the infidels? However there is one qualitative difference between the Muslims and the traditional Christians. At least some of them, the Jihadists namely, have proceeded forward in a coherent manner by arguing that therefore we need to be macho-physical and conquering again in order to restore our religion to its former glory. No traditional Christian seriously advocates physical force or conquest as a means of restoring the Christendom of old. One wonders whether they even believe in their own narrative in the first place.
As LARPy as the pagans may be, the traditional Christian is no less LARPy about their narrative. They would like to go back to their former glory days, but they simply do not have the stomach to advocate or adopt the means whereby those glory days are first acquired. This is the tragedy of the traditional Christian.