Sunday, September 2, 2012

In the Beginning, the Romans Got it Right


But I'll get back to that eventually.

It's been pointed out countless times by liberals, liberal Christians and atheists and virtually every combination of people thereof that the Jesus of Biblical times has virtually nothing in common with the Jesus that evangelical nutbags have conjured up in their paranoid minds.

Long before medieval lunatics began kidnapping and co-opting the Holy Trinity for their own nefarious ends and used them as instruments of vengeance and blanket excuses for ruthless and avaricious Dominion, Jesus had been misunderstood from the beginning. If he indeed lived (and there's not a single credible historical document showing that he did as he's never mentioned in contemporary texts), he was more likely than not some delusional whack job who nonetheless had some very cool and revolutionary ideas that just happened to catch on. Because the evils of human nature that Jesus had encountered are strikingly similar to those that afflict the populace today.

Greed, the ruthless suppression of an entire religion, the encroachment of empire... These are all timeless hallmarks of humanity, grave character flaws that keep getting passed down from generation to generation like a family birth defect. And my gut feeling is if Jesus didn't exist, then someone had to create him. And the logical conclusion is that if he had to be created, then he had to be executed.

The saga of Jesus has been called "the greatest story ever told" and during the Roman occupation in the Middle East at the time, the natives needed a hero, a symbol for the revolution that was taking place. As with the World War II-era Jews in Jakob the Liar, they needed some good news and a mouthpiece to go with it even if they had to invent him.

But even if he did exist, Jesus of Nazareth was more likely than not some random crazy person with a Messianic complex who honestly thought he was the son of God. And if he was truly executed for spreading revolutionary ideas like love, mercy and generosity toward the poor, he wasn't necessarily a high profile prisoner. Many people have been executed over the last couple of thousands of years for heresy, apostasy and a whole wide range of crimes and their names are largely lost to history. Yet perhaps there was something about this guy or the mere idea of him that appealed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that was worth posthumously saving. Or inventing.

I'm still kind of fuzzy on how the ancient Romans and their emerging Christianity co-opted Judaism and split off from it. Jesus, after all, was widely called the King of the Jews.

But we can all agree on one thing: By AD 80, the year the Flavian Amphitheater was officially opened, ancient Rome was religiously (if unevenly) split in two: There were the pagans of the political power structure comprised of the emperor, Senate and consuls and there was a new, emerging cult called Christianity. When the Flavian Amphitheater was first opened up in the summer of AD 80, Emperor Titus, son of Vespasian, gave Roman citizens rich and poor 100 consecutive days of games that included, among other things, the execution of political prisoners such as Christians.

To make matters worse, these executions, which included being tied to a stake and mauled by wild, exotic animals and crucifixion, weren't even the closing act. They were in the middle of the card that started with hunters and gladiators killing wild animals, continued with the executions and ended with the main event: Bouts of man against man.

The Roman poet Martial was at the inaugural Games on that summer day in AD 80 and gave us the only eyewitness account of a specific battle between two gladiators: An incredible bout between two men who were likely friends who had trained together in the gladiator barracks behind the Colosseum, Priscus and Verus. The fight ended in a draw when Titus stood up and broke his own law by awarding each man their freedom (It's more than likely, however, that Titus had a more mundane and pragmatic reason: Both men, according to Martial, fought long and hard and had both grown so exhausted they could both barely lift their gladiuses and shields. How politically disastrous would that have been for Titus if the main event at the inauguration of the Colosseum, for which Rome had waited for a decade, had ended on such an anticlimactic note?).

But Martial also tells us of anonymous prisoners who were executed for the crime of being Christians. And one has to wonder how much better off the future world would've been, at how many lives could've been spared if this nascent cult had been completely eliminated and squashed from existence.

But cults can be stubborn things and the Roman hierarchy realized that no matter how many Christians they executed in the Colosseum and elsewhere, it only created converts and strengthened their resolve to endure. So they got an ingenious idea: If you can't lick 'em, have 'em join you. So the Roman empire got together with Christian leaders and said, "Hey, look. Maybe we both got off on the wrong foot. Let's start over. We want to stay in power, you want power. Let's share it. Howz about if we give you the means to establish your own little dominion and dominate lesser people and you get to do so under the banner of the Roman Empire? Deal?"

The Christians liked the idea of the end of persecution and the means to amass some riches and political power and they jumped at it. I guess they never heard of the old adage, or maybe it hadn't been coined yet, that if something sounds too good to be true, it is. Neither side had known it at the time but this collusive deal would eventually lead to their mutual destruction. The simple Christian religion would become corrupted by the Roman Empire and the empire would eventually be co-opted by this upstart little cult, leading to the end of the Empire (by now known as the Holy Roman Empire, which, as one historian famously put it, "was neither Holy, Roman nor an empire.") in AD 476 when the barbarian German warlord Odoacer deposed the last emperor.

And that brings us to latter-day Christianity, an even larger cult that has divorced itself from the original message of that little village idiot Jesus and his adorable but misguided message of peace, love and charity. Long before Saint Thomas Aquinas had written in his Summa Theologica in 1271 that, "Unbelievers deserve not only to be separated from the Church, but also… to be exterminated from the World by death," Christian leaders had decided the only way to survive was through a ruthlessly Dominionist policy that was more brutal than any exercised by Rome.

Christianity has changed little since this tragic perversion of the teachings of Jesus because (and you can unpack this any way that you want) it depended largely if not exclusively on an outright refusal to recognize the very physical existence of heathens or nonChristians. Working in cahoots with the political power structures of several nations and nation-states, this gave rise to occupation laws that allowed white, Christian men to declare any land they "discovered" and conquered as theirs and their nation's. The fact that it was already currently occupied by indigenous people who hadn't yet gotten the God memo was immaterial.

These Dominionist laws also enabled the conquering forces to consider all nonChristians subhuman (including, ironically, Jews, whose slave labor and riches were used to built the Colosseum on the ruins of Nero's pleasure palace after Vespasian sacked Judea) and fit only for subjugation. Even if they agreed to surrender their land and forfeit their language, religion, culture and everything else that defined them as a sovereign people, the best they could hope for out of the deal was eternal slavery and maybe indentured servitude. Wow, what a deal.

Is this starting to sound familiar, yet? Because, whether you know it or not, this Dominionist, Might makes Right mindset has been the driving force behind virtually every Christian conquest since the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th century. The very act of conquering a people through a superior army was in itself seen as moral superiority and justification to steal land, treasure and chattel. It's the overarching rationale for latter day invasions and occupations continuing through Iraq and Afghanistan. Otherwise, it would be impossible for our own declining empire to justify such invasions and rapes of cultures unless we pretended we were a Christian nation founded on Christian beliefs (which we most certainly were not. Jefferson made that unmistakably explicit in Article 11 the Treaty of Tripoli).

Without Christian Dominionism and its breathtaking arrogance and megalomania, the Crusades would've been impossible to justify, as well as the colonization of America, Canada and much of the New World. And, in every place but the Middle East, Christianity spread and took hold like the intellectual and spiritual virus that it is.

It's this long-standing, nearly two millennia-long policy of subjugation of lesser people, of heathens, that made possible the 138 year-long genocide of the indigenous people of western Canada through a collusion between the Anglican, United and Catholic churches and the political structures. Many of the policies that were put in place to exterminate most of the native population and the subjugation of the survivors through assimilation and land grabs were already established practice in the United States. Most of us seem to have forgotten the full power that religion, especially Christianity, has played in the justification of invading and occupying foreign lands and enslaving and eradicating its people.

This is why, if Mankind's very survival isn't threatened by some extinction-level event such as a meteor or an extraterrestrial invasion, we will never be able to progress as a species until we get rid of Christianity or at least get back to its roots set down in a philosophy espoused by some poor, naive village idiot named Jesus who had wicked notions about love, charity and mercy for the unfortunate.

2 Comments:

At September 2, 2012 at 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo!

Mike in Moo Hampshire

 
At September 3, 2012 at 1:46 PM, Blogger Stan B. said...

Vividly demonstrates how human ingenuity can so completely pervert and 180 even the most peaceful, masochistic belief system into one of dominance, force and subjugation whenever needed.

Even without the utter perversion of Christianity, humankind would have found a way to torture and kill just as many- but no question religion certainly expedites the procedure.

 

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