Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Christian culture?

Do we live in a Christian culture? Or one that has long been turning into something else?
Hi, Romanus here, speaking in the second year of the reign of Emperor Decius. Delightful how we keep the old holidays- Saturnalia in early winter with its exchange of presents, Lupercalia in late winter, and Floralia in spring. The youth don't seem to be so excited about them, but I know they will come around when they get older. Many of the youngsters are going into new cults like Mithraism, Cybelism, even the Elusinian mysteries. Well, so long as they believe in something- that's all I say.

I know some scoffers ask "How can there be several hundred gods? They can't all be real, can they?". Well, I'll tell you, the more the merrier. Rome is strong from its welcome of many gods, even though Jupiter is, of course the most powerful. Rome is also strong from its cultivation of ancient ritual, from augury to animal sacrifice. The wine and sacred bread sprinkled on the sacrificed animal is as important as the haruspicy we do to verify its fitness. All is fit and proper, and all redounds to the power of Rome!

What I can't stand, frankly, are those atheists who call themselves Christians who follow the Jews in renouncing all the ancient and civic gods. How dare they? They are a danger to the morals and peace of the empire. One day they will bring it down, and woe to us then ... a dark age is sure to follow, with their pigheaded intolerance and care for nothing but their pathetic Jesus.

Remember Rome- how long it took for their gods to die ... to pass from belief into myth and literature? We still have countless living momentos of that culture, such as months, holiday festivals, language, engineering, myths and symbols. But it clearly does not signify that their culture is alive. No, it is dead, and humans have learned from it, found new ideals and founded new cultures. The same is happening to Christianity in the present day. Just as the Holy Roman and Apostolic church echos faintly the glories of ancient Rome, so we in our enlightened age echo faintly, in our festivals, institutions and language the age of Cathedrals and scholastics, when the queen of the university was theology and the best and brightest went into the clergy.

What succeeded the Roman religion was worse- intolerant, closed-minded, with fatally conflicting ideals and obsessive focus on non-reality, leading to a long dark age. Thankfully, that same Christianity, now heading down the same road of unbelief as the Roman gods of yore, is being replaced by a distinctly superior philosophy. This secular, scientific, and humanistic ethic is cosmopolitan, rational, and tolerant. Its templates and forerunners are the golden ages of yore, like those of Athens, Islam, Italy, Netherlands, and Scotland. Those who still hunger for spiritual expression continue to find many avenues, from classic religion to new age, scholarly immersion, and environmentalism. The reconciliation they seek between the sacred and the mundane is, however, strongly affected by today's tolerance and engagement with reality, so it is very hard to persevere in complete fantasies such as the supernaturalisms and fundamentalisms of old. Conversly, it is easier to cast what is real, such as nature and the cosmos, in spiritual and meaningful terms, since so much is now known of their truly epic scale and history. The core culture is wedded to progress both socially and materially through enlightened engagement with reality, and that is a hopeful and worthy position.

Incidental links:
  • Barak Obama's mother was secular and raised him with no religion.
  • Podcast presenting the Jesus myth hypothesis. At any rate, the evidence either way is minimal.


  1. Other than the dialogue at the beginning, this may be the most ridiculously inaccurate historical musing I have read in some time—even for you Burk. And, if anyone thinks Christianity or spirituality is receding in the face of some sort of secular revival, he must have been asleep for the past 15 years, at least. Anyone interested in accuracy should check out these links.

  2. Why then an enlightenment and a renaissance after so much Christian-sponsored cultural advance? There is another interesting book by Peter Wells about the dark ages, making a similar case. Apparently substantial amounts of trading and some forms of primitive metalwork took place during the dark ages! I am not saying the people were living in caves after Rome fell, but that one would be very hard-pressed to characterize the period between 500 and 1000 as a stellar or progressive period in Western affairs. It was regressive, in terms of high cultural achievement and general conditions, taken as a whole. Transforming slavery to serfdom counts as an advance indeed, but the domination of the church, with its hunts for heretics and pointless consubstantiality / transubstantiality, hypostasy, etc. controversies directly sponsored what is still rightly called a dark age.

    An interesting comparison can be made with the Islamic world, which rose to intellectual substance far faster than the remains of Rome/ early Christianity. But which for the last ~seven centuries has exhibited an intellectual stasis that resembles the early Christian period. An intriguing inversion of timelines, driven by the rejection of cosmopolitanism and tolerance in the service of orthodoxy.

  3. Even Wikipedia gets it:
    "The dating of the "Dark Ages" has always been fluid, but the concept was originally intended to denote the entire period between the fall of Rome in the 5th century and the "Renaissance" or "rebirth" of classical values.[4] Increased understanding of the accomplishments of the Middle Ages in the 19th century challenged the characterization of the entire period as one of darkness,[4] and thus the term is often restricted to periods within the Middle Ages, namely the Early Middle Ages; though this is disputed by most modern scholarship as well.[1] Modern scholarship tends to avoid using the phrase."[5]

    The entire concept of the "Dark Ages" being the result of Christianity has been shown by any reputable historical scholarship to be a myth. It was the Church that "saved civilization" (Cahill) during the barbarian onslaught.