The worship of Moloch in ancient Phoenicia and Carthage involved the ritual sacrifice of children, generally the first fruits of the family. If my parents had been Carthaginians, they would have sacrificed their firstborn son – me – to Moloch. Rome, Athens and Jerusalem were horrified at the practice, which they had all long since forsworn, and drove it into oblivion. But like all evil, it keeps coming back.
Modern America is repelled at the notion of human sacrifice, yet when it comes to killing babies we make the Tyrians and Carthaginians look like amateurs. Indeed, the term “amateur” is apt. Carthage and Tyre sacrificed their young as the most precious thing they could consecrate to their god. The holocaust of their babies was for them an act of worship, of adoration. We, on the other hand, murder our young for the sake of profane expedience. Our sin of infanticide is therefore far worse than that of the worshippers of Moloch, and of similar deities, for it is not softened by their noble intention to make sacrifice.
To the extent that we pervert our practice from the Good, we serve Moloch, wittingly or not. Catholic and Evangelical social critics rightly call modern secular liberal society the Culture of Death. But cultures have always at their roots some cult: some body of basic doctrine respecting ultimate reality and man’s proper relation thereto, routinely enacted in and signified by some practice. For modern nihilist society, the profane expedience of the untrammelled individual will is the basic, indeed the only value; and abortion is its paramount sacramental ritual. So I call the whole cult of Death by the name of its god, Moloch. He does not mind that we do not sacrifice our children to him, so long as they all die. Indeed, as he is at enmity with all life, so is he at enmity with all religion, even his own.
When you make a habit of killing babies, you cannot but worsen your demographic and economic prospects, vis-à-vis other cultures that take the opposite tack. As a social policy, infanticide obviously fails my demographic test (which I discussed publicly for the first time over at Thinking Housewife, and then at Orthosphere). The only reason that Rome, Athens and Jerusalem were able to eradicate the sacrifice of children is that their cultures were stronger than the cultures dedicated to Moloch and his cognates.
This is not to say that we should refrain from killing kids only because doing so has bad consequences. When an act has bad consequences, that is just a sign, provided by the moral order of the universe – by the economic structure of reality – that the act is itself intrinsically evil. The evil consequences are the wages, that is to say, of sin. Acts are not evil because they work out poorly; on the contrary, they tend to work out poorly because they are evil.
Examination of the evil consequences of evil acts is, nonetheless, edifying, and can prompt our moral improvement. With that, then, allow me to present an extended passage from a book I am now reading: Mohammed & Charlemagne Revisited: the History of a Controversy, by Emmet Scott. It re-examines Henri Pirenne’s theory that Greco-Roman Classical civilization (as distinct from the political structure of the Western Roman Empire) in both East and West did not end until the seventh century, and was brought about, not by the Barbarian invasions of the fifth century or a cultural vitiation at the hands of Christianity circa the third century, but by an immense economic collapse triggered by the end of Mediterranean trade at the hands of Muslim invaders and pirates. Scott looks at the hypothesis in light of the considerable archaeological and textual work that has been done since Pirenne published Mohammed & Charlemagne in 1939, and judges that it has been vindicated.
Now, all that is interesting enough (and I highly recommend both books), but what caught my eye most in the early pages of Scott’s book was this item (pp 23 ff), which in its description of the Roman Empire in the first four centuries AD is rife with uncanny parallels to our own situation at the present day, so that it speaks for itself, as an indication of what we may expect to follow upon our unholy service of Moloch:
[B]y the start of the twentieth century it had become evident that, as an imperial power, Rome was already in a fairly advanced state of decay by the middle of the third century – 200 years before the official “end” of the Empire in 476. Historians began to speak of the “crisis” at that time. They noted a contraction of Roman power in the third century: the loss and abandonment of several provinces, beginning with Dacia and parts of Germany. They noted too a general shrinking of cities and the cessation of construction on a grand scale. All the great structures which to this day dot Europe – the aqueducts, the amphitheatres and the city walls – were raised before the beginning of the third century. After that, there was almost nothing. … A new consensus developed, according to which there were “two successive Roman Empires. … First, there is the Roman Empire of Augustus and the Antonines, of which we mainly think, the majestic web of planned cities and straight roads, all leading to Rome. … Secondly, after the anarchy of the third century, there is the ‘Lower Empire,’ the rural military empire of Diocletian and Constantine, of Julian the Apostate and Theodosius the Great. This was an empire always on the defensive, whose capital was not Rome, but wherever warring emperors kept their military headquarters: in the Rhineland, behind the Alps or in the East; in Nicomedia or Constantinople, in Trier, Milan or Ravenna.”
… by the year 200, [the Roman Empire] was also increasingly less “Roman.” We hear that, “already before [the second century], it had been discovered as Tacitus remarked that emperors could be made elsewhere than in Rome,” [and,] “by the third century AD they were generally made elsewhere.” In that century, we know, “there were not only military emperors from the frontier: there were also Syrian, African and half-barbarian emperors; and their visits to Rome became rarer and rarer.” And the advent of “half-barbarian” emperors was paralleled by an increasingly … barbarian army. From the third and even second century historians noted the recruitment into the Roman legions not only of great numbers of “semi-barbarians” such as Gauls and Illyrians, but of actual barbarians, such as Germans and Sarmatians. Indeed, so far had this custom gone by the fourth century that by then several distinguished Roman families boasted a barbarian ancestor many generations earlier.
… There is now little dissention on the belief that by the year 100 the population of the Empire had ceased to grow and had begun to contract. The inability to hold the most outlying of the Provinces, in Dacia and Germany, is viewed as an infallible sign of a general shrinkage. This shrinkage may have had various causes, but the practice of infanticide – widespread and commonplace in the Classical world – must surely have been one of the most important. Official Roman documents and texts of every kind from as early as the first century stress again and again the pernicious consequences of Rome’s low and apparently declining birth rate. Attempts by the Emperor Augustus to reverse the situation were apparently unsuccessful, for a hundred years later Tacitus remarked that in spite of everything “childlessness prevailed,” whilst towards the beginning of the second century Pliny the Younger said that he lived “in an age when even one child is thought a burden preventing the rewards of childlessness.” Around the same time Plutarch noted that the poor did not bring up their children for fear that without an [appropriately prosperous] upbringing they would grow up badly, and by the middle of the second century Hierocles claimed that “most people” seemed to decline to raise their children for a not very lofty reason, love of wealth and the belief that poverty is a terrible evil. During the third century successive emperors made efforts to outlaw infanticide, though how successful they were remains unclear. What seems certain is that even if infanticide became less important in the third and fourth centuries, the birth rate remained stubbornly low, for the Romans also practiced very effective forms of birth control. Abortion was also practiced, and caused the death of large numbers of women, as well as infertility in a great many others. Quite possibly, by the end of the first century, the only groups in the Empire that [were] increasing by normal demographic process were the Christians and the Jews.
… By the late third century Christians were already a majority in certain areas of the East, most notably in parts of Syria and Asia Minor, and were apparently the only group (apart from the Jews) registering an increase in many other areas. … The Jews too, by that time, formed a significant element in the Empire’s population – and for the same reason: They, like their Christian cousins, abhorred the practice of infanticide and abortion. It has been estimated that by the start of the fourth century Jews formed up to one tenth of the Empire’s total population.